Woonsocket police prepare for retail marijuana impact

Woonsocket police prepare for retail marijuana impact

WOONSOCKET – As communities in Massachusetts open their doors to retail marijuana dispensaries, police across the border in Rhode Island are preparing for the potential impact on the Ocean State.

In Woonsocket, Deputy Police Chief Michael Lemoine, pictured, told The Breeze he anticipates a possible impact on Woonsocket as marijuana becomes more readily available in Massachusetts, where the first retail pot stores opened late last year. The city’s proximity to several border towns that may soon host cannabis retail stores, he said, opens up the possibility of residents purchasing marijuana legally and bringing it undetected into the state.

“I think there’s definitely some challenges that collectively we’re going to have to figure out what the best course of action is going to be,” said Lemoine.

The biggest challenge, he said, will be to identify and respond to individuals driving under the influence of marijuana. In the case of alcohol, police can chemically determine a person’s level of impairment using a breathalyzer. With marijuana, no tools exist that could determine a person’s level of impairment with the same precision, according to Lemoine. The lack of a chemical test will offer a challenge to police in both states as they look to enforce laws against impaired driving.

“Determining at what point of somebody’s intoxication of marijuana is too much, I think it’s going to be problematic from a law enforcement standpoint,” he said. “At the moment, there’s no means to test somebody’s level of intoxication as far as marijuana is concerned.”

According to Lemoine, the department currently has two trained drug recognition experts whose testimony as to a person’s level of intoxication can stand as evidence in court. While it’s difficult to predict whether the region will see an increase in marijuana use or motor vehicle violations, Lemoine said he expects to see some “test cases” as the courts develop common practices for prosecuting someone charged with operating under the influence of the drug.

“If you’re a marijuana user, whether you are purchasing it through other channels or the black market, let’s say, illegally, you certainly now have an easier venue to go into Massachusetts and purchase it legally,” he said. “Just making it available without having to skirt around law enforcement or the laws, that alone I think is going to just make it more available to more people.”

Massachusetts residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana statewide in 2016, but it wasn’t until November of 2018 that the first retail shops opened their doors in Leicester and Northampton. Last week, a store in Fall River underwent its final inspection prior to opening. Closer to home, Millville and Uxbridge have already signed community host agreements with companies in the process of licensing with the state, and Blackstone is considering proposals from two retail sellers. One of those sellers, DDM Sales Inc., will host a community outreach meeting to discuss its plans next Thursday, Jan. 24, at 5 p.m. at the Millerville Men’s Club.

The marijuana landscape is also changing in Rhode Island, where Gov. Gina Raimondo announced over the weekend she intends to propose legalizing recreational sales as part of her budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. If approved by lawmakers, the change could see retail shops opening in Rhode Island as early as January 2020. In comments to The Providence Journal, Raimondo said the proposal was in response to actions by Rhode Island’s neighbors, several of whom have legalized or are considering legalizing recreational pot. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2006.

In comments made prior to Raimondo’s announcement, Lemoine said he wants Woonsocket officers to be prepared in the event that Rhode Island legalizes recreational marijuana sales within the state.

“We always want our officers to be at the top of their game and give them the tools necessary to go out and enforce the laws, and that’s what we continue to do,” he said.

Rhode Island State Police declined to discuss any measures they are taking to prepare for the spread of retail shops in Massachusetts, but spokeswoman Laura Meade Kirk said police would continue to enforce all relevant laws within the state.

“The Rhode Island State Police is going to continue to enforce all laws, including narcotics violations and impaired driving violations, in accordance with Rhode Island General Laws,” she wrote by email.

Comments

Police additionally,have to administer Narcan, to save addicts, now they have to figure out whether it's pot or alcohol or medication or.....when does it end! Goodness they sure have more and more that keeps getting added onto them. And pray they get it right or get sued. God bless them. It's getting tougher and tougher for the police. More and more stressful.

Our prisons are full of people selling pot and whatever else. Alcohol is as bad or worse,and yes its tough being a police officer.