Recreational Marijuana Legalization Sparks Concern Over Driving Under the Influence
Minnesota is set to become the latest state to legalize recreational marijuana use, with the new legislation scheduled to take effect on August 1.
While advocates celebrate the move towards more lenient drug policies and potential economic benefits, there are concerns over the impact legalization will have on public safety.
Law enforcement agencies across the state, including the Crystal Police Department, want to be clear when it comes to marijuana use and driving.
“We’re certainly not seeing it as a free for all that ‘anything goes’,” said Deputy Chief Brian Hubbard of the Crystal Police Department. “You can’t be smoking marijuana inside of a vehicle that’s being operated.”
Hubbard says that’s the case for the driver and any passengers.
“Any show of [marijuana] use inside the vehicle is illegal.”
Hubbard says his department is still trying to dissect the 321 pages of legislation.
“The concern for me is that we haven’t really spent enough time making sure that… the driving public is safe by this law change,” Hubbard explained.
Critics Point to Other States’ Data After Marijuana Legalization
Critics point to data from other states like Colorado and Washington, which saw a sharp increase in traffic accidents and fatalities following marijuana legalization.
“I want us to treat it similar to alcohol in understanding the serious public safety health risks that certainly operating a motor vehicle have when you’re using marijuana,” Hubbard stated. “Even though we’ve legalized it and made it okay, [we’re] recognizing it’s still not okay to be impaired whiled using it.”
The legislation includes funds for public education and awareness campaigns about the risks of driving under the influence of marijuana.
Enhanced Training Available for Police Officers
There’s also money set aside for police officers to receive enhanced training to identify and combat impaired driving.
“We have always had the standardized sobriety testing that all officers are trained on if they believe somebody to be impaired on anything; alcohol, an illegal substance, a hazardous substance,” Hubbard stated. “We take them through the battery of field sobriety tests… to determine that we don’t believe that it is okay for them to be operating a motor vehicle.”
Only time will tell what kind of affect legalizing marijuana will have on public safety.
“We’ve got a public health and a public safety issue that we need to be aware of, and we’re trying to do that correctly,” said Hubbard.