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Controversial ‘Pot Defense’ Rocks Long Island Impaired Driving Case

Expert Says Habitual User Joseph Beer Less Likely To Be Impaired When Driving
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MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A bombshell defense rocked a Long Island courtroom on Thursday.

The lawyers defending a teenaged driver in a deadly car crash claimed even though he was high on marijuana, that’s not what caused the accident.

As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, the “pot defense” appeared to captivate the jury.

On the final day of trial, Joseph Beer’s defense team turned the case on its ear. Their expert witness from Yale University testified that “chronic” marijuana users like Beer are not affected by the drug in the same way that occasional smokers are.

The defense challenged the prosecutor’s claims that the then-17-year-old Beer was high and impaired after smoking $20 worth of marijuana and then driving more than 100 mph before crashing off the Southern Parkway, killing his four teenage passengers – all childhood friends from Queens.

The defense argued that as a habitual pot smoker Beer was not impaired, and that the crash was accidental — going too fast around a blind curve.

“If you are a frequent user you do build up a tolerance. And the marijuana has less effect on your cognitive abilities, which are the abilities you need to drive a car,” defense attorney Todd Greenberg said.

The defense said THC in the blood is not a good measure of being high, among chronic users.

“It is a fascinating argument, Jennifer, but please understand, no one is arguing it is okay to smoke marijuana and drive,” Greenberg told McLogan.

Studies have produced conflicting data, but most point to marijuana creating an “increased risk” to crash, McLogan reported.

“To say that you smoke marijuana frequently, therefore it doesn’t impact your ability to drive a vehicle is insanity,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. “In Colorado, which legalized marijuana a few months ago, we have already seen a tripling in fatal car crashes, where the driver tests positive for marijuana.”

Marge Lee, herself a victim of a drugged-drunk driver, spoke out for the victims’ advocacy group Dedicatedd.

“What is the message to young people? What ‘s the message to other people using marijuana? Keep doing it because the more you use it, the less affected you are?” Lee said. “This is a terrible message to send to the public.”

The jury was to reconvene on Monday to hear closing arguments.

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