Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Proposition 19, Proposition 215 and DUI Laws

Proposition 215, The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, decriminalized the cultivation and use of marijuana by ill individuals upon a physician’s recommendation. Although, a medical marijuana card is not required, over 46,000 Californians have obtained a card since 2004 (California Department of Health).

Have DUI laws changed since 2004? The basic elements of “Driving Under the Influence” (DUI) have not changed. The basic element, regardless if there is alcohol, prescription or illicit drugs in the system is whether the person is so impaired by that substance that they are unable to drive like a sober person in like circumstances. This does not change whether the substanc e is alcohol, marijuana, vicodin, cocaine or any other potentially impairing substance.

Have DUI arrest numbers changed since 2004? Comparing the number of DUI arrests between 2004 and now is not a fair comparison, because there are too many variables. Although there may seem to be more impaired drivers on the roadway now then before, one must also keep in mind that the enforcement of DUIs has increased along with the increase in media attention. How many checkpoints are there now compared to 2004? How many news articles are written about DUI arrests now compared to 2004? Even some local newspapers, such as the Daily Pilot in Newport Beach, list the arrestees in the area. Now, there are also DUI task forces, along with the narcotic and gang task forces. MADD and other such organizations have put DUIs in the spotlight as a dangerous crime where numerous innocent people die as a result. Out of the spotlight, however, it is known that DUIs are a huge money-maker for the State, Counties and Cities. How many other crimes pour money into the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the County Courts and local police departments through booking fees, over-time and increased budgets needed to pay for the checkpoints and other tools of enforcement. One has to wonder why the money does not go into better means of transportation in areas such as Orange County where the sprawl goes on for miles and miles away from the bars and restaurants at the cities’ centers in order to reduce the number of drivers.

Will the passage of Propostion 19 increase DUI arrests? It is hard to tell. Proposition 19 is on the Nov. 2, 2010 California ballot. The passage of Prop. 19 would legalize marijuana for all Californians as long as they are 21 years and older. All Californians will legally be able to possess an ounce or less of marijuana, use marijuana in nonpublic places and grow marijuana. Proposition 215 did not result in any noticible increase in DUIs and the expectation would be that Prop. 19 also would not. The headlines do not read “DUI accident kills – marijuana the culprit”. The majority of deaths as a result of DUI accidents are alcohol related.

If Proposition 19 passes will there be a conflict between state and federal law? Yes. The Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is designed to combat recreational drug use making it unlawful to manufacture, distribute, dispense, or possess any controlled substance, Congress has provided that states are free to regulate in the area of controlled substances, including marijuana, provided that state law does not conflict with the CSA. The Courts have found that Proposition 215 does not conflict with CSA, because it does not legalize marijuana, rather California has the power not to punish certain marijuana offenses under state law when a physician has recommended its use to treat a medical condition. However, a number of “liberal” politicians and groups are, surprisingly, not supporting Proposition 19, because of this conflict with federal law. They believe that Prop. 19 may potentially have a negative fiscal impact to the state since it would be in direct conflict with the CSA, and the federal government could withdraw or restrict funding. However, many are supporting this passage of Prop. 19, including a former Judge of Orange County, a former United States Surgeon General, a former President of the American College of Emergency Physicians, Democrats, Republicans, former police chiefs and former District Attorneys. These proponents of Prop. 19 understand that too much money is spent on the enforcement, criminalization and punishment under the current marijuana laws while the local and state governments could actually gain income with the legalization. In addition, they understand that alcohol is more dangerous with regards to driving while incurring more health costs than marijuana. As with other legislature and court rulings, California is often the leader in change for what later is changed across the country.

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