We’re not quite ready for legal pot

Good thing the legislature didn’t pass that marijuana proposal.

The proposal, introduced in the 2014 session, was a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, which would have been submitted to the voters in the upcoming election.

The reasons to legalize marijuana are compelling: removing power from criminal cartels, sparing young people from the stigma of criminal records, and simply facing the reality that pot is here to stay.

But New Mexico is not ready.

New Mexico has too many people who can’t handle intoxicating substances. From prescription opioids and heroin to plain old booze, too many New Mexicans use too much of every kind of mood-altering substance.   Some of us apparently have no propensity for self-restraint.

It’s arguable, and probably accurate, that legalizing marijuana would reduce the attractiveness of other drugs. But it would also lead too many unthinking New Mexicans to decide that the party has started and they’re invited.

Colorado presumably thought its citizens would be better behaved, but has had a rude shock with the arrival of the pot-seeking bums who are now homeless in Denver, scrounging off other people’s generosity.

And there are serious legal questions attached to the use of mind-altering substances.

New Mexico’s law is not clear enough about the marijuana equivalent of drunk driving.   The issue is already here, because people are using marijuana legally for medical purposes and driving.

A police officer explained to me that our drunk driving law does not provide the same process for drivers impaired by drugs as it does for alcohol.

For alcohol we have a standard, 0.08, and a simple breath test, which can be administered on the spot by a police officer. But if the driver is impaired by marijuana or any other drug, the Breathalyzer won’t detect it. If the driver agrees to submit to a blood or other test, the results might take a few months to analyze and return, followed by a complicated legal process.

It can’t be proved that the driver was over the limit if we don’t have a precise legal limit – whether the substance was marijuana or any other drug. So, says the police officer, the driver can’t be found guilty on the basis of the drug test.   It might require a trial with witnesses. Another officer told me the process is so tedious, police will pursue the drug issue only in case of a serious accident.

Then there’s the workplace problem.

It was recently in the news that a health care worker who used marijuana legally for a medical purpose was fired because she tested positive. She has sued her employer.

Oh, yippie, more lawsuits.

In principle, both sides are correct. On the employer’s side, we don’t want anyone working stoned, especially in a safety-sensitive position — operating machinery, climbing ladders or making decisions. Responsible employers have been battling the use of intoxicants at work for decades.

On the worker’s side, if she needs the drug to allow her to function, she could argue that she performs her job better under its influence. The claim has been made that for people in pain, the drug’s effects are channeled to the pain and the user doesn’t don’t get high. But we have no test that’s both legally recognized and practical to apply.

Drug impairment measurements exist. One source is in the rules of the U.S. Department of Transportation. It’s possible for legislation to incorporate these standards or use them as a starting point for further exploration.

New Mexico does not need a new set of excuses to clog our courts with lawsuits or drag down our economy by increasing the cost of hiring employees. And we certainly don’t need any more impaired drivers.

I’m all for decriminalizing pot when the issues are cleared up. Let’s get that done while only medical marijuana is legal.

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