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Battle looming over ‘zero tolerance’ drug DUI bill

Sparks might fly as lawmakers later this month hear a bill that would make it illegal to drive with any detectable trace of marijuana or other illegal drugs in the blood, regardless of the driver’s actual impairment.

Marijuana advocates say this “zero tolerance” bill, to be heard April 23 by the state Senate Public Safety Committee, overlooks the fact that driving impairment can’t be determined by the presence of marijuana compounds in the blood.

Unlike alcohol, THC blood levels have no direct relation to the actual dosage consumed or active in the body, they say. Instead, levels spike right after smoking but then decline quickly to lower levels within an hour or so regardless of dosage, and can remain in the blood anywhere from eight to 12 hours in occasional users and six days or more in regular users – including those who use it medicinally – long after any impairment has faded.

“In effect, SB 289 is equivalent to calling drivers DUI if they’ve had a glass of beer or wine in the past few hours, or left an empty bottle in their trash,” California NORML Director Dale Gieringer said in a news release. “The science is clear that driving impairment can’t be determined by the presence of marijuana in the blood.”

But SB 289’s author, state Sen. Lou Correa, says California lacks any threshold for judging drugged driving.

“Driving under the influence of illegal drugs is dangerous and cannot be tolerated,” Correa, D-Santa Ana, said in a news release when he introduced the bill in February. “Creating a zero tolerance drugged driving policy will equip law enforcement with the tools needed to keep our communities and roads safe.”

In most states, a driver is guilty of driving under the influence if the state proves the driver was actually impaired at the time of arrest. But under SB 289, California would join 17 other states which have made it illegal to drive a vehicle if the driver’s blood contains any detectable amount of Schedule I, II, III or IV drugs.

Correa’s news release noted the bill excludes medicine used with a valid prescription issued by a licensed health care practitioner. Californians voted in 1996 to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, but it remains on Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act – the most restrictive category for controlled substances, encompassing drugs defined as having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

Correa’s bill is co-sponsored by the California State Sheriffs’ Association, California Police Chiefs Association, California Narcotics Officers Association and International Faith Based Coalition.

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Feds seek eight years for campaign embezzler

Federal prosecutors say Democratic campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee should serve eight years and one month in federal prison for having embezzled more than $7 million from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other prominent California elected officials.

Durkee, 59, of Long Beach, is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in Sacramento.

“Over the course of approximately 12 years, the defendant misappropriated millions of dollars from clients, used the money for her personal and business expenses, and prepared false campaign disclosure reports to hide the theft,” says the sentencing memo prosecutors filed last Wednesday. “This sentence will reflect the seriousness of the offense, provide just punishment, and afford adequate deterrence.”

A restitution figure should be ready by Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors wrote.

Durkee pleaded guilty earlier this year to five counts of mail fraud. Her plea agreement noted that the sentencing range would be from 11 years and three months to 14 years, but also that prosecutors would recommend the low end of whatever range federal probation officers came up with.

Besides Feinstein’s campaign, other victims included the campaigns of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove; Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Cerritos; state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana; and Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Anaheim. There were at least 50 victims in all, prosecutors said.

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Governor vetoes medical marijuana zoning bill

Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would’ve barred medical marijuana dispensaries from being located with 600 feet of a school or residential area, unless city or county officials enact their own ordinances.

The bill was SB 847 by state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana. The state Senate had passed it 31-2 in June; the Assembly had passed it 68-5 in August; and the state Senate had concurred in the Assembly’s amendments on a 34-4 vote in August.

“I have already signed AB 1300 that gave cities and counties authority to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries – an authority I believe they already had,” Brown said in his veto message. “This bill goes in the opposite direction by preempting local control and prescribing the precise locations in which dispensaries may not be located. Decisions of this kind are best made in cities and counties, not the State Capitol.”

SB 847 had originated with the city of Anaheim and was supported by groups such as the Peace Officers Research Association of California; advocates contended it would create a buffer zone until local governments can enact their own ordinances.

Groups including Americans for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project had opposed SB 847, saying it would force a one-size-fits-all zoning scheme on local governments, and would lead to a lack of access to medical marijuana in some high-density urban areas.

Don Duncan, Americans for Safe Access’ California director, blogged today that the veto followed a groundswell of opposition from medical marijuana advocates, proving “that grassroots participation makes a difference.”

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California’s online poker bills are dead until 2012

A contentious effort to legalize and regulate online poker in California was pronounced dead for this year by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg today.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, wrote a letter to stakeholders saying that although the Legislature has held several hearings with hours of testimony, “significant, unresolved issues remain, including tribal exclusivity and waiver of sovereign immunity, the types of games that would be authorized, who would be eligible to apply for gaming site licenses and potential federal constitutional questions.”

The problems aren’t insurmountable, he wrote, “but not before the end of this legislative year on September 9th, when Interim Study Recess is scheduled to begin. Rushing to meet a legislative deadline on an issue of such significance for our state and our people would be unwise.”

Steinberg said he expects a better proposal will be developed during the recess for consideration when the Legislature reconvenes in 2012, and the state Senate Governmental Organization Committee will hold a hearing in January to move that bill along. “There is time to get this right, and it is imperative that we do so.”

A million Californians per week already play online poker on sites that are operated overseas or may be run illegally, says state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana. The sites operate despite a 2006 federal law that bars gambling businesses from taking and paying out money online, unless the bets are made and paid within a state that has laws regulating it. No state currently does.

A pending, bipartisan House bill would end that federal ban and set up an interstate licensing program giving states authority to run online sites; U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pledged cooperation.

And Reid’s home state of Nevada, where gaming is king, is straining at the bit to see the ban overturned: Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a law in June requiring his state to adopt its own online poker regulations by January.

California could be left behind if it doesn’t do the same, Correa has said, as Nevada and other states stand to cut into approximately $7.5 billion in annual revenues now earned by California’s brick-and-mortar card rooms and tribal casinos. He said his SB 40 instead would bring California 1,300 new jobs and — with a 10 percent take from all online poker fees — $1.4 billion in revenue for state coffers in the next decade.

But while a coalition of card rooms and Indian tribes backed Correa’s bill, some gaming tribes opposed it, claiming a $50 million “buy-in” for online poker licenses would create an unfair advantage for certain gaming interests.