July. 28 — As the state moves forward to legalize recreational sales of cannabis, questions remain about how law enforcement officials will handle DWI cases and erase cannabis-related crimes.
Public safety officials told lawmakers Tuesday that the state has yet to set benchmarks on the vulnerability of cannabis, which could make it firm to prosecute DWI cases involving marijuana.
So will existing laws that forbid officers from requiring a suspect to take a blood test on a DWI if the charge is nothing more than a misdemeanor — which, in New Mexico, means the first three convictions of a DWI, assuming there are no aggravating circumstances.
“DWI is clearly a very big concern in New Mexico,” Troy Whistler, acting deputy secretary of state for Public Safety, told members of the Courts, Corrections and Interim Justice Committee.
These are not the only problems that have emerged at the level of public safety. Whistler said a pertinent law to clear criminal records linked to cases involving marijuana-related charges could cost a lot of time and money because about 155,000 cases fall into this category.
“DPS doesn’t have anyone dedicated to that packed-time; it’s a fairly big endeavor,” he said.
Compounding this problem is the need to review each case and see if there are other offenses that cannot be written off, Prosecutor Marcus J. Montoya of the 8th Judicial Circuit said.
“the [expungement] Automation is possession and tools, but what about a child abuse case or DWI that you can’t write off? “He said.
If his department is competent to find a way to write off those records online, it won’t have the aptitude to guarantee that they are written off by other individual law enforcement agencies, Whistler said.
He said it would become a task that required a lot of paperwork and effort.
Tuesday’s hearing on the issue was one of several around the state’s recent legalization of recreational cannabis use and possession for residents 21 or older.
The unused law also allows companies to produce, manufacture, sell, test and transport cannabis, although rules regulating these industries are still in place.
Advocates of the move say the move will increase state revenues, create thousands of jobs and repeal anti-marijuana laws that disproportionately harm minorities.
But law enforcement officials have warned of the potential for more DWI cases involving cannabis. Over the weekend, a man who drove into a semi-trailer on Interstate 25 told his deputy that he fell asleep while driving following smoking marijuana.
The driver, who suffered a broken neck, was accused of drunk driving and reckless driving. No one was injured in the accident.
Whistler and Montoya said blood draw orders can aid when it comes to litigating such cases. Whistler said setting standards to weaken cannabis could happen.
In an effort to find a way to deal with this lack of evidence, some states with legal cannabis have set weak standards. In Colorado, where recreational marijuana use has been legal since 2012, lawmakers set the vulnerability threshold at 5 nanograms of THC – the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis.
Appeals support Kim Chavez-Cook said that while she “did not disagree with anything” Whistler and Montoya said, she had a distinct view of how things should go.
It’s reasonable to approach this, she said [unused law] With an abundance of caution.”
She added that driving under the influence of cannabis has been illegal for so lengthy that the practices are in place to detect and persecute it. Aside from a potential “rise” in DWI cases, she said, it should be “business as usual.”
She said DWI cases often involve both alcohol and other drugs, and in those cases it’s easier to prove a driver is under the influence if he or she is overhead the 0.08 limits set for alcohol in New Mexico.
She agreed that dealing with the big number of potential write-off records “will require a lot of firm work.”
While Senate Bill 2, the disqualification act, would not eliminate conviction records, it would establish a system for reviewing and deleting criminal records from websites and other publicly accessible sources.
It also requires a review and conceivable elimination of cases involving people serving sentences on cannabis-related charges that are no longer crimes since the state legalized the possession and use of cannabis for adults 21 or older.