The Dangerous Path Through New York

By Mark David Blum, Esq.

A California man was arrested by New York State Police for Driving While Intoxicated and for marijuana possession. The driver was parked at a rest area in Dewitt and not operating his vehicle when police approached and saw an open container of beer inside his car. Laying down sprawled in the back seat of the car, police still insisted the man perform a field sobriety test. When he refused, he was charged with driving while intoxicated.

At the same time, the man had a prescription from a licensed physician from a State where marijuana is a legal drug for medicinal purposes. His pot was lawfully obtained for medical reasons. Onondaga County First Chief Assistant District Attorney Rick Trunfio says, “There is no medical marijuana in New York. The only prescriptions valid in New York are for drugs legal in New York.”

This arrest is a shame and an embarrassment upon all New Yorkers. First of all, a citizen laying down on the back seat of their car is not driving and therefore is not driving while intoxicated. This is especially so when the car is parked in a recognized area for thruway drivers to rest.

More importantly, the New York State Police and Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office lack the authority to disrespect the laws of another State. Article IV, section 1 of the United States Constitution says, “Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” California has recognized that marijuana is a medicine and upon prescription by a physician may be used by the recipient. Even the White House has directed by federal officers leave Californians and other citizens alone when their State allows for the medical use of marijuana. I believe eight other States have such laws.

We are doing this man a great injustice by punishing him and accusing of a crime for an act that is legal in his home State. When I travel, I take all my medications with me. I should not have to first clear them with local authorities before I cross State lines.

Medicine and medical treatment are issues between a doctor and patient. The last thing we need are police and the government interjecting themselves in that relationship. This is the major argument being advanced by the fire breathing Republicans who oppose a public option in the Health Care debate. They claim there is no role for the government to play in intervening between doctors and patients. What then is the role for police and prosecutors to play in that same relationship? New York may be lacking and barbaric in its medical rules and may deny New York citizens access to pain relief. But it is not the job of police and prosecutors to decide what is and is not medicine when it is lawfully prescribed. By the mere fact that it was prescribed makes the medicine lawfully in the possession of the patient.

Arresting this traveler is an embarrassment to us all. Charging him with DWI while he is resting is a sham. Prosecuting him for possession of a lawfully prescribed medication is cruel. That these two actions can happen show how far behind the curve New York remains. It shows us as a State that is more interested in shoving people into the prison system than in pain relief. We are being held up as an example of a police state; where individual rights and freedoms take a back seat to some incomprehensible war on drugs. Police and prosecutors are paranoid and search out ways to drag citizens into the criminal justice system.

This is not who we should be. Our police and prosecutors should respect the law, all the laws including those laws that recognize marijuana as a legal medicinal treatment. It seems to me that State Troopers were more interested in making an arrest and finding grounds than in allowing a man to just relax and rest in the back seat of his car.

We need to find our humanity again. Our State needs to stop finding ways to fatten its prison population. Citizens from other States need to be safe traveling through New York. All of us should be allowed to bring our medically prescribed prescriptions with us without first getting law enforcement’s approval. This case reeks of too much government interference in the liberty and privacy of all Americans. Shame on the New York State Police offices who made this arrest. Shame on prosecutors whose bloodlust ignores the privileges and immunities of fellow Americans.

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