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IL School District Teachers Strike Over Drug Testing

Teachers in one Illinois school district went on strike Wednesday after the district failed to remove contract language demanding they submit to random, suspicionless drug testing. The teachers had offered to accept drug testing on reasonable cause, but at last minute Tuesday night meeting, the board rejected the compromise.

No school in Glaston, Illinois, this week. Teachers struck rather than submit to random drug tests. (Image: IBSD 327)
The matter had festered since last year, when it had been removed from contract negotiations as an intractable issue. The Illini Bluffs District 327 school board in May brought back the drug testing language in this year's contract negotiations and, remaining immune to suasion from the teachers, included the language in its formal final offer and items not agreed statement to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board last month. The board did try to sweeten the deal by offering to get drug tested, too, but the teachers weren't buying.

The board's demand for random, suspicionless teacher drug testing came despite its implicit admission that it was unneeded. In a July 21 press release chastising the union for refusing to buckle before its demands, the board wrote: "The testing program is not intended as a 'witchhunt' as the Board of Education believes that all District teachers would satisfactorily pass a drug and alcohol test."

At the same time, the teachers, represented by the Illini Bluffs Federation of Teachers, submitted their final offer, including their proposal for reasonable cause testing. They tersely noted that even reasonable cause testing was a concession, and that the estimated $6,000 cost to test the three-school district's 62 teachers could be better spent.

"While neither mandatory, random drug testing nor cause testing is an industry standard in the education profession, the Union offered the Board of Education a plan that would allow an administrator to deal with an employee drug problem if they ever have cause to do so," teacher negotiators wrote. "The Board admitted they have no specific concerns with any teacher or reason to believe a teacher has a problem. The Union looked at the $6,000 or more cost of the district’s policy and proposed the probable cause policy because they felt the cost of random testing would be better spent on students and classrooms."

School is supposed to start Thursday in Glaston, home of the Illini Bluffs District 327, but it looks like that isn't going to happen. The district has already canceled classes for the remainder of the week, and the teachers will be hitting the picket line instead of the books.

"We’ll be out there [picketing] from about 7:30 [am] to about 4:30 [pm]," said Keith Brown, lead negotiator for the union. "We want to be in a classroom instead of on the street. But they [the school board] didn't have that same agenda tonight," he told the Peoria Star-Journal after Tuesday's failed last-chance meeting.

Glaston, IL
United States

Portland, ME, Marijuana Initiative Dies… For Now

A Portland, Maine, campaign that aimed to put an initiative making marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority on this year's November ballot is over, stymied by its failure to collect enough valid signatures. Although initiative sponsors Sensible Portland handed in well over the required number of signatures, there were not enough of them found valid by local election officials for the initiative to qualify.

Sensible Portland turned in 2,141 signatures last month. They only needed 1,500 valid ones to make the ballot, but with an invalidation rate of more than one out of three -- because the signers either didn't live in Portland or weren't registered to vote -- they came up 93 votes short, with 1,407 valid signatures. [Ed: It is common for about one in three signatures on a ballot petition to come up invalid.]

The group and supporters asked the city council to allow them an extra 10 days to collect the necessary signatures. But that effort was turned aside Monday night when the council voted unanimously to postpone any decision on the group's request until October, making it impossible to get the measure on the ballot this year.

The campaign is down, but not out. Sensible Portland has vowed to continue signature-gathering with an eye toward qualifying for a later ballot.

Maine has already decriminalized the possession of up to 2 ½ ounces of pot, but the fines are significant, ranging from $350 to $600 for a first offense. The fine is $550 if you get busted a second time within six months.

Portland, ME
United States

Alabama Bill Would Drug Test Medicaid Recipients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montgomery, AL
United States

Majority in Colorado Poll Want Marijuana Legalized

A new Public Policy Polling survey shows support for marijuana legalization in Colorado at 51%, with 38% opposed. The poll comes as activists there are prepare to put at least one marijuana legalization initiative on the November 2012 ballot.

The poll did not ask whether Coloradans should "regulate marijuana like alcohol," which is the language used in the best positioned initiative, the one led by SAFER and Sensible Colorado. Instead, the poll simply asked, "Do you think marijuana usage ought to be legal or illegal?"

Pot legalization was favored by people who voted for Obama in 2008 (68%), moderates (53%), liberals (68%), and the very liberal (82%). In terms of party affiliation, legalization scored well with Democrats (65%) and independents (55%), but only won the support of 31% of Republicans.

Legalization won majority support among men (54%), but not women (49%), and among whites (51%), but not Hispanics (49%), although, with the poll's +/- 4.3% margin of error, both findings suggest a virtual dead heat. By age group, legalization had the greatest support among 18-to-29-year-olds (71%), followed by 46-to-65-year-olds (53%), 30-to-45-year-olds (52%). Only among the post-65-year-olds did legalization fail to win majority support (36%).

While the poll shows a slim majority favoring legalization, the conventional wisdom among initiative campaigners is that an initiative should be polling at least 60% when the campaign hits the ground running, so these results suggest campaigners in Colorado have their work cut out for them -- building support for legalization in principle and/or finding an initiative model that answers the questions causing some to go with no or undecided so far. These results also suggest that campaigners are going to have to craft messages that resonate with key demographic groups, particularly middle-aged mothers.

At least marijuana legalization is polling ahead of other hot-button social issues in Colorado. While a narrow majority favor freeing the weed, only 45% thought gay marriage should be legal or approved of a small state tax increase, while only 38% approved of the Tea Party and only 32% approved of legalizing prostitution.

United States

Greek Government Proposes Drug Decriminalization

The Greek government is proposing to decriminalize the possession of drugs under a bill sent to parliament by Justice Minister Miltadis Papioannou, the British web site Talking Drugs reported this week. Under the bill, drug possession would be decriminalized as long as the drug use does not affect others.

Athens Cycle Tour (
The bill is a response to continuing high drug overdose numbers -- more than 300 deaths a year in recent years -- and high levels of imprisonment. Some 40% of Greek prisoners are doing time for drug or drug-related offenses.

Under the proposed bill, drug possession for personal use would qualify only as "misconduct" instead of a more serious criminal offense. The decriminalization provision would also apply to people growing marijuana for their personal use.

The bill would also guarantee the right to drug treatment, including for people currently imprisoned. People deemed "addict offenders" by the courts would be provided treatment instead of being jailed.

Under the "treatment not jail" approach, addicts would be admitted to an approved treatment program for detoxification, then granted deferred prosecution and conditional release under a drug monitoring program. It is unclear what would happen to addicts who relapse while in the program.

The bill does not legalize the sale of drugs, which would remain a felony offense. Like other decriminalization schemes, the measure would make life easier for drug users in some ways, but would do little to reduce the deleterious effects of the black market in proscribed substances.


Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

All the drug busts in Mexico don't seem to make a difference. (image via Wikimedia)
Thursday, August 4

In Jalisco, six charred bodies were discovered by police in a flaming SUV. All six had apparently been tortured or mutilated before being set on fire, which is indicative of cartel-related violence. Jalisco is home to several cartels, including the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG).

Friday, August 5

In Ascension, Chihuahua, the entire 26-man police force quit for fear of their lives after two local police officers were killed earlier in the week. Their duties are now being taken over by state and federal police forces and by army patrols.

Saturday, August

In the Monterrey suburb of San Nicolas de las Garza, five young men between the ages of 17 and 20 were found murdered and dumped on a sidewalk. Police said the victims all had the "look of gang members," but this has not yet been confirmed. Police are investigating to see whether the men were killed elsewhere and then dumped where they were found, as only one bullet casing was discovered at the scene.

In Ciudad Juarez, a high-ranking police commander responsible for the city's downtown area was shot dead near the International Bridge to the US. Victor Nazario Moreno Ramirez, 32, was in his vehicle when it was boxed in by four vehicles full of gunmen who opened fire. Police discovered 420 spent shell casings at the scene, mostly from AK-47's. Another passenger was seriously wounded. Moreno had previously been in command of an elite unit of the municipal police responsible for special operations and responding to high-impact crime.

Sunday, August 7

In Ciudad Juarez, an El Paso woman was murdered in front of her 4-year old daughter. Stephanie Marie Lozano was sitting in a car with her boyfriend outside his home when gunmen arrived in a truck and shot them both dead. Her daughter Hailie was in the backseat and was not shot, but apparently suffered powder burns from gunpowder. Witnesses indicate that police did not chase the assailants car even though it continued to drive around the area. It also appears as if Juarez police told Lozano's family they would not be investigating and should simply consider it a tragic event.

Near Guadalajara, a 13-year old girl was taken into custody after a fire fight and allegedly admitted to working for the Zetas. The girl, identified only by her alias, "Pearl," told police that she was paid $325 dollars every two weeks to act as a "hawk," which is cartel slang for a look-out that reports on the movement of authorities and other enemies. She is the latest in a string of high-profile cases involving extremely young people who have become involved in cartel activities. The most famous, Edgar Jimenez Lugo, 14, is currently serving a three-year sentence for his participation in the torture and murder of four people who were found hanging from a bridge between Mexico City and Acapulco.

In Mexico City, the office of the chief federal security spokesman acknowledged that US agents participate in intelligence analysis and information exchange with Mexican security forces in Mexico. Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that CIA agents and former American military personnel are working on some Mexican military bases and that the government has considered using private contractors for security operations inside Mexico.

Monday, August 8

In Mexico City, the government announced that 172 municipalities will not be receiving federal anti-crime assistance money because they have not shown any progress in improving the training or quality of local police forces. Among the places being cut off from federal funding are the cities of Ciudad Juarez, Reynosa, and Nuevo Laredo, which have all experienced extremely high levels of drug-related crime.

Also in Mexico City, SEDENA announced the results of a 20-day military operation across the states of Coahuila, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. "Operation Northern Lynx" resulted in the deaths of 30 suspects and the arrest of 196 more, as well as the seizure of over 1,200 weapons and 3.3 tons of marijuana and 260 vehicles. Twelve kidnap victims were also rescued. Soldiers participating in the operation came under fire 21 times, resulting in the death of one soldier and wounding 21 others.

Tuesday, August 9

In Michoacan, the bullet-riddled bodies of four police officers and two civilians were found. The officers, two of whom were women, had all been reported missing Saturday in the neighboring state of Colima. The motive is currently unknown.

In Mexico City, a judge blocked the extradition of a high-ranking female cartel boss, Sandra Beltran Leyva, who is known as the "Queen of the Pacific," to the United States on organized crime, drug trafficking and money laundering charges for which she was acquitted. She has been in custody since her arrest in 2007, and it is unclear if this means she will now be released. She still faces a money laundering charge.

Wednesday, August 10

In the city of Chihuahua, a former police chief was assassinated as he ate at an Applebee’s Restaurant. Jose Refugio Ruvulcaba Plascencia was police chief in Chihuahua in the late 1990’s and in Ciudad Juarez in 2003.

In Ciudad Juarez, a transit police officer was run down by gunmen and shot dead.

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 6,700


This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

One crooked sheriff gets indicted, while another cops a plea. Meanwhile, the border generates another three cases of corruption or thuggery. Let's get to it:

The lure of drug prohibition's filthy lucre proves corrosive to honest law enforcement. (image via Wikimedia)
In Shreveport, Louisiana, the Winn Parish sheriff was indicted August 2 on charges he helped his girlfriend cover up methamphetamine deals. Sheriff A.D. "Bodie" Little is one of 11 people charged with dealing meth in the Winn Parish and Shreveport areas. A state trooper testified that Little came under investigation by a joint state-federal task force after he asked the Caddo Parish sheriff to get a task force together to investigate Winn Parish drug dealers. The trooper testified that "it's clear he wanted everyone arrested except his girlfriend." Little has pleaded not guilty and was set to be released on $100,000 bond sometime this week.

In Carlisle, Kentucky, the Nicholas County sheriff pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing asset forfeiture money. Sheriff Dick Garrett was accused of taking more than $43,000 from the forfeiture account and and using at least $10,000 to pay his homeowners insurance and pay off personal loans. He pleaded guilty to theft by unlawful taking and abuse of public trusts. A jury had recommended five years in prison on each charge. Garrett will have to pay restitution of $38,237.60 within five years and resign immediately as sheriff. He will be sentenced in November.

In Phoenix, two Border Patrol agents were indicted August 4 on charges they forced accused drug smugglers to eat marijuana and flee barefoot and nearly naked into the desert. Agents Dario Castillo, 23, and Ramon Zuniga, 29, were charged with five civil rights violations by a federal grand jury in Tucson stemming from the November 2008 incident. According to prosecutors, the pair caught four men taking part in a marijuana smuggling operation. They forced the men to eat some of the weed and strip down to their underwear, burning their outer clothes and shoes and socks, then told them to flee into the desert night, where the temperature was around 40 degrees. Prosecutors said the actions deprived the four men of their civil rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The two face 10 years each on the civil rights charges, while Castillo faces up to 20 years for a count of witness tampering.

In Laredo, Texas, a former Laredo police officer was sentenced August 4 to 6 ½ years in prison for helping a drug trafficker move and store cocaine. Pedro Martinez III, 34, agreed to escort loads of cocaine in exchange for payment from undercover FBI and BATF agents he thought were smugglers and recruited fellow officer Orlando Hale to help out. He escorted three loads and Hale escorted two, with the pair receiving $1,000 for each load. The undercover agents also persuaded Martinez to lead them to a cocaine supplier, who has already pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges and awaits sentencing. Martinez testified against Hale when Hale took his case to trial last year. Hale lost and got 24 ½ years. Martinez pleaded to bribery charges.

In Laredo, Texas, a Webb County deputy constable was arrested Monday by FBI agents on charges he acted as an escort for a cocaine trafficker. Eduardo Garcia, 44, was indicted for escorting loads of cocaine through Laredo for a local trafficker for $500 a pop. Unfortunately for Garcia, the trafficker became a DEA informant and flipped on him, allowing the DEA to record meetings where they would discuss load arrangements. Garcia, wearing his badge and driving a law enforcement van, would escort the loads through the city. The snitch also asked Garcia to run a pair of license plates through a state law enforcement data base, which he did. He's looking at up to 20 years in prison on three bribery charges and five more on one count of unauthorized access to protected computer information.

Poll Finds Majority Support Marijuana Legalization

A majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, according to a new poll from Angus Reid Public Opinion. The online survey of a representative sample of 1,003 American adults found that 55% supported legalizing marijuana, while 40% opposed it.

Majority support for legalization crossed all age lines, with young people (18-34) at 53%, middle aged people (35-54) at 57%, and seniors (55+) at 54%. Legalization also won majority support among Democrats (63%) and independents (61%), but not among Republicans (41%).

Support for marijuana legalization is reaching the tipping point. (image via Wikimedia)
Angus Reid polls in 2009 and last year also showed majority support for legalization, with 53% and 52%, respectively, but this year, support increased slightly. That's in line with, but also slightly more optimistic than other recent national polls.

The upward tick in support for freeing the weed has also been evidenced in other polls in the past year and a half, although the other polls have support for legalization hovering at just under 50%. In January, 2010, an ABC News/Washington Post poll had support at 46%; in April, 2010, a Pew poll had it at 41%. By last July, Rasmussen showed it at 43%. In November, a Gallup poll had support for legalization at 46%, its highest level ever and a 15 percentage point increase over just a decade ago. Some of these polls showed majority support for legalization in the West, which is likely to be put to the test in 2012.

While there was majority support for marijuana legalization, there was little support for legalizing other drugs. The poll asked about legalizing cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and ecstasy, and none of them reached even 10% support.

But if there was little support for broad drug legalization, there was also very little enthusiasm for the "war on drugs." Only 9% of respondents believed the war on drugs was a success, while 67% said it had failed.

These last numbers suggest that Americans may be open to an alternative to current drug policy approaches, but have yet to embrace legalization as the alternative.

Arizona AG Files Suit Against Medical Marijuana Clubs

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne filed a lawsuit Monday asking a state court to close down "compassion clubs" where medical marijuana patients pay a fee to become members and in return obtain their medicine. The civil suit seeks both a temporary and a permanent injunction to shut them down.

Although some 6,000 Arizonans are registered as medical marijuana patients under the voter-approved law, no dispensaries are operating because state officials have put that portion of the law on hold while Gov. Jan Brewer's federal lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment on the legality of the dispensary language moves forward. Lawyers for the US government last week filed a motion to have that suit dismissed.

The compassion clubs sprung up as a response to pent up patient demand. Now, Horne wants to shut down that distribution avenue, too.

The clubs "falsely claim to be operating lawfully under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act," Horne said in a press release Monday. The law does not provide protection to entities that are not registered as nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries, he argued.

"The law permits one card holder to give marijuana to another card holder. But is does not permit the activities of these defendants, who charge fees to members. These private entities and individuals are in no way permitted to legally transfer marijuana to anybody," Horne said. "The operators of these clubs claim that they are protected under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act when they are not registered as non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries as required under that law. These people are marketing themselves as being able to lawfully transfer marijuana, and that type of deception and blatantly illegal activity must be stopped."

But what the law says is that registered patients face no penalties for "...offering or providing marijuana to a registered qualifying patient or a registered designated caregiver for the registered qualifying patient's medical use... if nothing of value is transferred in return and the person giving the marijuana does not knowingly cause the recipient to possess more than the allowable amount of marijuana."

The clubs operate by charging qualified patients a token membership fee, which then allows patients to make donations and obtain marijuana that is "gifted" by other members of the club. Whether the Maricopa County Superior Court will agree with Attorney General Horne or with the clubs remains to be seen, but one club operator said he welcomed the move.

"I want the courts to weigh in and make a decision," said Al Sobol of the 2811 Club, one of the businesses named in the lawsuit. But Horne's statement that his club was guilty of "deception" made him bristle. "What's deceptive is when the state gives you a card, charges you $150 for it, then makes it so you have no way of using it," he told the Phoenix New Times. Horne and Gov. Jan Brewer are "abusing their authority," he added.

Phoenix, AZ
United States

Israel Cabinet Approves Medical Marijuana Guidelines

The Israeli cabinet Sunday gave its approval to medical marijuana guidelines that will govern the supply of marijuana for medical and research purposes. In so doing, it explicitly agreed that marijuana does indeed have medical uses.

(image courtesy
"The cabinet today approved arrangements and supervision regarding the supply of cannabis for medical and research uses," said a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman. "This is in recognition that the medical use of cannabis is necessary in certain cases. The Health Ministry will -- in coordination with the Israel Police and the Israel Anti-Drug Authority -- oversee the foregoing and will also be responsible for supplies from imports and local cultivation."

The cabinet move comes on the heels of the Health Ministry's decision last week to deal with supply problems by setting up a unit within the department to grow medical marijuana. That unit will begin operating in January 2012.

The Health Ministry also decided that the country's medical marijuana supply should be domestically produced. Israeli police had lobbied for medical marijuana to be imported instead, in a bid to reduce diversion.

Israel currently has about 6,000 medical marijuana patients, but the program is so popular that there are estimates that number could rise to 40,000 by 2016. Medical marijuana for existing patients is currently provided by private Israeli growers.


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