March 10, 2004 - The Columbia Missourian (MO)

Bill Would Penalize People For Being High

Sponsors Say That They Want To Close A "Loophole" In Current Drug Laws

By Graham Wood

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Missourians under the influence of drugs could be arrested for being high if a proposed House bill is passed.

Reps. Brian Baker, R-Belton, and Therese Sander, R-Moberly, proposed House Bill No. 983, which would make it a Class A misdemeanor to be under the influence of a controlled substance. Current law prohibits only the possession, purchase, distribution or manufacturing of a controlled substance.

Baker said drug laws contain a "loophole" that prohibits police from charging someone with a drug violation without physical evidence. [Emphasis added]

Under the proposed legislation, for example, police could arrest someone for being under the influence of cocaine even without physical evidence that the person was in possession of the drug.

Baker said the bill is a protective measure to keep people from engaging in drug use.

"This closes that loophole," Baker said.

Capt. Mike Martin, investigative commander for the Columbia Police Department, said the bill would help strengthen laws against driving while under the influence of drugs, which can be just as dangerous as drunken driving.

But he predicted no change in the department's investigative procedures if the bill were to pass.

"I think we would continue to do the things that we're doing," Martin said.

He said the department employs three drug recognition experts, or DREs, who help determine whether someone is under the influence.

One of those experts, Candy Corman, said that in addition to looking for obvious signs of impairment, DREs measure the blood pressure and pulse rates of people suspected of being on drugs.

Measurements that are abnormally high could be a sign of drug intoxication, Corman said.

DREs also look for "clinical indicators of actions, "such as teeth grinding and fidgety movement.

Corman echoed Martin's opinion that the bill "might make officers more aware" of the importance of enforcing laws against driving while intoxicated.

Some Columbia residents were unimpressed with the proposed legislation.

Brandy Stallman, who works at the Columbia Mall, said that people have used drugs for social and recreational purposes for centuries. The proposed bill would do nothing to change that, she said.

"It's just ridiculous," Stallman said of HB 983. "Nothing has stopped people (from using drugs) so far."

Tim Colbert, a Columbia resident who was shopping at the mall on a recent afternoon, said the bill could help keep drivers who are under the influence off the road. He said poor driving performance is an indicator of drug impairment, so officers should be able to arrest someone based on those observations.

However, Colbert said, "police could abuse the law."

He said police should not be allowed to arrest someone because "they look suspicious. To me, that's not proof."

The bill has been referred to the House Committee of Crime Prevention and Public Safety, but a vote on the measure has yet to be scheduled.

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