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Mass Marijuana Arrest Policy Costs NYC Big Bucks

In a report released Tuesday, the Drug Policy Alliance charged that New York City's unwritten policy of mass arrests of pot smokers -- overwhelmingly young and minority -- is costing the city $75 million a year. The report, bluntly titled $75 Million a Year: The Cost of New York City's Marijuana Arrests, was co-authored by City University of New York professor and marijuana arrest expert Harry Levine.

drug arrest scene, "10 Rules for Dealing with Police," flexyourrights.org
Although New York state decriminalized marijuana possession in the 1970s, the NYPD has made it a practice to stop and frisk people by the hundreds of thousands a year and demand that they empty their pockets. When they produce marijuana from their pockets, they are then charged with public possession -- possession in plain view -- a misdemeanor.

The NYPD is arresting about a thousand pot smokers a week and has busted more than 350,000 of them during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's tenure in office. This is the same Mayor Bloomberg who once said he smoked marijuana and like it.

Bloomberg's and the NYPD's mass arrest policies cost the city big bucks in a time of economic difficulty. With Levine and his co-author Loren Siegel estimating the cost of arresting and prosecuting each pot possession offender at between $1,000 and $2,000, New York City has spent somewhere between $350 million and $700 million to persecute pot people since Bloomberg has been in office.

"More people have been arrested for marijuana possession under Mayor Bloomberg than under Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Guiliani combined," said Levine at a City Hall news conference Tuesday. "These arrests are wildly expensive, do not improve public safety, and create permanent criminal records which seriously damage the life chances of the young people targeted and jailed," Levine said.

"Upwards of $75 million have been used to arrest NYC residents for marijuana possession that could have legally been handled with a summons and not a criminal offense," said City Council Member Jumaane Willimas. "This, as we are debating closing our senior centers. In addition, 86% of those arrests are young children of more color. I don't believe that this represents the percentage of people who take the occasional 'pull.'  It does however better reflect the communities abused by the current stop and frisk policies. Had this been 86% of our young children of a lighter shade, there would be uproar. I believe there still should be. All of our children are gifts to be nurtured; yet we are losing them to the system at an alarming rate. There must be a better way to deal with drugs in New York City. These arrests are simply about boosting arrest numbers and aren't the answer to our problems," said Williams.

"It is clear that the NYPD's current policy of giving high arrest priority to marijuana enforcement is fiscally wasteful, and has a greater impact on low-income communities where the 'war-on-drugs' has been primarily focused," said Council Member Letitia James. "Although African-Americans only constitute 13% of national of drug users, they make up 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those convicted of drug offenses. It is fair to say that the high priority given to marijuana enforcement directly relates to racial profiling in New York."

"The consequences of an arrest are severe, especially for young people of color who are already disproportionately arrested and incarcerated in juvenile facilities," said Kyung Ji Rhee, Director of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives. "Young people of color are targeted, illegally searched and being put through the criminal justice system for possessing or smoking marijuana. Whatever your opinion may be on marijuana, this is no way to treat or teach young people about the choices they make."

"It is beyond hypocritical for the Mayor, who once said he smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, to make arresting young people of color for marijuana possession his top law enforcement priority," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "While cutting services for seniors, youth, housing, transportation, teachers, education, and more, the Mayor spent S75 million last year to arrest over 50,000 people for marijuana possession -- which isn’t even a crime under NY State law. It's just outrageous."

Will Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD see the light? Not without some political heat -- stay tuned.

New York, NY
United States

Life After the War on Drugs: Reviewing Past and Present Policies with an Eye Toward Legal Reform

University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law
2011 Law Review Symposium

David A. Clarke School of Law
 

"Life After the War on Drugs: Reviewing Past and Present Policies With an Eye Toward Legal Reform"


Introduction (10:00 – 10:15 a.m.)
• John Brittain, Professor, UDC-DCSL, Chief Counsel and Senior Deputy Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (2005-2009)

Panel 1: Drug Policy at Home and Abroad (10:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.)
• Eric Sterling, Advisory Board Member, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)
• Brooke Mascagni, PhD Candidate, University of California, Santa Barbara
• Jordan Blair Woods, PhD Candidate, Cambridge University (U.K.), J.D. University of California Los Angeles

Lunch (12:00 – 1:00 pm)
• Lunch Keynote Speaker: Ronald C. Machen, Jr., United States Attorney for the District of Columbia

Panel 2: Conflicts between State and Federal Drug Laws (1:00 – 3:30 p.m.)
• Andrew Ferguson (Moderator), Professor, UDC-DCSL, Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia (2004-2010)
• Robert Hildum, Director, D.C. Dept. of Youth Rehabilitation Services (2010)
• Sumeet H. Chugani, Esq. and Xingjian Zhao, Esq., Diaz, Reus & Targ, LLP (Miami, FL)
• Alex Kreit, Director, Center for Law and Social Justice, Thomas Jefferson School of Law (San Diego, CA)

Panel 3: The Unknown Effects of the War on Drugs (3:45 – 5:00 p.m.)
• Brian Gilmore, Director, Michigan State University College of Law Housing Clinic
• Ken Lammers, Deputy Commonwealth Attorney, County of Wise and City of Norton in Virginia
• Michael Liszewski, Board of Directors, Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Cocktail Reception (5:10 – 6:00 p.m.)

Plenary Panel: Life After the War on Drugs (6:00 – 9:00 p.m.)
• Keynote Speaker: Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
• Jasmine Tyler, Deputy Director of National Affairs, Drug Policy Alliance
• Mark Osler, Professor, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minneapolis, MN)
• The Honorable Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., National Executive Director, National African-American Drug Policy Coalition
• Dr. Faye Taxman, Director, Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence, George Mason University

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is limited. To register, see http://www.law.udc.edu/events/event_details.asp?id=136549.

For any questions, please contact Symposium Editor Leila Mansouri at Leila.Mansouri@udc.edu.

Date: 
Thu, 03/24/2011 - 10:00am - 9:00pm
Location: 
4200 Connecticut Avenue, NW University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, Windows Lounge: Building 38, 2nd Floor
Washington, DC 20008
United States

Washington State Medical Marijuana User Dies Without Transplant

Location: 
WA
United States
Timothy Garon, a musician who was denied a liver transplant because he used marijuana with medical approval under Washington state law to ease the symptoms of advanced hepatitis C, died. Dr. Brad Roter, the physician who authorized Garon to use medical marijuana to alleviate for nausea and abdominal pain and to stimulate his appetite, said he did not know it would be such a hurdle if Garon were to need a transplant.
Publication/Source: 
KBOI (ID)
URL: 
http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/117191348.html

Study: Welfare Drug Tests Not Cost Effective

Location: 
ID
United States
A study conducted in Idaho concluded the cost of mandatory drug testing of public assistance recipients would exceed any savings from booting offenders from programs. Republican lawmakers demanded the study last March, saying their constituents considered it unfair that some Idahoans are drug-tested by their employers while those on public assistance are not.
Publication/Source: 
New England Cable News (MA)
URL: 
http://www.necn.com/02/11/11/Study-Welfare-drug-tests-not-cost-effect/landing_politics.html?&blockID=3&apID=7652298022f14bdd98aad62177421918

Cannabis Council Reaches Out to Help Colorado Teenager Denied Access to Medical Marijuana for Very Rare Condition

Location: 
Colorado Springs, CO
United States
Mark Slaugh, membership director of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, wrote to Rep. Mark Barker, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs to urge legislative action on behalf of a teenage medical marijuana patient being denied access to his medicine by Colorado's Harrison School District 2. The teenager in question was diagnosed a little more than a year ago with a very rare condition that causes seizures, which can last for days. Slaugh said the district should take a more reasonable approach to the situation and the legislature should rewrite medical marijuana laws so that this situation doesn’t come up in the first place.
Publication/Source: 
The Colorado Independent (DC)
URL: 
http://coloradoindependent.com/74315/cannabis-council-reaches-out-to-help-teenager

South Dakota House Rejects Drug Tests for Welfare Recipients

Location: 
SD
United States
The South Dakota House rejected a bill that would have forced drug tests on welfare recipients to determine their eligibility. The measure failed on a vote of 32-36 after opponents said it would be impractical and would provide little help to children in poor families.
Publication/Source: 
KCAU (IA)
URL: 
http://www.kcautv.com/Global/story.asp?S=13986224

Law Student Sues St. John’s University for Rescinding Readmission Over Drug Charges

Location: 
8000 Utopia Parkway St. John’s University
Queens, NY 11439
United States
David Powers, an accountant who took time out of law school at St. John’s University, has sued the Roman Catholic university in New York after it refused to readmit him, saying that he had not been honest about a criminal conviction, since expunged, in his past. Three semesters into his law degree, Mr. Powers was granted a leave of absence to manage a $2-billion investment fund in Hong Kong.
Publication/Source: 
The Chronicle of Higher Education (DC)
URL: 
http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/law-student-sues-st-johns-u-for-rescinding-readmission-over-drug-charges/30251

Iowa Legislative Panel Rejects Plan Linking Welfare to Drug Tests

Location: 
IA
United States
A legislative panel has rejected a proposal to require people to pass a drug test before being eligible for state welfare benefits. Republican Rep. Matt Windschitl, of Missouri Valley, had proposed the requirement, but a subcommittee blocked the bill because of questions about how it would be implemented.
Publication/Source: 
Sioux City Journal (IA)
URL: 
http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/news/state-and-regional/iowa/article_c262d876-2f07-11e0-a203-001cc4c002e0.html

Welfare Drug Testing Bills Filed in Virginia

Add Virginia to the list of states where lawmakers are seeking to impose drug testing requirements on recipients of public assistance. One bill would direct state officials to assess the cost and benefits of drug testing welfare recipients, while another would require drug screening of participants in the Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare (VIEW), the commonwealth's welfare-to-work program.

Virginia Capitol
A bill filed by Del. Danny Marshall (R-Danville), HJ 616, calls on the state's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to review the cost and benefits of drug testing people on the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

A bill filed by state Sen. Roscoe Reynolds (D-Ridgeway), SB 781, would require local social service departments to screen each participant in the state's welfare-to-work program to determine if there is probable cause to believe the participants is using illegal drugs. If there is probable cause to suspect drug use, the participant would be subject to a formal substance abuse assessment, which could include drug testing. People who test positive or who refuse to participate in the screening or assessment would be ineligible for TANF payments for a year.

Marshall told the Martinsville Bulletin area employers complained that "they can't find people who are drug-free to hire" and that his bill is intended to be a first step toward his goal of a "drug-free Virginia." Under his bill, he said, TANF recipients who fail drug tests "would go through the process to get them clean... so they can become productive members of society."

Welfare or unemployment drug testing bills, a perennial favorite of posturing politicians, have been introduced in at least five states this year. But that's really nothing new. They are introduced in a handful of states each year, but no state has passed such a bill since Michigan did so in 1998. That bill was found unconstitutional by the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003.

Richmond, VA
United States

Welfare Drug Testing Bills Introduced in Four States [FEATURE]

drug testing lab -- corporate welfare carrying out an ineffective strategy?
Critics of welfare drug testing cite unconstitutionality of warrantless drug testing, the cost of drug testing tens or hundreds of thousands of people, counterproductive results and mean-spiritedness in opposing legislation that would require it. But that hasn't stopped legislators from coming back again and again.

With this year's state legislative season barely under way, bills have been introduced in four states -- Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oregon -- to require drug testing for people receiving public assistance. And in a novel twist, a bill in Indiana would require unemployment recipients to declare they are not using illegal drugs and threatens them with up to three years in prison for perjury if they are found to be using them.

But while such bills may be popular with politicians of a certain stripe, they don't find much support among professionals in the field. Groups that have lined up against such bills include the American Public Health Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, the National Health Law Project, the National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the National Black Women’s Health Project, the Legal Action Center, the National Welfare Rights Union, the Youth Law Center, the Juvenile Law Center, and the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which successfully litigated against Michigan's welfare drug testing law, has also come down strongly against welfare drug testing. Such laws are "scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound," in the ACLU's opinion. The group cites studies showing welfare recipients are no more likely to use drugs than the rest of the population and that 70% of illicit drug users are employed. It also cites research showing that drug testing is an expensive, but ineffective way to uncover drug abuse. (Full citations and more information are available at the ACLU link above.)

But the kicker for the ACLU is the unconstitutionality of warrantless drug testing by the state, as determined by the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Michigan case. Michigan was the only state to actually implement a welfare drug testing program, but the appeals court found that the program violated the Fourth Amendment's provision barring unreasonable searches.

The persistence of such attempts is drawing concern from the drug reform community as well. Given the fiscal pressures facing the states, legislators could be even more susceptible to pseudo-populist demagoguery than usual.

"I am quite concerned that recurring legislative proposals to require drug testing of welfare and/or unemployment applicants and beneficiaries will gain new momentum with the budget crises confronting so many states, and also in Congress," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "The proposals are mean-spirited, counter-productive and will ultimately cost much more than they save by depriving needy Americans of access to benefits. DPA will do all it can to ensure that these proposals do not become law."

"These kinds of laws aren't going to stop someone who is addicted from being addicted," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. "They're just going to drive them further away from getting any kind of help. Also, it is often poverty that causes the stress that helps create addiction. If you make someone poorer, you just deepen that despair," he pointed out.

"If you really want to deal with the problem of addiction, provide treatment on demand," Wexler offered. "And if people are worried that not everyone will take advantage of it, let's put that to the test. Make drug treatment immediately available and see if the claim that people will turn it down has any merit."

But nobody is offering treatment on demand. Instead, legislators are offering up a stick with no carrot.

In Kentucky, a bill championed by Rep. Lonnie Napier (R-Lancaster), HB 208, would require all adults applying for public assistance to undergo drug tests, followed by random testing once a year. The measure would apply to all adults receiving or applying to receive food stamps, cash assistance, or Medicaid. Although Napier told the Richmond Register a positive test result would not necessarily result in the loss of benefits, the bill itself says that a positive test will make the individual "ineligible" for public assistance.

"There’s people buying food with food stamps and trading that food for drugs. Children are not getting benefit from it. Children do not need to be in a home where drugs are present," the loquacious Napier told the Register. "Maybe it could get people off drugs. Drugs are breaking the state up. If we could get a few people off drugs, it would be worth it," he said.

But Napier's assertion about trading food stamps for drugs appears to be based on little more than hearsay. "People tell me people are abusing the system," he said. "If you knew you were to be tested, you'd want to be clean."

Still, Napier's bill has some powerful friends. Among its cosponsors are House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonburg) and House Minority Leader Danny Ford (R-Mt. Vernon).

In Missouri, Rep. Ellen Brandom (R-Sikeston) is pushing HB 73, which would require a drug test for anyone applying for or receiving public benefits if there is "reasonable cause" to believe they are using drugs. Failure to pass the drug test would result in the suspension of benefits for one year, and the person would then have to apply to be reinstated in the program.

Brandom told Kansas City's KCTV 5 that she was doing it for the taxpayers. "They're very resentful that they're working hard, and have to take a drug test to work," Brandom said. "The people who aren't working can receive their tax dollars, and don't have to be held to the same high standard."

That bill passed the House Rules Committee on an 11-4 vote last week and is set for a House floor vote this week. A similar measure passed the House last year, but died in the Senate.

A welfare drug testing bill has also been introduced in Nebraska. The Chronicle covered it last week; you can read about it here.

In Oregon, there are two separate bills aimed at recipients of public assistance. State Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) has introduced SB 538, which would require all people receiving welfare and food stamps to be take a drug test each six months -- at their own expense. A positive test result would result in the termination of public assistance.

And state Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point) has introduced HB 2995, which would require those applying for unemployment benefits to first pass a drug test. Those who tested positive would have to enter drug treatment or give up their benefits.

Richardson's bill has not yet been assigned to a committee. Starr's bill was assigned Tuesday to the Senate Health Care, Human Services and Rural Health Committee. No hearing dates have been set.

And then there's Indiana. In the Hoosier State, state Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) has introduced SB 86, which would require people seeking unemployment benefits to declare on their applications that they will refrain from any illegal drug use. The bill also says that applicants are subject to "penalty of perjury" if they sign a declaration and then are found to be using drugs. Perjury carries a prison sentence of up to three years in Indiana.

"In employers' eyes as well as many Hoosiers' eyes, there is something wrong with the system if unemployment applicants are able to receive taxpayer money that may, in fact, be used to purchase controlled substances and lead to them being unqualified to work," Leising said in a press release. "This is an issue legislators need to review."

The bill is moving. It passed out of the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee last week.

The battle over welfare and/or unemployment drug testing is going to have to be fought again and again. In addition to the states that have bills this year, similar legislation has been proposed since 2008 in Texas, Rhode Island, Missouri, Nebraska, Georgia, Kansas, West Virginia, and Arizona. The impulse to target the poor and disenfranchised remains strong and is made even stronger by the dire fiscal position in which the states find themselves. The bright side is that, so far, that impulse has not prevailed.

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