If you have not decided already by submitting your ballot, you still have a week and in that time Ocean County Health Leaders are hoping you'll carefully look over the numbers regarding marijuana and its affects on your health and driving.

The question on the ballot this year asks you if you would like New Jersey to make marijuana legal for recreational use for anyone over the age of 21-years old.

Ocean County Health leaders are urging caution and presenting information they explain can help save lives, especially in HIDTA areas like Ocean County where they continue to battle the drug epidemic.

The New Jersey DEA set up a special HIDTA Task Force for Monmouth/Ocean County in 2018 due to a rising amount of drug deals and overdoses taking place on a variety of drugs.

The Monmouth-Ocean office was created by the NJ DEA with the support of Senator Cory Booker, then 3rd District Representative Tom MacArthur, NY/NJ HIDTA Executive Director Chauncey Parker, Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni and then Ocean County Prosecutor Joe Coronato.

"People that are involved in the drug business from the lowest level person selling on the street corner up to the heads of the different organizations, they're doing what they're doing for one reason only and that's the financial aspect of it because there's so much money involved," DEA Special Agent Tim McMahon told 92.7 WOBM News. "Hopefully having the weight of the federal government behind these investigations will be a deterrent."

In 2018, the Ocean County Health Department put together an overdose fatality pilot program report looking into 58-cases with an age range of 18-67 and 66-percent of those in the report being men and 34-percent women.

In the report, 66-percent of cases were of people reported to have had poor health, 57-percent were linked to substance abuse treatment, another 57-percent had a known criminal history, 55-percent were known IV users, 52-percent were diagnosed or linked to a mental health issue and 22-percent had been convicted of a DUI.

As for marijuana, it remains a concern for law enforcement, health officials and certain lawmakers.

In 2018, two legislative committees gave initial approval to a plan to legalize and regulate sales of marijuana to adults in New Jersey, and not long after at the Statehouse Ocean County Sheriff Mike Mastronardy (who is also president of the Sheriff’s Association of New Jersey) and Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden raised concerns about what legal weed will do to law enforcement.

“We have six dogs in our county (sheriff’s department) alone,” Mastronardy said, according to the Lavallette-Seaside & Ortley Beach Shorebeat. ” I’m going to lose three officers for a year as they train new K9's, and our current K9's are going to be deemed unusable.”

Mastronardy also disagreed with the idea discussed that legalizing marijuana, "is in the pursuit of a more equitable justice system."

“This isn’t about social justice. It’s about money – we all know that,” Mastronardy said.

In a November 2018 exclusive interview with 92.7 WOBM News Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer took no side on the issue but did say legal pot will provide a challenge to law enforcement in detecting a DUI.

"As a prosecutor I took an oath to uphold the law so I don't have an opinion on the pro's and con's," Billhimer said. "My concerns moving forward have to do a lot with the current bill and the way that it's written, it doesn't account for operating or driving under the influence. Right now, if you're operating under the influence of a narcotic or CDS, a drug recognition expert has to be called in which is a local police officer that has specific expertise but if marijuana is legal, you're going to need more of those officers."

Billhimer said if it's made legal, a better qualitative test will be needed to detect drivers under the influence.

Car into a building on Hooper Avenue in Toms River (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media NJ)

"There's no way right now to tell when somebody ingested marijuana if they get caught driving in the car," Billhimer said. "It's in their bloodstream but it could be in there from 30-days ago, 25-days ago or 2-hours ago, we don't have any way of testing that so that's a challenge for law enforcement."

The driver of the viral and fatal Porsche crash into the second story of an office building on Hooper Avenue in Toms River last year had a BAC of .189 as well as an Active THC (marijuana) level of 22 nanograms (ng) with a Metabolite THC level of 18 ng in his system at the time of the accident. 

Ocean County Health Officials are urging voters to review all the facts and data before doing anything on the ballot.

“Marijuana use can have many harmful effects on an individual’s physical and mental health but it can also cause harm to more than just the person using the drug,” Kimberly Reilly, OCHD Chief of Administrative Services for the Alcohol and Drug Program, said in a statement on Friday. “Societal costs of marijuana use include paying for a rise in emergency room visits, medical care, addiction treatment for the uninsured, increased crime and more victims of drugged driving accidents.”

OCHD Public Health Coordinator Dan Regenye explains that compared to those who don’t use marijuana, those who do use large amounts report more relationship issues, lower life satisfaction, less academic and career success and poorer mental and physical concerns.

“Just like alcohol, smoking tobacco and vaping, young adults and teenagers will still find ways to get their hands on marijuana,” Regenye said in a statement. “When people begin using marijuana as teenagers, the drug may impair brain development and affect thinking, memory, and learning functions. Researchers are still studying how long marijuana's effects last and whether some changes may be permanent.”

Regenye adds that THC, the compound found in cannabis, acts on specific brain cell receptors that ordinarily react to natural THC-like chemicals.

Patty High, OCHD Assistant Public Health Officer points to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association for a concern shared by medical experts as marijuana use during pregnancy is linked to lower birth weight and increased risk of brain development and behavioral problems in babies.

“Expecting mothers need to know that children exposed to marijuana in the womb have an increased risk of problems with attention, memory, and problem-solving compared to unexposed children,” High said in a statement. “Some research also suggests that moderate amounts of THC are leaked into the breast milk of nursing mothers while other recent research suggests an increased risk of preterm births.”

Dan Regenye explains that some of the physical problems that can come with marijuana use include breathing problems because marijuana smoke irritates the lungs, and people who smoke marijuana frequently can have the same breathing problems as those who smoke tobacco.

You can follow Vin Ebenau on Twitter and Instagram and email news tips to vin.ebenau@townsquaremedia.com.

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