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East Hartford, CT criminal defense attorneySince the 1990s, many states across the country have legalized marijuana for medical use, but it was not until just a few years ago that recreational marijuana was legalized. In 2012, Colorado and Washington state became the first two states to legalize the recreational sale, possession, and use of recreational marijuana. Since then, there have been nine other states that have legalized recreational marijuana; however, it still remains illegal on the federal level. One of the biggest oppositions to fully legalizing marijuana is the fear that legalization will increase crime. However, just the opposite is one of the reasons people want to legalize it; they think it will reduce crime.

Studies Show Crime Rates Are Either Unaffected or Decreased

According to the Reason Foundation, studies have been conducted in various states that have legalized recreational marijuana to determine what effect, if any, the legalization has had on the crime rate. In Washington state, the number of adults over the age of 21 who were arrested for marijuana possession fell by 98 percent, while the number of those under the age of 21 convicted of possession fell by 50 percent. In Colorado, the number of cases of illegal marijuana cultivation, distribution, and possession fell by 85 percent. Other states such as Alaska and Oregon have seen similar situations.

The Reason Foundation also states that jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for medical uses have also seen a decrease in the number of opioid overdoses. Other studies have found that property crime has not increased as some people feared it would. In fact, property crime actually fell in neighborhoods in Colorado that opened marijuana dispensaries.

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Hartford DUI defense attorney marijuana impairmentThe United States has a long and complicated history with cannabis. Back in colonial times, hemp -- which is a non-intoxicating strain of the cannabis plant -- was a very important crop for early settlers. Virginia even passed a law in 1619 requiring every farm in the colony to grow hemp. By 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed and effectively banned the sale and use of marijuana, though the act was replaced by the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970s.

Now that 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, and 33 states have legalized medical marijuana, the prevalence of marijuana-related DUI is of concern to lawmakers across the country. In the state of Connecticut, medical marijuana is legal, but recreational marijuana is not legal -- yet.

Current Connecticut Marijuana DUI Laws

Like most states, Connecticut’s laws concerning DUI mostly refer to alcohol, but they do mention drugs as well. According to Connecticut law, operating a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating drug is illegal. Penalties for a drug DUI can vary, depending on the circumstances of the case. For a basic DUI charge of operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, a conviction can get you up to a six-month jail sentence, $500 to $1,000 in fines, and a 45-day driver’s license suspension, with the requirement that an ignition interlock device be installed in the driver’s vehicle for one year after the conviction.

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marijuana, Connecticut personal injury lawyerVoters in Massachusetts approved a referendum in 2016 to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the commonwealth. It took more than two years, however, for lawmakers to come up with a structure and regulatory system that would allow for legal retail sales. Last week, the first retail stores finally opened with a great deal of fanfare. In fact, in the town of Northampton, the town’s mayor was the first in line to make a purchase at one of the new dispensaries.

While the debate over recreational marijuana has largely focused on criminal laws—and the differences between laws at the state and federal levels—there are other important concerns as well. Two separate studies recently found a statistically significant increase in car accidents in states that have legalized recreational cannabis. Given the geographic proximity of Massachusetts to Connecticut, motorists in the Nutmeg State may have reasons to be worried.

Crash Rates on the Rise

Both studies were presented at the Combating Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving summit hosted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in October. The first study was conducted by the IIHS’s Highway Loss Data Institute and compared crash rates in states where recreational use of marijuana is legal to neighboring states where recreational use is not. Using crash data from 2012 to 2017, the study found that the rate of accidents rose by about 6 percent in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada compared to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah. The time period was chosen because recreational use was first legalized in Colorado and Washington in 2012.

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marijuana-medical-test-rulingImagine a scenario in which you are applying for a job. You pass the interview stage with flying colors, and the hiring manager is ready to bring you on immediately. The only thing you have left to do is pass a pre-employment drug screening. You are not worried because everything you currently take has been prescribed by a doctor who is licensed to practice in your state. When the screening results come back, however, they show that you have a particular drug in your system—one that you even told your prospective employer about beforehand. As a result of the test, your job offer is rescinded. Sounds pretty unfair, does it not? This is exactly what happened to a Connecticut woman in a situation that shows just how far we have left to go as our country tries to figure out exactly how to handle medical marijuana.

A Quick Background

In 2016, a woman was recruited and applied to work at a nursing home and rehabilitation center in Niantic, Connecticut. The woman’s interviews went well, and she was offered the position of Activities Manager pursuant to a pre-employment drug test. Prior to the screening, she informed the hiring manager that she was a registered patient under Connecticut’s Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (PUMA)—the state’s legal medical marijuana program. She had been in an accident in 2012 and was currently using a prescribed pill form of marijuana at night to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

As she expected, the drug screening did indicate the presence of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. What she did not expect, however, was the rescinding of her job offer. The nursing home decided they could not hire the woman because they used the federal list of legal drugs, and marijuana is not a legal prescription under federal law. The woman subsequently filed a lawsuit for employment discrimination under PUMA, which specifically prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on an applicant’s status as a registered medical marijuana user.

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Prohibition, Hartford criminal defense attorneyCalifornia was the first state in the U.S. to legalize the use of medical marijuana. In the two decades since, another 30 states have followed suit. Another 15 states have legalized medical cannabis products with limited THC content. In addition, nine states plus Washington, D.C. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Recent opinion polls conducted by the Pew Research Center and Quinnipiac University show that public support for the legalization of recreational marijuana is now at an all-time high. Between 61 and 63 percent of American voters are reportedly in favor of legalizing recreational use for adults while just 33 to 37 percent are opposed. The main problem, however, is the prohibition of cannabis that still exists at the federal level, leading many to see parallels between the government’s approach to marijuana and the ban on alcohol that largely defined the 1920s.

A Look Back

By the end of the 19th century, a growing movement in the United States railed against the evils of alcohol. Led mostly by religious organizations, the effort blamed the problems of society—such as crime and poverty—on drinking and drunkenness. Anti-alcohol groups succeeded, at first, in getting local laws passed to limit the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. In 1920, the U.S. ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which made it illegal to produce, transport, or sell liquor.

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