During last year’s campaign to legalize the use, sale and possession of recreational marijuana by Mainers 21 and older, one of the most prominent groups to oppose the law was the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, whose members would be tasked with enforcing the new rules.

Among the group’s concerns was that the legalization effort would expose more children to substances that can be harmful for their development and lead to more Mainers hitting the highway after smoking or eating cannabis products.

A slim majority of Maine voters approved the law, though, and it’s set to go into effect Monday.

As it does, several central Maine police chiefs, as well as Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason, said they are ready for the change, which will allow the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana or six adult marijuana plants by those 21 and older.

But the chiefs also reiterated some of the concerns that came up during the campaign and said they’re paying attention as the Legislature tries to resolve other ambiguities in the new law. Late Friday, Gov. Paul LePage signed into law a measure approved by the Legislature to delay retail sales of the drug until February 2018 and to make it clear that only those 21 and older can possess it.

Officers in the Augusta Police Department have undergone several in-house training sessions about legalization, said Deputy Chief Jared Mills. They also have paid attention to changes that followed the legalization of recreational marijuana in states such as Colorado and Washington.

Mills compared the recent ambiguities to those encountered when Maine first legalized medical marijuana in 1999. At that time, for example, there were questions on whether people could smoke medical marijuana in public and in apartment buildings.

“Throughout the years, there are things like this that came up, and we have to do the best we can under the circumstances,” Mills said. “We view this as a work in progress. This is what was voted, and we’ll enforce the laws as the Legislature passes them. … The hope is the people across the street are working to hammer things out.”

Both Sheriff Mason and Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey emphasized that they, too, are waiting for changes to be made by the Legislature, but Mason added that lawmakers should not rush.

“They need to take their time,” he said. “They can learn from the mistakes of Colorado and Washington. What didn’t they foresee happening?”

Since both of those states legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, the number of overall traffic deaths remained similar to pre-legalization levels, according to a report published last fall by the Drug Policy Alliance, but research by AAA showed that drivers in fatal Washington crashes were more likely to have pot in their systems after it was legalized.

Police chiefs here expressed concerns about more people hitting the road with marijuana in their systems, but they also said it’s time-consuming for officers to ascertain whether someone driving has been impaired by marijuana use.

Maine lawmakers have failed to agree on a blood level limit to determine whether a person is driving under the influence of marijuana, and officers must currently have a certified expert run tests on suspects to determine whether drug use has affected their driving.

“There’s no established standard for law enforcement to measure a person’s impairment from smoking marijuana,” Massey said.

Gardiner Police Chief James Toman is also concerned about the possibility of more people driving while under the influence of marijuana, but he said the new law will not have a great impact on the work of his officers.

The intent of the new law was to regulate marijuana like the state currently regulates alcohol, and while Toman is looking to the Legislature for clarification on some details, he said the protocols are mostly clear.

“It’s business as usual,” he said. “The officers are going to be able to exercise good judgment. … It’s still like drinking in public or while operating a motor vehicle. We’ll maintain vigilance.”

But Mills, the deputy chief from Augusta, said there may be other issues surrounding the new law that his department can’t predict. For example, with the greater circulation of legal marijuana in Maine, there could also be larger seizures of marijuana being sold outside the licensed businesses, Mills said.

In Denver, Colorado, police are expecting to seize more than twice the amount of black market marijuana this year than they did in 2013, according to the Denver Post. Because of those projections, the city police department requested a $125,116 expansion of its property bureau.

“Lets face it, there’s going to be more marijuana out there now because it’s legal,” Mills said. “So (there could be) bigger seizures. We haven’t expanded our evidence room, but there might be something that happens that we’re not prepared for.”

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

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