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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

Oklahoma Bill Would End Life Without Parole Drug Sentences [FEATURE]

Despite some recent sentencing reforms, Oklahoma still has some of the harshest drug laws in the country, including life without parole for some drug offenses. One Oklahoma legislator says it is time for life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses to go.

Sen. Constance Johnson
State Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) last Wednesday introduced Senate Bill 986 (no link yet available), which would end life sentences without parole for nonviolent drug offenses and require the state Pardon and Parole Board to review all existing life without parole sentences for those offenses. The measure also addresses punishment enhancements for felony offenses.

"Numerous studies have shown that these sentences do not reduce drug use, but rather result in lengthy prison terms that contribute to overcrowding and increased costs," Johnson said, citing research from the The Sentencing Project, a Washington, DC-based research and advocacy group. "We must develop more reasonable and cost effective policies to address drug crimes rather than locking up offenders for life, something that financially hurts the state as well as the families of these individuals."

Although Johnson had scheduled a press conference Wednesday to announce the introduction of the bill, the announcement was delayed for a day because she wanted to attend a Pardon and Parole Board hearing for one of the victims of the life without parole law, 61-year-old Larry Yarbrough, who is 17 years into his life sentence for possession of an ounce of cocaine and three marijuana cigarettes after having previous felony convictions, including distribution of marijuana and distribution of LSD in the 1980s.

Yarbrough, a model prisoner whose case has garnered national media attention, had been recommended for a commutation to 20 years by the parole board in 2002, but that recommendation was vetoed by then Gov. Frank Keating (R). He had better luck Wednesday, with the board commuting his sentence to 42 years, meaning he will be eligible for release sometime next year if Gov. Mary Fallin (R) agrees.

At the parole board hearing were more than two dozen supporters, including members of Yarbrough's family, his attorney, Sen. Johnson, and one of the jurors in the case that got him sentenced to life. That juror, Dennis Will of Hennessey, sent a letter to the board last week urging the board to release Yarbrough. In the letter, Will said he did not vote for a life sentence for Yarbrough and believes "he was set up and railroaded by the Kingfisher County judicial system."

Yarbrough, who is imprisoned at the Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville, testified via electronic link. He told the board he had undergone numerous drug treatment programs and had acted as a mentor for newly arriving prisoners sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses. There are currently 48 drug lifers in the Oklahoma prison system.

"This is a victory," Yarbrough's attorney, Debra Hampton, told the Associated Press after the board commuted his sentence.

"We have murderers, rapists and child molesters getting paroled, but here is a husband, father, grandfather, businessowner and community servant who could spend half his life in prison costing the state millions of dollars," said Johnson.  "We have people serving less time for greater amounts of drugs than what Mr. Yarbrough was convicted of -- an ounce of cocaine and three marijuana cigarettes. Surely 17 years is a long enough punishment for his crime.  In the name of justice and common sense, I urge Gov. Fallin to accept the board's recommendations," she added.

"Wednesday's hearing was timely with regard to a statewide advocacy push to achieve this and other measures that evidence shows will reduce the costs of incarceration to our state," Sen. Johnson continued. "Fortunately, other state and local officials are beginning to see that the current system has filled our prisons to near capacity, cost the state millions in tax dollars, and still isn't working."

Johnson was referring to the passage in May of House Bill 2131, a sentencing reform bill sponsored by the Republican legislative leadership. That bill, now the law of the land, removes the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenses, expands community sentencing eligibility, and provides for GPS monitoring of nonviolent offenders.

"We took a step in the right direction in the legislature this past session passing major reforms for our state's correction system under HB 2131, which will save our state millions of dollars, and still protect the public from the state's most dangerous, violent offenders. These were great first steps but we have even more to do this coming session and beyond.  We need to ensure that offenders' sentences fairly match their crimes, both as a matter of human decency and fiscal responsibility," said Johnson.

Johnson introduced legislation to eliminate life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses in 2010, but that bill was bottled up in committee and went nowhere. Let's hope that the legislature's passage of sentencing reform this year and the parole board's commutation of Yarbrough's sentence are indicators of changed attitudes in the state this year and beyond.

Oklahoma City, OK
United States

Please Support Our New Legislative Center

Dear drug policy reformer:

I am pleased to announce the new StoptheDrugWar.org Legislative Center. The Legislative Center can be accessed online here or by following the "Legislation" link from any page on our web site. The Legislative Center already includes:

  • Info on hundreds of drug policy and related bills in Congress and the state legislatures, organized by issue category.
  • An expanded set of federal action alerts. (State alerts coming next.)
  • Legislative vote tallies and legislator voting records.
  • Additional resources like a media outlet lookup, a basic how to guide for lobbying Congress and a voter registration tool.

Some of the highlights you'll find there:

  • Legalization and decriminalization bills from 18 states and Congress.
  • Zip code lookup of state legislators and US Representatives -- how they voted, their bios and histories, how to contact them.
  • Alerts to take action on marijuana legalization, medical marijuana, sentencing reform, stopping new drug prohibitions and a commission to revamp the criminal justice system.

Please visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate to support this new and expanded part of our online publishing. We need your support in these challenging economic times to afford the legislative tracking and advocacy system that makes it possible for us to do this, and to continue to take further steps to expand our advocacy programs. StoptheDrugWar.org offers a range of books, videos and other items in thanks for donations above specified levels.

We also need volunteers. There's a lot of information in our Legislative Center now, but there is more that can be done -- finding any bills we may have missed, spotting new bills as they come out, tracking the legislation we know about, more. Please use our contact form or reply to this email to let us know if you'd like to get involved.

Thank you for being a part of changing drug policy, for the better!


Sincerely,

David Borden signature

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

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

Presenting: The StoptheDrugWar.org Legislative Center

Dear drug policy reformer:

I am pleased to announce the new StoptheDrugWar.org Legislative Center. The Legislative Center can be accessed online here or by following the "Legislation" link from any page on our web site. The Legislative Center already includes:

  • Info on hundreds of drug policy and related bills in Congress and the state legislatures, organized by issue category.
  • An expanded set of federal action alerts. (State alerts coming next.)
  • Legislative vote tallies and legislator voting records.
  • Additional resources like a media outlet lookup, a basic how to guide for lobbying Congress and a voter registration tool.

Some of the highlights you'll find there:

  • Legalization and decriminalization bills from 18 states and Congress.
  • Zip code lookup of state legislators and US Representatives -- how they voted, their bios and histories, how to contact them.
  • Alerts to take action on marijuana legalization, medical marijuana, sentencing reform, stopping new drug prohibitions and a commission to revamp the criminal justice system.

Please visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate to support this new and expanded part of our online publishing. We need your support in these challenging economic times to afford the legislative tracking and advocacy system that makes it possible for us to do this, and to continue to take further steps to expand our advocacy programs. StoptheDrugWar.org offers a range of books, videos and other items in thanks for donations above specified levels.

We also need volunteers. There's a lot of information in our Legislative Center now, but there is more that can be done -- finding any bills we may have missed, spotting new bills as they come out, tracking the legislation we know about, more. Please use our contact form or reply to this email to let us know if you'd like to get involved.

Thank you for being a part of changing drug policy, for the better!


Sincerely,

David Borden signature

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative Filed

A medical marijuana initiative could be headed for the November 2012 ballot in Massachusetts. An advocacy group called the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance announced Tuesday that it had filed an initiative petition that would allow seriously ill patients to register with the state and be protected from arrest for using marijuana as a medicine. [Update: The official initiative campaign is now online as The Committee for Compassionate Medicine (CCM). Mass. Patients will continue as an advocacy group after Election Day.]

If the legislature won't make medical marijuana happen, the voters might do it for them. (image via Wikimedia)
People with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other debilitating conditions could join a patient registry upon receiving a written recommendation from a physician. They would obtain their medicine from state-regulated nonprofit treatment centers. The state Department of Health would oversee the program.

The group handed in the 10 signatures needed to begin the petition process Tuesday, one day ahead of the August 3 deadline to make the 2012 ballot.

There were hints this was coming. Two weeks ago, Massachusetts ACLU field director Whitney Taylor told the Boston Herald advocates might file an initiative at least in part to pressure the state legislature, which has a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 625, before it.

"Our goal is the legislature, but there is a possibility they won't act before May of 2012," said Taylor, who helped lead the successful 2008 ballot drive to decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. "What's the hurt in moving forward and having all avenues available to us?" Taylor asked. “Regardless of what happens, we now have options."

If it comes to it, both polling and previous election data suggest a medical marijuana initiative can win in Massachusetts. In last November's election, voters in nine districts were asked if they wanted their representatives to vote for medical marijuana, and they said yes in all nine.

Similarly, a Suffolk University poll found that a whopping 81% (and even 70% of Republicans) said they approved of allowing "seriously ill patients to use, grow, and purchase marijuana for medical purposes if they have the approval of their physicians." And Massachusetts voters passed pot decriminalization in 2008 with 65% of the vote.

Whether or not this initial filing marks the beginning of a serious initiative campaign or not, advocates have just put Bay State lawmakers on notice that if they can't get the job done at the statehouse, the voters just might do it for them at the polls next year.

Boston, MA
United States

Federal Judge Throws Out Florida's Drug Law

A federal judge ruled July 27 that Florida's drug law was unconstitutional, leaving thousands of criminal cases up in the air. US District Court Judge Mary Scriven of Orlando threw out the Florida Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law on the grounds that it violates due process because it does not require prosecutors to prove a person knew he or she possessed illegal drugs.

The federal courthouse in Orlando, where a judge threw out Florida's drug law. (image via Wikimedia)
In 2002, Florida legislators amended the state's drug law, eliminating the requirement that prosecutors prove mens rea, or criminal intent, as part of obtaining a conviction. Florida was the only state in the nation to not require mens rea as part of a drug conviction.

"Not surprisingly, Florida stands alone in its express elimination of mens rea as an element of a drug offense," Scriven wrote in her order. "Other states have rejected such a draconian and unreasonable construction of the law that would criminalize the 'unknowing' possession of a controlled substance."

The ruling came in the case of Mackle Vincent Shelton, 33, who was convicted in 2005 of drug charges in Osceola County. Shelton, who is currently serving an 18-year prison sentence for cocaine delivery and other charges, appealed his conviction on the grounds that the jury wasn't required to consider intent in order to convict him.

In his instructions to the jury in Shelton's case, the trial judge told jurors that "to prove the crime of delivery of cocaine, the state must prove the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt: that Mackle Vincent Shelton delivered a certain substance; and, that the substance was cocaine." The state did not have to prove that he knew he was carrying or distributing cocaine or any controlled substance at all.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), which filed an amicus curiae brief in the case, pointed out that without the criminal intent requirement, "a Federal Express delivery person who unknowingly delivers a parcel containing a controlled substance, would be presumed a felon under Florida’s drug law." Joining the NACDL in filing the brief, which was favorably cited by the court, were the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the ACLU of Florida, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Calvert Institute for Policy Research, and 38 professors of law.

Florida defense attorneys applauded the ruling, saying the impact could be huge. Several told the St. Petersburg Times they intended to file motions seeking dismissal of pending drug cases, citing the judge's order.

"It has one of the largest potential effects on criminal law in the past decade," said St. Petersburg lawyer Jeff Brown. "We're talking hundreds of thousands of drug cases."

"In declaring the statute unconstitutional on its face, it appears that all drug prosecutions in the state are at risk," said Tampa defense lawyer Eddie Suarez.

That's tough, said Tampa attorney James Felman, who represented Shelton. Legislators should not have written an unconstitutional law removing mens rea, he said. "It takes the presumption of innocence and throws it in the garbage can," Felman said. "I think the legislature must immediately fix the statute," he said. "This is not a close call. No state has ever done this before. Legally, it's beyond the pale."

"This is a victory for the most fundamental notions of fairness and justice in our system -- the idea that no one should suffer a conviction unless the state proves criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt," said NACDL executive director Norman Reimer. "As I previously said about this case, the country has been drifting away from the moral anchor of a clearly defined mens rea requirement in its criminal laws. Laws like these would run it aground."

Orlando, FL
United States

Medical Marijuana on the Move in Ohio [FEATURE]

Ohio could be a major medical marijuana battleground next year, as two different initiative efforts aimed at the November 2012 ballot are getting underway and a bill is pending in the state legislature. If Ohio climbs on the medical marijuana bandwagon, it would be the second Midwest state to do so, after Michigan, which approved it via the initiative route in 2008.

Two different initiative efforts are underway in Ohio, and there's pending legislation, too. (image via Wikimedia)
A medical marijuana bill, House Bill 214, was introduced in April and has been assigned to the Committee on Health and Aging, but given that a decade's worth of efforts to get a medical marijuana bill out of the legislature have yet to bear fruit, patients and advocates are moving forward with efforts to put the matter directly before the voters.

One initiative, the Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment (OATA), was submitted to state officials Wednesday with more than twice the 1,000 signatures needed for the Attorney General to take the next step, approving the measure's summary language. That will take place in 10 days.

Organizers are already setting their sights on gathering the 385,000 thousand valid voter signatures needed to qualify for the 2012 ballot. They have until May to turn them in.

The OATA would modify the state constitution to allow doctors in a bona fide relationship with patients to recommend medical marijuana and offers protections to patients, caregivers, and physicians alike. Patients or caregivers could grow up to 12 plants and possess up to 3.5 ounces (or just under 100 grams) of processed marijuana. [Editor's Note: The original version of this article incorrectly put that amount at 200 grams.] Multiple caregivers could store their product in a "safe access center," and growers would be allowed to receive some compensation.

The second initiative getting underway, the Ohio Medical Cannabis Act of 2012 (OMCA) would modify the state constitution to establish government agencies to regulate medical marijuana "in a manner similar to the system that has successfully overseen vineyards and adult beverages," according to an OMCA press release. The campaign has yet to turn in the initial 1,000 signatures and win approval of its summary language, but has delayed because although it has already gathered more than 2,500 signatures, it is making final changes in the initiative's language, said campaign spokesperson Theresa Daniello.

"Over the past few days, we've spent hours and hours Skype conferencing and going over the language," said Daniello. "There were things like if the police came in with a warrant, we want to make sure they check with the medical marijuana enforcement division to make sure no one in that house is a patient."

Getting it right was worth the delay, the Cleveland patient and mother of five said. "We're not in a huge rush." Organizers would probably hand in the signatures in a week or two, she added.

The OMCA would apply already familiar regulations, such as licensing, local option laws, and HIPAA patient privacy rules to medical marijuana.  It would create an Ohio Commission of Medical Cannabis Control, which, like its counterparts in liquor control, would be charged with enforcing regulations and preventing diversion.

"The state of Ohio has a 77-year-old proven regulatory system under our liquor control laws that is one of the most effectively run in the country," said Daniello. "There are only 470 liquor stores in the state, one per county, and one more for each additional 30,000 residents, and counties can opt out, like dry counties do for alcohol. It would be like that. It's our goal that no patients be arrested," she added. "We want it out of the hands of the police and handed over to the division. We don't need guns, we need people who are educated."

Under the OMCA, patients with qualifying medical conditions who get a physician's recommendation would be able to possess up to 200 grams of medical marijuana and up to 12 mature and 12 immature plants. Patients would be registered with the state and provided with ID cards. Patients would be able to designate caregivers to grow for them.

"Both models are good," said medical marijuana patient and activist Tonya Davis. "Ohio patients want a safer alternative. The models are different, but we figure that between the bill at the legislature, and the two initiatives submitting language, we can come up with something that serves patients."

"We're trying to work together to keep the energy going the right way," said Daniello.

That would be great for patients like Chad Holmes, who underwent chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery for colon cancer, resulting in the removal of much of his digestive tract. He used medical marijuana to counter the side effects of nausea and severe pain, and found it to be the only medicine that allowed him to eat, maintain his strength, and function.

"Medical marijuana didn't cure me, but it allowed me to survive the cure long enough for it to work," he said. He has now been cancer free for over six years.

"Ohioans like Mr. Holmes face a terrible choice," said Daniello. "They can choose to suffer with the horrible, debilitating effects of their illness, or risk arrest and years in prison for using medical marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering."

But if either the legislature or the voters act, that dilemma for medical marijuana patients will be resolved. Look for a lot of action on medical marijuana in the Buckeye State in the next few months.

Money will be key. Peter Lewis, founder of Cleveland-based Progressive Insurance and a significant drug reform funder, issued a request for proposals for action on medical marijuana in May, but neither group appears to have offered one. Davis said she thought Lewis had turned his attention elsewhere, while Daniello said her campaign would likely contact him later.

"We're accepting support," Daniello said. "We had less than a week to respond to Peter Lewis's call for a request for proposals, and we decided that wasn't enough time. We need to show that we can act in a professional manner before we go back."

National presidential election year politics could help stir major funder interest, Daniello suggested. "2012 is a presidential year, and, as they say, as goes Ohio, so goes the nation," she said. "If the proper people realize that, the funding will come in."

It will have to for either of these initiatives to have a serious chance of making it to the ballot.

OH
United States

National Poll Finds Support for Welfare Drug Testing

A Rasmussen poll released this week found majority support for automatic drug testing of new welfare applicants and lesser, but still high, levels of support for drug testing people already receiving welfare benefits.

The poll comes as a new law Florida law mandating the suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants and recipients is about to be implemented. Missouri has also passed a law requiring the drug testing of welfare recipients if there is "reasonable suspicion" to suspect drug use.

Bills to drug test welfare recipients have become increasingly popular as states face tough economic times and seek ways to tighten their belts, even though it is not clear that the costs of drug testing tens or hundreds of thousands of people would be offset by the savings generated by throwing drug users off the dole.

Such bills are also constitutionally dubious. A 1999 Michigan law subjecting welfare recipients to suspicionless drug testing was thrown out by the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003 when the court found that it amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

But that doesn't stop politicians, and this Rasmussen poll suggests why legislators find supporting drug testing such an enticing position.

The national telephone survey of likely voters found that 53% believe all welfare applicants should be drug tested before receiving benefits.  Another 13% only supported random drug testing, while 29% said welfare applicants should only be tested if there was a reasonable suspicion they were using drugs.

That is a whopping 95% who said they thought welfare applicants should be drug tested either routinely, randomly, or upon suspicion. That high number may be an artifact of the poll design; the poll questions only gave those three options when respondents were asked about whether welfare applicants should be drug tested. Rasmussen polling is also reputed to tilt in the conservative direction, which could also skew the findings. But with such a high number, the the general meaning of the results seems clear.

Respondents were more divided when it comes to testing people who are already receiving benefits. Some 35% said recipients should be tested only where there is reasonable suspicion, 31% supported random drug tests, and 29% said all recipients should be regularly tested.

If welfare recipients are found to be using illegal drugs, 70% of respondents said they should lose their benefits. Only 15% said they opposed taking away benefits, while another 15% were undecided. Of those who said benefits should be ended, 58% said it should happen for a first offense, while 40% said there should be one or more warnings before cutting benefits.  [Ed: Much depends on how a question is asked. A poll question commissioned by this organization in 2007 which mentioned "recovery" and "families" found nearly 67% of likely voters opposed to revoking benefits.]

It looks like advocates of welfare rights and civil liberties will have to fight a massive public education battle to turn public opinion around on this issue affecting the lives of some of society's most vulnerable and least able to speak up for their own rights.

Cuomo Signs NY Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Bill

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo June signed into law July 20 legislation aimed at reducing the number of preventable drug overdose deaths in the Empire State. The new law gives protection from prosecution for drug possession offenses to overdose victims seeking medical help or to people seeking medical help for them.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has signed a bill designed to reduce drug overdose fatalities. (image via wikimedia.org)
The new law also provides protection from underage drinking and drug paraphernalia prosecutions for overdose sufferers or others seeking to help them. The law does not provide protection from drug distribution charges.

New York now becomes the most populous state to enact what are commonly referred to as 911 Good Samaritan laws. They are designed to reduce overdose deaths by removing the fear of prosecution for victims or their acquaintances seeking help.

New York is one of the states where drug overdose -- from both legal and illegal drugs -- is the leading cause of accidental death. In the absence of protections like those just enacted, people suffering overdoses or their friends have often been reluctant to seek medical attention for fear of being arrested.

"No one should go to jail for trying to save a life," said Hiawatha Collins, a leader and Board member of VOCAL-NY, one of the many groups that supported the reforms. "This law will help make sure that calling 911 is the first thing someone does if they witness an overdose -- not worry about what the cops will do. New York is making clear that saving lives needs to be our priority, not locking people up."

"It is uplifting to see our elected officials come together to pass a law that will save thousands of lives in New York," said Evan Goldstein, policy coordinator of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Our elected officials should be applauded for passing this law that is grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights."

New York is the fourth state to enact a 911 Good Samaritan law, following the lead of New Mexico in 2007, Washington state in 2010, and Connecticut earlier this year. The law will go into effect in 60 days.

Albany, NY
United States

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