Pubdate: Fri, 01 Dec 2017
Source: Herald News (West Paterson, NJ)
Copyright: 2017 North Jersey Media Group Inc.
Author: William Westhoven


Two Republicans representing Morris County in Trenton want to 'put
breaks' on legalization of marijuana by governor-elect.

Two Republicans representing Morris County in Trenton are pushing back
against the promise by Governor-elect Phil Murphy to sign a bill
legalizing marijuana in the first 100 days of his administration.

Murphy and the Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly have
said they want marijuana legalized in early 2018, which could generate
up to $300 million in annual taxes to the state.

District 25 Sen. Joseph Pennacchio and District 26 Assemblyman Anthony
M. Bucco are against the legalization. Bucco said the issue needs to
be debated.

To that end, Bucco announced Friday he introduced legislation that
would require police to obtain blood samples from people arrested for
drug-impaired driving.

"If we are going to see legalized marijuana in 2018, I think we need
to be ahead of the curve," Bucco said. "We need to start thinking
about how we are going to be able to enforce the laws we have, and how
we're not only going to regulate its use, but also make sure that we
have a way to make sure people aren't abusing it similar to alcohol."

Bucco said in his conversations with members of the law-enforcement
community, there is an even mix of discussion for and against
legalizing recreational marijuana.

Some, Bucco said, are concerned that it is a gateway drug, and others
with the judicial system clogged with small marijuana cases. "It's
mixed, about 50-50. But this bill is in response with some
conversations I've had with local law enforcement that have said 'Why
do we treat being high on a drug and driving differently than we do

"There's an implied consent and you can't refuse, so you are
penalized, because driving is a privilege," Bucco said of drivers
suspected of being under the influence of alcohol who refuse a
breathalyzer test. "But when you pull over someone who is suspected of
driving under the influence of drugs, we don't have that same
mechanism," he said, adding if individuals refuse to give blood, "we
have to go for a warrant. And that takes time. This bill would put
that on the same level."

Bucco acknowledges that current blood tests for marijuana are hard to
use as evidence in court because the active drug in marijuana, unlike
alcohol, can show up in a test for weeks or even months after usage.

"This bill was just introduced," he said. "I am hoping there will be
debate and conversation among the experts, and if we need to make some
tweaks to it going for it, I'm more than happy to do that."

He also has no illusions about getting the bill by a Democratic
majority and a Democratic governor, but said he hopes some version of
the bill will be considered.

"This is to start the conversation we need to have, to figure out how
we are going to protect our residents," he said.

Pennacchio released a statement last month expressing similar
concerns. He cited statistics from a 2017 study by the Highway Loss
Data Institute that show a 48 percent increase in marijuana-related
traffic deaths in Colorado between 2013, when it became the first
state to legalize recreational marijuana, and 2016.

That same report shows Colorado has the highest national rate of
marijuana usage among its youth, a rate that is 74 percent higher than
the national state-by-state average.

"Governor-elect Murphy sees a $300 million tax revenue windfall. I see
a mass of heartache and trouble," Pennacchio said. "New Jersey's
roadways are extremely congested and we don't have a full-proof
weed-sobriety test. A mad dash to legalization, without taking the
time to examine the consequences, is a recipe for disaster."

Pennacchio said local police departments would likely need to increase
the number of Drug Recognition Experts on their payroll, even if their
trained observations are still considered to be subjective.

He also predicts contested cases could lead to a backlog in municipal
courts and an increase in the need for expensive toxicology reports to
close each case.

Legalizing marijuana won't solve the state's financial crisis,
Pennacchio said, adding funds will have to be allocated to make sure
law enforcement officials have the resources to handle a "massive
increase in drugged driving." He said he wants his colleagues to "put
the brakes" on legalization before it's "too late."

"Too much of what goes on in Trenton is reactive," Bucco said. "I want
to be proactive. The conversation needs to begin now."
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MAP posted-by: Matt