On February 22, 2021, New Jersey became the 14th state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana when Governor Phil Murphy signed a group of laws that enacted the marijuana legalization ballot measure approved by more than two-thirds of New Jersey voters in November.
With the legalization of marijuana for recreational and medicinal uses across the country, police and legislators are scrambling for accurate devices that can detect a person’s impairment for driving under the influence of marijuana. Most law enforcement agencies rely on observation and specific cognitive and field balance tests by certified drug recognition experts (DRE). However, none are scientifically accurate to detect the level of impairment.
When New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a memorandum yesterday ordering local prosecutors to temporarily halt marijuana prosecutions in municipal courts until September, news outlets, including the New York Times, called it a possible "step toward decriminalization." Amol Sinha, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey executive director, praised the move, stating that "[b]y directing prosecutors to pause adjudication of marijuana cases, this letter starts that [decriminalization] process." Marijuana trade magazines were even more effusive.
While most people consider themselves unlikely to become the subject of a police investigation, there is one common situation in which ordinary citizens fall under police scrutiny: the traffic stop. Police officers are trained to search for evidence of illegal activity every time they pull over a driver, whatever the reason for the stop. While the consequences for speeding, failure to maintain lane, careless driving or Driving Under the Influence (DUI) can be bad enough – carrying the possibility of loss of driving privileges, assessment of motor vehicle points and higher insurance rates – things become far more serious if the police search for and find illegal drugs in a car. Teenagers and young adults – who are presumed by police to be more likely to be in possession of illegal recreational drugs – are often the targets of such searches late at night, while driving to and from wherever it is that teenagers actually disappear to when they leave the house to “hang out with friends.”