State Turns Up The Heat In War On Drugs In The Workplace

License Lawtargets Middle-class Busers

January 23, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

LICENSED WORKERS including electricians, plumbers, doctors, librarians and fishing guides -- could lose their jobs under a new state law if convicted of a drug-related crime.

A law that took effect Jan. 1 will allow the state to suspend or revoke 150 professional and business licenses if those who hold them are convicted of using drugs or other drug-related crimes.

Carroll judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors say the new lawcan be an effective tool in the fight against drugs, but some voicedconcerns over how the law will be used.

The law, the centerpiece of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's drug program for 1990, is intended to catch middle-class professionals who, Schaefer aides say, keep thedemand for illicit drugs high.

The law covers licensed workers, including lawyers, dentists, nurses, veterinarians, plumbers, doctors,fishing guides and others.

If a license holder is convicted of a drug-related crime, the judge will determine if the drug use affects the defendant's work.

If the defendant's ability to perform his orher job is ruled in danger, the courts will notify the board or agency that issues the license.

The licensing board or agency will have the power to revoke or suspend the license, or put the license holder on probation. Anyone on probation can be ordered to undergo rehabilitation or periodic random drug-testing.

Circuit Judges Raymond E. Beck and Francis M. Arnold said they hope the law will act as a deterrent to drug users who might risk losing their licenses and their jobs.

"I think it is an innovative idea that could be very effective," said Arnold, who said he would be likely to report convictions tolicensing agencies. "A lot of people get into trouble and are unaware that their livelihood could be affected."

Beck, who has earned areputation for being tough on drugs, said he thinks the law may be an "attention-getter."

"It's one more tool in the arsenal that could be used against drugs," he said.

State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman said he thinks the law will be a deterrent.

"As word gets around, people will be working somewhere and hear that someone they work with has lost their license. I think they won't want it to happen to themselves," Hickman said.

Hickman said he thinks licensing boardswill use the law to get people to undergo drug treatment.

Barton F. Walker III, a Carroll assistant state's attorney, said it makes sense that licensing agencies should be notified if a license holder isconvicted on drug charges.

"It throws that person into a positionwhere their credibility is being threatened," he said.

Westminster defense attorney Stephen Bourexis agreed the law is in the public interest, but said it may be redundant.

"I don't think it will do anything greater. Most of the licensing boards have mechanisms like this that already exist," Bourexis said.

Others say they have found more wrong with the new law than just redundancy.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has objected to the law since it was first proposed, claiming that a drug arrest does not necessarily have anything to do with a person's ability to do his or her job.

Other critics of the law say it has too many procedural loose ends.

To help tie up some of those loose ends, the Maryland Court of Appeals is studying the law to decide how judges should evaluate each case to see if licensing agencies should be notified.

The Court of Appeals' Standing Committee on the Rules of Practice and Procedures has arrived at some guidelines, which are expected to be voted on soon by thestate's highest court.

One major component of the law was changedafter it was first introduced by Schaefer last winter. The original bill mandated that convicted drug users lose their professional licenses.

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