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Congress: Drug Warrior Rep. Mark Souder Resigns over Affair

Family values crusader and drug war zealot Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) announced Tuesday he was resigning from Congress after admitting to an affair with a female staffer. The bombshell announcement came at a Capitol Hill press conference. (See Souder give his statement here).

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Rep. Souder conceding an amendment that would have limited his financial aid drug penalty to sales convictions, 2009. The amendment was stripped earlier this year as collateral damage in the health care reform battle.
Adding to the irony of the moralizing conservative's downfall, the staffer with whom he had the affair, Tracy Jackson, worked together with him on one of Souder's pet passions: promoting abstinence education. They even created a video in which the pair of them discuss his efforts to promote abstinence. The various copies of that video on YouTube have had more than 100,000 views as of Tuesday night.

"I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff," Souder said in the statement. "In the poisonous environment of Washington, DC, any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain," he said. "I am resigning rather than to put my family through that painful, drawn-out process."

Souder's enthusiasm for the war on drugs led him to the chairmanship of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources from 2001 to 2007, where he used his position to support harsh drug policies. He was, for instance, a staunch foe of medical marijuana and a loud voice against the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendments, which would, if passed, have stopped federal raids on medical marijuana patients and providers.

Even before attaining the chairmanship, Souder gained notoriety among drug reformers, educators, and civil libertarians for authoring a provision of the Higher Education Act that denied federal financial assistance to students convicted of a drug law violation, no matter how minor.

Souder's "smoke a joint, lose your federal aid" provision resulted in more than 200,000 students being denied college grants and loans. It also resulted in the formation of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which has played a key role in the ongoing Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform. A partial reform -- actually supported by Souder, whether sincerely or out of pressure -- in 2006 rolled back the provision to include only offenses while the student was enrolled in college. A reform this year that would have limited the provision only to drug sales offenses was derailed after the education package it was part of got added to the health care reform bill, getting deleted along with other provisions that Democrats feared could trigger a procedural challenge.

We will skip the schaudenfreude, although Souder richly deserves it, and merely take heart in knowing one of the most poisonous of the cultural conservative drug warriors has taken himself out of the game.

thanks for the memories:

former SSDP executive director Shawn Heller confronts Mark Souder after a financial aid forum in his district, aired on all the local news channels

somewhere in this documentary Mark Souder slams the door on MPP lobbyist Aaron Houston, refusing to discuss medical marijuana

Souder complains about student groups "harassing him across the country"

Feature: Scale-Back of College Aid Drug Penalty Becomes Accidental Casualty in Health Care Battle

Efforts to deepen already existing reforms to the Higher Education Act (HEA) anti-drug provision hit a brick wall during last minute negotiations last month over the health care reform bill, which included the Student Aid and Financial Responsibility Act (SAFRA). The Democratic Senate leadership removed the HEA reform and various other items they feared would not survive Republican procedural challenges the night before the Senate voted on the budgetary reconciliation bill related to the package.

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2002 press conference with 10 members of Congress calling for repeal of the drug provision
That doesn't mean HEA reform is dead this session, but advocates will have to push hard to get it passed. They say they plan to do just that.

The child of congressional drug warrior Rep. Marc Souder (R-IN), the HEA anti-drug provision, also known as the Aid Elimination Penalty, was enacted in 1999. In its first, hard-line version, it barred students with a drug conviction -- no matter how minor -- from receiving federal financial aid for specified periods. More than 200,000 students have been adversely affected by the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty since its inception.

The harsh and punitive measure sparked opposition from students and their supporters and was a key factor in the creation of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). It also sparked the creation of the Coalition for HEA Reform (CHEAR), an umbrella group including dozens of higher education, civil rights, and drug reform organizations, which worked Capitol Hill throughout the '00s to lobby for reform. Advocates scored a partial success in 2006, when Congress voted to make the penalty applicable only to drug convictions that occurred while students were enrolled in school and receiving aid.

The reforms included in the SAFRA this year would have gone further toward completely eliminating the Aid Elimination Penalty. Under the measure approved by the House, only students convicted of a drug distribution would have been subject to losing financial aid eligibility. But the section of the bill in which that reform was included got removed as part of a maneuver to include the rest of the legislation -- health care and student combined -- in the reconciliation process, avoiding the need to amass 60 votes.

"The Democrats took out a bunch of stuff at the last minute they didn't think could survive various Senate procedural hurdles," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a key player in CHEAR. "The HEA drug provision was one of many items eliminated -- for reasons that had nothing to do with the issue itself."

"The HEA reform was tucked into the budget reconciliation bill as part of SAFRA," noted Aaron Houston, government affairs director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), another key player in CHEAR. "But under Senate rules, only items that could be shown to produce budget savings were allowed, and our provision costs money, so that was a problem. It would have been subject to a valid point of order on the Senate floor."

But while the HEA aid elimination penalty didn't make the final cut in the reconciliation process, Houston saw positive signs in what did -- and did not -- take place in Congress this year.

"The Republicans could have called for a roll call vote on this provision, they could have tried to call for a roll call vote at the committee level, but they didn't do that," he noted. "As time goes by, I am confident that we are facing an increasingly receptive environment, not because the Republicans have seen the light, but because they are beginning to understand that it is not in their political interest to grandstand on these drug issues. They know it would alienate the Tea Party types, many of whom are fairly libertarian-leaning, and a lot of whom got their start in politics via activism in the Ron Paul campaign. While Republicans used to grandstand on this issue, now they don't see it as politically expedient, and that suggests how much progress we've made," Houston argued.

David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org and one of the principal CHEAR organizers since its founding, also saw positive signs. "The good news is that HEA reform almost passed last week," he said. "And this time we didn't even have to remind members of Congress about the issue; it's part of the agenda, they figured out how much they thought they could achieve politically, and they even deflected Rep. Souder's challenges in committee and on the House floor to do that much. And it was in there until the very last day."

Can that progress be transformed into an actual victory on HEA reform this year? There is still a chance, advocates said.

"The next step is to try to get this in by the end of the Congress," said Houston. "We're still hopeful, but I would be hesitant to say what the vehicle for it would be."

"Obama is talking about how he wants to do another education bill this year before the election," said Piper. "It's mainly about reforming No Child Left Behind, but will also contain some of his other priorities, like the reward program for the states, and they seem pretty serious about pushing that. We're hopeful that we can get HEA reform included in that, and we are contacting members of Congress about that. But at this point, it's far from clear the Democrats can get 60 votes to pass an education bill, with or without HEA reform."

HEA reform came frustratingly close to fruition in last month's health care brouhaha. And a side effect of that battle was to cost HEA reform what would otherwise have been a likely vehicle for passage. Now, all activists can do is grit their teeth and return to the fight. Such are the ways of Washington.

Law Enforcement: New York City to Pay Out $33 Million for Unlawful Strip Searches

For the third time in the past nine years, New York City has been forced to pay big bucks for subjecting nonviolent prisoners -- including minor marijuana offenders -- to illegal strip searches. In a settlement announced Monday, the city announced it had agreed to pay $33 million to end the most recent lawsuit stemming from the searches.

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The settlement applies to roughly 100,000 people who were strip-searched after being charged with misdemeanors and taken to Rikers Island or other city jails. These were people who were arrested and strip-searched between 1999 and 2007.

In 2001, under the Giuliani administration, the city settled a similar lawsuit on behalf of 40,000 people strip-searched prior to arraignment for $40 million. In 2005, the city agreed to pay millions of dollars more to settle a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of people illegally strip-searched at Rikers and other city jails between 1999 and 2002.

The most recent settlement came from a lawsuit filed in 2005 by a local law firm. In 2007, the city acknowledged wrongdoing and agreed to hire monitors to ensure that the practice was stopped. But the settlement includes at least 19 people who had been illegally strip-searched after 2007.

Richard Emery, law lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the New York Times it had been settled law since 1986 that it was unconstitutional to require people accused of minor crimes to submit to strip searches. "The city knew this was illegal in 1986, they said it was illegal and they stopped in 2002, and they continued to pursue this illegal practice without justification," he said. "We hope the settlement constitutes some semblance of justice."

It is expected that about 15% of those illegally strip searched, or 15,000 people, will file claims seeking damages. If that's the case, each plaintiff who files would collect about $2,000, although at least two women subjected to involuntary gynecological exams will receive $20,000. The law firm will get $3 million for its efforts.

Emery said many of those strip-searched had been charged with misdemeanors like shoplifting, trespassing, jumping subway turnstiles, or failure to pay child support. Others were small-time marijuana offenders. Under New York law, pot possession is decriminalized, but the NYPD has a common practice of ordering people to empty their pockets -- which you are not required to do -- and then charging them with public possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor.

David Sanchez, 39, of the Bronx, was one of the people strip-searched after a minor pot bust. He said he was searched twice by officers after being arrested in a stop and frisk outside a friend's apartment, but after he was arraigned and taken to Rikers Island, jail guards demanded he submit to a strip-search.

"I was put into a cage and told to take off my clothes," he said Monday, describing how he had to squat and spread his buttocks. "It was horrifying, being a grown man. I was humiliated."

"I don't know why it was done," Emery said, "but it seems like it was a punishment, a way of showing the inmates who is in charge."

And now the good burghers of New York City will pay yet again for the misdeeds of their public servants. Will the third time be the charm? Check back in a few years.

Were You Strip-Searched After a Minor Bust in New York City Between 1999 and 2007? There Could Be $$$$ Waiting for You

As the Chronicle story below reports, New York City is about to pay yet again for unlawfully strip-searching minor offenders, including people busted for public pot possession. If this includes you, it just might behoove you to contact the law firm handling the lawsuit in question, Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff, and Abady. Here's the story: Law Enforcement: New York City to Pay Out $33 Million for Unlawful Strip Searches For the third time in the past ten years, New York City has been forced to pay big bucks for subjecting non-violent prisoners—including minor marijuana offenders—to illegal strip searches. In a settlement announced Monday, the city announced it had agreed to pay $33 million to settle the most recent lawsuit stemming from the illegal strip searches. The settlement applies to roughly 100,000 people who were strip-searched after being charged with misdemeanors and taken to Rikers Island or other city jails. These were people who were arrested and strip-searched between 1999 and 2007. In 2001, under the Giulani administration, the city settled a similar lawsuit on behalf of 40,000 people strip-searched prior to arraignment for $40 million. In 2005, the city agreed to pay millions of dollars more to settle a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of people illegally strip-searched at Rikers and other city jails between 1999 and 2002. The most recent settlement came from a lawsuit filed in 2005 by a local law firm. In 2007, the city acknowledged wrongdoing and agreed to hire monitors to ensure that the practice was stopped. But the settlement includes at least 19 people who had been illegally strip-searched after 2007. Richard Emery, law lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the New York Times it had been settled law since 1986 that it was unconstitutional to require people accused of minor crimes to submit to strip searches. "The city knew this was illegal in 1986, they said it was illegal and they stopped in 2002, and they continued to pursue this illegal practice without justification," he said. "We hope the settlement constitutes some semblance of justice." It is expected that about 15% of those illegally strip searched, or 15,000 people, will file claims seeking damages. If that's the case, each plaintiff who files would collect about $2,000, although at least two women subjected to involuntary gynecological exams will receive $20,000. The law firm will get $3 million for its efforts. Emery said many of those strip-searched had been charged with misdemeanors like shoplifting, trespassing, jumping subway turnstiles, or failure to pay child support. Others were small-time marijuana offenders. Under New York law, pot possession is decriminalized, but the NYPD has a common practice of ordering people to empty their pockets—which you are not required to do—and then charging them with public possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor. David Sanchez, 39, of the Bronx, was one of the people strip-searched after a minor pot bust. He said he was searched twice by officers after being arrested in a stop and frisk outside a friend's apartment, but after he was arraigned and taken to Rikers Island, jail guards demanded he submit to a strip-search. "I was put into a cage and told to take off my clothes," he said Monday, describing how he had to squat and spread his buttocks. "It was horrifying, being a grown man. I was humiliated." "I don’t know why it was done," Emery said, "but it seems like it was a punishment, a way of showing the inmates who is in charge." And now the good burghers of New York City will pay yet again for the misdeeds of their public servants. Will the third time be the charm? Check back in a few years.
Localização: 
New York City, NY
United States

Were You Strip-Searched After a Minor Bust in New York City Between 1999 and 2007? There Could Be $$$$ Waiting for You

As the Chronicle story below reports, New York City is about to pay yet again for unlawfully strip-searching minor offenders, including people busted for public pot possession. If this includes you, it just might behoove you to contact the law firm handling the lawsuit in question, Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff, and Abady. Here's the story: Law Enforcement: New York City to Pay Out $33 Million for Unlawful Strip Searches For the third time in the past ten years, New York City has been forced to pay big bucks for subjecting non-violent prisoners—including minor marijuana offenders—to illegal strip searches. In a settlement announced Monday, the city announced it had agreed to pay $33 million to settle the most recent lawsuit stemming from the illegal strip searches. The settlement applies to roughly 100,000 people who were strip-searched after being charged with misdemeanors and taken to Rikers Island or other city jails. These were people who were arrested and strip-searched between 1999 and 2007. In 2001, under the Giulani administration, the city settled a similar lawsuit on behalf of 40,000 people strip-searched prior to arraignment for $40 million. In 2005, the city agreed to pay millions of dollars more to settle a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of people illegally strip-searched at Rikers and other city jails between 1999 and 2002. The most recent settlement came from a lawsuit filed in 2005 by a local law firm. In 2007, the city acknowledged wrongdoing and agreed to hire monitors to ensure that the practice was stopped. But the settlement includes at least 19 people who had been illegally strip-searched after 2007. Richard Emery, law lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the New York Times it had been settled law since 1986 that it was unconstitutional to require people accused of minor crimes to submit to strip searches. "The city knew this was illegal in 1986, they said it was illegal and they stopped in 2002, and they continued to pursue this illegal practice without justification," he said. "We hope the settlement constitutes some semblance of justice." It is expected that about 15% of those illegally strip searched, or 15,000 people, will file claims seeking damages. If that's the case, each plaintiff who files would collect about $2,000, although at least two women subjected to involuntary gynecological exams will receive $20,000. The law firm will get $3 million for its efforts. Emery said many of those strip-searched had been charged with misdemeanors like shoplifting, trespassing, jumping subway turnstiles, or failure to pay child support. Others were small-time marijuana offenders. Under New York law, pot possession is decriminalized, but the NYPD has a common practice of ordering people to empty their pockets—which you are not required to do—and then charging them with public possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor. David Sanchez, 39, of the Bronx, was one of the people strip-searched after a minor pot bust. He said he was searched twice by officers after being arrested in a stop and frisk outside a friend's apartment, but after he was arraigned and taken to Rikers Island, jail guards demanded he submit to a strip-search. "I was put into a cage and told to take off my clothes," he said Monday, describing how he had to squat and spread his buttocks. "It was horrifying, being a grown man. I was humiliated." "I don’t know why it was done," Emery said, "but it seems like it was a punishment, a way of showing the inmates who is in charge." And now the good burghers of New York City will pay yet again for the misdeeds of their public servants. Will the third time be the charm? Check back in a few years.
Localização: 
New York City, NY
United States

Drug Testing: Bills to Drug Test for Public Assistance Recipients Pop Up Again

A perennial favorite of drug warriors, bills that would require people receiving public benefits to submit to mandatory drug tests are being introduced in statehouses around the country again this year. In South Carolina, the focus is on people receiving unemployment benefits; in Kentucky, the focus is on people receiving any public assistance, including food stamps and state medical care. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, the author of last year's failed mandatory drug test bill for welfare recipients is back with a new, improved version. And in Florida, a similar drug testing bill is in the works.

Drug testing recipients of public assistance has a certain superficial appeal, especially to politicians willing to pander to culturally and fiscally conservative constituencies. But that appeal is usually found wanting in the face of questions about cost, practicality, and, most crucially, legality. Michigan is the only state to actually pass a law requiring mandatory drug testing to receive benefits, but that law was declared unconstitutional by a federal appeals court that held it violated the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches.

That did not stop legislators in at least six states from introducing bills last year, and at least four states have seen bills filed or pre-filed so far this year.

In South Carolina, Sen. David Thomas (R-Greenville) has introduced S 920, which could cut off unemployment benefits for people who test positive for illegal drugs. Under the bill, anyone currently receiving benefits must submit to a drug test. If the test is positive, the benefits are cut off until the applicant completes drug treatment. The applicant must agree to random drug testing, and if he fails a random drug test, he must undergo a second round of treatment. He also loses benefits for a year.

"My concern is as much for those who are addicted or misusing drugs as for the folks that are paying the bills," Thomas told the Associated Press. "Ultimately, I think the question needs to be asked, 'Should unemployment be provided for people with ongoing drug problems, because they're using that unemployment money to feed the habit?'"

About 150,000 South Carolinians are currently receiving unemployment benefits. Testing each of them could run into the millions of dollars, and providing treatment for some percentage of them could prove costly as well.

Thomas' bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. No hearings have been scheduled.

In Kentucky, the bill introduced by Rep. Lonnie Napier (R-Lancaster), HB 120, is even more ambitious that the South Carolina bill. It would require anyone seeking public assistance via cash, food stamps or the state medical assistance program to be drug tested. Nearly 740,000 Kentuckians receive food stamps and 748,000 receive medical assistance.

Under Napier's bill, all recipients would face an initial drug test and a random drug test at some point over the next year and every year they are receiving assistance. Those who test positive for a Schedule I controlled substance or a prescription drug not prescribed to them would be ineligible for benefits. The bill contains no provision for drug treatment, nor any provisions financing a million or more drug tests.

In West Virginia, Delegate Craig Blair (R-Berkeley), whose controversial bill to drug test welfare recipients was killed last year, is touting a new version of the bill, and this time, he has the backing of the House Republican caucus, which made the bill part of its 15-point legislative agenda this week. The new bill has some new twists: it calls for random drug testing of West Virginia elected officials, it would make drug testing of welfare recipients random instead of mandatory, and it would only apply to new welfare applicants. Under the new bill, randomly selected applicants who test positive could receive welfare benefits for two months, but after that, they would have to test clean or be in a drug treatment program or risk losing their benefits.

We will be watching these and any similar bills filed at statehouses around the country. Stay tuned!

Feature: The State of Play -- Federal Drug Reform Legislation in the Congress

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US Capitol, Senate side
Ten months into the Obama administration, drug policy reform in the US Congress is moving along on a number of tracks. Here's an update on some of the more significant legislation moving (or not) on the Hill. With a few exceptions, this report does not deal with funding issues that are tied up in the tangled congressional appropriations process.

Next week Drug War Chronicle will publish a parallel report on the state of play for drug policy in the nation's statehouses.

The Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

After years of inertia, efforts to undo the 100:1 sentencing disparity in federal crack and powder cocaine cases have picked up traction this year. In July, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and 83 cosponsors introduced the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act, which would eliminate the disparity by treating all cocaine offenses as if they were powder cocaine offenses for sentencing purposes. That bill has passed the House Judiciary Committee and is now before the Energy and Commerce Committee. On the Senate side, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced companion legislation, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009, last month. It is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Federal Needle Exchange Funding Ban

The longstanding ban on the use of federal AIDS grant funds to pay for needle exchange programs may soon be history. Although the Obama administration left the ban in its budget request, Obama pledged to eliminate it during his campaign, and his administration has signaled it wouldn't mind seeing it go. The House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies stripped out the ban language in a July 10 vote. A week later, the full Appropriations Committee approved the bill after voting down an amendment proposed by US Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX) that would have reinstated the funding ban, but accepted a poison pill amendment that would ban federally-funded needle exchange from operating "within 1,000 feet of a public or private day care center, elementary school, vocational school, secondary school, college, junior college, or university, or any public swimming pool, park, playground, video arcade, or youth center, or an event sponsored by any such entity." The House later passed the appropriations bill with the 1000-foot ban intact, but defeated a floor amendment by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) to reinstate the funding ban.

On the Senate side, the appropriations bill has yet to be passed, but the Senate committee working on the issue did not include language ending the funding ban. Reform advocates are hoping that the Senate will come on board for ending the ban in conference committee, and that committee members also strip out the 1000-foot provision.

The National Criminal Justice Commission

Introduced in March by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 would create a commission that would have 18 months to do a top-to-bottom review of the criminal justice system and come back with concrete, wide-ranging reforms to address the nation's sky-high incarceration rate, respond to international and domestic gang violence, and restructure the county's approach to drug policy. The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where this week it was set to hear a raft of hostile amendments from Republican members. It currently has 34 cosponsors, including Republicans Olympia Snowe of Maine and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Restoring College Aid to Students with Drug Convictions

The infamous Higher Education Act (HEA) anti-drug provision, or "Aid Elimination Penalty," which bars students committing drug offenses from receiving financial aid for specified periods of time, is under fresh assault. In September, the US House of Representatives approved H.R. 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), one of the provisions of which restricts the penalty to those convicted of drug sales, not mere drug possession. The bill will next go to a conference committee, whose job will be to produce a reconciled version of H.R. 3221 and a yet-to-be-passed Senate bill. The final version must then be reapproved by both the House and the Senate. If that final version contains the same or very similar language, it will mark the second significant reduction of the penalty, the decade-old handiwork of arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). In 2006, the provision was scaled back to include only drug convictions that occurred while students were enrolled in college and receiving financial aid (a change supported by Souder himself). Souder opposed this year's possible change.

Medical Marijuana

Late last month, Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) reintroduced H.R. 3939, the Truth in Trials Act, which would allow defendants in federal medical marijuana prosecutions to use medical evidence in their defense -- a right they do not have under current federal law. The bill currently has 28 cosponsors and has been endorsed by more than three dozen advocacy, health, and civil liberties organizations. It is before the House Judiciary Committee.

That isn't the only medical marijuana bill pending. In June, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Medical Marijuana Protection Act, which would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug and eliminate federal authority to prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. The measure has 29 cosponsors and has been sitting in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce ever since. Frank introduced similar legislation in the last two Congresses, but the bills never got a committee vote or even a hearing. Advocates hoped that with a Democratically-controlled Congress and a president who has at least given lip service to medical marijuana, Congress this year would prove to be friendlier ground, but that hasn't proven to be the case so far.

In July, the House passed the District of Columbia appropriations bill and in so doing removed an 11-year-old amendment barring the District from implementing the medical marijuana law approved by voters in 1998. Known as the Barr amendment after then Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), the amendment has been attacked by both medical marijuana and DC home rule advocates for years as an unconscionable intrusion into District affairs. The Senate has yet to act. Among the proponents for removing the Barr amendment: Bob Barr.

Marijuana Decriminalization

In June, Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Personal Use of Marijuana By Responsible Adults Act, which would remove federal criminal penalties for the possession of less than 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) and for the not-for-profit transfer of up to one ounce. The bill would not change marijuana's status as a Schedule I controlled substance, would not change federal laws banning the growing, sale, and import and export of marijuana, and would not undo state laws prohibiting marijuana. It currently has nine cosponsors and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

And just so you don't get the mistaken idea that the era of drug war zealotry on the Hill is completely in the past, there is Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL). In June, Kirk introduced the High Potency Marijuana Sentencing Enhancement Act, which would increase penalties for marijuana offenses if the THC level is above 15%. Taking a page from the British tabloids, Kirk complained that high-potency "Kush" was turning his suburban Chicago constituents into "zombies." Nearly six months later, Kirk's bill has exactly zero cosponsors and has been sent to die in the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

Industrial Hemp

Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) again introduced an industrial hemp bill this year. HR 1866, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2009would remove restrictions on the cultivation of non-psychoactive industrial hemp. They were joined by a bipartisan group of nine cosponsors, a number which has since grown to 18. The bill was referred to the House Energy and Commerce and House Judiciary committees upon introduction. Six weeks later, Judiciary referred it to its Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, where it has languished ever since.

Safe and Drug-Free Schools Funding

In May, the Obama administration compiled a budgetary hit list of 121 programs it recommended by cut or completely eliminated, including $295 million for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools community grants program. (It left intact funding for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools National Program). Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees agreed with the White House and zeroed out the program. The House education appropriations bill has already passed, but the Senate bill is still in process. Proponents of the program may still try to reinstate it in the Senate or during the conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate appropriations bills.

Next week, look for a report on drug policy-related doings in the various state legislatures.

Feature: Veterans Incarcerated and Ignored When They Could Be Getting Help, Report Finds

Roughly 200,000 US veterans are in prison or jail, many of them there because of substance abuse or mental health issues, according to a new report released Wednesday. The report outlines the problem and suggests reforms that could ease the plight of American soldiers returning from the war zone and trying to make the transition back to civilian society.

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VA Medical Center, Columbia, MO
According to the report, 140,000 vets were in prison in 2004, with tens of thousands more serving time in jails. Nearly half (46%) of vets doing time in federal prison were incarcerated for drug offenses, while 15% of those in state prison were, including 5.6% doing time for simple possession. Three out five (61%) of incarcerated vets met the criteria for substance dependence or abuse.

The report, Healing a Broken System: Veterans Battling Addiction and Incarceration, comes at a critical time. With hundreds of thousands of soldiers currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US faces a mounting challenge in caring for returning vets.

Many are returning home damaged by their experiences. According to the report, 30% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans report symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, depression, mental illness, or other cognitive disability. These medical conditions, if left untreated, can contribute to problematic drug use, addiction, and fatal overdoses, as well as homelessness, suicide, and criminality, particular violations of the drug laws.

While the study mentions 200,000 vets behind bars, the number is most likely much higher. That's because owing to problems in data collection -- a problem in itself -- the last year for which hard numbers on vets behind bars is available was 2004. Since then, more than a million more vets have returned from their deployments and mustered out.

The report had its genesis about a year and a half ago, when the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) teamed up with a classroom of law students at Northeastern University in Boston to investigate the obstacles veterans were facing in obtaining adequate access to mental health and substance abuse services. In addition to a series of surprising and dramatic findings, the report also includes a list of specific recommendations about how to improve services for vets suffering mental health and substance abuse issues.

"We learned that far too many returning vets are falling victim to the war on drugs because of barriers to effective treatment," said DPA's Dan Abrahamson at a Wednesday press conference. "There are nearly a quarter million vets behind bars right now for crimes motivated in part by mental health or drug addiction problems. One third of returning vets report symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Also, vets suffer from traumatic brain injury, depression, and mental illness at higher rates than normal. All of those are contributory factors to substance abuse and drug addiction, as well as overdose, homelessness, suicide, and being arrested for a non-violent drug offense."

In the battle theater, soldiers are supposed to function despite high stress, and the military is more than willing to prescribe them whatever it takes to keep them fighting. But it's a different story when the vets come home.

"Service-related drug dependency is being talked about quite a bit in the veterans community, but is not well understood outside the military," said Tom Tarantino, an Iraq war veteran and now legislative associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "The ease of obtaining prescriptions in theater is staggering," he explained. "I know crack dealers who are more discriminating about issuing drugs than some of the medics I saw in Iraq. It's alarming how many people were just given anti-depressants instead of asking whether they were really fit for duty," said the veterans' lobbyist.

"Sometimes, it's just a matter of expediency and life in a combat zone, but then you have vets coming back from an environment where meds are very loosely prescribed and they are confronted with a medical system much more stringent about issuing drugs," Tarantino explained. "And that can cause problems."

"Let's be smarter than the problem," said veterans' advocate Guy Gambill. "We can't afford not to be. We arrest too many people and incarcerate them for too long. Then the mark of a criminal record keeps them from getting jobs, housing, and other services, and then the recidivism rate goes up."

There are things that can be done, Gambill said. States can change their incarceration policies. Localities can be more proactive.

"Chicago police and the LAPD are doing front-end interventions," Gambill noted. "In LA, trained peer specialists are doing ride-alongs with the LAPD so the officers will recognize Iraq and Afghanistan war vets. In Chicago, police are doing crisis intervention training, and the first hundred of them are all Iraq and Afghanistan vets. They'll try to grab these guys at first contact and get them into treatment instead of jail. These sorts of peer-led interventions work very well. We need to catch this on the front end, so we don't have 200,000 homeless vets on the streets like we do now."

Another stumbling block is the Department of Veterans Affairs current policy on drug treatment for vets. The VA is willing to offer treatment, but not for vets behind bars.

"We need the Department of Veterans Affairs to lift their ban on drug treatment of incarcerated vets," said Tarantino. "We're pleased that the department now has a justice coordinator at every VA hospital, but they're waiting outside the prison door, not inside, when the vets need it most. This is a regulation they can change with the stroke of a pen," he said.

Yet another problem for vets, especially those with substance abuse issues, is the lack of access to proven treatments. And because the insurance provided to soldiers by the armed forces also covers their families, lack of access to treatment affects them as well.

"Vets don't qualify for substance abuse treatment unless they are diagnosed with PTSD," said Abel Moreno, a former Army sergeant who saw service in both theaters and who now works with veterans through his organization Vets 4 Vets. "We are fighting two wars at once. It's obvious PTSD exists, and it's clear there are going to be substance abuse issues. We've created a subgenre among today's vets where there is a pain pill-popping mitigation ideal. We need quantified data so we can attack this situation head on," he said.

It's not only in failing to provide drug treatment absent a PTSD diagnosis where the DOD falls down, said Dr. Bob Newman, MD, director of the Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "Tricare, the Department of Defense insurance plan refuses to pay for maintenance treatment of addiction with methadone or buprenorphine," he noted. "Maintenance therapy is not a new idea. It's endorsed by agencies such as NIDA, SAMHSA, the Institute of Medicine, and the World Health Organization. The US government supports this, yet DOD has an insurance plan that excludes maintenance treatment without explanation. That's outrageous," he said.

Tricare insures not only military personnel, but also their families. Tricare's refusal to pay for maintenance therapy nearly cost Teresa Bridges her daughter. Teresa's daughter, Amanda, married a soldier, Sgt. Shawn Dressler. Dressler was killed in combat shortly after the couple were wed, and Amanda retreated into a haze of Lortab and Tramitol. Tricare paid for her treatment, but after a year, her doctor noted on her records that she was being subscribed maintenance doses of Suboxone.

"Suddenly, Tricare dropped her like a hot potato," Bridges said. "Tricare believes taking Suboxone is just substituting one addictive drug for another -- at least that's what they told me. Amanda has done well on Suboxone, and if she stops taking it, she will eventually relapse. Fortunately, she is now in a temporary assistance program, but that will end after a year."

There are potential reforms that could ease the plight of returning vets, the report said. Among them are:

  • Changes in state and federal statutes to focus on treatment instead of incarceration for veterans who commit nonviolent drug-related offenses.
  • Adoption by government agencies of overdose prevention programs and policies targeting veterans who misuse substances or take prescription medications.
  • Significantly expanded access for veterans to medication-assisted therapies such as methadone and buprenorphine to treat opioid dependence.

"The care and feeding and support of vets is a national concern and responsibility," said Gen. Stephen Xenakis, MD, Special Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs for Staff, Warrior & Family Support . "We are looking to knit together all the various services and institutions so that the soldier who has served and come home and ends up having problems or maybe ended up incarcerated gets treatment from all the sources available."

One of the big problems, said Tarantino, is lack of hard information. He noted that the Justice Department numbers in the report are from 2004. "In 2004, there were over one million fewer vets than there are today," he said. "We don't know how many vets are behind bars right now. We have no method for tracking vets unless they interact with some social services. We need to have DOD and DOJ compare lists. We need data," he said.

Lack of coordination among agencies dealing with vets is part of the problem, said Xenakis. "We need to better configure what we're doing," he said. "Records are not shared. The Department of Justice doesn't have access to Department of Defense records. We need to get organized so we can track people over time."

That effort has the support of the Pentagon, Xenakis said. "Our leadership heartily endorses this," he said. "It is really important that this information that this information is out there now, and that we follow it with the best action plans we can create. As a country, we have a responsibility to support our vets."

Higher Education: House Passes Student Loan Bill With Further Limitations on Drug Warrior "Aid Elimination Penalty"

The infamous Higher Education Act (HEA) anti-drug provision, or "Aid Elimination Penalty," which bars students committing drug offenses from receiving financial aid for specified periods of time, took a step toward further dilution this week when the US House of Representatives Thursday approved H.R. 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA). In the passed bill is language that restricts the penalty to those convicted of drug sales, not mere drug possession.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/souder-cspan.jpg
Mark Souder conceding the amendment
The bill will next go to a conference committee, whose job will be to produce a reconciled version of H.R. 3221 and a yet-to-be-passed Senate bill. The final version must then be reapproved by both the House and the Senate. If that final version contains the same or very similar language, it will mark the second significant reduction of the penalty, the decade-old handiwork of arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). In 2006, the provision was scaled back to include only drug convictions that occurred while students were enrolled in college and receiving financial aid (a change supported by Souder himself).

The House victory came only after Souder attempted and finally gave up a last ditch effort to undo the reform. The Indiana conservative first submitted an amendment to strip out the new language in the Education & Labor committee where the bill originated earlier this year, a vote which he lost. This week, he submitted the amendment as the bill came up for a vote on the House floor, but then withdrew it after Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) suggested compromise language that would limit the provision's effect to felony drug convictions instead of drug sales convictions.

That compromise language came too late to be included in the House floor vote Thursday. It would presumably be offered up during conference committee.

But that wasn't the only reason Souder withdrew his amendment. As he conceded in a House speech Thursday, "I was probably going to lose today."

More than 200,000 students have already lost financial aid under the Souder aid elimination penalty because of drug convictions. Passage of SAFRA, with either the sales conviction language or the felony conviction language, would reduce the pool of students who would potentially be victimized by it. It's not full repeal, but it's another step closer.

A Victory in the House of Representatives

Update: Souder concession speech -- "... I was probably going to lose today." It's an interesting glimpse into the prohibitionist mindset. Today the US House of Representatives passed a student loan bill that includes language limiting the infamous "Aid Elimination Penalty" -- a law stripping students of financial aid because of drug convictions -- to include only sales convictions, not possession. The law was previously limited to offenses committed while attending school and receiving federal financial aid. If the Senate follows suit, on this reform or something similar, it will be limited yet again. Yesterday we alerted our members that Rep. Mark Souder, the author of the law, was planning to offer an amendment on the House floor to strip out the language and keep his law the way it is now. Souder withdrew the amendment before it came to a vote. Check back at Drug War Chronicle for further info tonight or tomorrow. It's not a done deal until it passes the Senate, until it survives the conference committee, and then until the larger bill it is part of passes both chambers of Congress in its final form. But things are looking good. We including me personally have been working on this for 11 years, and this is a big day for us. Thank you to everyone who took action, this week or before, to help make this possible.
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