Faulty Roadside Drug Tests Snare Thousands, NJ Governor Signs Paraphernalia Bill, More... (1/10/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1202)
Consequences of Prohibition

A Rhode Island bill would temporarily legalize the possession, cultivation, and sharing -- but not the commercialization -- of psilocybin, a California bill is the first in the nation to target roadside field drug tests and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Psychedelics

Rhode Island Bill Would Temporarily Legalize Psilocybin Use, Growing, and Sharing. Rep. Brandon Potter (D) has filed a bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of psilocybin provided "has been securely cultivated within a person's residence for personal use" or is possessed by "one person or shared by one person to another." The measure is House Bill 7047.

"Anything we do health-related needs to put patients front and center," he said. "When you see all this overwhelming data that shows health benefits, the last thing I wanted to do was create a legalization model that would make it highly regulated and restrict access to people who actually need it."

Allowing only for the home production and sharing of psilocybin "would create the framework to have it be the most accessible model for people to actually be able to get," he added, citing the high cost of psilocybin-assisted therapy in Oregon, where patients are paying $5,000 to $10,000 for psychedelic treatment.

If passed, the bill would sunset in 2026. By then, the state attorney general would have to report to legislative leaders on "the number of violations issued for possession, cultivation or distribution of psilocybin." The state Department of Health would need to file a report, meanwhile, "relating to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) scheduling of psilocybin and permitted use for the treatment of mental or behavioral health disorders."

But in the meantime, if the federal government rescheduled psilocybin, the bill mandates that the state Department of Health "shall establish rules and regulations pertaining to cultivation, distribution and medical prescription."

Drug Testing

Study Finds Roadside Drug Tests Wrongfully Snagging 30,000 People a Year. A study released Tuesday by the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania finds that roughly 30,000 people a year may be wrongfully arrested and jailed because law enforcement agencies are using unreliable roadside field tests. The study says it is the first comprehensive analysis of the use of the roadside field drug tests and that they are involved in roughly half of the 1.5 million drug arrests made each year.

These cheap tests use color reactions to indicate the presence of compounds found in certain drugs, but the problem is that those compounds are not exclusive to illicit drugs and result in positive test results for substances including bird excrement, donut glaze, cotton candy, and sand from a stress ball.

While the true error rate for these tests is not known, the Quattrone Center estimated that as many as 30,000 people could be wrongfully arrested based on false drug test results each year, making these tests "one of the largest, if not the largest, known contributing factor to wrongful arrests and convictions in the United States."

"Presumptive field drug test kits are known to produce 'false positive' errors and were never designed or intended to provide conclusive evidence of the presence of drugs," said Ross Miller, Quattrone Center assistant director and lead author of the report. "But in our criminal legal system, where plea bargaining is the norm and actual fact-finding by trial is exceedingly rare, these error-prone tests have become de facto determinants of guilt in a substantial share of criminal cases in the United States and, as a result, a significant cause of wrongful convictions."

California Bill to Limit Use of Inaccurate Roadside Drug Tests Filed. State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) on Tuesday introduced Senate Bill 912, the Requiring Objective and Accurate Drug Testing (ROAD Testing) Act. SB 912 prohibits law enforcement agencies from making arrests or filing charges on the basis of a color-based (colorimetric) drug test, a class of tests some jurisdictions use in the field to assess whether a substance contains an illegal compound, but which many jurisdictions have abandoned due to their extremely high error rate.

The bill does not ban the use of colorimetric tests, it only prevents officers from using them as the basis of arrest and charging decisions without verification from more accurate tests. By preventing the improper use of these inaccurate tests, SB 912 eliminates the use of what appears to be the nation's leading cause of wrongful convictions from the California criminal legal system.

Because of the absurdly high rate of inaccuracies, and out of concern for officer safety, jurisdictions across California have led the way in abandoning colorimetric drug tests. The San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Tracy Police Departments; the Kings, Madera, and Siskiyou County Sheriffs; and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) instead use accurate handheld lab-standard devices that can identify an exact substance. Yet many jurisdictions still rely on these outdated and inaccurate tools -- of the 216,886 people arrested on drug charges in California each year, approximately 4,099 will be wrongfully arrested and charged based on the results of colorimetric drug tests.

The use of these inaccurate tests also fuels racial inequity in the criminal legal system -- Black Americans are subject to erroneous colorimetric drug tests at three times the rate of their white counterparts.

"With accurate, scientific alternatives available, there is no reason to rely on junk colorimetric tests to make arrests when a suspicious substance is discovered in the field," said Senator Wiener. "Bogus drug tests like these undermine basic principles of justice and fairness. The use of these wildly inaccurate drug tests -- already abandoned by a number of major law enforcement agencies -- is unacceptable now that the risk of wrongful conviction has been confirmed."

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Governor Signs Legislation to Expand Access to Crucial Harm Reduction Supplies. Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday today signed legislation (Senate Bill 3957) to expand access to life-saving harm reduction supplies, building on the Administration's commitment to ending the opioid epidemic through a comprehensive approach. Currently, harm reduction centers in New Jersey may distribute naloxone and other opioid antidotes, fentanyl test strips, and clean syringes. Under the bill signed by Governor Murphy today, they also will be permitted to distribute other harm reduction supplies, enabling them to provide a more comprehensive array of services.

The harm reduction supplies that will now be exempt from criminal penalty when provided by authorized harm reduction centers include any materials or equipment used to prevent death and physical harm, reduce the spread of disease, or mitigate the adverse effects associated with the personal use of controlled dangerous substances. Specifically, the bill clarifies the legality of products such as test strips for xylazine, a sedative for animals that has been increasingly present as an adulterant in the illicit drug supply.

"Harm reduction creates healthier communities while offering a compassionate environment for individuals with substance use disorders to access critical services," said Governor Murphy. "Understanding that harm reduction supplies can prevent fatal overdose and transmission of disease, my Administration continues to include harm reduction as a cornerstone of our strategy to end New Jersey's opioid epidemic. Through this legislation, we will ensure that Harm Reduction Centers in New Jersey can continue to offer a comprehensive array of services that help people with substance use disorders stay healthy and stay alive."

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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