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North Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Defeated

A bill that would have required welfare recipients to undergo drug testing died Friday in the North Dakota House. It was defeated soundly on a 72-19 vote.

North Dakota becomes the second state to kill welfare drug test bills this year. A similar bill in Virginia was defeated earlier this month.

The North Dakota bill, House Bill 1385, originally would have required all welfare applicants to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing at their own expense as part of the application process. Those who failed the drug test would have lost benefits for one year, or six months if they completed drug treatment and passed a drug test. The bill was amended in committee to require drug tests of applicants only upon "reasonable suspicion."

Mandatory suspicionless drug test bills have become law in Florida and Georgia, but have been blocked or put on hold by legal challenges. Federal courts have repeatedly held that a drug test constitutes a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and a search requires either a warrant or probable cause. Some states have sought to address that legal problem by calling for an initial assessment to see if there was evidence that would support a drug test, as North Dakota legislators did in committee.

But that was not enough to keep the bill alive. It was opposed by state social services officials, who said it was probably unconstitutional and unfairly targeted the poor. Legislators also balked at the potential costs, which a legislative fiscal analysis put at $595,000 in program costs for the first two years, as well as $125,000 in anticipated legal costs.

The state only has 1,800 participants in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, and 45% of those are children.

Bismarck, ND
United States

West Virginia Bill Would Drug Test Teens for Driver Licenses

A bill introduced Tuesday in the West Virginia House of Delegates would require prospective teen drivers to pass three separate drug tests before receiving a full drivers' license. It's only the latest drug testing proposal to emerge at the statehouse in Charleston this year.

teen driving lesson
Introduced by Del. Joe Ellington (R-Mercer), House Bill 2528 would require teens to "pass a drug test designed to detect illegal consumption of controlled substances" before getting a learner's permit, before getting an intermediate license, and before getting a full license.

"So the goal was: they really want to get that driver's license -- their incentive would be to not use anything and maybe not bow down to peer pressure to succumb to drug use," Ellington explained to WSAZ News Channel 3 in Charleston Tuesday night.

Ellington, an obstetrician, is the minority chair of the Health Committee and member of the Roads and Transportation Committee, where the bill has been referred.

Charleston has been a hotbed of drug testing fever in recent years, which have repeatedly seen bills introduced that would require drug testing of welfare recipients. There's another one this year, as well as bills that would expand drug testing of coal miners and require health care providers to release drug testing records of minors to their parents.

It's not just Republicans at the statehouse. Last year, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) issued an executive order requiring participants in the state's job training programs to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing.

The enthusiasm for drug testing in Charleston remains despite the sobering results of Tomblin's job trainee drug testing. The first six months of testing resulted in just five failed tests out of 562.

Charleston, WV
United States

AZ Court Says You Don't Have to Be High to Get a DUI

An Arizona appeals court has ruled that marijuana users don't need to be actually impaired to be successfully prosecuted for driving under the influence. The ruling came Tuesday in the case of a man who tested positive for an inactive marijuana metabolite that remains in the body for weeks after the high from smoking marijuana has worn off.

The ruling in Arizona v. Shilgevorkyan overturned a decision by a superior court judge who said that it didn't make sense to prosecute people for driving under the influence if they're not actually under the influence.

The ruling turned on a close reading of legislative intent in writing the state's DUID law. The legislation specified the presence of "the metabolite" of THC, and Shilgevorkyan had argued that lawmakers meant "hydroxy-THC, the metabolite which would indicate current impairment, not carboxy-THC, an inactive metabolite that indicates only usage some time in the past.

The appeals court disagreed, citing its decisions on earlier challenges to the DUID. "The legislature intended to create a 'per se prohibition' and a 'flat ban on driving with any proscribed drug in one's system," the court noted. "We determined that the legislative ban extends to all substances, whether capable of causing impairment or not."

Because the law was drafted to protect public safety, the appeals court said, it should be interpreted broadly to include inactive as well as active compounds.

But Superior Court Commissioner Myra Harris, who had ruled on Shilgevorkyan's behalf, warned in her earlier opinion that the appeals court's interpretation of the law would result in people, including out of state medical marijuana patients, being charged with DUI when they are not impaired.

"Residents of these states, particularly those geographically near Arizona, are likely to travel to Arizona," Harris said in her 2012 ruling upholding the dismissal. "It would be irrational for Arizona to prosecute a defendant for an act that might have occurred outside of Arizona several weeks earlier."

Shilgevorkyan's attorney said he plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Phoenix, AZ
United States

New Jersey Supreme Court Protects Rights in Pregnancy Case

The New Jersey Supreme Court Wednesday ruled unanimously that the state's child protection laws do not give child protective services jurisdiction over pregnant women and that drug use during pregnancy does not by itself establish abuse or neglect. In the ruling, the court also acknowledged concerns articulated by leading medical and public health organizations that applying child protection laws to pregnant women can be detrimental to the health of the mother and the fetus.

The ruling came in New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services v. A.L. In that case, the mother -- "A.L." -- gave birth to a healthy baby in September 2007, but a drug screening of A.L. and her baby came back positive for cocaine. The state Division of Child Protection and Permanency argued that those positive drug screens were sufficient evidence of harm or potential harm to declare that A.L. had neglected her fetus.

A.L. challenged that finding, but lost in district court. She also lost in appellate court, where the judges not only found neglect, but also declared that the state's child neglect law could be applied to fetuses in utero. In its ruling Wednesday, the state's highest court disagreed.

"On its own, the one entry [a medical notation of a positive drug test] does not tell us whether the mother is an addict or used an illegal substance on a single occasion," the court held. "The notation does not reveal the severity or extent of the mother’s substance abuse or, most important in light of the statute, the degree of future harm posed to the child. In other words, a [positive drug test], without more, does not establish proof of imminent danger or substantial risk of harm."

The Supreme Court also chided the lower courts for reaching conclusions not based on facts. Noting "the fact-sensitive nature of abuse and neglect cases," it said the Division -- not a judge -- must prove its case using qualified scientific and medical evidence. "Judges at the trial and appellate level cannot fill in missing information on their own or take judicial notice of harm," it said.

The maternal rights group National Advocates for Pregnant Women and attorney Lawrence Lustberg took up the case during the appeal to the Supreme Court, representing a group of 50 national and international medical, public health, and child welfare organizations, experts, and advocates including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Addiction Science Research and Education Center, and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

In briefs to the court in the case, those groups argued that the lower courts relied on popular misconceptions about drugs, pregnant women, and child welfare that lack any foundation in evidence-based, peer-reviewed research.

"We are so pleased that the New Jersey Supreme Court, consistent with its long tradition, carefully considered the expert amicus brief and rejected the State's reliance on scientifically discredited, factually incorrect statements about drug use in pregnancy," said Lustberg. "The court recognized, in effect, that drug tests cannot predict parenting ability and acknowledged amici's concerns that expansion of the state's child welfare law to the context of pregnancy would be likely to disproportionately harm low income and minority communities."

"It is extremely important that the New Jersey Supreme court today recognized that pregnant women, children and families should not be deprived of their fundamental rights -- including the right to family relationships -- based on presumptions that are medically baseless," said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "The court’s decision protects the rights of all pregnant women and in so doing actually protects maternal, fetal, and child health."

State officials have declined to comment on the ruling.

Trenton, NJ
United States

Virginia Welfare Drug Testing Bill Defeated

A bill backed by Republicans that would have required drug screening and testing of welfare recipients died Monday in the Virginia Senate. The measure failed by one vote in the evenly divided Senate when one Republican didn't vote.

Last year, a similar measure ended up with a tied vote in the Senate, allowing Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to cast a tie-breaking vote and advance the bill to the House. It was then killed in the House.

The measure, Senate Bill 271, introduced by Sen. Charles Carrico (R-Grayson), would have required the state's welfare-to-work program to screen participants "to determine if probable cause exists to believe the participant is using illegal substances" and, if such a determination is made, "a formal substance abuse assessment of the participant, which may include drug testing."

Those who tested positive would have to enter a drug treatment program or lose benefits for a year. Those who refused to be tested would also lose benefits for a year.

Similar legislation is afoot in a number of other states. Some states, like Virginia, have attempted to overcome constitutional problems with suspicionless drug testing by providing for an initial screening to come up with probable cause, but even that fix hasn't managed to overcome political problems in most states.

Opponents of such legislation argue that such programs cost more money than they save, that they are an attack on poor people, and that there is no evidence of widespread drug use among public benefits recipients.

"Why are poor people singled out for testing," asked Sen. Marnie Locke (D-Hampton) before voting against the bill. "Why not legislators or bailed-out CEOs?"

Richmond, VA
United States

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Moving in Virginia

A Republican-backed bill that would subject welfare recipients to drug testing has passed a second committee vote and now heads for the Senate floor. The bill was approved in the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee earlier this month and passed out of the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday on a 10-5 vote.

The bill, Senate Bill 721, would require all 14,500 participants in the state's welfare-to-work program to undergo preliminary screening to assess their likelihood of drug use. Those flagged as potential drug users would then be tested by the Department of Social Services.

Failing a drug test would result in loss of benefits for a year, as would refusing to take one. But benefits could be reinstated if the person undergoes drug treatment. That provision was added in hopes of making the bill more palatable to the House, where a similar measure died last year.

"It's been toned down quite a bit from the original thing. "If there's welfare recipients using, we can help them with their addiction," said Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) who sits on the Finance Committee. "You're hoping welfare payments are going to support families and not to purchase narcotics," he said in remarks reported by the Washington Examiner.

But opponents of the legislation said drug testing welfare recipients stigmatizes poor people and unfairly targets them while not aiming at other recipients of government largesse, such as students who receive college tuition grants, small businesses that get economic assistance, or legislators who get their paychecks from the state.

"Why are Republicans so suspicious of poor people? It begs the question," said Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth). "This is insulting. The fact is, very few of those who qualify for temporary public assistance use illegal drugs."

Virginia is one of at least a dozen states where bills mandating drug testing for public benefits recipients have been filed so far this year. That number is likely to increase as the legislative season gears up. Last year, about two dozen such bills were filed, but only one in Georgia passed.

Florida had passed a welfare drug testing bill in 2011, but it has been put on hold by a federal court judge while she considers whether to rule it unconstitutional as a suspicionless search under the Fourth Amendment. Georgia, too, has put its bill on hold pending that decision.

The Virginia bill, however, seeks to avoid that constitutional problem by adding the preliminary step of screening in order to have a "reasonable suspicion" as the basis for the drug testing.

Richmond, VA
United States

Florida Must Pay Attorney Fees in Employee Drug Test Lawsuit

A federal judge has ordered the state of Florida to pay more than $190,000 in attorneys' fees in a case challenging an executive order ordering suspicionless drug testing of state employees issued last year by Gov. Rick Scott (R). Those taxpayer funds have now been lost to Scott's chimeric crusade to impose drug testing on various fronts.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/rick-scott-200px.jpg
Gov. Scott's controversial lawmaking has already cost Florida a million in legal fees.
Last Friday, US District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro ordered the state to pay attorneys' fees to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 79, which filed suit to block the executive order in May 2011. The union is the plaintiff in the suit challenging Scott's ability to randomly test workers in state agencies.

A report by the Orlando Sentinel found that the state has now incurred over a million dollars in legal bills for controversial legislation pushed by the governor.

Judge Ungaro had ruled that Scott's executive order was unconstitutional back in April, saying the governor did not show a "compelling need" to impose drug testing. Scott has appealed to the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Scott's drug testing plan has never been implemented except among some employees of the Department of Corrections. He put it on hold because of the legal challenge.

Another of Scott's pet projects, the mandatory suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants and recipients has also been so far stymied in the federal courts. In that case, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction blocking implementation amid strong hints she would eventually rule that the practice was unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, despite the legal roadblocks -- and financial costs to taxpayers of fighting them -- Scott and the legislature last year passed another bill, House Bill 1205, which would allow, but not require, state agencies to conduct random suspicionless drug testing of state workers. That law, too, is on hold as it faces challenges in the federal courts.

FL
United States

Expulsion of Olympic Athlete for Marijuana Raises Questions

An American Olympic judo contender, Nick Delpopolo, was expelled from the London 2012 Olympic Games Monday after he tested positive for marijuana, and that has some experts raising questions about whether it makes sense to include marijuana on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list of banned substances.

Judo match, 2012 Olympics, London (Martin Duggan via Flickr and Wikimedia)
Delpopolo said he had inadvertently consumed marijuana in a food item he did not know contained it.

Concerns about athletes "cheating" by using performance enhancing drugs is one thing, but the use of recreational drugs that do not enhance -- and could well detract from -- competitive performance is another. Recreational drugs are banned not because they might provide an athlete with an unfair advantage, but because their use by athletes can cause public relations problems for organized sports, which like to tout athletes as role models for youth.

But some experts told Reuters Monday that sports' PR concerns were no reason to ban athletes for using marijuana. They also suggested the time, expense, and effort of drug testing athletes might be better spent going after real cheats who do blood doping with EPO or use anabolic steroids to increase muscle growth and testosterone levels.

"There's no evidence cannabis is ever performance enhancing in sport, and since its use is legal in a number of countries, there's no reason for it to be banned by WADA," said David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. "I can't think of any sport in which it would be an advantage. And it seems ludicrous that someone could quite legally smoke cannabis in Amsterdam in the morning and then come over to London in the afternoon and be banned from competing."

But marijuana is banned by WADA, and that means athletes caught using it during a competition face a two-year ban. Still, unlike performance enhancing drugs, WADA does not punish athletes who test positive for pot outside of competitions. That stance has led some scientists to suggest that WADA's reason for banning marijuana is political, not scientific.

"The problem is the elite athletes should be seen as role models for young kids, and so they ban cannabis because they don't want to have the image of gold medalists smoking joints," said one British-based sports scientist who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

[Ed: If officials don't link images of athletes smoking marijuana, they might have a poor strategy -- no one knew Delpolo used it, before he was sanctioned, but now everyone does.]

"It's hard to imagine how smoking a joint or eating marijuana brownies is going to help somebody in judo," said Michael Joyner, a member of the Physiological Society and a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in the United States. "My advice to WADA is that they should focus on drugs that are clearly performance enhancing in the sports where they are clearly performance enhancing."

According to WADA, substance merit inclusion on its banned substances list if they meet two of these three criteria: they are proven to be performance enhancing, they are dangerous to the health of athletes, or they are contrary to the spirit of sport. There is little or no evidence that marijuana can enhance sporting performance, while there is evidence it could have a negative impact. It can slow reaction times, cause coordination problems, and reduce hand-eye coordination, none of which is going to increase an athlete's chances of victory.

While marijuana is not harm free, there is little evidence it is dangerous to the health of athletes. Nor is it clear why marijuana use would be "contrary to the spirit of sport."

WADA isn't keen to clarify. It refused to comment Monday on a Reuters query about why marijuana is banned.

London
United Kingdom

Georgia Governor Puts Welfare Drug Testing on Hold

Georgia's new welfare drug testing law was supposed to go into effect July 1, but that didn't happen. According to a spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal (R), the governor still supports the law, but will hold off on implementation until a legal challenge against a similar bill next door in Florida is resolved.

The Florida law took effect last July, but was blocked by a federal judge in October. That case is expected to go before the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Civil rights and civil liberties groups in Georgia said when the law was passed they would challenge it as soon as it is implemented. But they may not have to if the court, which has jurisdiction in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, strikes down the Florida law.

The federal courts have generally taken a dim view of random, suspicionless drug testing. They consider drug testing a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and have carved out only limited exceptions to the general prohibition against warrantless drug testing. Those exceptions include public safety-sensitive positions (airline pilots, truck drivers), law enforcement personnel engaged in anti-drug work, and high school students involved in athletics or extracurricular activities.

"The governor feels confident that the law in Florida, and therefore in Georgia, will be upheld," spokesman Brian Robinson told the Associated Press. "We plan to move forward on this as soon as we can, but we're willing to wait a little bit longer on the federal courts. There's just no need in us hopping in."

Under the Georgia law, the state Department of Human Services is mandated to create a drug testing program for welfare applicants at their own expense. Those who pass the test would be reimbursed, but those who don't would not only not be reimbursed, they would be ineligible to receive benefits for one month. A second positive test would result in a three-month ban, while a third positive test would result in one year of ineligibility.

Any applicant who fails a drug test must first pass another drug test before benefits would be reinstated. The department would have to provide people who fail the drug test with a list of drug treatment providers, but the state would not pay for drug treatment for them.

Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) told the AP Deal should have voiced his concerns about the law when it was being debated.

"During the debate, we talked about the viability of the law based on the Florida case," said Fort, who opposed the measure and was among the parties vowing legal action against the law. "It would've been appropriate for him at that time to have injected that point, but he's waiting until after he signed it, until it's about to be implemented. He chose not to say anything about it."

Ford said that if the law is upheld, it would set a dangerous precedent.

"The question is, if you're poor and need assistance, do you forfeit your constitutional rights or not?" he said. "I think that's dangerous. If it's poor people today, it could be other people tomorrow."

Atlanta, GA
United States

Did You Know? Impairment Potential for Different Kinds of Drugs, on DrugWarFacts.org

Different kinds of drugs affect people differently, but the details often get lost in debate. Read about the specific kinds of impact that different classes of drugs can have on people, including for driving and other safety-sensitive activities, in the Drug Testing -- Impairment section of DrugWarFacts.org.

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 over the next several weeks, and we encourage you to check it out.

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Read last week's Chronicle DrugWarFacts.org blurb here.
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.

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