The Highs and Lows of Marijuana Legalization

After years of discussion, New York has voted to legalize marijuana for use in adults. New York will join 15 other states who already legalized the recreational use of marijuana. However, legalizing marijuana is not the end of the discussion, but rather the beginning of a complex discussion regarding infrastructure and commerce.

Despite support from more than two-thirds of the nation, adults often fail to understand legal use of marijuana is not a complete get-out-of-jail-free card. To protect other drivers on the road, it is still illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana.


What Comes After Legalization

States that legalize marijuana must prepare for the positive and negative consequences associated with legalization. As such, New York created an Office of Cannabis Management that will oversee licensing, growing, and dispensing of marijuana. To have a balanced and neutral approach, both Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature will appoint members of the management team.

Once the team is in place, they will be tasked with handling the annual revenue from the sale of marijuana, estimated at $350 million per year. A portion of the revenue will go to communities impacted the most by the war on drugs. The local governments and nonprofit groups must apply for the funds to spend on employment programs and treatment for substance abuse and mental health.

The Dangers of Legalization

Each state with recreational marijuana saw an increase in impaired driving after legalization. Increased impaired driving results in more car crashes that result in injuries or death. Enforcing driving on marijuana is proving to be difficult without a standard test similar to the one used for alcohol.

Marijuana is metabolized differently than alcohol and stays in the person’s system long after inhaling or ingesting it. Marijuana can be found in the driver’s system for many days, possibly up to a month, beyond when they are impaired. Unfortunately, there is no test similar to a breathalyzer to measure the exact levels of intoxication.

Currently, there are 45 states which allow a person to be charged with driving while intoxicated based on their actual physical and mental impairment. New York requires the person to consume a drug contained on a list of illegal substances, from which marijuana is soon to be removed.


Legal Consequences for Driving While Impaired

“While marijuana use may be legal,” Suffolk County injury lawyer Neal Goldstein says, “it is still illegal to drive after consuming it.” Drivers may think if they refuse to undergo chemical testing, they might avoid a penalty. However, refusing a test results in a $500 fine and license revocation for at least one year.

For a first-time conviction for driving while impaired by a drug, the driver faces a fine of up to $1,000, one year in jail, the loss of driving privileges for at least six months. A second DWAI-drug violation within ten years results in a potential fine of $5,000 , up to four years in jail, and license revocation for at least a year. When a defendant is convicted of a third DWAI-drug violation, they face up to seven years in jail, a $10,000 fine, and license revocation for at least a year as well.

In addition to criminal liability, the driver faces civil liability when they are responsible for an injury while driving impaired. The victim is entitled to hold them accountable for economic and non-economic damages suffered due to the accident.


Marijuana Legalization Can Be Managed Properly

By having a plan in place to handle marijuana legalization, states can greatly benefit from the revenue raised from sales. However, with more revenue comes greater responsibility to keep the roads safe from irresponsible drivers. It is difficult to fully enforce sober driving when there are no proper plans currently in place. Drivers must be made aware of the legal consequences for driving while under the influence despite the recent legalization of marijuana possession.

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