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Drug Testing: Hawaii Teachers Back Away from Random Testing Provisions of New Contract

The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) and the administration of Republican Gov. Linda Lingle are locked in battle over whether the teachers will honor provisions of a contract signed last year that requires random drug testing of teachers. Although the union membership approved the contract in a vote last year, the union is now balking at what it says are constitutionally questionable drug testing provisions.

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drug testing lab
Under the contract, which teachers agreed to in June 2007, random drug testing of the state's 13,500 teachers was to have begun by June 30. That didn't happen. The HSTA first balked at the cost of the program -- estimated at $500,000 a year -- then, when presented with a less ambitious plan that would subject one or two percent of teachers to random drug tests each year instead of the 25% originally envisioned, said it now objected to random drug testing of teachers.

HSTA officials said last week that they had not understood the legal issues surrounding random drug testing when they negotiated the contract last year. "Today, both parties know much more about the legal issues surrounding drug testing that were not known at the time of the initial agreement," said HSTA executive director Mike McCartney in a July 17 letter to Department of Education superintendent Pat Hamamoto. "We cannot knowingly agree to procedures that violate the state and federal constitutions. Any agreement of this type would subject the state and all of us to unnecessary litigation," McCartney wrote.

The Lingle admistration called foul, with Gov. Lingle herself issuing a statement the next day saying: "HSTA leaders have made a mockery of the collective bargaining process."

That same day, the state filed a complaint against the HSTA with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board. But the HSTA wasn't backing down.

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Volcano National Park, Hawaii Island
This week, HSTA head Roger Takabayashi suggested a compromise: The union would not object to "random" testing of certain groups of teachers, perhaps those who had a pattern of absences of DUI convictions, he said.

"You can randomly test pools of people if you have reason to test them," said Takabayashi told the Honolulu Advertiser this week. "But if you take 100 people and you test them for no reason at all, then that would be against each individual's constitutional rights."

"They're trying to redefine what random is," complained Jim Halvorson, state deputy attorney general. "The problem with what they are saying is that it doesn't comply with the contract," said Halvorson. "The contract provision says all teachers."

But Takabayashi said the union has been advised by its lawyers that random drug testing of all teachers would violate the Fourth Amendment's proscription on warrantless searches and seizures. "We want to make sure that whatever method is agreed to, it can withstand the constitutional challenge we know we're going to get," Takabayashi said. "For example... we're proposing testing those who have excessive absences. Or maybe those caught for DUI. What I'm telling you is that there needs to be reason for putting them in a pool to be tested. Not just everyone in general."

Hawaii's teachers got themselves into this mess by agreeing to a contract with random drug testing in the first place. Now, the battle is on to see if they can get out of the agreement they signed.

Search and Seizure: Strip Search of School Girl for Ibuprofen Went Too Far, Federal Appeals Court Says

An Arizona school violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old school girl when it subjected her to a strip search to see if she was carrying the pain reliever ibuprofen, a narrowly divided federal appeals court ruled last Friday. Lower courts had held that the school did not violate Fourth Amendment strictures against unreasonable searches and seizures because officials have a legitimate interest in protecting students from prescription drugs.

Ibuprofen is available in lower doses as a non-prescription drug and is found in common medications such as Advil and Motrin to treat ailments like cramps and headaches. Higher doses of the drug require a prescription.

The ruling came in Redding v. Stafford Unified School District, in which honor student Savana Redding sued the district over the 2003 search. On the day in question, Safford Middle School Principal Kerry Wilson found two prescription strength ibuprofen tablets in the possession of one of Redding's classmates, who fingered her as the source. After escorting Redding to his office, Wilson informed her of the accusation, which she denied. Redding then agreed to a search of her possessions, which turned up nothing. Wilson then ordered a female administrative assistant to conduct a strip search in the school nurse's office. In the school nurse's office, Redding was ordered to strip to her underwear. She was then commanded to pull her bra out and to the side, exposing her breasts, and to pull her underwear out at the crotch, exposing her pelvic area. The strip search failed to uncover any ibuprofen pills.

"The strip search was the most humiliating experience I have ever had," said Redding in a sworn affidavit following the incident. "I held my head down so that they could not see that I was about to cry."

For the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, the search was not only humiliating, but unconstitutional. "Directing a 13-year-old girl to remove her clothes, partially revealing her breasts and pelvic area, for allegedly possessing ibuprofen, an infraction that poses an imminent danger to no one, and which could be handled by keeping her in the principal's office until a parent arrived or simply sending her home, was excessively intrusive," Justice Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the 6-5 majority. "A reasonable school official, seeking to protect the students in his charge, does not subject a thirteen-year-old girl to a traumatic search to 'protect' her from the danger of Advil. We reject Safford's effort to lump together these run-of-the-mill anti-inflammatory pills with the evocative term 'prescription drugs,' in a knowing effort to shield an imprudent strip search of a young girl behind a larger war against drugs," Wardlaw wrote.

"It does not take a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old girl is an invasion of constitutional rights. More than that: it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity. The self-serving statement of a cornered teenager facing significant punishment does not meet the heavy burden necessary to justify a search accurately described by the 7th Circuit as 'demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified, humiliating, terrifying, unpleasant [and] embarrassing,'" Wardlaw continued. "And all this to find prescription-strength ibuprofen pills. No legal decision cited to us, or that we could find, permitted a strip search to discover substances regularly available over-the-counter at any convenience store throughout the United States."

Not all the justices agreed. In his dissent, Justice Michael Daly Hawkins wrote: "We should resist using our independent judgment to determine what infractions are so harmful as to justify significantly intrusive searches. Seemingly innocuous items can, in the hands of creative adolescents, present serious threats. Admittedly, ibuprofen is one of the mildest drugs children could choose to abuse. But that does not mean it is never harmful."

The ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, whose Adam Wolf, helped argue the case, was pleased. "Students and parents nationwide can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that adolescents cannot be strip searched based on the unsubstantiated accusation of a classmate trying to get out of trouble," said Wolf, co-counsel in the case with the law firms Humphrey & Petersen and McNamara, Goldsmith, Jackson & Macdonald, in a statement greeting the ruling. "This ruling is a victory for our fundamental right to privacy, sending a clear signal that such traumatizing searches have no place in America's schools."

Redding pronounced herself pleased, too. "I took my case to court because I wanted to make sure that school officials wouldn't be able to violate anyone else's rights like this again," she said in the same statement. "This was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, and I am relieved that a court has finally recognized that the Constitution protects students from being strip searched in schools on the basis of unreliable rumors."

Drug Testing Advocate Gets Busted For Drugs

A dimebag of heroin - $10
A urine test - $30
A drug testing advocate busted for heroin distribution – priceless hilarious

NORWALK, Ohio — A northern Ohio woman who encouraged Norwalk school board members to start drug testing students has been indicted on charges of heroin trafficking.

Police in Norwalk say Stephanie Broz admitted to them that her advocacy of drug testing was to take attention away from her. Norwalk Detective Todd Temple says she told police it was a scam.

Broz also faces a charge of possession of heroin.

Police arrested her in early June during a traffic stop. Officers say they found her with a large amount of heroin. [Columbus Dispatch]

Of course, it's tempting to now suggest that this is just the tip of the iceberg, that proponents of drug testing around the country are all a bunch of closeted crooks and perverts diverting attention from their own misdeeds by calling on us to collect bodily fluids from children. I bet at least one person won't even read this whole post before ironically suggesting in the comment section that we start drug testing the drug testers.

Yet, it makes no more sense to arbitrarily scrutinize them than anyone else. Few crimes they commit could do more harm than the one taking place before our eyes: stealing money from our children's education to be spent on worthless programs that don't effectively prove or disprove drug use and encourage use of more-dangerous less-detectible drugs.

Drug testing is generally only effective against marijuana anyway, so dealers of cocaine, heroin, and meth have every reason to support it.

Drug Prohibition: No Clue in the Texas Legislature

If drug reform is making any headway in the Lone Star State (and it is), there was little sign of it Wednesday at an Austin hearing of the state Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The committee is charged with examining current drug laws to see which are working and which are not and trying to come up with more effective drug policies.

With Mexican drug trafficking organizations sending billions of dollars worth of drugs across the border each year, much of it through Texas, state and local law enforcement agencies have been cooperating with federal agents to try to crack down on the trade. But it hasn't seemed to have had any impact, and that was a frustration for Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston).

"It don't affect the price of it at all, which means it ain't made a dent. Still huge amounts are getting through," he said in remarks reported by Austin TV station KVUE. "If you know where it's coming from, why can't you do more about it?" he asked plaintively.

Whitmire's ignorance of the laws of supply and demand when it comes to drug prohibition is apparently equaled only by his ignorance of the US Constitution, and particularly the Fourth Amendment. At least, that's what his next comment suggested.

"If in fact so much of the narcotics is just coming up and down our highways and the main roads out of Mexico, why don't we just pull over more trucks?" Whitmire said. "It would be fun to try. I like that, zero tolerance."

Of course, every vehicle entering the US from Mexico must go through US Customs at the border. And then there's the Border Patrol checkpoints on highways leading north from the border. And then there's the saturation level patrols of those highways (although, to be fair, Texas cops are as interested in cars heading south as those heading north, because while the latter may contain drugs, the former may contain cash). But none of that is enough for Whitmire. Nor does it cause him to question his premises.

It looks like it will be business as usual in the drug war in Texas.

Drug Testing Pregnant Women Produces False Positives (And Kills Babies)

A major and underappreciated problem with drug testing is that the stupid tests don’t even work. They say people took drugs when they didn’t. The problem is particularly apparent in the case of pregnant women who are frequently targeted for drug screening, but whose changing body chemistry throws off the results:

Hospitals' initial urine- screening drug tests on pregnant women can produce a high rate of false positives - particularly for methamphetamine and opiates - because they are technically complex and interpretation of the results can be difficult, some experts say.

Tests for methamphetamine are wrong an average of 26 percent - and possibly up to 70 percent - of the time, according to studies by the University of Kansas Medical Center, U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the American Association for Clinical Chemistry. [DailyNews]

Of course, drug policy and science cannot coexist harmoniously, thus babies are taken from mothers who test positive, even though the tests are constantly wrong. In one tragic case, a child died in foster care after being wrongly separated from her mother:

Growing up in Los Angeles County's foster care system, Elizabeth Espinoza is sure of one thing: A baby needs its mother.

Espinoza, who was separated from her own mother when she was young because of neglect, also had her newborn baby taken by the foster-care system when she tested positive for marijuana and cocaine at the hospital after giving birth.

Just three months later, the baby, Gerardo, died when his foster mother strapped him into a car seat, took him to a neighbor's home and left him in the car seat on a bed, according to a lawsuit filed against the county's Department of Children and Family Services seeking unspecified damages. [DailyNews]

I hope I'm not being generous, but I really think almost anyone would agree that this is just sickening and horrible. The press coverage will hopefully initiate progress towards cleaning up the procedures that contributed to this travesty. I will hold out hope that common sense can prevail over the mindlessness of taking children from their parents based on evidence that is proven to be wrong up to 70% of the time, particularly now that the alternatives we have available for those children have been demonstrated to be fatally inadequate.

But there is also a larger lesson here that must not escape our attention. Think for a moment about how many women have already been falsely accused under this wildly unjust policy. Think about the social consequences of tearing families apart based on deeply flawed science in a criminal justice system that strikes without hesitation but drags its heels when it comes to righting such ubiquitous wrongs. Ask yourself, also, how such a policy was ever implemented in the first place, doomed as it was to destroy innocent families so capriciously.

Once again, we are faced with a monumental travesty, grand in scope, yet remarkably simple in origin; we should protect unborn children from drug-using mothers. We've wreaked unimaginable and undue suffering upon innocent parents and children in pursuit of the noblest of ideals. That, unfortunately, is the story of most aspects of our drug policy when they receive appropriate scrutiny. The totality of such repeated travesties forms a terrifying mosaic, the true, yet largely untold story of how our drug policies destroy innocent lives each and every day in ways we might never expect.

It is precisely because the idea to protect babies from drugs is such a no-brainer that a plan was drafted with no brains.

They're Drug Testing Our Sewage

I'll spare you the excrement jokes and just let this idea speak for itself:
Environmental scientists are beginning to use an unsavory new tool -- raw sewage -- to paint an accurate portrait of drug abuse in communities. Like one big, citywide urinalysis, tests at municipal sewage plants in many areas of the United States and Europe, including Los Angeles County, have detected illicit drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana.

Law enforcement officials have long sought a way to come up with reliable and verifiable calculations of narcotics use, to identify new trends and formulate policies. Surveys, the backbone of drug-use estimates, are only as reliable as the people who answer them. But sewage does not lie. [Los Angeles Times]

Admittedly, assuming the methodology is sound, this appears to be a breakthrough technique for obtaining accurate drug use demographics. And it's already beginning to cast doubt on existing data, not surprisingly to the effect of indicating that drug use has been widely underreported:

The scientists were even able to use sewage to estimate individual use and weekly trends. For instance, they estimated that people in Milan used twice as much cocaine, about 35 grams per person per year, than Italy's government surveys had suggested.

That's kind of neat, I suppose, that they can figure out stuff like that. But ya know what? If our drug policy weren't a raging nightmare, drug testing raw sewage wouldn’t be even remotely necessary. Seriously, the moment the government finds itself digging around in our sewage to figure out what drugs we take, it becomes completely clear that we've screwed up our approach to drugs beyond belief. It shouldn’t even be necessary to formulate arguments as to why this is not the behavior of a healthy society. I mean, really. They're drug testing sewage. What's wrong with them?

All of this is symbolic of the utter lack of information and knowledge about drug use that we've achieved in the course of our abundantly destructive attempts to control this very behavior. Nothing could be easier than determining down to the bottle or butt exactly how many Heinekens™ or Newport Lights™ are consumed by the population, but in order to study marijuana use, we must collect frothing f#%king sewage into test tubes, mix in some noxious chemicals, and run the results through some mindbendingly complex algorithm?

Clueless and reeking of poo, the champions of our failed drug control crusade stand before us straight-faced and swear that everything is going according to plan.

Drug Tests Are Useless Devices That Don’t Even Work at Detecting Drugs

The Drug Czar's blog was very excited on Friday. Why? Because a school in Florida drug tested 120 students and all of them passed!

"It worked out very positively," [the principal] said this afternoon. "We did not have a single student test positive, out of 120 students we tested."

Random meant random, she said. Tests were done unannounced at different times during different days of the week. Some students were tested more than once, just because of the randomness of it all, she said. [Tampa Bay Online]
Admittedly, a random sample of 120 students testing negative for drugs is a surprising result. So surprising, in fact, that one begins to wonder how the hell it happened. Well the answer is simple: according to Tampa Bay Online, they used saliva tests, which are practically useless.

Via wikipedia, here are the estimated detection times for saliva drug testing:

So, basically, all 120 of these students could have been smoking hash and crack all night on Friday and still passed their drug tests on Monday when they got to school. I'm not saying that's what happened. I'm just saying that testing students' saliva doesn't prove whether or not they use drugs. That's not how it works, and any newspaper article purporting to celebrate the effectiveness of such a program ought to disclose that fact, lest it should become yet another arm in the Drug Czar's nationwide campaign to randomly collect bodily fluids from our children.

Feature: Summer's Here and the Time is Right for... Getting Busted Going to the Festival (If You're Not Careful)

With Memorial Day now just a memory, the summer music festival season is on -- and with it, special drug law enforcement aimed at festival goers in what could be called a form of cultural profiling. If years past are any indicator, music lovers should be prepared to encounter everything from announced "Drug Checkpoints" that aren't -- they are instead traps to lure the freaked out -- to real, unconstitutional, highway drug checkpoints masquerading as "safety checks" (complete with drug dogs) to undercover cops working inside the festival grounds themselves.

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Richard Anderson, via commons.wikimedia.org
Nationally known festivals like Bonaroo in Tennessee and Wakarusa in Kansas, as well as countless lesser festivals, especially in rural areas, have drawn special law enforcement efforts in the past. With this year unlikely to be any different, festival goers will need to know their rights and how to exercise them when they encounter the cops.

The police enforcement actions are already getting underway. Last weekend, the 2008 Summer Camp Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois, drew some 13,000 fans to hear a diverse line-up of bands including the Flaming Lips, George Clinton & Parliament/Funkadelic, Blind Melon, the Roots, and the New Pornographers. It also drew city and state police, who claimed 20 drug arrests -- for marijuana, ecstasy, and LSD -- between them in and around the festival.

The police were pleased. "I think a lot of it had to do with all of the agencies getting together before the event and really planning out our attack," Chillicothe Police Chief Steven Maurer told local HOI-19 TV News. "Our goal is to prevent it from coming in and that's what we did a lot of."

Meanwhile, down in northeast Georgia, some other law enforcement agencies had also gotten together to plan an attack. This one wasn't aimed directly at concert-goers, but at the highway-traveling public in general. In what the Northeast Georgian described as "one of the county's largest highway interdiction and safety checks in at least five years," personnel from the Habersham County Sheriff's Office, Northeast Georgia Drug Task Force, Georgia National Guard Counter Drug Task Force, Georgia State Patrol, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Department of Public Safety Motor Carrier Compliance Unit, Lee Arrendale State Prison, Phillips State Prison and Cornelia Police Department participated in a 24-hour checkpoint on a local highway.

Police bragged about the success of their checkpoint, which netted 74 arrests, 31 of them for drug offenses. "It worked well, I thought," said Habersham County Sheriff De Ray Fincher. "The operation resulted in a seizure of $36,000 in illegal drugs. And a total amount of currency, drugs and vehicles seized is estimated to have a value of $82,000."

Police did write some tickets for traffic offenses, Fincher told WNEG-TV 32 News. "We got a lot of people with no insurance, no driver's license or suspended license," he said. And some pot smokers: "The majority of our cases were marijuana cases; however, we did get several methamphetamine and we got one case of cocaine," Fincher explained.

In a 2000 Supreme Court decision, Indianapolis v. Edmonds, the high court held that indiscriminate highway drug checkpoints were unconstitutional since motorists were being stopped without suspicion for a law enforcement -- not a public safety -- purpose.

But Fincher was open about his constitutionally-suspect highway checkpoint. "We are trying to do everything we can to prevent drug activity in Habersham County, whether it's just passing through or stopping here," he said, noting that drug arrests in the county were on the rise. "That just means we've taken a real aggressive approach to drug enforcement."

"In the wake of the Indianapolis case, law enforcement has tried to figure out ways to still conduct drug checkpoints that comport with that ruling," said Adam Wolf of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. "Intent is the name of the game. If the intent is to conduct a checkpoint basically for law enforcement purposes, that's not okay. If it's for public safety purposes, such as sobriety checkpoints, that is okay."

A constitutional challenge to any given checkpoint would turn on intent, said Wolf. "If it turns out the intent was primarily to be a drug checkpoint, that would be an unreasonable search and not comply with the Constitution," he said. "That kind of checkpoint should be shut down, but it would take someone to challenge it."

Noting Sheriff Fincher's report of cash and goods seized, Wolf suggested the purpose of the checkpoints could really be about something other than law enforcement or public safety. "So often these things are being done to fund law enforcement agencies. Asset forfeiture is really a cash cow," he said.

Whether the checkpoints or other special law enforcement tactics are to raise money, wage the drug war, or indeed for "public safety," experts consulted by the Chronicle sang a remarkably similar song: Be prepared, don't be stupid, and don't give away your rights.

"The most efficient way to get arrested for marijuana possession short of blowing pot smoke in an officer's face is to smoke marijuana while driving or parked in your car, especially on the way to a festival," said Steven Silverman of the civil liberties group Flex Your Rights, which has released a video instructing people how to flex theirs. "You have a minimal expectation of privacy, and it reeks. Officers can smell it, and if they can smell it, that's probable cause to search you."

"Keep your private items out of view," recommended the ACLU's Wolf. A baggie full of weed on the front seat is all the probable cause an officer needs to search the vehicle and arrest the owner.

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car search
"The only sure thing to do is not to carry," said Keith Stroup, founder and currently senior counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "But the problem with that is there may or may not be good marijuana available at the festivals. If you're going to bring something with you, keep the quantity as small as possible, and for God's sake, don't smoke in the car!"

If you are stopped at a checkpoint (or pulled over for any reason) and you haven't provided police probable cause to search you or your vehicle, now is the time to exercise your rights. People in such situations should be polite but assertive, the experts said.

"If you are pulled over by police for any reason, the officers are very likely to ask you to consent to a search," said Silverman. "Don't do it. Never, ever consent under any circumstances. It might be couched in terms of a command, but it is a request. If you consent, you are waiving your Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. They won't 'go easier' on you; anything they find, they will confiscate, and arrest you and put you in jail. Don't do their job for them."

"There is no circumstance I can imagine where you should ever consent to a search," agreed NORML's Stroup. "If you give permission, you waive your Fourth Amendment protections. They may say it'll go easier if you cooperate, but that's bullshit. Their only reason for being there is to see if you have contraband and arrest you and put you in jail if you do."

"Just say no to warrantless searches," echoed the ACLU's Wolf. "Officers won't tell you you have the right not to consent, but you do, and it is one that people have held dear since the founding of the Republic."

There are other highway hazards for the unwary festival-goer. Law enforcement can be creative in its unending war on drug users and sellers.

"Anybody driving to see his favorite band should also be aware of fake drug checkpoints," said Silverman. "Drug checkpoints are unconstitutional, but what some sheriffs will do close to festival sites is set up a big 'Drug Checkpoint Ahead' sign, and then watch who turns off the highway at the next ramp or who throws something out his car window. Then they pull them over for littering or failure to signal a lane change or something. If you see such a sign, keep driving -- it's a bluff designed to see who it scares."

"When you see a sign like that, proceed ahead within the speed limit, driving safely through the area," advised Wolf.

Wolf has problems with the harassment of festival-goers that run deeper than particular law enforcement tactics. "Profiling based on race is not okay, profiling based on gender is not okay, and profiling based on the type of concert you attend is not okay," he said. "It's unreasonable and unjustifiable for police to target a group of people because they are going to any particular type of concert."

"Simply having a Grateful Dead sticker or dreadlocks doesn't constitute reasonable suspicion of anything," agreed Silverman.

But in the real world, it can. Festival-goers and other highway travelers need to be aware of their rights, as well as the realities of life in the contemporary US, as they hit the highway this summer.

And one last thing once you actually make it to the festival. "There's a big myth out there that police officers must reveal if they're an undercover cop," said Silverman. "That's wrong, and it's stupid to believe that. Police officers can and do legally lie in doing their jobs. Believing that has probably led to thousands of people being arrested."

Medical Marijuana: Employment Rights Bill Passes California Assembly

A medical marijuana employment rights bill that would protect California patients from being fired because their medication is marijuana passed the California Assembly Wednesday. Introduced by leading legislative medical marijuana defender Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), and cosponsored by Assemblymembers Patty Berg (D-Eureka), Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Lori Saldaña (D-San Diego), the bill, AB 2279, would overturn a January California Supreme Court decision, Ross v. Raging Wire.

In that case, the state Supreme Court upheld the ability of employers to fire employees who test positive for marijuana even if they are patients. That decision left the state's estimated 150,000 registered medical marijuana patients facing renewed job insecurity.

AB 2279 would undo that ruling. It would "declare it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment or otherwise penalize a person, if the discrimination is based upon the person's status as a qualified patient or primary caregiver, or a positive drug test for marijuana, except as specified."

The bill also provides authorization for those who have been discriminated against by employers because of their medical marijuana use to sue for damages, seek injunctions and other appropriate relief. It would not prevent an employer from firing an employee who is impaired on the job because of medical marijuana use.

"AB 2279 is not about being under the influence while at work. That's against the law, and will remain so," said Leno, the bill's author. "It's about allowing patients who are able to work safely and who use their doctor-recommended medication in the privacy of their own homes, to not be arbitrarily fired from their jobs. The voters who supported Proposition 215 did not intend for medical marijuana patients to be forced into unemployment in order to benefit from their medicine," Leno continued.

"The California Assembly has acted to protect the right of patients to work and be productive members of society," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access, the medical marijuana advocacy group that argued the case before the Court and is now a supporter of the bill. "The state Senate now has the important task of passing this bill with the aim to protect the jobs of thousands of Californians with serious illnesses such as cancer and HIV/AIDS."

"It's important that we not allow employment discrimination in California," said Gary Ross, the former plaintiff in Ross v. Raging Wire. "If the Court is going to ignore the need for protection, then it's up to the legislature to ensure that productive workers like me are free from discrimination."

The bill has broad support from labor, business, civil rights, and medical groups. It now heads to the state Senate.

Senior Citizens Caught in the War on Drugs -- DrugSense FOCUS Alert #367

Below the Florida Times-Union Senior Columnist Tonya Weathersbee provides a disturbing analysis of an aspect of the failure of the War on Drugs. Please consider writing and sending a Letter to the Editor of the Florida Times Union expressing your reaction to this column. Thanks for your effort and support. It's not what others do it's what YOU do. ********************************************************************** Contact: Florida Times-Union http://www.jacksonville.com/aboutus/letters_to_editor.shtml Pubdate: Mon, 26 May 2008 Source: Florida Times-Union (FL) Copyright: 2008 The Florida Times-Union Author: Tonyaa Weathersbee, The Times-Union SOME ARE DRIVEN TO CRIME BY ECONOMIC DESPERATION Ruth Davis says she isn't on drugs. But she was desperate. She's also a cautionary tale. According to a recent McClatchy News Service story, the Miami grandmother is sitting in a North Carolina jail. She's been there since December. That was when a state trooper nabbed her as she was transporting 33 pounds of marijuana to New York. He stopped Davis for speeding, but then noticed a strong odor as she rolled down her car window. Her answers to the trooper's questions about her travel plans didn't jibe. So he asked if he could search her car. She agreed. But Davis didn't know he was going to call the dogs to help him look. Game over. Drug enforcement officials say that people like Davis, who is 65, are becoming part of a trend; that drug dealers are now recruiting elderly people to carry drugs because there's less of a chance that they will be stopped or profiled. There's also the chance that police will be disarmed by their sweetness and vulnerability. Davis, in fact, said that she had hoped to charm her way out of a speeding ticket. I almost wish that had worked for her. Because it wasn't greed that made Davis agree to become a drug mule. It was pain. It was the pain of not being able to pay the $20,000-plus that she owed doctors for treatment of a blood disease. It was the pain of seeing her daughter's face disfigured from a car crash, and not being able to help her pay the $3,000 needed for corrective plastic surgery. It was the pain that a person feels when hitting rock bottom with no safety net to catch her. It's a pain that has been exploited by drug dealers who recruit the desperate and the defeated. And just as the drug trade has become the dominant economy for many poor, inner-city communities, it's not surprising that as other safety nets begin to fray, more people will grab on to anything to stop their free fall. In Davis' case, that meant grabbing onto the promises of a drug dealer. Me, I'm not all that surprised that some elderly folks would be vulnerable to that kind of coercion. In some neighborhoods in which drug dealers are the closest thing to philanthropists that most people there will ever see, they help some old people pay bills. But while Davis wasn't exactly poor - she said she owns her own home and works as a diet consultant - her medical bills apparently still made it hard for her to make ends meet. And, in case we forget, soaring medical bills can plunge anyone into poverty. Or it can push them to make thoughtless choices. So when I see cases such as hers, I'm reminded of how the drug trade is fueled by different degrees of hopelessness. In the inner cities, you have kids who work as drug sellers and lookouts because few know the lure of legitimate work, because not much of that exists where they live. Then you have some people who sell drugs to supplement low-wage jobs. Unlike Davis, they aren't casualties of an emergency as much as they are casualties of an illicit economy that has usurped the legitimate economy. Then there's the hopelessness that turned Davis into a drug mule. Such hopelessness is the kind that overwhelms people who are being let down by what many have come to view as guarantees in American life; that if you pay your bills, obey the law, drink your milk and say your prayers, the system won't allow misfortunes like medical emergencies to make you destitute. Now I know that not every senior citizen who is faced with hardships is going to sell drugs. Yet, Davis' story still is a revealing one. Among other things, it illustrates, once again, the failure of the war on drugs. We fill our prisons and jails with nonviolent offenders like Davis - a woman who, ironically, became a felon to avoid becoming a deadbeat - as the kingpins go free. And even as people like Davis sit in jail, Americans continue to use drugs at about the same rate as they did when President Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971. As long as that continues to happen, and as long as jobs continue to hemorrhage and medical costs continue to spiral, people will look for ways to survive. And the drug lords will be waiting. ********************************************************************** Additional suggestions for writing LTEs are at our Media Activism Center: http://www.mapinc.org/resource/#guides, or contact MAP's Media Activism Facilitator for tips on how to write LTEs that are printed. heath@mapinc.org ********************************************************************** PLEASE SEND US A COPY OF YOUR LETTER Please post a copy of your letter or report your action to the sent letter list (sentlte@mapinc.org) if you are subscribed, or by E-mailing a copy directly to heath@mapinc.org if you are not subscribed. Your letter will then be forwarded to the list so others can learn from your efforts. Subscribing to the Sent LTE list (sentlte@mapinc.org) will help you to review other sent LTEs and perhaps come up with new ideas or approaches as well as keeping others aware of your important writing efforts.
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