DRUG WAR BRIEFS:The Totality of the Circumstances

January 14- The Dallas News reports: New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson has one more shot at seeing controversial drug policies that made him famous become law when the Legislature convenes this week in Santa Fe.

Many believe that this time around, it might happen. Opponents say they're confident it won't.

Six bills are to be introduced during the 30-day session beginning Tuesday, including a medical marijuana bill and a measure calling for treatment over incarceration for first- and second-time offenders.

"The bills are small steps in the right direction," Mr. Johnson said. "The current failed war on drugs is draining the nation and state of vital resources.

"I believe New Mexicans are beginning to realize that the nation's drug war is not working and that treatment can be more effective and costs less than prison for drug offenders."

The highest-ranking Republican nationally to call for decriminalizing marijuana, Mr. Johnson sent shock waves around the country when he first sought to change New Mexico's drug laws nearly three years ago.

At the time, many in the state, including numerous Republicans, were unhappy.

Now, amid an evolving climate and aided by an intense statewide drug education campaign and economic belt tightening, legislation supporters are optimistic.

January 15- The Associated Press reports: In Idaho, you can drive high as long as you can drive straight.

Marijuana users can drive legally in the state as long as their driving isn't erratic and they can pass a field sobriety test, a federal appeals court ruled Monday. The three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that while it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, Idaho law doesn't list marijuana as a narcotic.

January 15- The Associated Press reports: A unanimous Supreme Court clarified police powers to stop vehicles if an officer has reason to suspect a crime, ruling Tuesday that a border patrol officer was justified in stopping a minivan that turned out to be carrying 125 pounds of marijuana.

The officer gave numerous reasons for stopping the van, each of which might have an innocent explanation, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court. But taken together, the officers' reasons were enough, the court said.

Reinforcing its earlier views in similar cases, the Supreme Court said that the appropriateness of a police stop must be judged on the "totality of the circumstances," in each case.

"This process allows officers to draw on their own experience and specialized training," Rehnquist wrote.

January 17- The Edinburgh Evening News reports: British drug group GW Pharmaceuticals is confident that the first cannabis-based drugs will be available on prescription by 2004.

GW is the only company to legally develop and produce cannabis-derived drugs.

It said that research was progressing well, with "Phase II" clinical trials showing patients were receiving benefit and most drugs now entering "Phase III" testing, the "last and most critical stage of development".

Executive chairman Dr Geoffrey Guy added: "We remain confident of being able to present data to the UK regulatory authorities in 2003, and - subject to approval - bring the first cannabis-based prescription medicine to market in early 2004."

Salisbury-based GW is carrying out research into using the illegal drug as a painkiller for a variety of illnesses, including multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, cancer and arthritis.

GW is licensed by the Government and last October, Home Secretary David Blunkett said he would recommend that the Medicines Control Agency authorise medicinal use of cannabis should the trials prove successful.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson at kcnelson@premier1.net.

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