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SC Gov. Haley Talks Trash About Drug Use and the Unemployed

South Carolina's Republican Gov. Nikki Haley wants to drug test unemployment recipients before they can receive benefits, she told a group of supporters last Thursday, and she wants it so bad she was willing to resort to lying about the extent of the problem.

Nikki Haley (image via Wikimedia)
"I so want drug testing. I so want it," Haley said during a question-and-answer session at the Lexington Rotary Club. But she added that that some hurdles had to be cleared first. "We have to make sure this works. We have to see what the return is on it. And, we have to see federally and legally if we can do it."

As for why South Carolina needs to drug test unemployment applicants, Haley claimed that huge numbers of applicants for jobs at the Savannah River Site nuclear facility failed post-interview drug tests.

"Down on River Site, they were hiring a few hundred people, and when we sat down and talked to them -- this was back before the campaign -- when we sat down and talked to them, they said of everybody they interviewed, half of them failed a drug test, and of the half that was left, of that 50%, the other half couldn't read and write properly," Haley said."That's what we have in South Carolina," she continued. "We don't have an unemployment problem. We have an education and poverty problem."

But as the Huffington Post reported Friday, Haley was full of it. The Post talked to Jim Giusti, a spokesman for the Department of Energy, which runs the facility. He said he had no idea what Haley was talking about.

"Half the people who applied for a job last year or year 2009 did not fail the drug test," Giusti said. "At the peak of hiring under the Recovery Act we had less than 1% of those hired test positive." And the River Site doesn't even test applicants, Giusti added. "We only test them when they have been accepted," he said.

South Carolina does not have a demonstrable problem with drugged out unemployed workers. What it does have is an unemployment rate of 10.9% and an unwillingness to spend state money to support the unemployed. In June, Gov. Haley signed into law a bill cutting unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks while lowering unemployment taxes on businesses.

At least four other Republican controlled states have slashed the length of time out of work people can receive unemployment benefits, but no state has yet to pass a law requiring drug testing for unemployment beneficiaries, although several have been introduced this year. Republican-controlled Wisconsin and Indiana have passed laws that cut unemployment benefits for job applicants who fail a drug test.

If Gov. Haley's fictions about drugged out workers are the best that proponents of drug testing the unemployed can do, perhaps the South Carolina legislature will reject her welfare for drug testing labs proposal.

Lexington, SC
United States

Veteran, ACLU Challenge Florida Welfare Drug Test Law [FEATURE]

Florida's new law requiring applicants for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program to take and pass a drug test in order to receive benefits is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLUFL). The group filed a class-action lawsuit in federal district court in Orlando Tuesday arguing the new law was unconstitutional and seeking a temporary injunction to block its implementation.

Under the law, which passed Florida's House and Senate in April and May respectively, applicants can be denied public assistance for a year if they fail the drug test and denied for three years if they fail a second drug test. Persons who complete drug treatment can regain eligibility, and the children of people denied benefits can receive funds through a designated trustee.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/drugtest.jpg
drug testing kit
"It's our view that not only is this program unconstitutional and illegal, but it is a public policy that rests on ugly stereotypes," said ACLUFL executive director Howard Simon at a Wednesday morning press conference.

The lawsuit, Lebron v. Wilkins, names a Central Florida man, Luis Lebron, as the lead plaintiff. Lebron, a Navy veteran, single father, and University of Central Florida student who is looking for work, was denied TANF benefits after refusing to submit to a drug test. Lebron, who also cares for his disabled mother, did accounting and payroll work in the Navy and in the private sector before returning to college. He is expected to graduate with an accounting degree in December.

"Florida's new law assumes everyone who seeks public assistance has a drug problem," said Lebron. "They don't know that I'm in school right now so I can get a good job to provide for my son and mother, and it feels like they don't care. I have to prove to them that I'm not breaking the law. It makes me sick and angry that for no reason at all and no suspicion, I have to prove I'm not using drugs. The Fourth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, and it says no searches without probable cause."

The pivotal question, Lebron said, is whether the searches are reasonable. "Searches must be based on individualized suspicion," he noted. "In the Navy, I swore an oath to defend the Constitution. Now, I'm asking for the Constitution to defend me."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) championed the new welfare drug testing law, arguing that welfare recipients used drugs at a higher rate than the population at large and that the law would save Florida taxpayers money. A number of similar bills have been filed in other states as well, and rumblings of Congressional hearings on the proposal have been heard inside the Beltway as well.

But so far the numbers have failed to borne out Scott's claims about welfare recipients or budget savings. A 1996 study of alcohol and illicit drug use by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that welfare recipients' use rates to be the same as the population at large. And according to Florida's Department of Children's Services, only about 2% of TANF applicants have tested positive for drugs in the new program so far. At that rate, the state will arguably save a few tens of thousands of dollars each year in a program that is budgeted at $168 million a year. But even those savings are debatable, given that it is difficult to factor in the costs of administering the program -- or defending it against legal challenges or individual claims of false positives.

The one clear winner in the welfare drug testing program is Florida's drug testing industry. Each TANF applicant must take a drug test at a cost of $30-35 and pay for it out of his own pocket. If the test comes back negative, the state reimburses the applicant. The net result is a transfer of funds from the TANF program to drug test providers.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/rickscott.jpg
Gov. Scott
But the ACLUFL lawsuit does not rely on a cost-benefit analysis. Instead, it relies on the argument, vetted in both federal appeals courts and the Florida courts, that suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches.


"Our legal claim is straightforward and should come as no surprise to the state of Florida," said Maria Kayanan, the lead attorney in the case. "The only state in the country to try this in the past failed miserably. Throughout the session, legislative staff warned the legislature that this law raised legal challenges."

Kayanan was referring to Michigan, which enacted a law requiring suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients in the 1990s. That law was overturned as unconstitutional by a federal district court judge in a decision upheld by the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"This is bad policy, it's a mess, and we hope the court recognizes that suspicionless drug testing absent a clear showing of risk to public safety violates the Fourth Amendment," she said.

Federal courts have held that government-imposed drug testing absent particularized suspicion is unconstitutional except in very limited circumstances. The courts have carved out exceptions allowing drug testing in occupations where the public safety is at risk, for law enforcement personnel involved in drug enforcement, and for high school students engaged in extracurricular activities, but that is as far as the federal judiciary has been willing to bend the Fourth Amendment to date.

"This is a slippery slope," said Randy Berg, executive director of the Florida Justice Institute, which is co-counsel in the case. "While implemented here to go after people in need of public assistance to protect their families, who is next? People who apply to get a fishing license? Contractors who contract with the state? It is very important that people see this as a slippery slope. That is why we have stepped forward to challenge this unconstitutional bill enacted by the legislature."

"After the Michigan law was struck down, a number of states have started rekindling this idea, but Florida was the first state to enact this," said Simon. "But this public policy that the legislature adopted at the urging of the governor is based only on ugly stereotypes and talking points. He keeps saying that taxpayers have a right to know their money is not being used to subsidize drug addiction. But this method is unconstitutional, and we are confident it will be found unconstitutional again."

In response to a question echoing a commonly heard plaint, Simon explained why workers in the private sector must sometimes submit to drug testing when welfare applicants do not.

"The government is bound by the Constitution and private employers are not," he pointed out. "Things that may be appropriate in the private sector are impermissible when done by the government. The governor is also a lawyer, but he must have slept through constitutional law."

"I served my country, I'm in school finishing my education and trying to take care of my son," Lebron said. "It's insulting and degrading that people think I'm using drugs just because I need a little help to take care of my family while I finish up my education."

Now, a federal court in Florida will decide if requiring Lebron to submit to a drug test, is not only insulting and degrading to him, but unconstitutional. With efforts to impose similar laws on welfare applicants and people seeking unemployment benefits underway in a number of other states and possibly Congress, this Florida case will have ramifications reaching far and wide.

Orlando, FL
United States

Few Florida Welfare Applicants Fail Drug Tests So Far

During his election campaign last year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) campaigned on, among other things, cutting government spending by reducing the welfare rolls through drug testing. Welfare recipients were more likely than average citizens to be drug users, he claimed.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/drugtest.jpg
drug testing paraphernalia
Scott successfully pushed his welfare drug testing bill through the legislature, and the program went into effect July 1. But preliminary results undercut his claims of high drug use rates among people seeking welfare benefits and they suggest that the vaunted savings to taxpayers will not be very significant.

According to the Tampa Tribune, the state Department of Children and Families is reporting some preliminary numbers. So far, at least 1,000 applicants have undergone drug testing, and only 2% have failed their drug tests. Another 2% have, for reasons unknown, failed to complete the application process.

These numbers suggest that not only are Florida welfare recipients not a bunch of lazy junkies getting high on the backs of taxpayers, but that they actually use drugs at a significantly lower rate than the population as a whole. [Ed: Drug testing proponents might argue that the program is causing applicants to stop using drugs in order to quality for benefits. But that ideas squares neither with the "addict" characterization commonly made about welfare recipients nor the weeks that marijuana remains detectable in the bloodstream after its last use.]

According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8.7% of the population nationally over age 12 used an illicit drug in the previous month. The rate was 6.3% for those ages 26 and up. The 2006 national survey disaggregated usage rates by state and found a figure of 7.69% of people 12 and over using within the past month in Florida.

The ACLU of Florida, which is studying a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the warrantless, suspicionless mandatory drug tests, told the Tampa Tribune the Florida law is based on stereotypes of poor people.

"This is just punishing people for being poor, which is one of our main points," said ACLU of Florida spokesman Dan Newton. "We're not testing the population at-large that receives government money; we're not testing people on scholarships, or state contractors. So why these people? It's obvious -- because they're poor."

These initial numbers also suggest that the welfare drug testing program will not be a big money saver for the state. Under the law, while welfare applicants and recipients must pay for the drug tests out of their own pockets, the state must reimburse those who test negative. At an estimated $30 a pop for the drug tests, that creates significant expenditures for the state.

Those expenditures are canceled out by the savings the state makes by not making welfare payments to those who test positive. If the current 2% positive test result rate holds true, the Tampa Tribune calculates, the state could save somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.

But that's a drop in the bucket in a program that is predicted to cost $178 million this year, and it doesn't include staff costs and other resources the state has expended to implement the program -- nor the cost if even one person testing positive ends up in an emergency room or courtroom as a result. And even the small savings projected by the Tribune could be wiped out by the cost of defending what is likely to be found an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of Florida welfare applicants and recipients to be free of unwarranted searches.

FL
United States

Alabama Bill Would Drug Test Medicaid Recipients

Lawmakers in Alabama are pushing the envelope on the drug testing of people who receive public benefits. While legislators in a number of states have targeted welfare or unemployment recipients for drug testing, a bill in Montgomery would require drug testing of Medicaid recipients.

Poor Alabamians who use drugs would be ineligible for Medicaid under a proposed law. (image via Wikimedia)
Distinct from Medicare, the federal program aimed at senior citizens, Medicaid is run by the individual states and is designed to make health care accessible for low-income people who are blind or disabled. It also covers low-income pregnant women, children, seniors, and people residing in nursing homes.

Pre-filed by state Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery), Senate Bill 26, also known as the Patient Accountability and Personal Responsibility Act, would require that Medicaid recipients undergo random suspicionless drug tests at least once each year and that new applicants undergo a drug test before deemed eligible for Medicaid benefits. The cost of the drug tests would be added to recipients' premiums (e.g. poor people will have to pay for the drug tests).

People who fail to take a drug test or test positive would be denied Medicaid benefits. There is no provision for treatment, but those who are thrown off the rolls could be reinstated if they pass another drug test a year later. The drug test results could  not be used in any criminal proceedings "without the consent of the person tested."

The bill would not apply to nursing home residents, prisoners, people in mental hospitals or those in other long-term care facilities.

Lawmakers favoring the bill claimed the number of illegal drug users getting state-funded health care has "skyrocketed" in recent years, with the cost estimated at "unknown millions." State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) told WHNT News the proposed law would save taxpayer money while forcing accountability on Medicaid recipients.

"If you want to use drugs and you want the taxpayers to pick up the tab on your health care, if this bill passes, forget about it," said Senator Orr. "If I'm going to use illegal drugs that are going to hurt myself, why ask taxpayers to fund my medical care?"

Random suspicionless drug testing for welfare recipients and state employees have been struck down by various state and federal courts as violating the right to be free of unwarranted searches, although a new Florida welfare drug testing law has yet to be challenged. Lawmakers told WHNT News they thought the Alabama bill is more legally sound because it only deals with public health programs, and if the bill ever becomes law, they are likely to find out in the courts if their legal theory is correct.

SB 26 has passed a first reading and has been assigned to the Senate Health Committee.

Montgomery, AL
United States

NAACP Calls for End to War on Drugs

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has now officially broken with the war on drugs. At its 102nd annual convention in Los Angeles Tuesday, the nation's oldest and largest black advocacy group passed an historic resolution calling for an end to the drug war.

screening of "10 Rules for Dealing with Police," NAACP national conference, July 2010
The title of the resolution pretty much says it all: "A Call to End the War on Drugs, Allocate Funding to Investigate Substance Abuse Treatment, Education, and Opportunities in Communities of Color for A Better Tomorrow."

"Today the NAACP has taken a major step towards equity, justice and effective law enforcement," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP.  "These flawed drug policies that have been mostly enforced in African American communities must be stopped and replaced with evidenced-based practices that address the root causes of drug use and abuse in America."

The resolution noted that the US spends over $40 billion a year to battle against drugs and locks up hundreds of thousands of low-level drug offenders, mostly from communities of color. Blacks are 13 times as likely to be imprisoned for low-level drug offenses as whites, despite using drugs at roughly the same rate as whites, the group noted.

"Studies show that all racial groups abuse drugs at similar rates, but the numbers also show that African Americans, Hispanics and other people of color are stopped, searched, arrested, charged, convicted, and sent to prison for drug-related charges at a much higher rate," said Alice Huffman, President of the California State Conference of the NAACP, which last year endorsed California's Prop 19 marijuana legalization initiative. "This dual system of drug law enforcement that serves to keep African-Americans and other minorities under lock and key and in prison must be exposed and eradicated."

Instead of choking the US criminal justice system with drug offenders, the resolution called for an investment in treatment and prevention programs, including methadone clinics and treatment programs proven effective.

"We know that the war on drugs has been a complete failure because in the forty years that we’ve been waging this war, drug use and abuse has not gone down," said Robert Rooks, director of the NAACP Criminal Justice Program. "The only thing we've accomplished is becoming the world's largest incarcerator, sending people with mental health and addiction issues to prison, and creating a system of racial disparities that rivals Jim Crow policies of the 1960's."

Neill Franklin, an African American former narcotics cop from Baltimore and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, made a presentation about ending the war on drugs to the conference Monday, and had more to say Tuesday.   

"The NAACP has been on the forefront of the struggle for civil rights and social justice in this country for over a century. The fact that these leaders are joining others like the National Black Police Association in calling for an end to the 'war on drugs' should be a wake up call to those politicians - including and especially President Obama - who still have not come to terms with the devastation that the 'drug war' causes in our society and especially in communities of color."

Although passed by delegates to the convention, the resolution must be ratified by the NAACP board of directors in October. Once that happens, the NAACP's 1,200 active units across the country will mobilize to conduct campaigns advocating for the end of the war on drugs.

The African-American community has long suffered the brunt of drug law enforcement in this country, but has proven remarkably resistant to calls to reform our drug policies, in part because it has also suffered the effects of drug abuse. That the nation's leading African-American organization has taken a stand against the drug war is a big deal.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Approved for Petitioning

A California marijuana legalization initiative was approved Monday to start seeking signatures to place it on the 2012 ballot. The Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Act of 2012 campaign is being led by former Judge Jim Gray, Libertarian Party and pot legalization figure Steve Kubby, and activist William McPike.

You could grow 25 of these tax-free under a new California initiative. (image courtesy the author)
According to the state attorney general's official summary, the act would "decriminalize marijuana, sales, distribution, possession, use, cultivation, processing, and transportation by persons 21 or older." The initiative would also halt pending pot prosecutions for actions that would be legal if it were in effect, prohibit advertising (except for medical marijuana), and prohibit zoning restrictions on pot cultivation and processing.

Existing agricultural taxes and regulations would be applied to commercial marijuana cultivation. Individuals could produce up to 25 plants or 12 pounds of marijuana a year under a non-commercial exemption.

An accompanying fiscal impact statement said passage of the initiative could bring "savings of potentially several tens of millions of dollars annually" in not prosecuting and jailing pot people and "potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in net additional tax revenues."

Proponents have until December 19 to collect the signatures of at least 504,760 registered voters. That kind of massive effort is almost impossible to do without a large campaign treasure chest, but it's hard to know what kind of resources the campaign has because proponents have not yet filed any campaign finance activity reports with the secretary of state.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative is only the first out of the gate. Backers of last year's Proposition 19, which fell short at the ballot box, are working on a new initiative for 2012, and there are likely to be other efforts as well. Which one or ones actually make it past the signature-gathering stage will depend on who finds the funding.

Sacramento, CA
United States

La Crosse, Wisconsin, Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

La Crosse, Wisconsin, has decriminalized the possession of up to a quarter ounce of marijuana, as well as pot-related drug paraphernalia. The final move came last Thursday night, when the city's Common Council overrode Mayor Matt Harter's veto of the measure.

The decriminalization measure, authored by District 3 council member Chris Olson, allows city law enforcement to cite small-time marijuana law violators with an offense under the municipal code instead of a criminal misdemeanor under state law.

In achieving the decrim victory, the council had to overcome two vetoes by Mayor Harter. Harter said last month he vetoed the measure because it would be perceived by the public as being "soft" on drug use.

But Olson argued that allowing police to issue municipal citations would create revenue for the city and give "a first-time offender a second chance." He also criticized Police Chief Ed Kondracki for saying he would not have his officers enforce the ordinance.

"We shouldn't be setting policy being dictated by an individual," Olson said.

But a police spokesman later said that Olson was mistaken and that the department would allow officers to issue citations under the ordinance if they wished. The spokesman also noted that the La Crosse County Sheriff's Department has yet to cite anyone under a similar county ordinance, instead charging them under state law.

La Crosse isn't the first Wisconsin locality to decriminalize pot possession. Madison, the state capital, did in 1977, and Milwaukee, the state's largest city, did in 1997. A number of other cities and counties have done so since then.

La Crosse, WI
United States

New Washington State Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed

A high-powered coalition of state and local elected officials, public figures, and attorneys filed a marijuana legalization initiative with Washington state officials June 22. Known as New Approach Washington, the group is aiming to put the measure before voters in the November 2012 elections.

The initiative is distinct from the Sensible Washington initiative campaign, which had hoped to put its measure before voters in November 2011. The Sensible Washington initiative now appears unlikely to make the ballot because with little more than a week left until it must turn in signatures, it has less than half the required amount and little money to pay signature-gatherers.

Key features of the New Approach Washington initiative include:

  • Distribution to adults 21 and over through state-licensed, marijuana-only stores; production and distribution licensed and regulated by Liquor Control Board (LCB).
  • Severable provision (e.g. provision would stand if courts invalidated other provisions) decriminalizing adult possession of marijuana; possession by persons under 21 remains a misdemeanor.
  • Stringent advertising, location, and license eligibility restrictions enforced by LCB.
  • Home growing remains prohibited; except, initiative does not affect Washington's medical marijuana law.
  • Estimated $215 million in new state revenue each year, with roughly $40 million going to state general fund (B&O and retail sales tax) and $175 million (new marijuana excise tax) earmarked for youth and health programs and marijuana education programs.
  • THC blood concentration  of 5 ng/mL or higher is per se Driving Under the Influence.

Among the backers of the initiative are Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, former US Attorney for the Western District of Washington (and prosecutor of Marc Emery, ironically) John McKay, travel program celebrity Rick Steves, state Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle), and ACLU of Washington drug policy honcho Allison Holcomb, who is stepping down temporarily to run the campaign.

The group will have until December 30 to gather 241,153 valid voter signatures to put the issue before the legislature. The legislature could then approve the measure or send it to voters in the November 2012 election.

It's starting to look like marijuana legalization will be on the ballot in at least three, and possibly four, states next year. Efforts are already underway in California, Colorado, and Oregon.

WA
United States

Rallies, Vigils Mark 40 Years of Failed Drug War [FEATURE]

It was 40 years ago Friday that President Richard Nixon (R) declared illegal drugs "public enemy No. 1" and ushered in the modern war on drugs. Four decades, millions of drug arrests, and a trillion dollars later, the sale and consumption of illicit drugs is as firmly ensconced in American society as ever, and a growing number of Americans are ready to end drug prohibition and embark on a more sane and sensible, not to mention less harmful, approach toward drugs.

Marching to the end the drug war in San Francisco (Image courtesy the author)
In dozens of cities across the land, activists, drug war victims, and just plain folks gathered Friday to commemorate the day of infamy and call for an end to that failed policy. Their numbers were not overwhelming, but their voices are being heard, and the more hopeful among us can begin to see the faint outlines of a nascent mass movement for reform.

Messages varied from city to city -- in California, demonstrators focused on prison spending during the budget crisis; in New Orleans, the emphasis was on racial injustice and harsh sentencing -- but the central overarching theme of the day, "No More Drug War!" was heard from sea to shining sea and all the way to Hawaii.

In San Francisco, several hundred people from more than a dozen sponsoring organizations gathered at City Hall for a press conference and to demand that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the state legislature prioritize vital social services over spending on prisons. Then, accompanied by drummers from the Brass Liberation Orchestra, they marched through the city center to state office buildings before returning to City Hall.

"It is past time that we take real steps to make real changes to California’s totally inhumane prison system," said Emily Harris, statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), one of 17 local groups organizing the march.

The Brass Liberation Band was beating the drums for an end to prohibition (Image courtesy the author)
"Spending on prisons has grown from five percent to ten percent of our General Fund spending, doubling just in the past decade," said Lisa Marie Alatorre of Critical Resistance, a CURB member organization. "Locking up too many people for too long does not contribute to public safety and is draining essential resources from education and health care -- programs that make a real difference to Californians."

"We call on the governor, California's mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs, and all Californians to join us in calling it a failure that should be stopped immediately," said Dr. Diana Sylvestre of Oasis Clinic and the Oakland-based United for Drug Policy Reform. "We will continue to organize to win our fight against this endless assault on sane drug policies."

In Chicago, hundreds gathered outside James R. Thompson Center in the Loop to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the drug war, while inside the center was a ceremony honoring Juneteenth, a remembrance of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln in 1863. For those present, the connection between the struggle to win civil rights and the fight to end the drug war was easily made. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Father Michael Pfleger and other community leaders lent their voices to the rally.

Dancers joined the protest krewe in New Orleans (Image courtesy Pelican Post)
"There is not a war on drugs, there is a war on the poor and a war on people of color!" said Pfleger, whipping up the crowd.

"We all know that the war on drugs has failed to end drug use. Instead, it's resulted in the incarceration of millions of people around the country, and 100,000 here in Cook County on an annual basis," said Preckwinkle, the only elected official to address the crowd. "Drugs and the failed war on the drugs have devastated lives, families and communities. For too long we've treated drug use as a criminal justice issue, rather than a public issue, which is what it is."

In Honolulu, the ACLU of Hawaii and other drug reform advocates marked the occasion with a rally and speeches. Access to medical marijuana was a big issue for attendees there, although the main focus was on ending the drug war.

"It has cost a trillion dollars. It has perpetrated massive racial injustice. It has made the United States the largest jailer," said Scott Michaelman. "Treatment over incarceration is a core part of our message. Low level nonviolent users should not be a part of the criminal justice system," he added.

Braving the heat to beat prohibition in the Big Easy (Image courtesy Pelican Post)
In steamy New Orleans, several dozen protesters led by Women with a Vision and including dance groups and local anarchists braved temperatures in the 90s to hold a bouncy second-line parade through Central City and then a community forum to call for an end to racial profiling, lengthy sentences, and unfair drug policies.

"You get to see the people coming together. It's a unity thing," Keyondria Mitchell, a supporter who led one of the dancing groups, told the Pelican Post.  She said the event's varied attendees were testament to a changing public perception of the drug war. "That's what you want, awareness."

Women with a Vision director Deon Haywood said that 40 years on, the drug war had failed to make us safer despite all the money down the drain. "It hasn't curbed the use of illegal drugs, but what it has done is incarcerate many people," said Haywood. "We have only two licensed addiction counselors serving three parishes: Orleans, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard. Why can't that money be put into treatment?"

In San Diego, dozens gathered at Pioneer Park in Mission Hills to hear, among others, former California Assemblymember Lori Saldana call for complete repeal of drug prohibition; in Denver, the Drug Policy Alliance sponsored a well-attended debate; and in Portland, Oregon, the Lewis & Clark chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy organized a candlelight vigil at Pioneer Square attended by around 100 people. Events also occurred in other cities, including Ann Arbor, Miami Beach, and Washington, DC.

The crowds didn't compare to those who gather for massive marijuana legalization protests and festivals -- or protestivals -- such as the Seattle Hempfest, the Freedom Rally on Boston Commons, or the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, or even the crowds that gather for straightforward pot protests, such as 420 Day or the Global Marijuana March, but that's because the issues are tougher. People have to break a bit more profoundly with drug war orthodoxy to embrace completely ending the war on drugs than they do to support "soft" marijuana. That relatively small groups did so in cities across the land is just the beginning.

Cops Say Forty Years of War on Drugs is Enough [FEATURE]

This week marks the 40th anniversary of America's contemporary war on drugs, and the country's largest anti-prohibitionist law enforcement organization is commemorating -- not celebrating -- the occasion with the release of report detailing the damage done. Members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) hand-delivered a copy of the report, Ending the Drug War: A Dream Deferred, to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (the drug czar's office) Tuesday after holding a press conference in Washington, DC.

LEAP members pass by the White House as they deliver their report to the drug czar's office.
[Editor's Note: This is merely the first commemoration of 40 years of drug war. The Drug Policy Alliance is sponsoring dozens of rallies and memorials in cities across the country on Friday, June 17. Look for our reporting on those events as they happen.]

On June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon (R) declared "war on drugs," and thousands of deaths, millions of arrests, and billions of tax dollars later, drug prohibition remains in place -- the Obama administration's declaration two years ago that it had ended the drug war in favor of a public health-centered approach notwithstanding. Ending the Drug War details how the war on drugs continues unabated, despite the recent administrations' less warlike rhetoric, and the ways it has hurt rather than helped drug users and society at large.

"When President Nixon declared the 'drug war' in 1971, we arrested fewer than half a million people for drug offenses that year. Today, the number has skyrocketed to almost two million drug arrests a year," said former Baltimore narcotics officer and LEAP executive director Neill Franklin. "We jail more of our own citizens than any other country in the world does, including those run by the worst dictators and totalitarian regimes. Is this how President Obama thinks we can 'win the future'?"

The report shows that despite the drug czar's nice talk about ending the drug war, Obama administration spending priorities remain highly skewed toward law enforcement and interdiction -- and it's getting worse, not better. In 2004, the federal drug budget was 55% for supply reduction (policing) and 45% for demand reduction (treatment, prevention). In the 2012 Obama budget, supply reduction has increased to 60%, while demand reduction has shrunk to 40%.

The report also demonstrates through arrest figures that on the street level, the drug war continues to be vigorously waged. In 2001, there were almost 1.6 million drug arrests; a decade later, there were slightly more than 1.6 million. Granted, there is a slight decline from the all-time high of nearly 1.9 million in 2006, but the drug war juggernaut continues chugging away.

"I was a police officer for 34 years, the last six as chief of police in Seattle," retired law enforcement veteran Norm Stamper told the press conference. "At one point in my career, I had an epiphany. I came to the appreciation that police officers could be doing better things with their time and that we were causing more harm than good with this drug war. My position is that we need to end prohibition, which is the organizing mechanism behind the drug war. We need to replace that system guaranteed to invite violence and corruption and replace it with a regulatory model," he said.

Nixon made Elvis an honorary narc in 1970. Nixon and Elvis are both dead, but Nixon's drug war lives on.
LEAP slams the Obama administration for its forked-tongue approach to medical marijuana as well in the report. The administration has talked a good game on medical marijuana, but its actions speak louder than its words. While Attorney General Holder's famous 2009 memo advised federal prosecutors not to pick on medical marijuana providers in compliance with state laws, federal medical marijuana raids have not only continued, but they are happening at a faster rate than during the Bush administration. There were some 200 federal medical marijuana raids during eight years of Bush, while there have been about 100 under 2 1/2 years of Obama, LEAP noted.

And LEAP points to the horrendous prohibition-related violence in Mexico as yet another example of the damage the drug war has done. The harder Mexico and the US fight the Mexican drug war, the higher the death toll, with no apparent impact on the flow of drugs north or the flow of guns and cash south, the report points out.

Sean Dunagan, a recently retired, 13-year DEA veteran with postings in Guatemala City and Monterrey, Mexico, told the press conference his experiences south of the border had brought him around to LEAP's view.

"It became increasingly apparent that the prohibitionist model just made things worse by turning a multi-billion dollar industry over to criminal organizations," he said. "There is such a profit motive with the trade in illegal drugs that it is funding a de facto civil war in Mexico. Prohibition has demonstrably failed and it is time to look at policy alternatives that address the problem of addiction without destroying our societies the way the drug war has done."

Ending drug prohibition would not make Mexico's feared cartels magically vanish, LEAP members conceded under questioning, but it would certainly help reduce their power.

"Those of us who advocate ending prohibition are not proposing some sort of nirvana with no police and no crime, but a strategy based in reality that recognizes what police can accomplish in cooperation with the rest of society," said former House Judiciary Crime subcommittee counsel Eric Sterling. "The post-prohibition environment will require enforcement as in every legal industry. The enormous power that the criminal organizations have will diminish, but those groups are not going to simply walk away. The difference between us and the prohibitionists is that we are not making empty promises like a drug-free America or proposing thoughtless approaches like zero tolerance," he told the press conference.

Drug prohibition has also generated crime and gang problems in the US, the report charged, along with unnecessary confrontations between police and citizens leading to the deaths of drug users, police, and innocent bystanders alike. The report notes that while Mexico can provide a count of its drug war deaths, the US cannot -- except this year, with the Drug War Chronicle's running tally of 2011 deaths due to US domestic drug law enforcement operations, which the report cited. As of this week, the toll stands at four law enforcement officers and 26 civilians killed.

It was the needless deaths of police officers that inspired retired Maryland State Police captain and University of Maryland law professor Leigh Maddox to switch sides in the drug war debate, she said.

LEAP's Leigh Maddox addresses the Washington, DC, press conference Tuesday.
"My journey to my current position came over many years and after seeing many friends killed in the line of duty because of our failed drug policies," she told the Washington press conference. "This is an abomination and needs to change."

While the report was largely critical of the Obama administration's approach to drug policy, it also saluted the administration for heading in the right direction on a number of fronts. It cited the reduction in the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses and the lifting of the federal ban on needle exchange funding as areas where the administration deserves kudos.

Forty years of drug prohibition is more than enough. Police are getting this. When will politicians figure it out?

Washington, DC
United States

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