New Jersey legalizes medical marijuana…will it cause a spike in drunk driving arrests?

February 3, 2010

New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act attained passage by both the New Jersey Assembly and the State Senate on Monday, January 11, 2010. Governor Jon Corzine signed the bill into law on Monday, January 18, 2010 just a day before leaving office. This new law allows chronically ill patients access to marijuana for medicinal uses. There are now 14 states with a medical marijuana law on its books. The law is scheduled to go into effected in six months.

In the eyes of many, this is a very liberal leaning law. However, New Jersey's medical marijuana law is the most restrictive and tightly controlled in the nation. It is believed it will quickly become a model for other states considering passage of such a law.

The legislation permits only those patients afflicted with certain diseases, including but not limited to multiple sclerosis, cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, muscular dystrophy, and ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), to obtain medical marijuana. A doctor's prescription is mandatory and only two ounces of the drug per month is permitted to be dispensed to patients suffering with severe pain, nausea, seizures, muscle spasms or extreme loss of weight and/or muscle tissue brought on by their chronic disease.

Unlike in California, where anyone with a "recommendation" from their doctor is permitted to use, possess, and/or grow medical marijuana, the growing of marijuana is strictly prohibited under the New Jersey law, as is using the drug in public. Along the same line, a qualifying medical marijuana patient who is caught driving while high is not exempted from a DWI (driving while intoxicated) arrest. Driving under the influence of marijuana remains illegal and is subject to the penalties associated with the highest levels of blood alcohol content (B.A.C.).

The state of New Jersey will implement a strict registry ID card system for users of medical marijuana. Only those patients suffering with a condition set forth within the parameters of the law who have a written prescription from their doctor will be permitted to obtain the drug. Further, all marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey will be heavily monitored by the state. An additional restriction requires all caregivers who may have to procure the drug on behalf of an ill person to undergo criminal background checks.

Recent Gallup Polls show that over 70% of Americans favor marijuana being legalized for medical use, that is doctors legally prescribing marijuana to patients who suffer terrible pain due to their illnesses. There are many happy people in New Jersey with the passage of this law, feeling that they no longer have to engage in a criminal act just to realize relief from insufferable pain. It appears more and more Americans are growing sympathetic to their plight. Public sentiment would also suggest it is a law whose time has come. Where do you stand on the issue?

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2 hit-and-run victims, same alleged drunk driver

February 1, 2010

In the early hours of January 8, 2010, Chelsea Murningham, 21 of Philadelphia, was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. So was Brian Reilly, of Penndel, Bucks County. They were each victims of alleged drunk driver Michael Saunders, of Philadelphia.

As he was leaving Albert's Café on Grant Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia, Michael Saunders hit and knocked over Ms. Murningham in the parking lot and then fled the scene. While other bar patrons were gathered around Ms. Murningham in the parking lot in an attempt to provide her aid, Mr. Saunders drove back into the lot. He sped in his minivan toward the gathered crowd and ran over 23-year old Brian Reilly.

Ms. Murningham was left with bruising on her right hip, as well as shoulder, lower back, leg, and neck pain.

Mr. Reilly was actually pinned underneath Saunders' minivan. He suffered a broken bone in his left arm, a dislocated left shoulder injury, a black eye, facial swelling, and extensive bruising on his back. Mr. Reilly must remain in an upper body brace in order for his left arm to remain in place and heal.

As for Mr. Saunders, in addition to inflicting bodily harm upon two individuals in the parking lot of the restaurant that evening, he is also responsible for causing property damage. As Saunders was attempting to leave the premises, before he hit Ms. Murningham, he crashed into a parked car. The owner of that car was present; he and Saunders got into an argument. Saunders proceeded to intentionally bang into that man's car five more times with his minivan.

After hitting the man's car repeatedly, Mr. Saunders hit two other vehicles parked in the lot, just before he hit Ms. Murningham. Saunders fled the scene after hitting her. He returned to the parking lot within minutes, which is when he ran over Mr. Reilly. Saunders fled, yet again. Mr. Reilly was transported to Aria Health at Torresdale while Philadelphia police caught up with and apprehended Saunders in front of his Philadelphia home.

Mr. Saunders was charged with driving under the influence and many felony counts, including attempted homicide and aggravated assault. He is also charged with risking a catastrophe.

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