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Watson Presents His Version Of Arrest In Conn.

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
In a televised speech on the House floor about his arrest in Connecticut last Friday on driving-under-the-influence and marijuana-possession charges, House Minority Leader Robert A. Watson admitted to using marijuana to treat flare-ups of the pancreatitis that landed him in the hospital last November.

Watson, R-East Greenwich, said he took a small amount of the drug with him when he went to Connecticut that day to help a friend move because he had had a pancreatic attack the day before, and wanted the drug handy if he had another severe one.

"I confess I did treat with marijuana on one of those rare occasions where I had that debilitating pain that literally had me flat on my back and wondering at what point do I decide an ambulance comes and takes me away. And I've got to confess it worked. It provided relief. And it alleviated the pain."

"I didn't smoke marijuana that day because I didn't suffer a relapse," he said of the Friday of his arrest.

But he acknowledged that he is not among the 3,428 Rhode Islanders legally authorized to use marijuana under the state's medical-marijuana program because he feared his personal medical information would somehow leak out of the state Department of Health.

A Health Department spokeswoman said: "We have been running the program for almost four years now and we have not released any patient's names."

"Now I know that the Department of Health prides itself on the confidentiality of that program. But let's face it," Watson said. "I am a public official, as we all are. We're a small state, and I am not certain that my privacy wouldn't be compromised were I to do this medical-marijuana treatment in the proper form and fashion."

In his speech, Watson also raised questions about how he was treated by the police in East Haven, Conn., after one of the officers saw his General Assembly ID in his wallet, asked what it was and learned that he was a state legislator in Rhode Island.

"I wish there had been cameras there. I wish it wasn't just my word against the police," he said. But "I deny that I failed any of the sobriety tests."

The East Haven police did not respond to a request for comment, but a dispatcher confirmed that none of the community's police cruisers are equipped with cameras.

Following his speech, many in the House rose from their own seats to give him a standing ovation, including all of the members of his own small Republican bloc in the overwhelmingly Democratic House who, a short time earlier, had taken a unanimous vote of confidence in his leadership.

House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, with whom Watson has often sparred, said afterward: "You saw how difficult that was for him. This is a time to say, 'Let him deal with his issues. Politics has no role to play in this, and we'll see what happens'... I feel for him on a human level."

Asked if he accepted Watson's medical explanation for his unauthorized use of marijuana, Fox said: "It is not my duty to judge whether it is believable or not."

Rep. Michael J. Marcello, D-Scituate, was not among those who stood to applaud Watson after his speech. A lawyer, Marcello said: "It is more appropriate that this plays out in a courtroom, not this room."

Rep. Roberto DaSilva, D-East Providence, did applaud.

A Pawtucket police lieutenant, DaSilva took some offense to Watson's characterization of what the Connecticut police did that night. "I was not there. But there are two sides to every story," he said in an interview after Watson's speech.

But, "A lot of what he said here makes a lot of sense. He has a medical condition that he'll have to deal with. His constituents will judge him on his actions and decide if they want to return him here, and his colleagues have given him a vote of support," DaSilva said.

Watson was stopped by Connecticut police as he was driving his pickup truck through a checkpoint in East Haven Friday night.

A police report said his eyes were "extremely glassy and bloodshot," his speech slurred, and he had difficulty performing a series of sobriety tests. After handcuffing Watson and placing him under arrest, the arresting police officer said he found "a small plastic sandwich bag containing a green leafy plant-like substance and a small wooden marijuana smoking pipe" in Watson's right pants pocket.

Watson, 50, is due back in Connecticut on May 11 to face charges in a New Haven court of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

On Monday, Watson issued a brief statement in which he denied driving under the influence. On Tuesday, he elaborated.

"Well, I guess I got those pesky pay raises off the front page," he began to laughter as Fox was heard saying in the background, "I owe you."

Then, Watson explained why he brought a "small amount of marijuana" with him to Connecticut. "That was a mistake. I recognize that," he said. "I also didn't expect that any point in time during the day ... that I would be stopped and inventoried by the police" at a roadblock sobriety checkpoint "that frankly we don't allow here in our state. We determine that to be an unconstitutional intrusion on citizens freely going about their business and their lives.

"Well I encountered that event ... confident that I was neither intoxicated or under the influence," he said. "The police asked me had I been drinking. I was open and honest as I always believed that you should be with police. I told them yes, I had several drinks at dinner, which is true.

"They asked me where I had been. They asked me where I was heading. They asked me for my license ... [and while] I was retrieving my license, another officer took note of the legislative ID card in my wallet and wanted to know what it was, and I informed him. Well, I am a legislator.

"It seemed from that moment on, the whole dynamic changed. It appeared that the police suddenly became 'agendized.' I was ordered to park my car and exit the vehicle. I was immediately told that I would have to submit to a field sobriety test. ... I complied with every request asked of me."

"I was asked to submit to a Breathalyzer test. I complied because I was not intoxicated. I was not under the influence. I took the test. And, it came in well below the legal limit. It came in at 0.05, consistent with somebody that just had several drinks at dinner, well below the legal limit to operate a vehicle."

Watson said the depiction of him, in the police report, as someone "incapable of standing and incapable of speaking" is "belied by the fact that I was processed and released in an hour... Police do not release intoxicated individuals. They detain them for [their] own personal safety and the safety of the public."

Questions remained about how Watson obtained the marijuana and how he got home that night. Watson, 50, was not immediately available to answer follow-up questions.

A member of the House since 1993, and a senator for two years before that, he closed saying: "I am very sorry I brought ridicule to this chamber, a chamber I love. ... Believe me, I know what an honor it is to be in this room."

NewsHawk: Jim Behr: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: projo.com
Author: Richard C. Dujardin
Copyright: 2011 The Providence Journal Co.
Contact: kgregg@projo.com
Website: Watson presents his version of arrest in Conn.
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