Since leisure marijuana was legalized statewide in March 2021, weed now appears ubiquitous on New York Metropolis roadways. At smoke outlets, clients drive off after blazing up. In movement or at crimson lights, smoke wafts from automotive home windows, the scent mingling with exhaust fumes in a pungent miasma.

“It’s coming from all walks of life. It’s all around the metropolis,” stated Jayson Vasquez, 39, who has labored as a motorcycle messenger in New York Metropolis for 13 years. He sees and smells increasingly drivers smoking, whilst they negotiate heavy weekday site visitors, puffing away behind the wheel and straying from their lanes.

“You’re like, ‘Hey, hey, HEY!’” he stated, “they usually’re simply not paying consideration. It’s an actual downside for me.”

State regulation nonetheless forbids smoking pot earlier than or whereas driving. On paper, the implications for driving excessive are just like drunken-driving prices: First offenders face fines of as much as $1,000, a six-month license revocation and probably as a lot as a 12 months in jail.

However arrests are scant in New York, a metropolis of 8.5 million residents with greater than two million vehicles and 36,000 law enforcement officials. Police officers stated they arrested 204 folks final 12 months for driving beneath the affect of medication, and no less than 83 to date this 12 months. It’s unclear what number of arrests have been for marijuana, as a result of police officers don’t break down arrests by kind of substance. By comparability, there have been 3,291 arrests final 12 months for ingesting and driving.

“The arrest numbers are embarrassingly low. We’re barely scratching the floor,” stated Kevin Sabet, director of Sensible Approaches to Marijuana, a bunch that opposed the 2021 legalization regulation and has known as for extra enforcement of driving beneath the affect of marijuana. “We’re turning a blind eye to this — we’ve purchased into this lie that it’s innocent.”

There have been effectively over 200 drug-related deadly crashes a 12 months throughout the state between 2017 and 2021, in keeping with the Institute for Site visitors Security Administration and Analysis. This has surpassed the variety of alcohol-related crash fatalities lately.

In explaining the low arrest numbers, New York Metropolis police officers famous quite a few hurdles in cracking down on driving excessive: the shortage of a Breathalyzer-type system for evaluating blood marijuana ranges, the problem in proving impairment and authorized limitations when apprehending stoned drivers. In contrast, alcohol arrests are extra easy, sometimes based mostly on breath checks and clear guidelines on impairment linked to blood alcohol ranges.

The pervasive use of marijuana arrives as New York struggles to make its lethal streets safer with packages like Imaginative and prescient Zero, its 2014 site visitors security initiative. Since its creation, deadly crashes declined to almost 200 in 2018 from round 260 a 12 months, however then elevated to greater than 250 in 2021 and 2022. There have been 51 fatalities by March of this 12 months.

Hashish will increase the danger of collisions by delaying reactions, altering time and distance notion, and affecting motor coordination and focus, stated Sgt. Donald Schneider, a Queens-based member of the New York Metropolis Police Division’s freeway patrol who oversees the division’s testing of drug-impaired drivers.

“You lose the flexibility to multitask and that’s why it’s so harmful for driving,” stated Sergeant Schneider, one of many division’s 19 licensed drug recognition consultants, specialised officers who can consider whether or not an arrested driver is really impaired.

However to many motorists, particularly youthful ones, getting ticketed for marijuana use is so unusual, it isn’t an enormous concern.

“All people’s fairly chill about it,” stated Siul Soto, 18, who as a counterman on the High Shelf smoke store in Forest Hills, Queens, sells edibles, pre-rolled joints and pungent buds of Gorilla Glue marijuana, named for its tendency to go away customers caught to the sofa.

“For lots of people now, being excessive is their pure state, so everyone seems to be smoking and driving,” he stated.

Mr. Soto says many younger folks consider driving excessive is much safer than driving drunk. He believes weed to be a skill-sharpener, whether or not with driving, or schoolwork, sports activities or video video games.

“They brainwash you to assume weed makes you all confused and gradual,” Mr. Soto stated. “My expertise, you’re truly extra targeted while you smoke.”

There actually didn’t appear to be a lot trepidation about smoking and driving one night final month at an unlicensed deli-style smoke store in Morningside Heights. Prospects smoked their purchases at retailer counters earlier than hopping into vehicles exterior and driving off.

Youthful drivers usually tend to smoke and drive, and to be concerned in most of the tons of of deadly accidents a 12 months statewide that authorities say are related to drug use.

Earlier than the 2021 legalization of hashish, Mr. Sabet stated he and different advocates had raised site visitors security considerations to the lawmakers spearheading the laws. However greater than two years after the regulation’s passage, he stated, “We’ve not settled this challenge in any respect.”

Charging a driver with drug impairment includes an intensive analysis, which legal professionals commonly problem in courtroom as newbie science. In contrast, a drunken driver’s destiny will be sealed with a constructive Breathalyzer studying alone. Many drivers impaired by marijuana are additionally legally drunk, which statistically turns the arrest into drunken driving, stated Inspector Sylvester Ge, commanding officer of the division’s Freeway Patrol division.

For the Police Division’s freeway unit, the problem is private. One in every of their officers was killed in 2021 by a driver they stated was impaired by alcohol and marijuana.

The police stated the driving force fatally struck Officer Anastasios Tsakos as he was directing site visitors off the Lengthy Island Expressway in Queens. The authorities stated she sped previous site visitors cones and lights and hit Mr. Tsakos with such pressure that it despatched him almost 40 ft within the air and caved in her hood and windshield.

And within the Bronx a 12 months in the past, a 25-year-old male driver with marijuana in his system misjudged his pace whereas approaching an exit ramp on a Bronx freeway and crashed into a close-by home, ejecting and killing him and injuring his passenger, the police stated.

However with no organic manner of measuring whether or not somebody is excessive, circumstances typically depend on an officer’s willpower after greater than an hour of questioning a driver, which additionally includes some cognitive checks.

An knowledgeable’s 12-step analysis consists of pupil examinations, coordination checks, and steadiness and motion workouts, Sergeant Schneider stated, and even taking drivers’ pulse and blood stress.

“We’ve made the method so cumbersome that there’s no purpose for regulation enforcement to give attention to this challenge,” Mr. Sabet stated.

Police departments have but to include shortly growing enforcement know-how, like transportable consoles that function roadside video game-type gadgets to check response occasions and cognitive and motor abilities.

Most officers have some coaching in primary roadside sobriety testing. The 2021 legalization of marijuana prompted a name to hurry the certification of drug recognition consultants, the best stage of evaluator and a vital think about securing convictions. However amongst greater than 50,000 regulation enforcement officers within the state and greater than 500 police forces, there are solely 446 licensed drug recognition consultants.

State officers stated they’ve elevated coaching to roughly 100 officers per 12 months. One limitation was that the course required three weeks of classroom and area coaching and accepted solely choose officers. The certification check features a clinic the place trainees show their drug recognition abilities by interviewing individuals who have simply consumed them.

Among the many New York Metropolis Police Division’s roughly 36,000 officers, greater than 14,000 have obtained some coaching since 2018 within the fundamentals of detecting marijuana impairment, however solely 19 are licensed drug recognition consultants, Inspector Ge stated.

Sergeant Schneider stated enforcement was extra difficult than merely recognizing some cartoonish smoke-billowing scene resembling a Cheech and Chong film.

A mere scent shouldn’t be a legitimate purpose to cease a car, so officers should typically watch for a site visitors violation or a crash to see whether or not indicators of impairment warrant taking the driving force to a close-by station home and calling in a drug recognition knowledgeable, he stated.

Carlos Polanco, 41, of Harlem, stated he and his buddies used to smoke whereas driving to keep away from being arrested on sidewalks, constructing stairwells and rooftops.

“Now that it’s authorized, we are able to smoke out within the open,” stated Mr. Polanco, a safety guard at Indoor, a dispensary in Harlem. “Which is nice, as a result of we bought into a pair shut calls, smoking within the automotive.”