Police: Maine Law Enforcement Unprepared for Legal Marijuana

A major police group in Maine has released a statement saying law enforcement would be unduly burdened – and not at all prepared – by legalized recreational marijuana in Maine.

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Representatives of the Maine Association of Chiefs of Police said during a recent press conference that legalized marijuana in Maine is going to pose an array of problems that would result. One of the primary areas of concern is how it will affect the safety of the roads.

The group plans to launch a statewide campaign to oppose Question 1, the November ballot issue that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21. If the measure is approved, those of age would be allowed to have in their possession up to 2.5 ounces of the drug, as well as up to six flowering plants. Sales of marijuana at stores and social clubs with proper license (from the state) and approval (from the municipality) would pay a sales tax of 10 percent. 

Falmouth Chief Ed Tolan, president of the chief’s association, said at the news conference reported on by the Portland Press Herald that the measure would increase youth access to a drug that is harmful, addictive and illegal and would put the healthy development of children in peril. He stood with 30 other police chiefs from across Maine as he explained that in Colorado and Washington, where the drug is legal for recreational use, there has been:

  • An increase in the use of marijuana;
  • An increase in traffic fatalities;
  • Instances of children ingesting marijuana products.

Tolan also said Maine is grappling with a heroin epidemic that is resulting in a rising number of overdoses and fatalities. This isn’t the time, he said, to open the floodgates to greater access to marijuana.

Proponents of Question 1 say authorities would be able to spend more of their time and energy battling that heroin epidemic if they weren’t so wrapped up in jailing otherwise law-abiding adults for marijuana use. Tolan disagrees with that characterization, and adds the bigger concern is traffic safety.

Lawmakers this year failed to approve a bill that would have set a blood-level limit that would determine impairment of marijuana. What that means is patrol officers are left on their own to ascertain whether a driver is high. While many officers have a lot of experience, subjective observations don’t always stand up in court. There are specialized officers who are highly trained as “drug recognition experts” or “DREs,” but many police departments in Maine don’t have these officers. It’s expensive to train – and retain – them.

This past spring, a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that since marijuana was legalized in Washington State, fatal car accidents involving stoned drivers more than doubled. Marijuana was involved in 17 percent of all fatal crashes in 2014, up from 8 percent in 2013, the year before the drug was legalized. However, there is question about whether marijuana was actually the cause of these accidents, as the drug remains in a person’s system much longer than, say, alcohol. So we know more drivers in fatal crashes have marijuana in their systems, but without an accurate measure that tells us whether the person was actually impaired by the drug, it’s tough to say. The statistics are nonetheless alarming and should be carefully considered.

The Maine Sheriffs Association is planning to meet yet this month to discuss the issue and determine whether they’ll publicly take a position on Question 1.

If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Law enforcement in Maine unprepared for legal marijuana, police chiefs say, Sept. 9, 2016, By Gillian Graham, Portland Press Herald

More Blog Entries:

Police: Drowsy Driving Contributes to Maine Car Accident, Aug. 10, 2016, Portland Maine Car Accident Lawyer Blog