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Lawmaker Denies DUI Charge

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Robert Watson (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

Robert Watson (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

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EAST HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ The minority leader of the Rhode Island House, who recently dismissed debate over the decriminalization of marijuana as not worthy of legislators’ time, is facing pot-possession charges in Connecticut.

Robert Watson, a Republican from East Greenwich, was stopped at a police checkpoint Friday and charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia and driving under the influence, said police in East Haven, Conn.

Watson drew fire in February when he gave a speech to the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce in which he said lawmakers had their priorities right “if you are a Guatemalan gay man who likes to gamble and smokes marijuana.” He later said he was using humor to express concerns that other issues were dominating the legislative agenda at the expense of the economy.

A police report on Friday’s traffic stop said Watson smelled of alcohol and marijuana and performed poorly on sobriety tests. An officer found a bag of suspected marijuana and a wooden pipe in Watson’s pocket. An alcohol breath test performed at the police station determined that Watson’s blood alcohol level was 0.05 percent, below the state’s 0.08 limit.

Watson was released on $500 bond. He faces a May 11 court date.

Watson’s office released a statement Monday in which he denied that he was driving under the influence. He said he was in Connecticut to help a friend move and was driving home from dinner when he was stopped.

“Trace evidence of marijuana was discovered and I was charged with operating under the influence, a charge I vehemently deny,” Watson said in the statement.

After his February speech, Guatemalan community leaders called on Watson to apologize, but Watson said an apology wasn’t warranted.

Watson won’t face immediate political repercussions for the charges. The state’s Ethics Commission doesn’t investigate allegations that fall outside a lawmaker’s public duties.

Watson will discuss the criminal case with his fellow Republican House members Tuesday. Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt, R-North Kingstown, said the drug charges aren’t causing him to reconsider his support for Watson. But he’s concerned the incident could distract lawmakers from more important work.

“It’s obviously very unfortunate,” Ehrhardt told The Associated Press. “But I will fight to make sure this doesn’t divert us for one minute from the budget.”

     (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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