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While I was otherwise occupied on April 29, the State Senate Public Safety Committee refused to pass Sen. Correa’s “zero-tolerance” drug DUI bill, SB 289, about which Vern had written previously and I had sponsored a resolution with the Democratic Party of Orange County (a process about which I decided not to write here, as I’ve been provocative enough in other ways.) Correa’s bill would have criminalized driving with any amount of illegal drugs in one’s bloodstream, regardless of whether one was actually impaired — which was especially a problem in the case of marijuana, in which the blood metabolites can far outlast — like, by a month — any impairment.
Well, while I was out, the verdict from the committee came in. The committee firmly rejected Correa’s “zero-tolerance” approach, although rather than sending Correa away empty-handed Committee Chair Lori Hancock did say that he could try to amend and resubmit it.
I’ll quote a length a news report from “CA NORML,” our state’s branch of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, below, but I have a question first.
Correa’s “friends” let him go ahead with this bill, including blocking (on what I’ll call questionable grounds) the resolution I tried to offer. They won — though in part because I had to be absent from the Central Committee meeting where I could have brought the resolution directly to the floor. I was depicted as Correa’s “enemy” during this process — for trying to keep him from offering a truly bad (and even embarrassing) bill in its then-current form.
My question is this: who was helping Correa and who was hurting him? (I’ll put aside the question of who was helping the Democratic Party overall, which got saddled with support of this resolution in a sort of “contact high,” which is of course what we members of the Central Committee are actually there to do.) Yes, Correa gets some benefit, I suppose, for doing the bidding of the private prison industry (who want more “paying customers”) and the prison guards’ union (who want more jobs.) But surely there are ways to do it — such as simply exempting marijuana from the bill because the technology doesn’t allow it to work properly — that don’t end up with his looking like — like — well, let’s cut to that report on the committee deliberations and see.
Sen. Correa introduced the bill by saying he had received a call from former Sen. Vasconcellos, a medical cannabis user, who complained, “You’re trying to make me a criminal.” Sen. Correa disingenuously denied any such intent while failing utterly to address the truth of Sen. Vasconcellos’ remarks. Instead, he said the bill was intended to address the dangers of drugged driving. He went on to claim falsely, “You can’t drink and drive,” overlooking the fact that in fact it is entirely legal to drink alcohol and drive in California so long as one stays under the limit.
The Correa bill was co-sponsored by the CNOA, the Police Chiefs and State Sheriffs, with
strong support from other law enforcement groups from Riverside, Los Angeles, Alameda and Orange County. An Alameda Co. Sheriffs Deputy whose son had been killed in an accident testified that the culprit had been acquitted by a jury, even though he had used marijuana. He complained that some jurors seemed disinclined to convict drivers for marijuana DUIs. (However, he also testified that the evidence showed the driver had smoked six hours before the accident, which is longer than the impairment time reported in scientific studies of marijuana – a fact not mentioned at the hearings.)
Marijuana advocates turned out in force to oppose the bill, which generated over 2,000 opposing emails on NORML’s website. NORML National Legal Committee attorney Okorie Okorocha and DUI attorney Michael J. Kennedy testified to the scientific fallacy of the bill, noting that it would implicate countless innocent drivers with harmless amounts of substances in their blood.
I don’t think that Correa’s friends did him any favors here by not giving him straight feedback on his bill. I think what they did was to allow him to — and our party by extension — to look stupid and wrongheaded. (Note: the party is neither of these; I don’t recall a single person I spoke to agreeing with the bill on substance, as opposed to simply wanting to defer to the wishes of one of our elected officials.)
The relationship between “electeds” and the Democratic Party of Orange County is a fairly big topic of discussion nowadays. Should the party be their instrument? Or should it be an instrument of the “grassroots,” even if it means sometimes going against our electeds? (I’m of the latter camp, but I’ll grant the former camp one thing: it’s a lot easier to know what the electeds want than to know what the grassroots want, because anyone can claim to speak for the grassroots. On the other hand, that’s it’s somewhat difficult to determine what the grassroots want does not mean that it’s impossible — or that it’s anything less than seriously worthwhile.)
I don’t think that we Democrats helped our party by not standing strong against this proposed legislation. More to the point, I think that we can best raise money from the grassroots — small contributions from many people — when we stand for something. In many instances, we’ve been doing a great job of that this year — the Anaheim Districting resolution being the most notable example. But the story of SB 289 should be a reminder than when we just give in to any foolish notion that groups that aren’t even reliable parts of the Democratic Party coalition convince one elected Democrat to endorse, we not only aren’t helping the party, but we’re not even helping the person proposing the legislation.
I’m not likely to support Lou Correa in many primary contests (though it’s not impossible by any means — I do appreciate his support, for example, of the DISCLOSE Act), but in trying to stop him from pushing this legislation, I think that I was helping him by telling the truth. I think that his friends, who supported him uncritically even to the possible detriment of our party, let him down — and I’m sad to see it. Maybe, if we’d been forthright with Correa, we could have talked him out of it.