Bills that would target welfare or unemployment recipients for drug testing are popping up across the country -- again.
Irv Rosenfeld is one of four people in the US who has permission from the federal government to use medical marijuana. My Medicine is his story, and here we review it.
A drug deal gone bad has resulted in the year's third fatality related to drug law enforcement.
A newly released police video offers more chilling and graphic evidence that drug war law enforcement tactics can be deadly.
DrugWarFacts.org, a publication of Common Sense for Drug Policy, is an in-depth compilation of key facts, stats and quotes on the full range of drug policy issues, excerpted from expert publications on the subjects. The Chronicle is running a series of info items from DrugWarFacts.org over the next several weeks, and we encourage you to check it out.
For the second year in a row, Rhode Island legislators will ponder a bill to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.
US drug czar Kerlikowske thinks Hugo Chavez's idea of shooting down suspected drug planes is a good one. It didn't work so well in Peru in 2001.
That Christmas Eve DEA ban on synthetic cannabinoids? Didn't happen -- at least, not yet. Action has been delayed by challenges from retailers.
Bolivia wants to undo a treaty clause that has outlawed the traditional practice of coca chewing for the last 50 years, but the US and others stand ready to block that effort.
A small-town jail guard, a big city cop, and a US Border Patrol agent all go down this week.
by Phillip Smith, January 20, 2011, 11:06am, (Issue #667)
drug testing lab -- corporate welfare carrying out an ineffective strategy?
Critics of welfare drug testing cite unconstitutionality of warrantless drug testing, the cost of drug testing tens or hundreds of thousands of people, counterproductive results and mean-spiritedness in opposing legislation that would require it. But that hasn't stopped legislators from coming back again and again.
With this year's state legislative season barely under way, bills have been introduced in four states -- Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oregon -- to require drug testing for people receiving public assistance. And in a novel twist, a bill in Indiana would require unemployment recipients to declare they are not using illegal drugs and threatens them with up to three years in prison for perjury if they are found to be using them.
But while such bills may be popular with politicians of a certain stripe, they don't find much support among professionals in the field. Groups that have lined up against such bills include the American Public Health Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, the National Health Law Project, the National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the National Black Women’s Health Project, the Legal Action Center, the National Welfare Rights Union, the Youth Law Center, the Juvenile Law Center, and the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which successfully litigated against Michigan's welfare drug testing law, has also come down strongly against welfare drug testing
. Such laws are "scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound," in the ACLU's opinion. The group cites studies showing welfare recipients are no more likely to use drugs than the rest of the population and that 70% of illicit drug users are employed. It also cites research showing that drug testing is an expensive, but ineffective way to uncover drug abuse. (Full citations and more information are available at the ACLU link above.)
But the kicker for the ACLU is the unconstitutionality of warrantless drug testing by the state, as determined by the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Michigan case. Michigan was the only state to actually implement a welfare drug testing program, but the appeals court found that the program violated the Fourth Amendment's provision barring unreasonable searches.
The persistence of such attempts is drawing concern from the drug reform community as well. Given the fiscal pressures facing the states, legislators could be even more susceptible to pseudo-populist demagoguery than usual.
"I am quite concerned that recurring legislative proposals to require drug testing of welfare and/or unemployment applicants and beneficiaries will gain new momentum with the budget crises confronting so many states, and also in Congress," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance
(DPA). "The proposals are mean-spirited, counter-productive and will ultimately cost much more than they save by depriving needy Americans of access to benefits. DPA will do all it can to ensure that these proposals do not become law."
"These kinds of laws aren't going to stop someone who is addicted from being addicted," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
. "They're just going to drive them further away from getting any kind of help. Also, it is often poverty that causes the stress that helps create addiction. If you make someone poorer, you just deepen that despair," he pointed out.
"If you really want to deal with the problem of addiction, provide treatment on demand," Wexler offered. "And if people are worried that not everyone will take advantage of it, let's put that to the test. Make drug treatment immediately available and see if the claim that people will turn it down has any merit."
But nobody is offering treatment on demand. Instead, legislators are offering up a stick with no carrot.
In Kentucky, a bill championed by Rep. Lonnie Napier (R-Lancaster), HB 208
, would require all adults applying for public assistance to undergo drug tests, followed by random testing once a year. The measure would apply to all adults receiving or applying to receive food stamps, cash assistance, or Medicaid. Although Napier told the Richmond Register
a positive test result would not necessarily result in the loss of benefits, the bill itself says that a positive test will make the individual "ineligible" for public assistance.
"There’s people buying food with food stamps and trading that food for drugs. Children are not getting benefit from it. Children do not need to be in a home where drugs are present," the loquacious Napier told the Register. "Maybe it could get people off drugs. Drugs are breaking the state up. If we could get a few people off drugs, it would be worth it," he said.
But Napier's assertion about trading food stamps for drugs appears to be based on little more than hearsay. "People tell me people are abusing the system," he said. "If you knew you were to be tested, you'd want to be clean."
Still, Napier's bill has some powerful friends. Among its cosponsors are House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonburg) and House Minority Leader Danny Ford (R-Mt. Vernon).
In Missouri, Rep. Ellen Brandom (R-Sikeston) is pushing HB 73
, which would require a drug test for anyone applying for or receiving public benefits if there is "reasonable cause" to believe they are using drugs. Failure to pass the drug test would result in the suspension of benefits for one year, and the person would then have to apply to be reinstated in the program.
Brandom told Kansas City's KCTV 5
that she was doing it for the taxpayers. "They're very resentful that they're working hard, and have to take a drug test to work," Brandom said. "The people who aren't working can receive their tax dollars, and don't have to be held to the same high standard."
That bill passed the House Rules Committee on an 11-4 vote last week and is set for a House floor vote this week. A similar measure passed the House last year, but died in the Senate.
A welfare drug testing bill has also been introduced in Nebraska. The Chronicle covered it last week; you can read about it here
In Oregon, there are two separate bills aimed at recipients of public assistance. State Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) has introduced SB 538
, which would require all people receiving welfare and food stamps to be take a drug test each six months -- at their own expense. A positive test result would result in the termination of public assistance.
And state Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point) has introduced HB 2995
, which would require those applying for unemployment benefits to first pass a drug test. Those who tested positive would have to enter drug treatment or give up their benefits.
Richardson's bill has not yet been assigned to a committee. Starr's bill was assigned Tuesday to the Senate Health Care, Human Services and Rural Health Committee. No hearing dates have been set.
And then there's Indiana. In the Hoosier State, state Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) has introduced SB 86
, which would require people seeking unemployment benefits to declare on their applications that they will refrain from any illegal drug use. The bill also says that applicants are subject to "penalty of perjury" if they sign a declaration and then are found to be using drugs. Perjury carries a prison sentence of up to three years in Indiana.
"In employers' eyes as well as many Hoosiers' eyes, there is something wrong with the system if unemployment applicants are able to receive taxpayer money that may, in fact, be used to purchase controlled substances and lead to them being unqualified to work," Leising said in a press release
. "This is an issue legislators need to review."
The bill is moving. It passed out of the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee last week.
The battle over welfare and/or unemployment drug testing is going to have to be fought again and again. In addition to the states that have bills this year, similar legislation has been proposed since 2008 in Texas, Rhode Island, Missouri, Nebraska, Georgia, Kansas, West Virginia, and Arizona. The impulse to target the poor and disenfranchised remains strong and is made even stronger by the dire fiscal position in which the states find themselves. The bright side is that, so far, that impulse has not prevailed.back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 19, 2011, 09:31pm, (Issue #667)
My Medicine: How I Convinced the US Government to Provide My Marijuana and Helped Launch a National Movement, by Irvin Rosenfeld (2010, Open Archive Press, 286 pp., $19.95 PB)
review by Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor, http://stopthedrugwar.org/user/psmith
Irv Rosenfeld is a unique fellow. In fact, you could say that he's one in a million, but that would be understating it. It's more like one in 78 million. Of the 312 million people that called the USA home during last year's census, only four have the permission of the federal government to smoke pot, and Irv Rosenfeld is senior among them.
Rosenfeld is one of the four surviving members of a federal program killed by President Bush the Elder when it threatened to become too popular, the Compassionate Investigative New Drug (IND) program. Under the program, a group of seven medical patients were given permission to use marijuana for therapeutic purposes -- and even supplied with fed weed grown at the University of Mississippi and delivered as pre-rolled joints in nifty tin canisters. Irv and the others were grandfathered in when the program was terminated. When they die, the program dies.
is his story. In 1963, at age 10, Rosenfeld was diagnosed with a rare condition called Multiple Congenital Cartilaginous Exotosis, a disabling and potentially life-threatening disease in which hundreds of tumors grew on his bones. Although in junior high school he gave lectures about "good" drugs and "bad" ones to fellow students, in college he joined everyone else around him and lit up.
Rosenfeld admits he toked up mainly because everybody else was doing it, but in short order, he found that his symptoms were abating. "For the next three weeks, I used cannabis every day and my health improved dramatically," he writes. "I was able to sit and walk with less muscle tension and pain. I was able to cut back on the amount of prescription medication I was taking, and generally felt better."
From there, with determination and the help of sympathetic physicians, Rosenfeld began a trajectory that resulted in his successful application to join the IND and his subsequent activism around medical marijuana and marijuana legalization. The bulk of My Medicine
is the story of his struggle and his activism.
And while it is one man's story, Rosenfeld's story is inextricably intertwined with the history of the medical marijuana movement in the US and beyond. In diary-like fashion, Rosenfeld relates any number of historic struggles and events, as well as more mundane things, such as attendance at conferences or speeches given. Through My Medicine
the reader gets a real sense of the whirlwind that has been the politics of medical marijuana for the past couple of decades.
And what a whirlwind it's been! From no medical marijuana states in 1996 to 14 now (and the District of Columbia), Irv has been right in the middle of it all along. For those who are new to the movement, My Medicine
is a riveting revelation, a compendium of "You were there" moments that helped shape the political and medical landscape. For movement veterans, it's a pleasant trip down memory lane, especially since Irv seems to have met or hung out with just about everybody who was or is somebody in the world of therapeutic cannabis.
But My Medicine
is also one man's story. Irvin Rosenfeld isn't just a medical marijuana patient. He's a husband, sailor, stock broker, and those parts of his life are intermingled throughout. They help remind that Rosenfeld is more than just that guy with the federal weed or even that veteran activist -- he's got a life, too.
is breezily but deftly written, full of interesting (and sometimes maddening) anecdotes, and one man's window on a social movement that is changing our country. It shows what determination and perseverance can accomplish, and that makes it a worthy read for grizzled veteran or wide-eyed neophyte alike.
(You can order My Medicine with a donation of $35 or more to StoptheDrugWar.org.)back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 18, 2011, 03:29pm, (Issue #667)
Editor's Note: This year, Drug War Chronicle is going to try to track every death directly attributable to drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at email@example.com.]
A Louisiana man became the third person to die so far this year during a drug law enforcement operation. Eric Williams, 18, was shot and killed Wednesday afternoon
by an undercover narcotics officer in Port Allen in what police said was a drug buy that turned into an armed robbery attempt.
According to West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes, undercover narcotics agents were making buys in "known drug areas" when a woman and her boyfriend set up a deal. The narc was waiting in a motel room waiting for the woman to arrive so he could purchase $50 worth of Lortab. When the woman entered the motel room, she closed the door, but opened it again, and a masked man entered.
"Came through the door immediately shoved her down and started having a gun at the agent. The agent kicked him, gave him money he was asking for and started shooting," said Cazes, adding that Williams was trying to fire a loaded .45. "The only reason the agent's still alive is the bad guy, the gun he had was on safety."
Cazes said the agent shot Williams four times. The shooting is under investigation by the state police, but the sheriff said his agent did nothing wrong.
The woman and her boyfriend were jailed on $1 million bonds on charges of being a principal to armed robbery by use of a firearm.back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 19, 2011, 10:49pm, (Issue #667)
Utah SWAT team bringing death in
A police video of a September drug raid in Utah provides graphic evidence of the sometimes dire consequences of SWAT-style drug law enforcement. In the video released by the Salt Lake Tribune, a member of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force repeatedly shoots and kills resident Todd Blair as Blair steps into a hallway holding a golf club like a baseball bat.
According to a Tribune article in December
, Blair, while a methamphetamine user and familiar to police, was not the target of the raid and was not supposed to be in the house. In fact, police had earlier seen a man they thought was Blair leaving the house and pulled him over so he wouldn't be present during the raid. But the man was not Blair and was released, at which point police began to prepare a "dynamic entry" or no-knock raid.
Police had received a warrant for a no-knock warrant after claiming in their affidavit that the house had "lookouts" who would warn of their arrival and that their suspect -- not Blair -- might attempt to destroy the evidence. The affidavit did not mention that their suspect had already moved out of the house.
Because they had expected to raid an empty residence, the police SWAT team had not prepared a "dynamic entry" plan. Instead of falling back and creating one in the standard procedure, they retreated to a nearby retirement home and improvised one. They had also forgotten to bring along a copy of their search warrant -- not a legal failing in a no-knock raid, but another indication of a drug squad fraying at the edges.
The video show police yelling, "Police! Search warrant!" and breaking down the door in a matter of seconds. Ogden police Sgt. Troy Burnett was the first officer through the door when Blair, shirtless, stepped into a hallway brandishing the golf club. He was eight to ten feet away and not advancing when Burnett, without uttering a warning, shoots him three times in the head and chest. As he collapses, Burnett yells "Get on the ground!"
Utah authorities determined the shooting was justified.
back to top
by David Borden, January 19, 2011, 09:41pm, (Issue #667)
DrugWarFacts.org, a publication of Common Sense for Drug Policy (CSDP), is an in-depth compilation of key facts, stats and quotes on the full range of drug policy issues, excerpted from expert publications on the subjects. The Chronicle is running a series of info items from DrugWarFacts.org, and we encourage you to check it out.
Did you know that US states which did not decriminalize marijuana in the '70s saw larger increases in its use than states which did decriminalize?
"In California and Ohio, surveys before and after decriminalisation showed that cannabis use increased, but not at a greater rate than in US states which had not decriminalised cannabis. Single (1989) also reviewed data from two large US national surveys of drug use in the 1970s that compared rates of cannabis use in states which had and had not decriminalised cannabis. He found that the prevalence of cannabis use increased in all states, with a larger increase in those states which had not decriminalised (Single, 1989)."
(Department of Health and Aged Care (Canberra, Australia), "Cannabis Expiation Notice Scheme on levels and patterns of cannabis use in South Australia: evidence from the National Drug Strategy Household Surveys 1985–1995," May 1998, via the DrugWarFacts.org Marijuana chapter.)
Follow Drug War Chronicle for more important facts from DrugWarFacts.org over the next several weeks, or sign up for the DWF new facts RSS feed. To see last week's DWF Drug War Chronicle blurb, click here.back to top
Common Sense for Drug Policy is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to reforming drug policy and expanding harm reduction. CSDP disseminates factual information and comments on existing laws, policies and practices.
by Phillip Smith, January 19, 2011, 02:14pm, (Issue #667)
Hoping the second time is the charm, Rhode Island state Rep. John Edwards (D-Portsmouth) has reintroduced a bill that would decriminalize pot possession there. He sponsored the same bill last year, but it failed to make it through the legislative process.
A second shot at decriminalization in Rhode Island (photo via Wikimedia)
The bill, H 5031
, would make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil infraction with a maximum fine of $150. Under current Rhode Island law, possession of any amount of pot is misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $500 fine.
"My intent with this legislation remains the same, to provide some relief to the taxpayers of our state," Edwards said in a Tuesday press release
. "In these difficult times, we must look for ways to cut costs wherever we can. Rhode Islanders should not be footing the bill to keep people in jail due to simple possession charges. It’s a huge waste of taxpayer dollars."
Rhode Island would save between $1 million and $4 million a year in law enforcement, court, and corrections costs if the bill passed, Edwards said. The state spends an average of $44,000 to house one prisoner for one year, the press release noted.
Making the penalty a civil rather than a criminal offense will also spare people, especially young people, from having a criminal record that could limit their job opportunities, Edwards said. "A youthful indiscretion should not be something that ruins a person’s chance to become a teacher, fireman or even volunteer in a child’s classroom," he said.
The bill already has 40 cosponsors, including some Republicans. It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
More than a dozen states have decriminalized pot possession. The most recent were Massachusetts in 2008
and California last year
.back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 18, 2011, 10:54pm, (Issue #667)
Over the weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his country should consider shooting down drug-carrying planes. On Tuesday, US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske seemed to signal his approval of the idea.
Hugo Chavez is open to shooting down suspected drug planes (image via Wikimedia)
Chavez told lawmakers Saturday he is considering letting the military shoot down drug-laden planes if they ignore orders to land. Drug smugglers often ignore military orders to land and sometimes mock those orders over the radio, Chavez said. He added that he doesn't necessarily like the idea of shooting down planes, but that parliament should debate it.
Although no coca is grown in Venezuela, the country has become a major hub for drug traffickers smuggling Colombian cocaine. The Venezuelan government has been criticized by the US over the use of its territory by drug traffickers, but Venezuela contends that despite its lack of cooperation with the DEA, it is doing all it can to stifle the trade.
US drug czar Kerlikowske was in Colombia on a three-day trip when he commented on Chavez's remarks. "Venezuela has expressed clearly its support for curbing drug trafficking by air," he said, adding that other countries in the region should adopt similar measures.
The US supported a similar program in Peru beginning in the Clinton administration and even provided CIA and military personnel to support it. But that program came to a crashing halt after a Peruvian Air Force fighter jet shot down a plane carrying American missionaries
in 2001, killing Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter.back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 13, 2011, 03:56pm, (Issue #667)
Contrary to previous reports that a DEA emergency ban on synthetic cannabinoids had gone into effect on December 24, that emergency ban has been delayed. The DEA published a notice in the federal register dated January 7 that its November 24 notice of intent to institute an emergency ban had to be revised due to "administrative errors."
Still legal under federal law -- at least for now. (image via Wikimedia)
Sold under a variety of names, including Spice and K2, the synthetic cannabinoid products have been criminalized in about a dozen states, with more states on track to join the list.
DEA spokesperson Barbara Carreno confirmed to the Chronicle January 13 that the ban was not yet in effect. "We're still writing the regulations," she said, explaining that, "While we must give the public 30 days notice, that doesn't mean it automatically becomes illegal. We're working diligently on it and hoping to get it done quickly."
The delay was forced by legal challenges from the Retail Compliance Association
, a newly-formed retailers' organization created to block the DEA ban. "They need to stop hurting the small businesses that sell these products, and at least have a grip on the basics of the laws that govern their actions" said Dan Francis, the group's executive director, in a press release
. "These rule do apply to them, they can't just declare that they don't and have it that way, we are a country of laws, passed by congress, not dictated by the DEA."
back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 18, 2011, 04:41pm, (Issue #667)
A year and a half ago, the Bolivian government of President Evo Morales formally requested an amendment to the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to remove the ban on coca leaf chewing and bring the treaty in line with the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Now, with the deadline to contest that amendment drawing near, the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) is reporting that the US and other Western countries are mobilizing to kill the amendment. The IDPC is calling on those countries to abstain from blocking the amendment.
Bolivian coca leaf chewer (image courtesy of the author)
There are only two weeks before the January 31 deadline. According to the IDPC, the US, Britain, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and Sweden are all planning to try to block the amendment. The IDPC characterizes the move as trying "to stop the right of Bolivians to express their own culture."
Washington made it official Tuesday. An anonymous "senior US official" told the Associated Press
the US would file a formal objection to the request. "We hope a number of other countries will file as well," he said.
While coca is the raw material from which cocaine is made, it is also a plant that has been used by the indigenous peoples of the Andes for thousands of years. It is valued for its mild stimulant and hunger-suppressing effects. Bolivia is the world's third largest producer of coca, behind Peru and Colombia.
"Coca leaf chewing is one of the socio-cultural practices and rituals of the Andean indigenous peoples. It is closely linked to our history and cultural identity,” President Morales wrote in a letter to the UN seeking the amendment. This traditional practice "cannot and should not be prohibited," he added.
"At a time when drug prohibition has enriched and emboldened criminal cartels to such an extent that they are attempting to violently annex the state in parts of Mexico and Guatemala, the US is expending considerable effort in blocking the Bolivian government’s legitimate and democratic right to protect and preserve a harmless indigenous practice," said British MP Jeremy Corbin, secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Bolivia. "The international community needs to get its priorities right and resist this culturally ignorant attempt to dictate to indigenous people in Bolivia."
And someone needs to tell Washington.back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 19, 2011, 09:10pm, (Issue #667)
A small-town jail guard, a big city cop, and a US Border Patrol agent all go down this week. Let's get to it:
If we can't keep drugs out of the prisons, how can we keep them out of the country?
In Imperial Beach, California, a US Border Patrol agent was arrested January 10
after a SWAT raid on his home revealed he was hiding illegal immigrants -- among them his father -- and evidence of drug dealing. Agent Gerardo Manzano Jr., 26, is currently charged with harboring illegal immigrants, but will probably face additional charges related to 61 grams of methamphetamine and "packaging material indicating a drug operation" in his home.
In Ocala, Florida, a Marion County corrections officer was arrested January 12
for smuggling marijuana, submarine sandwiches, and a cell phone into the county jail. Guard Joseph Jones went down after the sheriff's office grew suspicious and enlisted the help of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He is charged with possession of marijuana and two counts of introducing contraband into a prison. Jones has been suspended without pay, and the sheriff's office has opened an internal investigation.
In Providence, Rhode Island, a Providence police officer pleaded guilty Friday
to charges he was part of a police cocaine trafficking ring and was sentenced to three years in prison. Officer Robert Hamlin was the last of four officers indicted in June to have his case resolved. Two others pleaded guilty, and prosecutors dropped charges against the fourth. Hamlin copped to three counts of conspiracy to distribute drugs. Since he has been behind bars since March, when he was originally arrested, and will get credit for time served, he should be out on parole by this coming March after completing a third of his sentence.back to top
Permission to Reprint:
This issue of Drug War Chronicle is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license
. Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.