- Law enforcement faces challenges in identifying cannabis-impaired drivers due to a lack of rapid, real-time testing tools, leading to significantly fewer arrests compared to alcohol-impaired driving.
- Only 19 of over 36,000 NYPD officers are certified drug recognition experts, adding to the difficulty of effectively managing drug-impaired driving.
- While tools exist to measure impairment, such as coordination tests and physical checks, their application is cumbersome and time-consuming, with more advanced technological solutions yet to be adopted.
Despite the recent legalization of recreational marijuana use in New York, law enforcement finds itself wrestling with a conundrum. There currently exists no reliable, quick, and efficient method, akin to a breathalyzer, to apprehend individuals driving under the influence of cannabis.
The legalization came into effect in 2021, permitting individuals aged 21 and above to possess up to three ounces of cannabis for personal use. Since then, marijuana has proliferated in all corners of New York City, from upscale smoke shops to street-side vendors selling the herb from ordinary Tupperware boxes.
However, the data shows a discrepancy in the arrest rates for alcohol-impaired and cannabis-impaired driving offenses, with the former being 16 times higher last year. This stark contrast can be attributed to the absence of a rapid, real-time testing device, akin to a breathalyzer for alcohol, to determine marijuana intoxication levels in drivers, thus complicating the job of law enforcement.
Sgt Donald Schneider, a highway patrol officer from Queens who is involved in the drug-impaired drivers' assessment for the New York City Police Department, illustrated the predicament to the New York Times. He explained that the current protocol is so demanding and time-consuming that law enforcement struggles to prioritize this issue effectively.
This problem isn't unique to New York; reports from UK police have revealed an increase in drug-impaired driving surpassing alcohol-induced offenses. A report by the National Police Chiefs’ Council cited the delay in processing tests and the time-bound prosecution as significant factors in enabling offenders to evade penalties. Furthermore, the lack of universal standards to quantify cannabis consumption, like there are for alcohol, adds to the challenge.
Despite training given to over 14,000 of the NYPD's 36,000 officers since 2018, only 19 are certified drug recognition experts, responsible for evaluating a driver's impairment. The rigorous 12-step evaluation includes coordination tests, pupil examinations, and checking the driver’s pulse and blood pressure.
This scenario underlines an urgent need for innovative solutions. Advanced technology such as portable consoles to test response times and cognitive abilities is yet to be utilized by enforcement agencies. Cannabis legalization has undeniably brought new dimensions to impaired driving, and law enforcement agencies are grappling to keep up.
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