- Gabriel Pietrorazio
Cannabis while driving: ‘We are going to see problems pop up’ with law enforcement
July 12, 2021
By Gabriel Pietrorazio
Although Governor Ned Lamont officially signed an expansive 300-page bill on June 22, to legalize recreational adult-use marijuana beginning July 1 — researchers like Ken Barone, project manager at the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project (CTRP3), are already concerned.
“As marijuana is legalized, I do think we will see increased enforcement, and I don’t think that there will be enough parameters on the enforcement and how it will apply because I just think it's such a new area,” said Barrone.
The Racial Profiling Prohibition Project Advisory Board was established to assist the state’s Office of Policy and Management with the implementation of revisions to address racial profiling issues. When it comes to addressing the consumption of cannabis while driving, the State Legislature has not established a blueprint for local law enforcement agencies to abide by.
Officers are presumably expected to lean on the age-old line, “based on my training and experience,” to justify their interactions with drivers, according to Barone.
“I actually anticipate that we are going to see some problems pop up as a result of the legalization of marijuana in terms of the way police do enforcement,” he said. “And I think we're gonna have to be very careful about that.”
Barone said admittedly, there’s pressure on police “to ensure that people aren’t driving while high” and yet those tools guiding law enforcement conduct and protocol “aren’t quite going to be there probably for another five years.”
Meanwhile, non-white drivers continue to be disproportionately targeted by officers statewide — and cannabis can become the next excuse — even though the drug is no longer illegal.
Black and Hispanic drivers were asked three to five times more often than white drivers by officers to conduct a consent search inside vehicles, according to data sequestered from police departments for the CTRP3’s project lifespan, which started almost seven years ago.
Connecticut has since revoked the ability for officers to perform these types of searches with the passing of the police accountability bill.
Under the new law Gov. Lamont signed last month, 1.5 ounces of cannabis can be carried by any individual at least 21-year-old — up to 5 ounces when locked inside a vehicle’s glove compartment or household residence.
With the record of law enforcement skewing toward the over-policing of racially diverse communities in Connecticut, Barone said it should be monitored and done in a thoughtful way.
“We’re going to be in a really precarious time where we’ve got to ensure that if there is increased enforcement, it’s not all targeted to Black or Brown neighborhoods,” he said.
In Hartford, State Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr. [D-75], chair of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, has served with three current and one retired law enforcement professionals at the State Capitol — all of whom aren’t seemingly interested in actively searching for cannabis.
Reyes said in his candid conversations with four law enforcement experts who are currently serving in the state’s House of Representatives, a consistent talking point kept reemerging.
“At one time,” he said. “Just the smell of weed was enough to bring the attention of police and put you in harm’s way.”
However, that is not the case any longer.
“As far as they’re concerned, they’re not stopping people for cannabis. They’re not looking for cannabis,” Reyes said.
Before the special session ever started, Reyes said he believed at least three out of those four representatives would vote in favor of the bill’s passage.
In reality, however, all four state representatives from across both sides of the aisle voted against the measure in the House of Representatives’ 76-62 final roll call on amended Senate Bill 1021.
State Reps. Anthony Nolan [D-39], Michael DiGiovancarlo [D-74], Greg Howard [R-43] and Kurt Vail [R-52] all opposed legalizing adult-use marijuana.
In the meantime, Barone said he and his team intend on “keeping a watchful eye, if there will be an increase in enforcement.”
“Historically, when there’s been more discretion given to law enforcement, that discretion tends to come down harder on Black and Hispanic individuals,” he said. “Now, maybe this will prove us wrong, but that's a genuine concern that I have.”
# # #
About Gabriel Pietrorazio
Gabriel Pietrorazio is an award-winning journalist, who kickstarted his career in journalism in his home state of Connecticut. His storytelling interests aim at illuminating readers about topics and issues including food, agriculture, health, politics, policy, crime and justice as well as Indigenous affairs.
Growing up in Watertown, Gabriel started reporting for his local newspapers, The Town Times and Voices, in the summer of 2018, while pursuing a B.A. in Media & Society and Political Science at Hobart College.
Since 2019, Gabriel has actively participated in the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists pro-chapter, where he was named a multi-time finalist and top-prize placer, and has earned numerous honorable mentions and awards at the annual Excellence in Journalism contest.
In addition to covering the Constitution State, Gabriel has told stories across New York State, Maryland and Washington, D.C. He is a member of the Investigative Reporters & Editors and Native American Journalists Association, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.
As an accomplished freelancer, his work has appeared in numerous regional and national outlets, including the Washington City Paper, Waterbury Observer, TASTE, Civil Eats, FingerLakes1.com, Finger Lakes Times and The News Station.