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NY Prisons Punished Inmates for False Positive Drug Tests, OH GOP Pols Plot Pot Changes, More... (12/1/23)

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The feds want to add fentanyl to the current drug screening panel for truck drivers and safety-sensitive federal workers, Ohio Republicans are in a hurry to modify voter-approved marijuana legalization, and more.

Truck drivers could soon be subject to testing for fentanyl if a SAMSHA advisory board has its way. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio GOP Senate President Outlines Plan to Amend Voter-Approved Marijuana Law Before Legalization Takes Effect Next Week. Senate President Matt Huffman (R) says the Senate will take the first step toward amending the Issue 2 legalization initiative approved by voters last month, with just days left before some of its provisions go into effect. Huffman said he plans for the Senate to take up unrelated House-passed legislation in the Senate General Government Committee on Monday and attach yet-to-be-seen marijuana amendments to it as a means of moving forward. He would use an emergency clause to attach the amendments to the bill, meaning it would need a two-thirds vote to approve it before going back to the House.

Ever since voters approved the measure nearly a month ago, GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Mike DeWine (R) have been trying to figure out ways to revise it. Most of the discussion has been around impaired driving, the prevention of use by youth, and the allocation of marijuana tax revenues. At least two separate GOP bills to modify the measure have already been filed.

"It would be better for people going forward to know what the law is than people begin spending money or taking actions and then the law changes six months from now or 90 days, you know, a year from now," Huffman said.

But House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) doesn’t see the need for speed. He noted that changes to provisions on taxes and advertising, among others, will not be necessary for months because regulators still have to craft a system of taxed and regulated sales before pot shops can open.

"We are being very thoughtful about the legislation that was passed by the voters," he said. "We want to be respectful of that. We also want to have the guardrails in place. It doesn’t matter whether it’s marijuana or soybeans or oil, there are certain rules for alcohol, tobacco that these industries have established over decades," Stephens said. "And trying to start from scratch is not the easiest thing to do."

"One of the things I want to avoid, and a lot of people want to avoid is having marijuana stores everywhere," Huffman, the Senate president, said. "You can’t open a liquor store anywhere you want. You have to have a permit and the size of your population of your local community determines the number of local liquor permits you have, so I think it has to be somewhat limited."

Drug Testing

Federal Drug Testing Panel Will Consider Adding Fentanyl to Truck Driver Drug Tests. The advisory board for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will begin discussions this month about possibly adding a fentanyl testing panel to the drug screens used to test truck drivers and safety-sensitive federal employees.

The advisory board said it plans to meet in an open session on December 5 to follow up on requirements in the Fighting Opioid Abuse in Transportation Act, which called on the Department of Health and Human Services to determine whether adding fentanyl to the screen is justified based on the reliability and effectiveness of mandatory testing.

"Fentanyl accounts for a large proportion of overdose deaths in the United States and is therefore an important public safety concern," said the SAMHSA announcement. "Furthermore, fentanyl is increasingly used as a stand-alone substance of abuse, not in conjunction with heroin and other substances."

The advisory board in December 2019 recommended to then HHS Secretary Alex Azar that fentanyl be added. Azar had 180 days to approve that recommendation, but nothing happened.

New York Punished More Than 2,000 Prisoners Over False Positive Drug Tests, Report Finds. The state prison system unfairly punished more than 2,000 prisoners after tests of suspected contraband returned false positive test results for drugs, according to a report released Thursday by the state inspector general's office. In hundreds of cases, prisoners who had committed no offense were placed in solitary confinement, lost family visits, or had parole hearings canceled because of the false positive.

State prison staff were using a drug test from Sirchie Finger Print Laboratories, which warns in its instructions that its results found using its NARK II tests should be considered preliminary and unconfirmed. The report also found that staff failed to use protocols designed to prevent misidentifying contraband or cross-contaminating samples. The NARK II test is known to cross-react with common over-the-counter medications, tea, and protein powders, which are sold in some state prisons.

The report called for additional training for testing officers and requiring them to notify supervisors when discrepancies arise.

"This investigation and the subsequent policy changes and record expungements represent one step closer to ensuring the level of integrity we should all expect and demand from the State," said Inspector General Lucy  Lang.

The state prison system has a history of lax drug testing protocols. A 2022 inspector general's report found that the prisons had ignored test instructions and punished inmates based on inaccurate test results from a different drug screening test, this one manufactured by Microgenics Corp. That report came after inmates filed a class-action lawsuit alleging numerous false positives.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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