Maine police are determined to rid the state of its marijuana black market and are looking for funds to be properly trained. Exterminating any sort of illegal cultivation or distribution of marijuana is an important part of the legalization of marijuana. When alcohol prohibition was thwarted, there stopped being a need for an alcohol black market, so why should we expect that it will be different for marijuana?
AUGUSTA — Maine State Police want more resources to train officers and to fight the flow of black market marijuana in Maine, but are not pushing for a cannabis blood-level threshold to help prove suspected impaired driving.
As lawmakers continue working on the complexities of legalizing marijuana in Maine, state police officials said Friday they need more money to train officers on cannabis issues and a full-time interdiction team to stop cross-border drug smuggling. However, state police are not pushing for major changes to Maine’s existing “operating under the influence” law in the wake of marijuana legalization earlier this year, nor are they advocating for setting a legal limit for cannabis similar to the 0.08 percent blood alcohol content level used to prosecute drunk drivers.
Instead, police would continue to rely on field observations of suspected impaired drivers backed up by simple urine tests showing drugs in a person’s system.
“When we’re talking about the difference between alcohol impairment and drug impairment … it’s one law: it is operating under the influence,” said Scot Mattox, traffic safety resource prosecutor with the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety. “And the basis of that influence is irrelevant as far as the law is concerned, whether you’re impaired because you’re drinking alcohol, whether you’re impaired because you are taking prescription medications or whether you’re impaired because you’re smoking marijuana. The difference is none.”
Impaired driving long has been among the top concerns raised by law enforcement in Maine and the other states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana and cannabis products. Part of the challenge officers face is the lack of a simple, roadside test for marijuana like the Breathalyzer tests used for alcohol. Also, the psychoactive component of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is metabolized differently in the body than alcohol so there is not a clear consensus among experts about what level of THC would constitute impairment.
While early legalization states such as Washington and Colorado have set a blood level limit of 5 nanograms of active THC for prosecuting impaired driving, others have steered clear of setting chemical standards because of that lack of consensus. Last year, AAA urged states not to set “arbitrary legal limits” on THC but, rather, base marijuana impairment charges on a two-pronged system of an officer’s field observations along with a subsequent chemical test showing the presence of THC in the suspect’s body.
“Instead of focusing on trying to figure out a nanogram level … and changes to the OUI law, we thought that resources would be better spent on, first of all, public education,” Maddox told members of the Legislature’s Special Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation. “The committee felt that there is a potential danger for marijuana use and driving, and that the public perception is not the same as it is for alcohol and driving. We also recommend more law enforcement training for drug impairment and driving.”
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