Twelve medical cannabis patients in Maryland joined forces with the police to give them a firsthand experience of what being high means. At the Montgomery County Police Department Training Center, these medical marijuana patients, after consuming some of the drugs, demonstrated to the officers what to expect when assessing if someone is under the influence.
Assessing the level of intoxication in an individual and its impact on their motor functions is a challenging task, said Khiry Maxberry, a participating volunteer. However, if this training helps the police better grasp the situation, he fully supports it.
This unorthodox method of police training was introduced as a proactive approach to avoid the same errors made by other states that have legalized marijuana. The police, based on their analysis of available data, anticipate an increase in cases of driving under the influence. They believe that this training will better equip them to handle such incidents.
If the police aren’t well-informed, they may make unjustified stops and arrests, claimed one of the volunteers, as reported by NBC Washington. Captain Brian Dillman of the Montgomery County Police Department expressed his concern. He asserted that he is apprehensive as he is confident the new cannabis legislation will lead to a surge in impaired drivers on the roads.
These events align with the National Survey on Drug Use and Health findings, which showed that over 40% of US drivers who consume both alcohol and marijuana admitted to driving under the influence of either or both substances between 2016 to 2019. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health in November 2021 disclosed that the percentage of crash fatalities linked to marijuana usage rose from 9% to 21% from 2000 to 2018.
Apart from their driving behavior, the field sobriety test also helps us identify if an individual is under the influence of any substance that hinders their ability to drive safely, added Dillman. According to Dillman, whether or not drivers suspected of impairment will face criminal charges depends on the evaluation of a drug recognition expert, who may consider the results of blood tests.
What transpired during the training session?
After approximately 30 minutes of consuming marijuana, the police administered sobriety tests to the volunteers. “It’s evident that their normal coordination has been impacted,” commented Officer Eli Dunham of Montgomery County after testing Maxberry. He added that determining the volunteer’s capability to drive would require further examination.
Many circumstances come into play, and we need to look at each case in its entirety. Did Maxberry consider himself to be impaired? “Certainly,” he answered.
Cannabis Legalization in Maryland
During the midterm elections in November, more than 65% of Maryland voters voted to legalize recreational cannabis.
Lawmakers adopted legislation last year to begin the process of amending the law regulating marijuana, but the General Assembly deferred decisions on licensing and taxes until this year. The constitutional amendment states that recreational marijuana will not be legal for those 21 and older until July 2023. This is subject to the General Assembly passing legislation covering cannabis regulation, distribution, and taxation in its next session.
Some advocates believe the state will gain from the tax income generated by cannabis sales, while others believe it is less harmful than alcohol. “I don’t think it will do any damage, and I think it might bring some benefit,” said Mary Magnotti of Annapolis, who has used cannabis for medical purposes.
While medicinal cannabis has been allowed in Maryland for many years, opponents believed that legalizing adult-use cannabis went too far. “These kids start with one thing and move on to the next,” said George Pozgar.
A bill passed earlier last year provides provisions for a transition period between January 1 and July 1. For example, from January 1 to June 30, the purchase and possession of the recreational use quantity, specified as a maximum of 1.5 ounces, is a civil penalty. Violators would face a fine of $100.
However, carrying a maximum of 1.5 ounces of marijuana would be lawful for those over the age of 21 beginning July 1. Possession of a recreational use dose by someone under 21 is now a civil infraction punishable by a $100 fine.
Possession of over 1.5 ounces, although less than 2.5 ounces, regardless of age, is now a civil infraction punishable by a $250 fine. Anyone possessing more than 2.5 ounces is liable for a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.
Changes in Criminal law
The statute also alters criminal law. For example, since January 1, a person convicted of a cannabis-related conviction may petition the court for resentencing. The judge must grant the petition and resentence the individual to time served. If the individual is not doing a further sentence, they must be released.
Furthermore, beginning January 1, a person convicted of cannabis possession may request the record’s annulment after completing the term, including probation. This is instead of the four-year waiting period after conviction or standard completion of the sentencing.
A person convicted of possessing cannabis with the intent to distribute may file a petition for expungement three years after satisfying the sentence(s) imposed for all crimes for which expungement is sought, including probation, parole, or compulsory supervision.
The training session held by the Montgomery County Police Department aimed to educate officers on the effects of marijuana on an individual’s behavior and motor skills. By enlisting the help of medical marijuana patients who consumed the drug and participated in sobriety tests, the police hope to gain a deeper understanding of what to look for when assessing if someone is under the influence.
As the legalization of marijuana continues to be a hot topic, it’s crucial for law enforcement to stay informed and equipped to handle related incidents on the roads. With more informed officers and a better understanding of what to look for, fewer mistakes will be made, and roads will be safer for all.