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Drugs Fought the Law

This week, a medical marijuana bill is making its way through the CT state legislature; Congress looks at zero-tolerance "drugged driving" laws; federal courts are swamped with increased cases and decreasing funding; and the Oakland, CA, police department is accused of squashing internal investigations.
 
 
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March 15- The Stamford (CT) Advocate reports: A bill that will allow sick people to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes cleared its first legislative hurdle Monday, despite opposition from lawmakers who described the measure as a backdoor attempt to legalize the drug.

The Legislature's Judiciary Committee voted 24-15 to approve the bill, which is nearly identical to a measure that made it out of committee last year before failing on the House floor. This year's bill decreases the number of plants that can be grown from six plants to five and would require the plants be grown in a secure, indoor area, said bill sponsor state Rep. Jim Abrams.

The bill is not an attempt to legalize or decriminalize marijuana for recreational use, Abrams said. "It's used to treat sick people to keep them out of jail," said Abrams, D-Meriden.

The bill would allow doctors to provide a written certification that qualifies their patient to use marijuana only for medical purposes. The patient or a caregiver would then be allowed to grow up to five plants for personal use and present the doctor's certificate as a legal defense for having the illegal substance.

March 16- The Worcester (MA) Telegram & Gazette reports: Citing estimates that 11 million people sometimes drive under the influence of illegal drugs, a growing chorus in Congress wants the government to do something about it.

The states are wary.

Eight states now have specific laws on "drugged driving," but their statutes are vague. None specifies an equivalent level to the 0.08 percent blood content that Congress established as the legal level for alcohol impairment.

That's partly because there's no roadside test to detect the presence of drugs in the body -- no handy "breathalyzer" as there is for alcohol. And even if blood or urine samples taken at a hospital test positive for drugs, there's no standard for how high is too high to drive.

"Zero tolerance" is the level some lawmakers want Congress to establish. A motorist found to have any controlled substance in his or her system would be considered unlawfully impaired.

"Everyone who drives is affected by this," said Rep. Robert J. Portman, R-Ohio, citing a report last September by the Department of Health and Human Services estimating that during the previous year nearly 11 million people drove at one time or another under the influence of drugs. The same survey said three times as many people - 33.5 million - drove under the influence of alcohol in 2002.

The Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety agencies, advises its members not to adopt drug-impaired driving laws at all for the time being.

"There has been little to no evaluation as to their effectiveness," said spokesman Jonathan Adkins. "Most drivers who are drug impaired are also alcohol-impaired."

March 17- Boston Globe reports: Federal courts are swamped, partly because of Bush administration get-tough-on-crime policies that lead to more trials, the head of a federal judges' group said yesterday.

Judge Carolyn Dineen King of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit singled out drug and immigration prosecutions along the US-Mexican border and Attorney General John Ashcroft's order last year that federal prosecutors should seek the severest charges and penalties.

Federal spending has not come close to keeping pace with the increase in caseloads prompted by decisions like those, she said following a meeting of the policy-setting Judicial Conference of the United States, which she chairs. "More trials take place because of that, more prosecutions ensue because of their policies," King said. "Our criminal caseload keeps going up, but our resources go down every year."

March 17- The San Francisco Chronicle reports: The Oakland Police Department too often fails to take seriously investigations into allegations of corruption and abuse, allowing accused officers to go unpunished, according to a report prepared by experts overseeing the agency under a $10.5 million settlement in the Riders scandal.

The report, released Tuesday, criticizes department brass for failing to make internal investigations a top priority and for fostering a lax culture within a department that sits on such inquiries until they die quietly.

Send comments to Kevin Nelson at drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com.