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Bill seeks test for pot impairment while driving

HELENA — Lawmakers on Thursday were considering a renewed effort to test drivers suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana — a measure law enforcement agents said is necessary to deal with an increase in such cases.

Republican Rep. Doc Moore of Missoula said his House Bill 168 provides a legal limit for the amount of THC — an ingredient of marijuana — that can be in a person's blood while operating a motor vehicle.

He argued the measure is just aimed at enduring streets are safe, not at the debate over medical marijuana.

"No one of us has the right to take a chemical, alcohol or anything and drive impaired," he told the House Judiciary Committee. "We need to set some standards and level to protect the citizens of Montana."

There was no immediate action on the proposal, which died the last time the Legislature met in 2011. House Judiciary Committee chairman Kreyton Kerns said he needs to see scientific proof this time around that there is a connection between THC levels and impairment.

"This bill died last time because we were getting the Legislature ahead of the science," Kerns told backers of the bill. "I am going to need to see that science."

Sarah Braseth, a forensic toxicologist at the state crime lab, acknowledged there is still controversy about marijuana impairment.

The state crime lab already tests blood samples in drunk driving and other cases for levels of THC. County attorneys and others argued it is time to use the information and set a threshold of impairment for pot just as there is with alcohol.

Kurt Sager, drug recognition expert coordinator with the Montana Highway Patrol, said DUI cases have remained steady in recent years while cases of drug-impaired driving are way up. He said the proposal bill doesn't target medical marijuana users, only those who choose to drive impaired.

Marijuana advocates countered that testing is unreliable and measures agents that don't cause intoxication but remain in the blood stream long after impairment.

"This law will make criminals out of people who are not driving impaired," said Rose Habib, who runs a cannabis testing lab for the medical marijuana industry.

Ex-'Mountain Man' gets 4 years on drug charge

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A man who previously served time for kidnapping a biathlete with his father in the 1980s is headed back to prison after a judge sentenced him Thursday for his role as security guard at a medical marijuana operation raided in a crackdown.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy sentenced Dan Nichols to four years in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for his guilty plea to conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises.

Molloy also ordered Nichols to pay $288,000 in fines, required him to spend 500 hours in a residential drug-treatment program and barred him from firearms, controlled substances and medical marijuana.

Prosecutors cited Nichols' violent history in asking for a sentence of just under six years, while his attorney said a three-year sentence would be more appropriate because of Nichols' minor role in the operation.

Montana Cannabis' Helena greenhouse and dispensaries across the state were among the 26 medical marijuana locations raided on March 14, 2011, in a federal investigation into large pot providers. Nichols provided security for the greenhouse, where 950 plants along with processed marijuana and marijuana products were confiscated.

He and Montana Cannabis' four co-owners all pleaded guilty to federal drug charges, despite the owners saying they were following state law in running the operation. One co-owner, Chris Williams, reached his plea agreement after a jury convicted him of eight drug and weapons charges.

Nichols was the younger half of a father-son duo dubbed "The Mountain Men" who kidnapped biathlete Kari Swenson in 1984. His father, Don Nichols, killed a man who tried to rescue her, while Dan Nichols accidently shot Swenson and left her to die. Swenson survived, but with diminished lung capacity from the gunshot wound.

Dan Nichols, who was 20 at the time, was convicted of kidnapping and misdemeanor assault and received a 10-year prison sentence. His father remains in prison after being convicted of killing would-be rescuer Alan Goldstein.

Dan Nichols was not immediately arrested after the 2011 raid on Montana Cannabis. That summer, he fled from Jefferson County sheriff's deputies who broke up an apparent drug deal Nichols was making at an outdoor concert, prosecutors said.

Nichols remained on the ru


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