Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said his public safety department is readying its roughly 7,500 personnel for the legalization of marijuana, including the preparation of state troopers to recognize stoned drivers, and no longer training K-9 drug-sniffing dogs to recognize the scent of cannabis.
Grewal, at an April 3 Assembly Budget Hearing on the Department of Law and Public Safety, said he wants all 1,400 road patrol state troopers trained to recognize the signs of someone who is high on cannabis.
Only 500 officers in New Jersey, about 120 of which are members of the state police, are trained as “drug recognition experts (DRE),” the state’s top cop said.
The remaining trained officers span roughly 200 municipalities, who will often provide DRE services to the towns they patrol or neighboring towns through a shared-services agreement, according to Grewal.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said there is currently no timeline for when the OAG hopes to have all 1,400 troopers fully trained, but groups of officers would likely be rotated into training over time rather than entering them into the DRE course all at once.
Each person costs the state roughly $260 to train for three weeks – two weeks are spent in the classroom and another week is spent performing field-training.
Towns indirectly incur costs because the officers that take the course are effectively out of commission for those three weeks, Grewal said, meaning those officers’ towns have to pick up the slack.
Municipal advocates such as the New Jersey League of Municipalities have been pushing for higher local tax rates on cannabis sales to help alleviate the costs of enforcement, but lawmakers have vowed the state would pick up most of the tab for regulations.
With drug-sniffing dogs, once the unit has been taught to pick up the scent of cannabis it cannot be un-trained, Grewal said. Instead, those animals would be used at places where one could not possess marijuana even if it was legalized, such as schools and jails.
“There are about six or seven training facilities to include the counties [where] we have not been imprinting dogs now on marijuana,” Grewal said, given the “possibility of legislation” to legalize cannabis.
“You can always add [training] later,” Grewal added.
Cannabis-legalization efforts between Gov. Phil Murphy and the state Legislature have stalled because the state Senate could not come up with the required 21 votes to approve a bill, even though the Assembly has the 41 votes needed.
Murphy is giving lawmakers until May to come up with the votes necessary to approve legislation, otherwise he will move forward with plans to drastically expand the state’s medical marijuana program so that it could serve at least 150,000 more patients by 2022.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, has not been on board with the proposed expansion, calling it a “back-door” to legalization.
“The governor, the [Assembly] speaker and I should stick to our agreement for legislative approval of the three bills,” Sweeney said Monday in a statement. The other piece of legislation handles the process for expungement of low-level marijuana offenses from criminal records.