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Florida Welfare Drug Testing Bill Signed Into Law

Florida welfare applicants and recipients, mostly women with children, will now have to undergo drug tests at their own expense to receive cash benefits after Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law a drug testing bill, HB 353, that passed the state legislature earlier this month. Scott also signed HB 1039, a law banning "bath salts," or new synthetic stimulant drugs.

Gov. Rick Scott (R) scores political points on the backs of the poor. (Image courtesy state of Florida)
More than 21,000 Floridians receiving benefits as heads of households will have to pay for and take the drug tests, as well as any new applicants. If they pass the drug test, they will be reimbursed for the cost. If they fail the drug test, they become ineligible to receive benefits for one year or until successfully completing drug treatment. Children of heads of household who test positive would still be eligible to receive benefits through a designated third party.

Scott and the Republican-controlled legislature argued that the law is necessary to stop welfare recipients from using the money to buy drugs. But opponents cited studies demonstrating that drug use is no more common among welfare recipients than among the general public.

"While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction," Scott said in a press release. "This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars."

The ACLU of Florida was quick to attack the new law. It noted that the only other state law mandating suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients -- one in Michigan -- was overturned by the federal courts in 2003 for violating the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches and seizures.

"Once again, this governor has demonstrated his dismissal of both the law and the right of Floridians to personal privacy by signing into law a bill that treats those who have lost their jobs like suspected criminals," said ACLU of Florida head Howard Simon in a statement Tuesday. "The wasteful program created by this law subjects Floridians who are impacted by the economic downturn, as well as their families, to a humiliating search of their urine and body fluids without cause or even suspicion of drug abuse."

Citing the Michigan decision, Simon continued: "Surely the governor knew this, and the ACLU testified in the legislature that the bill was a significant and unnecessary invasion of privacy. The new law rests on an ugly stereotype that was disproven by the state's own earlier experimental drug-testing program," he said. "Nevertheless, their zeal to score political points on the backs of Florida's poor once again overrode their duty to uphold the Constitution. Searching the bodily fluids of those in need of assistance is a scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound policy. Today, that unsound policy is Florida law."

Wednesday the ACLU of Florida announced it was filing suit against the governor over an executive order he issued earlier this year requiring suspicionless drug testing of state employees. At the same time, it promises an announcement soon about how it plans to respond to the welfare drug testing law. 

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Washington Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bill Dies

There will be no medical marijuana dispensary legislation coming out of Olympia this year. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), the chief legislative backer of the effort, announced Tuesday that she was giving up for this  session and called it the greatest disappointment of her career at the state house.

Dispensaries remain in legal limbo in Washington state. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Earlier this year, Kohl-Welles successfully shepherded a dispensary and patient registry bill through the legislature, only to see it gutted by Gov. Chris Gregoire's (D) veto pen. Gregoire vetoed dispensary and patient registry provisions in the bill after federal prosecutors in the state warned that state employees involved in registering or licensing dispensaries could face federal prosecution.

The legislature does not have time to pass a compromise bill before the session ends Wednesday, Kohl-Welles told the Associated Press. She said she regretted not being able to get even limited regulation of dispensaries.

"By far, this represents the greatest disappointment of my legislative career," Kohl-Welles said.

After Gov. Gregoire vetoed most of her first bill, Kohl-Welles made two efforts to allow counties and municipalities to regulate dispensaries, but neither made it out of committee. That also means there will be no state-wide patient registry, a move designed to protect patients from arrest.

And it leaves dispensaries in a legal limbo. More than 100 operate across the state, but they are not explicitly approved under state law. Federal authorities have raided at least seven of them in the Spokane area, leaving patients to fend for themselves in the black market if they are too ill to grow their own.

Olympia, WA
United States

Fixing the Fiasco of the NYPD's Marijuana Arrests

Location: 
New York, NY
United States
Two New York State legislators have proposed a simple, effective legislative fix to New York City's 15-year marijuana arrest craze. Senator Mark Grisanti, a white Republican from Buffalo, and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a black Democrat from Brooklyn, have together offered legislation that would strike from the law the misdemeanor for simple marijuana possession of less than an ounce. The NYPD made 50,000 of these marijuana possession arrests in 2010 and 500,000 arrests since 1997.
Publication/Source: 
The Huffington Post (CA)
URL: 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-levine/fixing-the-fiasco-of-the-_b_864368.html

NY State Legislature Considers a Medical Amnesty Policy to Curb Escalating Overdose Crises

Location: 
NY
United States
Proposed laws in the New York legislature that would allow New York residents to call for medical assistance during drug or alcohol overdose situations without fear of prosecution have been introduced in both legislative chambers. Both bills will first be under consideration in the Codes Committees.
Publication/Source: 
NewsLI (NY)
URL: 
http://www.newsli.com/2011/05/18/ny-state-legislature-considers-a-medical-amnesty-policy-to-curb-escalating-overdose-crises/

DEA in New Spokane Medical Marijuana Dispensary Raid

In the latest round of the federal assault on medical marijuana in Washington state, the Cannabis Defense Coalition reports that the DEA conducted a Wednesday afternoon raid on Medical Herb Providers, one of the few dispensaries left in the city after a flurry of federal raids last month. It's not clear whether any other dispensaries are being targeted.

Spokane River
According to the CDC, a Medical Herb Provider manager reported that one employee was arrested.

The raids today and last month come as the state legislature and Gov. Chris Gregoire are struggling to come up with legislation to provide some sense of what is and is not allowed under the state's medical marijuana law. It currently does not explicitly allow for dispensaries, but that hasn't stopped dozens, perhaps more than a hundred, from opening.

Late last month, at least two Spokane area dispensaries were raided. Those raids came three weeks after the US Attorney for Eastern Washington, Michael Ormsby, warned the then 40 dispensaries in the area that they should shut down or face federal action.

The letter from Ormsby and a similar one from his counterpart in Western Washington, were crucial in persuading Gov. Gregoire to veto the portions of a medical marijuana patient registry and dispensary bill. They warned that state employees who licensed or registered medical marijuana businesses could be subject to federal prosecution.

Now, as Gregoire and the legislature tussle over what to do about medical marijuana, the feds are reminding everyone that they haven't gone anywhere.

Spokane, WA
United States

Delaware Becomes 16th Medical Marijuana State

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell Friday signed into law a medical marijuana bill approved the legislature. Delaware now becomes the 16th state, along with the District of Columbia, to approve medical marijuana.

They got 'er done in Dover. Delaware now joins the ranks of medical marijuana states. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The bill, Senate Bill 17, allows people 18 and older who suffer from specified serious or debilitating medical conditions to possess up to six ounces of the herb, but they cannot grow their own. Instead, qualifying patients will be referred to one of three state-licensed and -regulated "compassion centers," one for each county in the state.

"There are so many people in Delaware who are suffering unimaginable pain that this will help, and we want to be able to do what we can to provide much-needed relief for those citizens," said Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington East), who sponsored the legislation. "I am very grateful that so many of my colleagues were able to look past the myths surrounding marijuana and into the eyes and hearts of those who were crying out for our help. Needless to say, I am profoundly grateful to Gov. Markell for his support of this important legislation."

"Today is an amazing victory for seriously ill Delaware patients, who have been waiting a very long time for the chance to use the medicine they need without fear," said Noah Mamber, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, who lobbied and mobilized patients, professionals, and grassroots activists in support of the bill. "SB17 is the most comprehensive, tightly-written medical marijuana bill in the country, and with this vote, the Delaware Legislature proved that compassion is not a red or a blue issue. It's a human issue."

Dover, DE
United States

Montana Referendum Taking on Medical Marijuana Law Filed

Location: 
MT
United States
The Montana Cannabis Industry Association filed legal papers with the secretary of state’s office Thursday to start a signature-gathering effort to let Montanans vote in 2012 on a soon-to-be medical marijuana law it opposes. The paperwork was delivered to Secretary of State Linda McCulloch’s office late Thursday. "We’re moving forward on all fronts," said Kate Cholewa, spokeswoman for the group. "The people want what they voted for and what the Legislature did is not it."
Publication/Source: 
Independent Record (MT)
URL: 
http://helenair.com/news/article_65a9ff32-7d28-11e0-83b0-001cc4c002e0.html

New York Bill Would Reduce Charge for Marijuana Possession

Location: 
NY
United States
In a rare show of bipartisanship and upstate-downstate agreement, freshman state Sen. Mark Grisanti is co-sponsoring a bill with Democratic Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries to reduce from a misdemeanor to a violation public possession of small amounts of marijuana. The co-sponsors say many people, especially minorities in New York City, end up getting arrested for small amounts if they are stopped by a police officer and told to empty their pockets -- at which point the possession becomes public.
Publication/Source: 
Times Union (NY)
URL: 
http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Bill-would-reduce-charge-for-pot-possession-1377453.php

Montana Medical Marijuana Industry Fights Back [FEATURE]

In the wake of the passage of a medical marijuana "reform" bill that would criminalize dispensaries and large, multi-patient grows, some dispensary operators and growers are already closing up shop. But others are organizing to undo the legislature's attempt to destroy the industry.

The battle over medical marijuana is far from over in Montana (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The newly formed Montana Cannabis Industry Association (MCIA) has announced that it is moving forward on two fronts: It has hired an attorney to seek a temporary injunction blocking the law from going into effect and it has begun a signature-gathering campaign to put the issue directly to the voters on the November 2012 ballot.

"We are moving forward on the injunction and the referendum," MCIA board member Kate Cholewa told the Chronicle. "The injunction challenges the law. That's one prong. The other prong is the signature-gathering campaign. If we are successful in gathering those signatures, that would keep the law from going into effect and we would be on the ballot in 2012."

Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) vetoed an outright repeal bill passed by the Republican legislature, but he has said that while he finds the second bill unpalatable, he will allow it to become law without his signature. Activists hold little hope that Schweitzer can be persuaded to change his mind before his 10-day period to act ends on Friday.

"That is not something we expect to happen," said Cholewa. "You can't say the door is closed until Friday, but the political environment around here is such that it's unlikely."

Montana voters approved medical marijuana in a 2004 referendum, and the issue was relatively non-controversial until the Obama Justice Department released its October 2009 memo saying that going after people in compliance with state law in states where it is legal was not a high priority. After that, the Montana medical marijuana scene exploded, with the number of patients shooting from 2,000 to 30,000 and the now familiar medical marijuana landscape of dispensaries, grow ups, and supply shops expanding rapidly.

Excesses by some operators in the post-memo period led to a virulent backlash, which was reflected in the legislative session this year. A bill to reasonably regulate medical marijuana that had been crafted over a period of months was amended beyond recognition by foes, who instead then passed the repeal bill. When Schweitzer vetoed that, the Republican leadership responded with the current bill, which also bans any medical marijuana sales, makes it more difficult for people claiming chronic pain to get a recommendation, and mandates investigations -- at their own expense! -- of any doctors who recommend it to more than 25 patients in a year.

This year's legislative session revealed a medical marijuana community that was divided and disorganized. The MCIA is an effort to get growers, dispensary operators, and advocates on the same page for the coming battle.

"The day after the session ended, we all got together in a meeting the next day to figure out what we could do," said Cholewa. "We talked about injunctions and referenda and interview lawyers. We raised $20,000 or $30,000 in 48 hours."

The number has since jumped to more than $50,000, and the MCIA has hired prominent Bozeman attorney James Goetz to challenge the law in court.

"The reality is that this group of legislators came in and instead of regulating the industry, they decided to destroy it with this de facto repeal, said Cholewa. "They were saying that medical marijuana in Montana was a mess, but they've created a mess of a whole different order. It’s about more than marijuana now," Cholewa said. "It's about democracy, the Constitution, health care and the fulfillment of compassionate voter intent. This is big."

It's also about money and the economy. Medical marijuana is a multi-million dollar industry in largely rural Big Sky Country. The state's economy could suffer if the new law takes hold, advocates said. The state Labor Department has estimated that dispensaries and growers have created between 1,000 and 2,000 jobs, a not insignificant number in a state whose population is under a million.

"Medical marijuana has created opportunities here, where there are people having a hard time finding work. If you talk to people in the industry here, they are people who were carpenters or contractors before the bottom fell out; now, they're cannabis entrepreneurs," she said.

It's not just direct employment, either Cholewa pointed out. "The impact spreads through the economy. Commercial spaces got rented, paid ad space got sold, the supply stores and ancillary businesses benefited as well."

But that's already starting to change, Cholewa said. "People have just shut down, they're getting out now," she said. "Growers are hurrying to get their last crops before July 1. The reality of wiping out the supply is looming. There is a lot of legitimate demand, but I don't know where the supply will be coming from."

Prohibition has an all-too familiar solution to the supply problem. It's called the black market. That's what the good people of Montana can look forward to if the new law isn’t stopped in the courts or at the ballot box. The MCIA is doing everything it can to ensure that it is. 

Helena, MT
United States

Missouri Welfare Drug Test Bill Heads for Governor's Desk

A Missouri bill that mandates the drug testing of welfare recipients and applicants if case workers have "reasonable suspicion" they are using illegal drugs has passed out of the legislature and is now headed for the governor's desk. It passed the House Tuesday on a vote of 113-34. It had passed the Senate last month.

If you're on welfare in Missouri and the state suspects you use drugs, you will have to provide this. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The bill, House Bill 73, also known as the "TANF Child Protection and Drug Free Home Act," requires Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) case managers to report to the Children's Division if an applicant or recipient tested positive or refused to take a drug test related to employment or employment training. Caseworkers would also have to report to the division if they have "reasonable suspicion to believe that such individual is engaging in illegal use of a controlled substance."

Failure to take or pass a drug test would make the recipient ineligible for TANF benefits for two years. But people who fail the test could enroll in a drug treatment program, and benefits would continue during treatment. If the person completes treatment and doesn't test positive, the benefits would continue. A second positive drug test would make the person ineligible for benefits for two years, with no provision for a treatment escape clause. Family members of someone declared ineligible because of drug use could continue to receive benefits through a third-party payee.

Foes of the bill argued that the bill was possibly unconstitutional -- although its use of a "reasonable suspicion" standard may make that argument more difficult -- that the program will be costly, and that it's an attack on society's most vulnerable.

The bill "targets low-income individuals, particularly women with children, said Pat Dougherty of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. "We have women who come to our program and who are successful, who are getting their lives back together, who are trying to get straight, and yet, you've got a penalty there," he told KMOX News Radio last month.

Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal (D-St. Louis County) said she was concerned about the costs connected with the drug tests. Legislative analysts in Missouri estimated the program would cost up to $2.3 million.

"In Florida, they did about 9,000 tests and spent more than $3 million, while only 36 people were convicted," Chapelle-Nadal said.

But now, the Show Me State's Republicans get to look tough if not necessarily fiscally smart.

Columbia, MO
United States

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