(Marijuana) rules of the road

There’s no reliable way to measure how impaired a driver is after smoking weed, experts say. And because of legal precedent, it’s harder to talk about it in a courtroom.

Payton Guion and Claude Brodesser-Akner For The Star-Ledger Justin Bealor weaved through the streets of Sea Isle City shortly after midnight one July morning in 2002, an open 12-pack of beer in the back seat and the odor of burnt marijuana in the car. Police saw him cross the yellow lines in the road several times before he turned into oncoming traffic.

Two state troopers pulled him over and arrested him after finding a used marijuana pipe in his pocket. They found marijuana residue in the pipe and a urine test later confirmed that Bealor had marijuana in his system.

But none of that meant Bealor was impaired by marijuana, his attorneys later argued, and upon appeal, New Jersey’s Supreme Court concurred in a 2006 decision. The court noted the state trooper who arrested Bealor wasn’t an expert in assessing the effects of marijuana use, and the state’s forensic expert who was hadn’t bothered to explain what effect it might have had.

The Bealor decision and other legal precedent established in other states raise huge concerns for police departments across New Jersey that they may not be able to effectively deal with people suspected of driving while high, concerns that could soon become even more pressing as state lawmakers appear to be getting closer to legalizing marijuana.

Continue reading