Archive for Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Legislators take look inside drug issue

Once banned substances are in body, they’re no longer illegal

August 31, 2005


— Possessing illegal drugs is a crime, but it's not a crime once the drugs are inside the body.

Some law officials and legislators say that doesn't make sense, and they want to make it illegal to inject or ingest prohibited substances.

"Certainly, the person driving with mind-altering drugs in their system is more of a public risk than the person with those same drugs in their pocket," said Kyle Smith, deputy director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Under the proposal, a person with a urine or blood sample that tests positive for drugs could be charged with possession, an offense that has a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

But others say trying to make "internal possession" illegal would become an expensive, legal nightmare.

"The cost - in money, civil liberties, societal costs and progress made in getting people needed drug treatment - is too great," said Sal Intagilata, secretary of the Kansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The issue has come up in the Legislature before and is bound to again.

Last year, a similar proposal won overwhelming approval in the House but failed by three votes in the Senate when it was stopped by an unusual coalition of moderates and conservatives.

Recently, an interim legislative committee rejected recommending the measure, but supporters of the idea are expected to push for it again when the 2006 legislative session starts in January.

War on drugs

The Kansas Highway Patrol favors the legislation. Lt. John Eichkorn, a spokesman for the patrol, notes that current law allows people to be arrested for driving while under the influence of drugs and to test those people to collect evidence.

"Unfortunately, there is no provision in current law that makes it illegal to internally possess controlled substances found during these tests," Eichkorn said.

Since sometimes violent crimes are committed while under the influence of illegal drugs, Eichkorn said, making internal possession of controlled substances illegal would help protect the public and "help all law enforcement agencies across the state fight the war on drugs."

Smith, with the KBI, however, said that while the proposed law sounds good, there are numerous practical obstacles.

In drug cases, he said, law enforcement usually focuses on drug dealing and manufacturing, which carry heavier penalties than possession. Standard possession cases, which usually carry no prison time, "are sometime seen as a waste of resources," he said.

He said there would be substantial expense to hire more scientists to analyze tests and to improve the tests to identify the drugs and measure their quantities, he said.

Prison officials have also said there would be added expense and strain on the prison system, which currently is at capacity. But no definite cost study has been made because there are so many variables in how it would be enforced.

Legal hurdles

Intagilata said there are numerous legal questions, too.

What if a person tests positive because they are taking prescription drugs or were at a party where others were smoking marijuana?

Who determines when a law enforcement officer can subject a person to a drug test?

"The power generated by this law is ripe for abuse," he said.

And, he said, it runs counter to the state's policy of the past couple years to try to seek treatment for offenders with drug abuse problems.

Others have raised questions about whether such a law would violate a person's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and it could result in arrests of people who have taken a urinalysis for employment or to determine paternity.

Douglas County Dist. Atty. Charles Branson said he wasn't familiar enough with the proposal to say whether he would support it.

"I would have to take a look at it," Branson said. "From a practical standpoint, you would have to get a search warrant every time you think someone has something in their system.

"How would you form the basis to get the search warrant?"

But one of the primary sponsors of the bill, Rep. Kathe Decker, R-Clay Center, has said the extra costs are acceptable, and the hurdles can be overcome.

Decker couldn't be reached Tuesday for comment, but last session told a Senate committee, "I believe those costs are well worth the effort in the war against drugs."

She related a story about a young man in her hometown who was high on drugs and running through a neighborhood without clothes on. When authorities arrested him, the man, who was suffering personal problems, could only be charged with trespassing, she said.

"If he could have been charged with possession, perhaps he could have gotten some help," she said.


Cait McKnelly 12 years, 9 months ago

I pity the poor person who (gasp!) ate a poppyseed bagel for breakfast.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 9 months ago

The war on drugs is probaly 40 years old and trillions spent meanwhile it goes can buy your way through customs or any border. Decriminalization would do much to take the crime away or treat it like 3.2 beer as far as pot is concerned. Coco Cola/Pepsi, Tobacco, coffee, alcohol and many medications are habit forming. Some medications are derived from heroin and cocaine not to mention there are synthetic forms of both...where do you draw the realisitic line?

Some DEA funding is spent securing oil pipelines such as in Columbia.

Walking_Dude 12 years, 9 months ago

Kansas IS the laughing stock of this country. These idiots are talking about the curtains while the house is on fire. You're running out of water, people can't get jobs, the Mexican invasion is on its way, you don't even have any inspection for the hillbilly rattletraps cruising your roads, and these hayseed pinheads are worried about Darwin and dope.

Janet Lowther 12 years, 9 months ago

The so-called "war on drugs" is really a war on freedom and a campaign to enhance the power of the nanny state.

It is much more than 40 years old: Reefer Madness came out in 1936 and was quickly followed by the prohibition of Marijuana. IIRC the prohibition of heroin preceded that by some years.

You know, the US already has the highest incarceration rate in the world, so the last thing we need to do is to create more excuses to put people in jail.

trueninetiesgirl 12 years, 9 months ago

if they pass this what next????cameras on the light polls, in are homes? were can we,as the people draw the line?????????

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