TRENTON – After exasperated lawmakers demanded action on setting up rules for workplace impairment recognition experts required as part of legalizing recreational marijuana, the state’s cannabis regulators offered assurances it’s a priority, though still no timetable.

The Cannabis Regulatory Commission offered an update on its progress at its monthly meeting last week, recapping months of meetings and research and acknowledging the topic’s importance.

CRC Chief Counsel Christopher Riggs said work on setting the standards for workplace impairment recognition experts, or WIREs, began last September, a month after the overall regulations for legal adult-use sales were adopted.

The legalization law directs the CRC to try to cooperate with the Police Training Commission on WIRE regulations, but Riggs said by November it was obvious there would be an issue with that.

“At that time, we were informed that the Police Training Commission does not train drug recognition experts for law enforcement, and they don’t train WIREs either,” Riggs said.

“All DRE, drug recognition expert, training of police officers in New Jersey is performed by the New Jersey State Police, and there are no private businesses that offer this same type of training,” he said. “The DRE training is only available for law enforcement officers, and they wouldn’t offer these courses to civilians.”

Riggs said the CRC is continuing conversations on the topic and answering questions from interested groups, as it tries to balance employers’ rights to a drug-free workforce with people’s right to use legal cannabis.

“We continue to conduct research to determine how the best way to implement a WIRE certification process would be and to make sure the curriculum is sound and we safely and equitably introduce this type of program,” Riggs said.

Regardless of the delay, Eric Echevarria, a licensed clinical social worker and licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor, said New Jersey is opening up businesses to liability and litigation by making them have WIREs.

“It is difficult if not impossible for a person to determine if someone’s kind of high using marijuana on the spot. It’s very unreliable,” Echevarria said.

“A person that goes to a training for however long the training is, it’s just impossible for that person to determine if someone is under the influence currently,” he said.

But now that adult-use marijuana is legal, businesses are clamoring for the WIREs because they’re needed in conjunction with drug testing under state law.

“We need some clarity for our employer community,” said Chrissy Buteas, chief government affairs officer for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, told the Senate Judiciary Committee at its May 12 hearing. “We have hundreds of thousands of businesses, millions of employees that this statute impacts – including the private sector, nonprofits and government.'

“So, we’re in a situation right now where we have a statute that says we need to have these WIREs trained and meet a certain criteria, but we don’t have the actual regulations explaining the certification process,” Buteas said.

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The NJBIA wants the state to allow a wide variety of entities to provide WIRE training, including businesses and private business associations, and to allow for them to be certified by national certification boards.

It also wants WIREs to be able to conduct physical examinations virtually, similar to a telehealth visit.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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