City considers revising DUI law to cover drugs that aren't controlled

Assembly member says ordinance plan is too broad

Posted: Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The city is considering revisions to its driving-under-the-influence ordinance to include substances that are not controlled or illegal.

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The Juneau Assembly decided not to adopt the revised ordinance at its regular meeting Monday and instead sent it to the Human Resources Committee for further review after a couple of members brought up concerns about the proposal's broad powers.

Assembly member Jonathan Anderson expressed concerns that the ordinance had not been developed fully enough. The ordinance specifically mentioned depressants and stimulants that could render a person incapable of driving safely.

"It was this broad catch-all of almost anything," Anderson said, adding that caffeine drinks or coffee could be interpreted as impairing substances the way the ordinance was written.

"It just needs to be worked on," he said.

The proposed DUI ordinance was modeled after Anchorage's and is supported by the district attorney's office, Juneau Police Department's drug recognition expert, and the Juneau office of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Anderson said he did not feel comfortable supporting an ordinance that could stick someone with such a serious charge when it might not be substances that lead to poor driving.

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"That disturbs me," he said. "I'm not ready to say we're going to give a DUI to someone on an antihistamine when they were driving. Who knows if that was affecting their driving."

Assembly member Sara Chambers agreed with Anderson, saying the way the ordinance was written could leave citizens with the negative stigma of a DUI when they could be having an allergic reaction to a medicine.

Matt Felix, executive director of NCADD-Juneau, said the ordinance deals with a problem that has become increasingly more common in recent years.

"We need to do something about the problem of driving under the influence of substances because it presents a problem to the public," Felix said. "I don't want it to be so broad that it violates anybody's rights, but I do want an ordinance to allow the city to remove somebody as a public danger."

Many drugs that are not classified as illegal or controlled should not be used by drivers, he said.

The Human Resources Committee will work on the ordinance and address concerns before it is reintroduced to the Assembly, Anderson said.

"This doesn't prohibit the police from arresting anyone for driving recklessly," he said. "Substance abuse needs to be defined more clearly before we can move forward."

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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