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Marijuana Policy on the Ballot (Last) Tuesday

[Ed: This piece was written before Election Day. See other articles this issue for the results.]

State and local elections Tuesday will see voters in Colorado, three Michigan cities, and Portland, Maine, deciding on marijuana policy reform questions. In Colorado, voters will decide whether to approve taxation of the legal marijuana industry, while in Michigan and Portland, voters will decide on decriminalization and legalization, respectively.

In Colorado, Proposition AA would impose a 15% excise tax on wholesale recreational marijuana transactions, as well as an additional 10% sales tax at the retail level. The measure is expected to pass despite the opposition of some vocal segments of the state's marijuana community.

In Lansing, Jackson, and Ferndale, Michigan, voters will be asked to amend city charters to ensure "that nothing in the Code of Ordinances shall apply to the use, possession, and transfer of less than one ounce of marijuana, on private property, by a person who has attained 21 years," as the Lansing language puts it.

"It's important to send a message and to take a position as a capital city," said Jeffrey Hank, a Lansing attorney who has pushed to decriminalize marijuana in Lansing. "We're the last of the major Michigan cities to have (marijuana decriminalization) reform."

Decriminalization (or personal legalization) has already passed in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti.

In Portland, voters in Maine's largest city will decide whether to approve Question 1, which would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to 2 ½ ounces without penalty. The question also includes a resolution of support for taxing and regulating marijuana at the state and federal level.

While the Maine and Michigan local initiatives are likely to be ignored by state and local law enforcement, they will still have the symbolic value of putting voters on record as supporting marijuana law reform. If they pass, that is.

Chronicle Daily News--November 1, 2013

The big news today is yesterday's surprising appeals court ruling allowing the NYPD to continue stop-and-frisk searches, but there's more as well on marijuana reform, drug testing, and a conference in New Zealand.

NYPD practices stop-and-frisk techniques (nyc.gov/nypd)
Search and Seizure

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Judge's Ruling on NYPD Stop-and-Frisk. The 2nd US Court of Appeals in New York City blocked an order by District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin requiring changes in the NYPD's much criticized stop-and-frisk program. In an unusual move, the appeals court also removed Judge Scheindlin from the case, saying she had violated the code of conduct for federal judges by giving media interviews and publicly responding to criticism of her court. Scheindlin had found that NYPD violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of people by subjecting them to stop-and-frisk searches based on their race.

Drug Testing

Truckers Object to Federal Bill to Allow Hair Drug Tests. A bill pending in Congress, House Resolution 3403, the "Drug Free Commercial Driver Act of 2013," is drawing opposition from an independent trucker group, the association's organ Landline Magazine reports. The bill would allow trucking companies to use hair testing for pre-employment and random drug tests. Currently, federal regulations mandate urine testing and allow hair testing only in conjunction with urine tests, not as a replacement. Hair-based testing can reveal drug use weeks or months prior to the testing date. The independent truckers accuse bill sponsors of carrying water for larger trucking firms that want to undercut their competition.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado to Vote Tuesday on Marijuana Tax. Colorado voters will decide Tuesday whether to impose a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales to pay for school construction and a 10% sales tax to pay for marijuana regulation. The tax vote wasn't included in Amendment 64 because state law requires any new taxes to be approved by the voters. The measure is expected to pass despite opposition from some marijuana activists.

No Pot in Washington Bars, State Regulators Say. The Washington State Liquor Control Board Wednesday filed a draft rule banning any business with a liquor license from allowing on-site marijuana use. The state's pot law already bars public use, including in bars, clubs, and restaurants, but some businesses have tried to find loopholes allowing customers to use on premise, such as by having "private clubs" within the establishment.

DC Marijuana Reform Moves Could Spur Congress to Ponder Legalization. The DC city council appears set to approve decriminalization, and DC marijuana activists are pondering a 2014 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. That could set the stage for Congress to finally turn its sights on federal marijuana legalization, Bloomberg News suggested in this think piece.

One-Fourth of Americans Would Buy Legal Weed, Poll Finds. At least one out of four Americans (26%) said they would buy marijuana at least on "rare occasions" if it were legal, according to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll released Thursday. Only 9% said they buy it on rare occasions now. One out of six (16%) of respondents said they never buy it now, but might if it were legal.

International

New Zealand to Host International Conference on Drug Reform Laws. The country has drawn international attention for its innovative approach to new synthetic drugs—regulating instead of prohibiting them—and will be the site of a March 20, 2014 "Pathway to Reform" conference explaining how the domestic synthetic drug industry began, how the regulatory approach was chosen and how it works. International attendees will include Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann and Amanda Fielding, of Britain's Beckley Foundation.

Panel to Study California Marijuana Legalization

California Lieutenant Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will lead a blue ribbon panel of expert to chart a path toward marijuana legalization, the ACLU of California announced Thursday. At the same time, the group released polling results showing that two-thirds of California voters are ready to support regulated legal marijuana commerce that contributes to state tax coffers.

Gavin Newsom announces panel formation. (Rebecca Farmer)
"The prohibition of marijuana has had an enormous human and financial cost in communities across this state," said Newsom, the highest ranking elected official in California to publicly endorse taxing and regulating marijuana for adults. "It is far past time for Californians take a serious look at smarter approaches to marijuana, and it is imperative that happen before any marijuana ballot initiative gets underway."

The panel will consist of academic, legal, and policy experts and "will engage in a two-year research effort," the ACLU said. That is a clear signal that organizers are aiming at 2016 -- not 2014 -- as the time to put the matter before voters, even though at least two separate 2014 marijuana legalization initiative efforts are already underway in the state.

"The panel's work will be designed to help voters and policy makers evaluate proposals for a strict tax and regulation system that will enable California to benefit from billions of dollars of new revenue while ensuring safe communities and protecting against underage use," the ACLU said.

Among those named to the panel are Keith Humphreys, a Stanford Health Policy Associate who was a senior policy analyst at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2009-2010; Erwin Chemerinsky, constitutional law expert and dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law; two past presidents of the California Society of Addiction Medicine; Dr. Seth Ammerman, a Stanford University professor and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith; and Sam Kamin, a Denver University law professor who has been appointed to the Colorado governor's task force for implementing that state's marijuana legalization initiative.

Also included are Alison Holcomb, campaign manager of Washington state's successful 2012 ballot initiative to tax and regulate marijuana; Tamar Todd, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance; Karen O'Keefe, staff attorney for the Marijuana Policy Project; and Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

In addition to enhancing state revenue streams, marijuana legalization would end the extreme racial disparities in marijuana arrests in California, the ACLU said.

"Marijuana prohibition has harmed communities and families by needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the overburdened criminal justice system, with people of color far more likely to be arrested and prosecuted," said Allen Hopper, director of criminal justice and drug policy for the ACLU of California. "California voters recognize that it's time for change and will overwhelmingly support reforming marijuana laws provided it can be done responsibly with adequate safeguards and assurances that tax revenues will go to fund public schools and other important social services."

CA
United States

Marijuana Reform Could Earn UK Billions a Year, Studies Say

special to the Chronicle by London-based Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Hundreds of users of medical marijuana protested outside Parliament last Wednesday to demand changes to Britain's strict cannabis laws, a move many experts believe could yield billions of pounds in tax revenue and save the government billions in policing costs.

Under current law, it is illegal for British citizens to consume or possess cannabis.

Estimates vary on the financial impact of legalizing and taxing the drug, a longstanding proposal by reform advocates. A recent study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research found that the government would gain up to £1.25bn a year. A 2011 study by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit found the amount could range from £3.4 billion to £9.5 billion per annum, with a best estimate of £6.7 billion per year based on current market prices.

Commenting on the protester's demands, Peter Reynolds of Clear UK, a Norwich-based organization which seeks to reform cannabis laws, said that both studies are likely underreporting the real potential value to the British government and taxpayer.

"All the estimates are based on self-reporting of cannabis use," he said, adding that people were reluctant to admit to what is a criminal activity under current law.

Reynolds added he believes that cannabis reform's potential economic benefits are currently outweighed by political considerations.

"Britain is obsessed with cannabis psychosis stories, so we cannot start talking about rational things like cost. There is not the same intelligent discussion going on as in the United States," he said.

This view was echoed by Rupert George, the head of communications for Release, an organization which lobbies for drug laws to be based on public health issues rather than criminal justice.

"There is far more entrenched 'reefer madness' than in the US, with the dominant issue being about psychosis," he said. "The idea of a regulated drug market for cannabis, or any other drug, is politically a long way away."

While the British government's official stance is that cannabis has no proven medicinal value, in March 2013 the government announced that Sativex -- a cannabis based mouth spray produced by GW Pharmaceuticals -- could be prescribed to multiple sclerosis patients.

Alan Pavia, a spokesman for NORML UK (a British affiliate of the US-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), which organized Wednesday's protest, said that the rescheduling of Sativex demonstrates the British government's double standards with regards to medical cannabis.

"Now GW Pharmaceuticals has a license to grow marijuana for Sativex. It would seem that Sativex is scheduled in a different manner to protect this company," he said.

Through a spokeswoman, Home Office Crime Prevention Secretary Norman Baker said simply that "the government has no plans to legalize cannabis."

Currently, ten EU countries and 20 American states allow for the medical use of marijuana. Some countries, such as the Netherlands, legally regulate the recreational use of the plant, while others, such as Portugal, have decriminalized possession. Two American states -- Colorado and Washington -- have legalized recreational use of marijuana.

United Kingdom

Senate Hearing Takes on Mandatory Minimums [FEATURE]

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on mandatory minimum sentencing last Wednesday as Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and fellow committee member Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) sought to create momentum for a reform bill they filed together this spring, the Justice Safety Valve Act (Senate Bill 619).

Senate Judiciary Committee, hearing on mandatory minimums -- Rand Paul waiting to testify
The hearing comes in the face of a federal prison population that has increased seven-fold in the past 30 years, driven in large part by mandatory minimum sentences, the number of which has doubled in the past 20 years. Many of them are aimed at drug offenders, who make up almost half of all federal prisoners. Taxpayers are shelling out more than $6.4 billion this fiscal year to pay for all those prisoners.

Mandatory minimum sentencing reform has already won support from the Obama administration, with Attorney General Eric Holder last month issuing guidance to federal prosecutors instructing them not to pursue charges with mandatory minimums in certain drug cases and announcing last week that the shift would also include people who have already been charged, but not convicted or sentenced.

And it has support on the federal bench. The same day as the hearing last week, Judge Robert Holmes Bell, chairman of the criminal law committee of the US Judicial Conference, sent a letter to the committee expressing the federal judiciary's position that mandatory minimums lead to "unjust results" and its "strong support" for the Justice Safety Valve Act. The letter noted that the federal judiciary has a longstanding policy of opposing mandatory minimums.

The hearing began with an extended photo-op and media availability as Sens. Leahy and Paul chatted before the cameras in an exercise in bipartisan camaraderie.

"Senator Paul and I believe that judges, not legislators, are in the best position to evaluate individual cases and determine appropriate sentences," said Leahy. "Our bipartisan legislation has received support from across the political spectrum."

Leahy noted the Justice Department's recent moves on mandatory minimums, but said that wasn't enough.

"The Department of Justice cannot solve this problem on its own," Leahy said. "Congress must act. We cannot afford to stay on our current path. Reducing mandatory minimum sentences, which have proven unnecessary to public safety, is an important reform that our federal system desperately needs. This is not a political solution -- it is a practical one, and it is long overdue."

Paul, for his part, was on fire at the hearing. The libertarian-leaning junior senator from Kentucky decried not only the inequity of the harsh punishments but also of policies that disproportionately affect racial minorities.

"I know a guy about my age in Kentucky who grew marijuana plants in his apartment closet in college," Paul related. "Thirty years later, he still can't vote, can't own a gun, and when he looks for work, he must check the box, the box that basically says, 'I'm a convicted felon, and I guess I'll always be one.'"

It wasn't just white guy pot offenders Paul was sticking up for.

Pat Leahy
"If I told you that one out of three African-American males is forbidden by law from voting, you might think I was talking about Jim Crow 50 years ago," Paul said. "Yet today, a third of African-American males are still prevented from voting because of the war on drugs. The majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, but three-fourths of all people in prison for drug offenses are African American or Latino."

As was the case with the Judiciary Committee hearings on marijuana law reform earlier this month, octogenarian Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) appeared to be the sole holdout for maintaining harsh war on drugs policies. Grassley, the ranking minority member on the committee, complained that the move to pull back on mandatory minimums ignored the fact that the law was originally written to address sentencing disparities based on judicial discretion.

"No longer would sentences turn on which judge a criminal appeared before," Grassley said before criticizing the Supreme Court for making federal sentencing guidelines advisory and the Obama administration for citing prison costs as a reason to reduce mandatory minimums. "So we have this oddity, this administration finally found one area of spending it wants to cut," Grassley complained.

Among witnesses at the hearing, only Scott Burns, formerly of the drug czar's office and currently executive director of the National District Attorney's Association, sided with Grassley. He said crime is down and it is a myth that the federal system is in crisis.

"Prosecutors have many tools to choose from in doing their part to drive down crime and keep communities safe and one of those important tools has been mandatory minimum sentences," Burns said.

But other witnesses, including former US Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman, disagreed. Tolman told the committee that the mandatory minimum sentencing structure was inherently unfair because it put all discretion in the hands of prosecutors, who have a vested interest in securing convictions and harsh sentences. Political concerns of prosecutors rather than the public safety too often drive charging decisions, which should instead be left up to judges, he said.

Even conservative witnesses agreed that mandatory minimum sentencing had become excessive.

"The pendulum swung too far, and we swept in too many low-level, nonviolent offenders," said Mark Levin, policy director of the Right on Crime Initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a leading voice in the conservative criminal justice reform movement.

The bill has been filed, the hearing has been held, support has been made evident. Now, it is up to the Congress to move on the Justice Safety Valve Act and other pending sentencing reform legislation.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Comments in the Senate Judiciary Committee provided hope that medical marijuana's banking problems may be ending, California communities continue to tussle over the issue, and a New Jersey bill is signed into law. There's more, too. Let's get to it:

National

On Tuesday, a hint came that banking issues for dispensaries may soon be resolved. Deputy Attorney General James Cole told the Senate Judiciary Committee the Justice and Treasury Departments and banking regulators were working "to deal with this in accordance with the laws on the books." Cole's comments came after several senators prodded him on the issue. [Ed: If Treasury is involved, could that mean they'll deal with the IRS dispensary audit issue too? That would be huge -- arguably the audits are the biggest threat facing the medical marijuana industry, and they could just as easily hit the legalized marijuana industry too. - DB]

California

Last Thursday, the Napa Planning Commission canceled a meeting to begin the process of repealing the city's medical marijuana ordinance. The city said it needed more time to consider the implications of a federal memorandum regarding marijuana enforcement that was issued last week by the US Justice Department. Late last month, the city council had voted to effectively ban dispensaries, but now wants to rethink. The council had opted to repeal its existing ordinance that would have allowed a dispensary. Repeal of the ordinance would effectively ban dispensaries in the city because current zoning does not permit such activity.

Last Friday, a statewide dispensary regulation bill rose from the dead. The bill, AB 604, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) was killed earlier in the year, but Ammiano reintroduced it using the "gut and amend" process to dump it into an existing measure. The effort took on added urgency after the federal government late last month unveiled its latest approach to medical marijuana and legal marijuana states. A backup bill, SB 69, was introduced the following day. Only one of them needs to pass. The legislative session ends at the end of this week.

On Monday, a judge blocked a request for an injunction to force Long Beach to count all signatures submitted by organizers of an initiative to overturn the city's dispensary ban. The Long Beach Citizens' and Patients' Rights political action committee filed petitions with 43,159 signatures in February to place an initiative on a special election ballot similar to the medical marijuana regulations the City Council passed in 2010. However, City Clerk Larry Herrera conducted a random sample of 3 percent of the signatures and found only 31,294 signatures were valid, short of the 15 percent, or 33,543 registered voters required for a special election. The political action committee then sued. But federal District Court Judge Audrey Collins ruled that Herrera "acted reasonably rather than arbitrarily or fraudulently."

Also on Monday, the El Dorado County planning commission called for a dispensary regulation ordinance. The county's moratorium on dispensaries is set to expire at the end of October. The commission objected to a proposed ordinance from supervisors that would ban all dispensaries. Because the urgency ordinance expires Oct. 30, the board needs to adopt an ordinance at its Sept. 24 meeting.

On Tuesday, the Long Beach city council agreed to draft a new dispensary ordinance. In an 8-0 vote, council members directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would once again allow a limited number of collectives to operate within city limits. The council debate came a day after a group seeking to overturn the city's medical marijuana ban was dealt a blow in court. A federal judge ruled officials would not have to place a medical marijuana initiative on the city's April ballot, or do a full count of more than 43,000 signatures seeking a special election.

Also on Tuesday, Merced County supervisors approved an ordinance to limit medical marijuana grows. The ordinance limits medical marijuana cultivation to 12 plants per parcel of land, regardless of the property's size, whether it's an indoor or outdoor garden, or the maturity of the plants. Despite strong support from law enforcement and elected officials, a few medical pot users on Tuesday said the ordinance unfairly groups them with people who grow marijuana for profit. The ordinance would carry stiffer civil and criminal penalties, including abatement and cleanup at the owner's expense, an administrative procedure resulting in penalties or a misdemeanor charge resulting in six months in jail and-or a $1,000 fine.

Illinois

Last Thursday, Park City imposed a 120-day moratorium on dispensaries. Alderman said they wanted to give the city time to decide where proper locations for dispensaries or cultivation facilities might be.

Michigan

Last Wednesday, medical marijuana supporters rallied in Lansing, saying police are violating state law by punishing medical marijuana users. The rally featured live entertainment and showcased people who said they had been victimized by police.

Last Thursday, the Michigan Marihuana Review Panel heard testimony on adding PTSD to the list of debilitating conditions for which medical marijuana can be used. The review is the result of a citizen petition. The panel last month voted 7-2 to approve PTSD, but still has to make a final recommendation later this year.

New Jersey

On Monday, changes to the state's medical marijuana rules passed the Assembly. The changes were demanded by Gov. Chris Christie (R) when he issued a conditional veto on a bill that would have allowed qualified children to use medical marijuana. Christie demanded that the bill be revised to require that only minors can use "edibles" and that they would have to be approved by both a psychiatrist and a physician. The bill also removes the limit on the marijuana strains that may be cultivated and requires parental permission, according to the release.

On Tuesday, Gov. Christie signed the bill.

Pennsylvania

On Monday, the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association released a new position statement on medical marijuana. "It is the position of PSNA that medical marijuana is worthy of further rigorous clinical testing," the statement said. "In order to weigh the true risks and benefits of medical marijuana, there must be a discussion and openness at the federal level regarding the conversion of marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug classification. Schedule II classification would allow testing of consistent grade medical marijuana in a randomized controlled fashion in order to ascertain the drug's risk/benefit profile for a multitude of illnesses and symptoms. In addition, PSNA supports protection from prosecution for patients who currently use medicinal marijuana or for providers suggesting medicinal marijuana for relief of intractable conditions or symptoms. Lastly, PSNA shares concerns about the delivery system of smoking medication and, if this drug is approved, encourages the development of a more efficient drug delivery system." A bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state has been pending since 2009.

Washington

On Monday, officials suggested the state's dispensaries are criminal enterprises. The medical marijuana law was never intended to allow businesses to sell marijuana to patients, a task force of state officials told a legislative committee. The task force could come up with recommendations for shutting down dispensaries by January. Alternatively, the legislature could act to regulate dispensaries.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

California Sentencing Reform Bill to Go to Governor

A bill that would allow some drug possession cases to be charged as misdemeanors instead of felonies passed the state Assembly Wednesday. The bill has already passed the Senate, but most go back there for a final concurrence vote before heading to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

California prison overcrowding (US Supreme Court)
Senate Bill 649, filed by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) would give local judges and prosecutors discretion on charging simple possession cases as felonies or misdemeanors. California sees about 10,000 drug possession cases each year. That figure does not include marijuana, which was decriminalized under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).

Passage of the bill would help reduce prison and jail overcrowding in California and potentially even provide savings to the financially-strapped courts because felony charges require setting a preliminary hearing, whereas misdemeanor offenses do not.

"We know we can reduce crime by offering low-level offenders rehabilitation and the opportunity to successfully reenter their communities, but we are currently doing the opposite," Leno said after the Assembly vote. "We give nonviolent drug offenders long terms, offer them no treatment while they're incarcerated, and then release them back into the community with few job prospects or options to receive an education. SB 649 gives local governments the flexibility to choose reduced penalties so that they can reinvest in proven alternatives that benefit minor offenders and reserve limited jail space for serious criminals."

"Our system is broken," said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, one of the bill sponsors. "Felony sentences don't reduce drug use and don't persuade users to seek treatment, but instead, impose tremendous barriers to housing, education and employment after release -- three things we know help keep people out of our criminal justice system and successfully reintegrate into their families and communities."

Leno's bill comes as California struggles to comply with a federal mandate to reduce prison overcrowding. Gov. Brown and Assembly Democrats have concocted a plan to use a private prison facility staffed with unionized state prison guards, but that plan is running into opposition among Democrats in the Senate, who are seeking instead to increase funding to counties that have incurred higher costs because of Brown's incarceration realignment plan, which shifts some prison inmates to county jails.

Even after realignment, there are still more than 4,100 people serving California prison time for simple drug possession. State taxpayers are paying $207 million a year to keep them there.

"Based on my 38 years in the criminal justice system, including five years presiding over an adult drug court, I've seen firsthand how fundamentally unjust it is for simple possession offenses to be charged as straight felonies when many more serious and harmful offenses are prosecuted as misdemeanors," said the Hon. Harlan Grossman, a retired Superior Court Judge from Contra Costa County. "It's time to rethink how low-level drug offenses are prosecuted in California. As a judge, I can tell you that there is nothing fair or just about a punishment that does not fit the crime."

If Gov. Brown signs the bill into law, California will be on the same path as 13 other states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government as jurisdictions that treat drug possession as a misdemeanor. Those states do not demonstrate higher levels of drug use or drug crime than states that have not defelonized drug possession.

Sacramento, CA
United States

North Carolina Welfare Drug Testing Bill Moving

A bill that would require public benefits recipients to take a drug test upon suspicion they are using drugs passed the state Senate Wednesday. It had already passed the House, and now returns there for a concurrence vote after it was amended in the Senate.

The bill, House Bill 392, requires participants in the state's Work First program, which offers cash benefits, training, and support services to families, to submit to drug testing if authorities have a reasonable suspicion they are on drugs. The bill also requires stringent background checks to ensure that recipients are not probation or parole violators or have outstanding felony warrants.

The measure is part of a package of conservative bills being rammed through the Republican-dominated legislature. This session, Republicans have passed abortion restrictions tied to an anti-sharia law bill, repealed the Racial Justice Act, and disqualified the state from receiving federal funds for benefits for the long-term unemployed, in addition to hammering away at public benefits recipients with the welfare drug testing bill.

Those actions have generated weeks of Moral Mondays protests by social justice and civil rights activists. More than 700 people have been arrested to far in Moral Mondays civil disobedience at the state capitol.

Republican senators amended the bill to make it more palatable by inserting language clarifying that drug test results would remain confidential and that people who tested positive would be referred to treatment resources. They also deleted language that required county employees to tell potential recipients that they wouldn't be drug tested if they didn't apply for Work First.

"We've worked really, really hard to make this bill fair," said bill sponsor Sen. Dean Arp (R). "I hope my colleagues feel we tried to address their concerns."

He didn't convince Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Chapel Hill), the only senator who actually took to the floor to speak against the bill.

"There is no evidence that people who are getting (Work First) checks are more likely... to be drug users," she said. "This is just a stigma, and one more kicking people when they are down."

And it is a burden on county social service departments and the taxpayers, Kinnaird said. "It's an added burden time-wise, paperwork-wise," she said. "And it's an unfunded mandate."

Raleigh, NC
United States

Utah Spent $26K to Ferret Out Welfare Drug Users, Found Nine

Last year, Utah joined the handful of states that have passed laws mandating drug tests for people seeking welfare benefits. To avoid constitutional challenges, the state created a screening process to come up with a reasonable suspicion that certain welfare applicants were using drugs.

But preliminary data reported by the Salt Lake Tribune shows that of 4,425 people screened for drug use after seeking aid, only 813 were deemed to be at high risk of drug use, only 394 were actually subjected to drug testing, and of those, only nine were denied benefits because they tested positive and five are undergoing treatment.

The state spent more than $26,000 to achieve these results. It spent more than $5,000 to administer the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI) test to applicants and more than $20,000 to pay for drug testing. Those figures do not include staff costs to administer the SASSI test or the costs of drug treatment.

Of the 813 SASSI test-takers who ranked high, more than 300 tested negative, 163 chose to abandon the aid application process and 137 were denied eligibility based on other criteria. Others had false positives or incorrect SASSI scores or failed to show up for the drug test.

The SASSI Institute claims its diagnostic test is 94% accurate at detecting people with a high probability of substance abuse, but the Utah numbers belie those claims. Of those assessed as likely drug or alcohol abusers by the test, only 1% actually tested positive for drugs. In the best case -- assuming that everyone who abandoned the aid application process or didn't show up for a drug test was actually using drugs -- the predictive value of the SASSI test was under 50%.

"It seems silly to drug test hundreds. It's not worth the money they're spending," Gina Cornia of Utahns Against Hunger told the Tribune, adding that welfare workers could still screen clients for substance abuse the old-fashioned way -- by forging relationships with them.

Geoffrey Landward, deputy director for Utah's Department of Workforce Services, wasn't ready to draw any conclusions.

"People can read the numbers and make their own conclusions," Landward said. "This was a policy decision made by the legislature, signed into law by the governor, and our responsibility is to execute as best we can."

Salt Lake City, UT
United States

Colorado Governor Signs Marijuana Bills

In a public ceremony at the state capitol in Denver Tuesday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed into law four bills that will establish a legal, regulated marijuana market for adults and begin the development of a regulatory framework for industrial hemp production.

The package of bills had passed the legislature earlier this month in accord with the requirements of Amendment 64, which won with 55% of the popular vote last November. That groundbreaking vote led Hickenlooper to sign an order legalizing marijuana possession and to appoint an Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force late last year, which provided guidance to the legislature. That guidance informed the legislation that followed.

House Bill 1317 and Senate Bill 283 create the framework for regulations governing marijuana retail sales, cultivation, and product manufacturing. Under the provisions of Amendment 64, the Colorado Dept. of Revenue has until July 1 to develop the specific regulations necessary for implementation.

House Bill 1318 enacts a 10% special sales tax on retail sales of non-medical marijuana (in addition to standard state and local sales taxes) and a 15% excise tax on wholesale sales of non-medical marijuana. Voters must approve the new taxes this November in accordance with Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). More than 75% of Colorado voters would support such a proposal, according to a survey conducted last month by Public Policy Polling.

Senate Bill 241 initiated the development of a regulatory framework for the commercial cultivation, processing, and distribution of industrial hemp.

"We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for the initiative he has taken to ensure the world's first legal marijuana market for adults will entail a robust and comprehensive regulatory system" said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, who served as an official proponent of Amendment 64 and co-director of the campaign. "This marks another major milestone in the process of making the much-needed transition from a failed policy of marijuana prohibition to a more sensible system of regulation."

"Despite not supporting Amendment 64, our governor has shown true leadership by ensuring his office and the general assembly implemented the will of the voters," said Art Way, senior drug policy manager for Colorado for the Drug Policy Alliance. "These implementing pieces of legislation signed by the governor are the beginning of statewide efforts to bring marijuana above ground in a manner beneficial to public health and safety."

"Colorado is demonstrating to the rest of the nation that it is possible to adopt a marijuana policy that reflects the public's increasing support for making marijuana legal for adults," Tvert said. "Marijuana prohibition is on its way out in Colorado, and it is only a matter of time before many more states follow its lead."

"The governor has signed off for Colorado to take the lead on taxing and regulating marijuana for adult use," said Way. "I'm confident our state has, and will continue to do it responsibly. After all, we have experience and expertise in comprehensively regulating medical marijuana on a large scale. We have a blueprint."

Denver, CO
United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School

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