Local police chiefs say they have concerns about proposed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana.
A bill before the state legislature, SB 888, would allow for the recreational use of marijuana for those 21 years and older, with certain restrictions. It was introduced by Gov. Ned Lamont and referred to the joint committee on judiciary last month. At a Feb. 26 public hearing, over 140 individuals, organizations and groups gave testimony or submitted statements.
The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association submitted a statement opposing the bill, citing several issues.
”Our opposition to the bill revolves around the absence of a qualified road side testing of a motorist suspected to be under the influence of cannabinoids,” the statement reads. “While the presence of a police officer trained in Advanced Roadside Impairment Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) or the presence of a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) may potentially assist in the evaluation of a motorist, there is presently no legal device in which to test such operators.”
The current language of the bill would allow people 21 years old and above to possess up to an ounce and a half of cannabis and cannabis products. Lamont submitted written testimony in support, citing the legalization of recreational marijuana in surrounding states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maine and Vermont, and the expected legalization in New York and Rhode Island soon.
“We can no longer stick our heads in the sand,” Lamont’s testimony states. “Cannabis is currently, and will be increasingly available to the residents of Connecticut.”
Lamont makes the argument that developing a well-regulated market will be better for the state than further enabling an illicit market.
Southington police have one DRE trained officer in a department of 70 members, Chief Jack Daly said. Certification in DRE is a lengthy process and the course is not available often, he added.
The bill includes $1 million for state troopers to be trained, but he questioned where that leaves local departments.
Daly said it seems like the approach is to legalize it first, then figure it out, which he does not agree with. Regardless, he added, the role of the police is to enforce the laws that are enacted.
Sibongile Magubane, commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles, submitted testimony in support of the bill, noting it amends the state statute for impaired driving and applies administrative licensing sanctions to drug-impaired drivers.
“Senate Bill 888 takes positive steps to address the public safety concerns raised by the legalization of cannabis,” Magubane’s statement reads. “Section 91 of the bill strengthens the administrative per se program by including in the per se process those operators who do not have an elevated blood alcohol content, but who are found to be operating under the influence based on specific tests of behavioral impairment.”
Cheshire Police Chief Neil Dryfe said he shares the concerns of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association as well as having concerns as a parent. Dryfe said he has heard legal marijuana may be more potent than illegal pot.
”The state has seen a ten year upward trend toward drug overdoses,” Dryfe said. “I don’t know that legalizing any drug is a great idea at this point.”
Wallingford Police Chief William Wright said he has the same concerns as the CPCA, especially about marijuana intoxicated driving and the harmful health aspects of marijuana use.
In Wallingford last year, there were 66 infractions issued and 40 arrests made for possessing less than half an ounce of marijuana by those 21 years old or older, Lt. Stacy Sacharko said. In Meriden in 2020, there were 63 infractions and 73 arrests for the same charge.