Loud-mouthed Anti-Drug Lawmaker Picked Up for Pot

By Dirk Hanson 04/27/11

I’m innocent! insisted powerful Rhode Island Republican Robert Watson after his shocking drug arrest yesterday. Alas, Connecticut cops disagreed. 

Beleaguered GOP big-wig Bob Watson

A staunchly anti-drug Rhode Island lawmaker who became notorious for his indelicate remarks about gay Guatemalan immigrants was arrested by Connecticut police yesterday for possession of pot and driving under the influence of alcohol. Rhode Island House Minority Leader Robert Watson (R), age 50, reeked of booze and marijuana, slurred his words, and had “extremely glassy and bloodshot” eyes, according to a statement filed by the state police. The New York Daily News reported that police discovered "a small plastic sandwich bag containing a green leafy plantlike substance and a small wooden marijuana pipe" in his pocket. What, no color-changing glass pipe? No one-hitter painted to look like a cigarette? "Trace evidence of marijuana was discovered,” Watson admitted, reverting to the “mistakes were made” mode of political rhetoric. According to AP, Watson claims “he uses marijuana to relieve pain caused by a recurring pancreatic condition.”  But he continues to steadfastly maintain his innocence on the drunk-driving charge, claiming that his blood-alcohol level was below the state’s legal limit of 0.08. As soon as officers saw his legislative ID, Watson claims, they ordered him to perform a series of field sobriety tests, at which time officers discovered a small bag of marijuana and a pipe in his pants.

In February, Watson stirred up a terrible tempest when he criticized Rhode Island's legislative priorities by saying, "I suppose if you're a gay man from Guatemala who gambles alot and smokes pot, you probably think that we're onto some good ideas here." After his arrest, Watson took to the floor of the Rhode Island House and made a less snarky speech aimed at saving his political skin. He was driving over to help a friend move, he explained, and fretted that he might need his weed if he suffered another attack of pancreatitis. Was Watson a registered user of medical marijuana under Rhode Island law? Well, not exactly: The randy Republican admitted to his fellow lawmakers that he was not legally registered under the state’s medical marijuana statute, because he was worried about keeping his confidentiality. Rhode Island, he noted, is a very “small state.” Even if if you're not  a gay Guatemalan.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]