Welcome to another edition of the New Jersey marijuana mailbag, where we take your questions about legal weed and the latest cannabis news.
Send me your New Jersey marijuana questions, via email at [email protected] or tweet me at @byMikeDavis. And, while you’re at it, join our “Let’s Talk About Marijuana” community, where we’ve got great discussions about legal weed (or lack thereof) happening virtually every day. We’re almost at 420 members.
You can also make sure you don’t miss any of our marijuana coverage by buying a digital subscription to APP.com today. It’s cheaper than weed, and legal!
Let’s do it:
Q: How many people in New Jersey have been poisoned by black market marijuana vapes in the last few years? What is New Jersey doing to stop it? (Taylor D.)
This has been the biggest talk in the marijuana industry over the last few months.
For those who need a recap: Since July, nearly 1,300 people have been hospitalized (and 26 died) after being stricken by what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling an outbreak of a vaping lung illness related to vaping.
The CDC estimated that 10 to 49 cases were reported in New Jersey, as of Oct. 8. One woman died from the vaping lung illness.
What has marijuana legalization advocates (let alone vaping enthusiasts and entrepreneurs) angry is what they believe are reactive blanket bans on vaping use or products without considering the source of the illness.
According to the CDC, an estimated 77 percent of the cases involved a victim who regularly vaped marijuana — even though marijuana is only legal in 11 states and Washington, D.C. And in every legal weed state except California and Illinois, the number of cases is below 50 (both California and Illinois reported 100 to 149 cases).
What that shows, vaping advocates argue, is that most of the illnesses are coming from black market vaping products that would be beyond the reach of any government ban.
“This is the most absurd public health action that I’ve ever seen,” Boston University professor Dr. Michael Siegel told NorthJersey.com at a protest in Trenton. “This policy is going to get rid of the electronic cigarettes that are not causing the problem and completely take the focus off what the real problem is, which is the black market.”
Though much of the early dialogue in New Jersey centered around an outright vaping ban, officials have softened their stance in recent weeks. Instead, Gov. Phil Murphy’s vaping task force recommended a ban on flavored vapes only, in addition to calling for restricting online sales of e-cigarettes and accessories (such as clothing) that’s designed to conceal them.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has also called for the state to place “tax stamps” on vaping products. Tax stamps are used by cigarette distributors to denote that a product has been legally manufactured and sold.
By placing tax stamps on legally-manufactured and sold vaping products, it would make it easier for regulators and customers to avoid the counterfeit ones.
A mysterious lung illness tied to electronic cigarettes is a wake-up call for parents and schools at the Jersey Shore.
Joe Strupp, Asbury Park Press
Q: How will law enforcement (in a legal weed world) conduct sobriety tests on drivers? (Joseph B.)
Great question, Joseph. This is one of the major issues that’s kept some legislators from backing legal weed.
The short answer is: There is no sobriety test — at least not the kind of test you’re probably thinking of, like an alcohol breath test.
When police suspect a driver is driving under the influence of drugs, such as marijuana, they call in a drug recognition expert to perform a series of tests (usually involving the eyes) to determine whether the driver is intoxicated. A drug recognition expert, or DRE, is a police officer who’s been specifically trained to spot drugged driving.
If New Jersey legalizes weed, you can expect the number of DRE officers to increase. The most recent version of the marijuana legalization bill even called for the state to reimburse county and municipal expenses that would come with training new DRE officers.
But there are a few issues with the DRE system. Criminal defense attorneys have argued that, since the tests are subjective, that DUI charges resulting from a DRE test should come with further proof, such as marijuana present in the vehicle.
And despite the promise of reimbursement, police officials have argued that the costs will go beyond training. They’ll have to actually hire new officers or make enough money available to pay for overtime as DREs are called into action more frequently.
What’s missing from the legal marijuana market is a simple, objective test to determine whether there’s THC (the psychoactive component in weed) in a driver’s system. There’s not even a “legal limit” with THC, since there’s no way to easily check it.
Even a blood test is flawed: since THC stays in the body for weeks, a positive test could be from a joint smoked in the car or a pot brownie consumed 10 days ago.
There have been a few companies starting to make headway on the technology for a marijuana test that can quickly and objectively say how much THC is in a driver’s system.
In Canada (where weed is legal on the federal level), police departments have begun to use a device that measures THC based on a saliva example — the closest we’ve come to a true marijuana-equivalent of your standard roadside alcohol breath test.
And in August, California-based Hound Labs announced that it would “accelerate manufacturing and commercial availability” of its dual alcohol-marijuana breath test. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the device could come to market as soon as 2020.
But until these devices become commonplace — and at thousands of dollars for a single one, it may be a while — you can expect this to be one of the major discussions around marijuana legalization.
Stoned driving enforcement is a serious challenge for cops. Even in California, where weed is legal, relatively few officers are trained to detect it.
Michael V. Pettigano and James Nash, NorthJersey
Mike Davis writes about the seemingly never-ending push to legalize marijuana in New Jersey, including the effects it would have on the economy, the black market and regular people. No, he can’t tell you where to buy illegal drugs. Contact him at 732-643-4223, [email protected] or @byMikeDavis on Twitter.
Read or Share this story: https://www.app.com/story/news/local/new-jersey/marijuana/2019/10/14/new-jersey-marijuana-legalization-vaping-lung-illness-legal-weed-phil-murphy/3851266002/