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Medical Marijuana: Montana Bill to Require Patients Who Drive to Take Drug Tests or Face Revocation of Registration Card Gets Hearing

A bill that would require registered medical marijuana patients involved in a traffic accident or pulled over for a traffic infraction to submit to a blood test for THC or face revocation of their medical marijuana registration card got a hearing in the Montana legislature Tuesday. It didn't get a very warm welcome, with a number of people lined up to denounce it and only two who spoke in support.

Senate Bill 212 also sets specific THC levels in blood plasma that would create a "rebuttable inference" that the driver is impaired. According to the bill, if less than one nanogram of THC per milliliter is detected, the driver is not considered impaired. If between one and five nanograms and alcohol is also detected, the driver is considered impaired. If greater than five nanograms of THC alone, the driver is considered impaired.

Patient-drivers who are determined to be impaired would not only lose their medical marijuana registration, but would also be subject to prosecution for driving under the influence.

But according to peer-reviewed academic studies cited by the Marijuana Policy Project, drivers with less than five nanograms of THC in their blood have no greater risk of crashes than drug-free drivers. Only when THC levels are above five to 10 nanograms does the crash risk begin to rise above that for sober drivers.

The bill is the brainchild of state Sen. Verdell Jackson (R-Kalispell), who told the hearing: "I think this is a problem and we need to look at the drugs as well as the alcohol."

But curiously for someone who professed to be concerned with highway safety, Jackson made no mention of applying similar sanctions to people receiving prescription drugs, such as Oxycontin, Valium, or a host of other potentially driving-impairing substances.

At Tuesday's hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, medical marijuana supporters argued that there are no accurate tests for marijuana impairment, that marijuana stays in the systems of users for days (long after any impairment has vanished), and that there was no evidence Montana had a problem with medical marijuana patients on the highways.

"I have not heard of any allegation, even, of a registered Montana patient driving under the influence," said Tom Daubert of Helena, director of Patients and Families United, the state's largest medical marijuana support group. "There's no scientific basis for the standards in the bill for impairment," Daubert says. "Those who medicate with marijuana would be pretty much guaranteed to fail the test."

Montana voters approved medical marijuana in 2004. Since then, more than 1,200 people have signed up with the state registry in order to participate in the program.

Europe: Government Must Support Employers in Hiring Drug Users, British Drug Watchdog Group Warns

With drug strategies and welfare reform plans in the British Isles moving toward pushing drug users into treatment and from treatment into the workplace, the British government is going to have to do a lot more to help drug users find jobs, a leading British drug policy think tank said in a report released this week. The report, Working Toward Recovery: Getting Problem Drug Users Into Jobs was published by the UK Drug Policy Commission and contains more than three-dozen recommendations aimed at easing the transition.

The report noted that while holding a job is a key component of drug user rehabilitation and integration into society, about 80% of problem drug users were unemployed. (The report defined "problem drug user" as someone dependent on heroin or crack cocaine.) And while government strategies in England, Scotland, and Wales are to get users off drugs and into jobs, the strategies are undeveloped and, and employer practices sometimes counterproductive.

In particular, the report criticized the informal "two years drug free" rule used by many employers. With the two years of abstinence including abstinence from opiate substitute medications, such as methadone, the practice is unduly harsh and unnecessary, given that many people on the controlled drug regimen have already achieved the stability employers say they want.

Employers are unlikely to want to hire problem drug users, with only 26% saying they would be prepared to hire a former drug user. Employers cited several types of risk associated with drug users -- from continuing drug use, to the firm's reputation, and to the firm's customers and employees -- and about three-quarters of them they needed more government help in developing risk assessments, support for drug using employees, and information about indemnity insurance.

The Labor government's welfare reform proposals will tie money to pay for drug treatment to drug users agreeing to a rehabilitation plan, the study noted. But with employment a big part of rehabilitation, the government is going to have to provide incentives and programmatic support if it is going to force those drug users into the job market.

Feature: The Kids Are Alright -- The SSDP 10th International Conference

Buoyed by this month's election results and jazzed by the prospects for change with a new administration in Washington, some 450 student activists converged on the University of Maryland campus in College Park last weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at the group's annual international conference.

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first evening gathering (photo courtesy DrugWarRant.com)
Hosted by University of Maryland SSDP, traditionally one of the national group's staunchest chapters, the conference saw students come from across the nation and at least two foreign countries for three days of education, training in effective activism, and hands-on lobbying on Capitol Hill. Among the attendees were representatives of Canadian SSDP, buoyed by their own national conference, the organization's second, attended by 250 people earlier this month.

For both SSDP veterans and newcomers alike, the conference provided opportunities for networking, inspiration, and education. For some of the younger attendees, it was an eye-opener.

"I didn't realize how many people were involved in this," said SSDP national office intern Ericha Richards, a freshman at American University. "It's exciting!"

Jimmy Devine of Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire has been attending for several years, but still found plenty to get excited about. "It's always good to come to national, to see what the other chapters have been up to, and to meet old friends," he said. "And we're always looking for new ideas to take back with us."

On Friday, led by Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) lobbyist Aaron Houston, the students spent the morning polishing up on lobbying basics, then visited with representatives or their staffers to push for reductions in the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Students reported mixed results, but that's no surprise, and even with representatives on the wrong side of the issues, lobbying is part of changing minds -- and votes.

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Rep. Danny Davis (photo courtesy DrugWarRant.com)
On Saturday and Sunday, students gathered at the University of Maryland student union for two days of panels and training in activism. Saturday morning, they heard from movement leaders, who described the chances of drug reform at the federal level in coming years with varying degrees of optimism. With the Democratic sweep of the presidency and the Congress, the prospects have improved, but big obstacles remain, the students heard.

"This election was about change," said MPP's Houston. "It's a very exciting time, so why aren't we doing back flips?" he asked. Drug reform may get short shrift in an Obama administration faced with a free-falling economy and foreign crises, Houston answered himself. "We're walking into favorable conditions, but there are a lot of issues facing Obama and the Congress."

But the economic crisis could lead to opportunity, he said. "We have huge economic problems, and this could be the time to start talking about taxing and regulating marijuana. That could generate $10 to $14 billion a year for the federal treasury," he said.

"Change is going to happen," said Adam Wolf of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. Wolf ticked off an ACLU reform wish list of rescheduling marijuana, ending the government monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes, ending the selective prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers, abolishing the crack/powder sentencing disparity, and banning racial profiling.

"I'm hugely optimistic about the prospects for change in Congress," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), citing support for ending the federal funding ban on syringe exchange and reducing or eliminating the crack/powder sentencing disparity among highly placed Democrats. "We are over the hump," the Capitol Hill veteran said. "People are not afraid any more to talk about drug policy, and we have key committee chairs on our side. We will repeal the syringe ban and reduce sentencing disparities," he predicted.

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police militarization panel, featuring Reason's Radley Balko, StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden, SWAT raid victim Mayor Cheye Calvo of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, moderated by Alison Grimmer of Roosevelt University SSDP
But Piper was also looking just a bit further down the road then next year's Congress. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) comes up for reauthorization in 2010, he noted. Rather than try futilely to eliminate the office, "we can try to shift ONDCP's goals" to a more public health-oriented approach, he suggested.

"Marijuana is more popular than the past three presidents," MPP executive director Rob Kampia told a cheering audience as he recounted this year's victories for medical marijuana in Michigan and decriminalization in Massachusetts.

Student activists took no back seat to the professionals, though, and the breadth of reform efforts by SSDP chapters, and number of campuses leading or helping with them was impressive. Conference-goers got to hear about campus campaigns ranging from establishing safe ride programs (reducing intoxicated driving without exposing students to threat of penalty); good Samaritan overdose policies (neither the student needing medical help nor the student reporting it facing threat of arrest); getting schools to stop calling police into dorms for drug infractions; reforming dorm eviction policies for substance violations; working with ballot initiative campaigns such as those in Michigan and Berkeley; public education efforts; and state lobbying campaign; among others.

One chapter, Kalamazoo College in Michigan, seemed to have done almost everything, and all during its first year. At the annual Awards Banquet, where representatives received the Outstanding Chapter Award, a raft of impressive achievements were listed off in the introduction. Not only did Kalamazoo SSDP get a safe ride program established, and Good Samaritan and not calling police into dorms for minor drug violation policies established. They also went outside the campus to bring together a coalition of community groups, government agencies and law enforcement to get approval for a needle exchange program in the city for the first time.

One highlight of the conference was the Saturday lunch debate between SSDP executive director Kris Krane and Kevin Sabet of Students Taking Action Not Drugs. The back and forth between the two, moderated by Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy, kept the audience rapt -- and scoring the debate like a boxing match.

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Krane/Sabet debate, Washington Post's Courtland Milloy moderating
Sabet, in what must have felt like hostile territory, did his best to try to establish "common ground" with drug reformers, citing his support for addressing the crack/powder disparity and qualifying some of drug czar John Walters' policies as "stupid politics." He also cited as models programs like North Carolina's Project HOPE, where probationers and parolees confronted by positive drug tests are not sent back to prison, but are hit with quick, short jail stays. "That's a huge motivation," Sabet argued.

If Sabet was looking for agreement from Krane or the audience, he didn't find much of it. "Our metrics in the war on drugs are wrong," said Krane. "We should be measuring abuse, problem use, infection rates -- not drug use rates," he argued. "You have to get arrested to get treatment, and that's backwards," he said.

Instead of being based on the Holy Grail of reducing drug use, drug policy should have different guiding principles, Krane argued. "First, no one should be punished for using drugs absent harm to others. Second, we should adopt a harm reduction framework, and third, we should adopt a human rights framework."

"Drug use doesn't occur in a vacuum," Sabet retorted. "A lot of drug use is problematic, and some of that can be addressed by dealing with poverty, health care, and homelessness. There is common ground," he tried again.

Not so quick, Krane replied, arguing that drug use should be treated as a public health problem, not the purview of law enforcement.

"Drug trafficking is not a public health problem, it's a law enforcement problem," Sabet countered.

"Drug trafficking is a prohibition problem, not a law enforcement problem," Krane retorted to cheers from the crowd.

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David Guard and Pete Guither prepare for ''Elevator Arguments'' panel
After the spirited back and forth between Sabet and Krane, attendees were treated to an address by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), who zeroed in on racial disparities in drug law enforcement. "One of the most egregious aspects of our drug policy is the racial inequity," he said, reeling off the now familiar statistics about African-Americans sucked into the drug war incarceration machine and urging support for re-entry and rehabilitation efforts for prisoners. "If we can reduce crime and recidivism, if we can help these prisoners, if we can train and educate them, we are helping all of America," Davis said.

Davis, too, pronounced himself optimistic. "There is a sense of hope that we can develop a sane policy in the way we treat drugs," he told the students, "but you have to stay engaged and involved. You have to believe change is not only possible, it's inevitable."

If Saturday was a day of panelists and speechifying, Sunday was for getting down to nuts and bolts as the young activists attended a plethora of sessions hosted by more experienced veterans. Students heard presentations on best practices for chapter organizing, fundraising, making quick reform arguments, networking, working the media, and working with youth communities, and looking beyond campus reform, among others. And the lunch session was a working one, with activists dividing up geographically and deciding on locations for regional conferences to be held in the spring.

From its beginning with a handful of students in the Northeast in 1998 outraged by the Higher Education Act's drug provision, SSDP has grown to an international organization with 140 campus chapters in the US, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and Nigeria. With all they learned at this year's conference, the newest generation of drug reform activists is now headed back home to spread the message and the movement to the next generation.

Visit the Drug WarRant blog for Pete Guither's seven-part series of live-written reports from the conference.


UMD SSDP window, Stamp Student Center

Medical Marijuana: ASA Files Lawsuit Against California DMV Over Patient Drivers' License Revocation

The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the California Department of Motor Vehicles after it revoked the license of a medical marijuana patient solely for being a medical marijuana patient.

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The plaintiff is Rose Johnson, 53, of Atwater. Johnson, a registered medical marijuana patient, had a clean driving record and no accidents in 37 years behind the wheel. But the DMV refused to renew her license on July 26 after obtaining her medical records and finding out she used marijuana medicinally.

According to the DMV, Johnson's license was revoked "because of... [an] addiction to, or habitual use of, [a] drug," thereby rendering her unable to safely operate a motor vehicle, even though no evidence existed to substantiate this claim.

"The DMV cannot simply disregard California's medical marijuana law," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who is representing Ms. Johnson in her claim against the DMV. "When the voters of California enacted the Compassionate Use Act, they never intended to authorize the DMV to strip medical marijuana patients of their drivers' licenses," continued Elford. "The DMV should not be in the business of revoking the licenses of drivers like Ms. Johnson simply because she is a medical marijuana patient."

ASA said Johnson is not alone in losing her license. Suspension or revocation of drivers' licenses for qualified medical marijuana patients has occurred in at least eight California counties, including Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Glenn, Merced, Placer, Sacramento, and Sonoma.

The DMV justifies its license revocations of medical marijuana patients by calling them "drug abusers" despite no evidence to back that claim. The DMV has not taken similar blanket action against people prescribed opiates, barbiturates, sedatives, tranquilizers, or stimulants.

State and local police in California have been instructed by Attorney General Jerry Brown to respect the state's medical marijuana laws and not arrest medical marijuana patients or take their medicine. "The DMV is not under a different set of requirements than local police in California," said Elford. "The failure to uphold California's medical marijuana law is entirely inappropriate for any local or state agency."

The lawsuit was filed in Merced Superior Court. It is expected to be heard sometime in the next few months.

Marijuana: Florida State Students Approve Marijuana-Alcohol Penalty Equalization Initiative

Students at Florida State University (FSU) have voted for the second time to urge administrators to lower penalties for on-campus possession to be equal to those for on-campus underage drinking. Students at FSU passed a similar measure in 2006.

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FSU campus
In the October 15 election, 2,835 students voted on the equalization initiative. Some 1,850 voted in favor and 985 voted against, giving the measure 65% of the vote.

The initiative was sponsored by FSU NORML. Now, student leaders will use the vote to try to persuade campus administrators to heed the wishes of students.

FSU students have also signaled their support for broader marijuana law reform. In August, the FSU Student Government Association passed a resolution supporting Barney Frank's federal decriminalization bill.

"If the federal government decided that it was in their best interest to leave it up to the states to decide, it would leave the door open for us to further work on trying to get it decriminalized in Florida," said FSU NORML president John Mola.

The work by activists is paying off -- at least at the student politics level. FSU Sen. Forat Lufti, who is not a pro-legalization activist, said the votes showed that FSU students care deeply about marijuana policy.

"A lot of students feel strongly about the decriminalization of marijuana," Lutfi said. "As senators, it's our duty to represent the voice of all students. That was my main concern: to make sure their voice was heard," he said in reference to the August vote.

Feature: Scholarship Fund Honoring 9/11 Hero John W. Perry Assists More Students Losing Financial Aid Because of Drug Convictions

A decade ago, Congress approved an amendment to the Higher Education Act (HEA) authored by arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). That amendment, variously known as the HEA drug provision or the Aid Elimination Penalty, denied loans, grants, even work study jobs to would-be students with drug convictions. Since its inception, more than 200,000 would-be students have been denied aid, and an unknown number have simply not applied, believing rightly or wrongly that they would not be eligible.

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In response to the amendment, StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet), in association with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a group founded as a result of the drug provision, and other friends of civil liberties and believers in the value of higher education, founded the John W. Perry Fund to provide financial assistance to students losing financial aid because of drug convictions.

The fund reflects the goals and views of its namesake, New York City Police Officer John William Perry, a Libertarian Party and ACLU activist who often spoke out against the war on drugs. In addition to wearing the NYPD uniform, Perry was also a lawyer, athlete, actor, linguist, and humanitarian. He was filing his retirement papers at One Police Plaza when the planes struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He rushed at once to the scene, where he died attempting to help others.

The Perry Fund has its goal not only providing educational opportunities to those denied them by the provision, but also to raise the issue of the provision's unfair and counterproductive consequences, and ultimately, to repeal the Souder amendment entirely. Although some progress has been made it scaling back the drug provision, it is still on the books. Two years ago, in response to a rising clamor for repeal from the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR), Rep. Souder himself offered an amendment that would restrict the loss of aid eligibility to people who were already in school and receiving aid when arrested.

Efforts to win outright repeal as part of HEA reauthorization faltered this year when House Democrats failed to act when push came to shove. However, future applicants will have the opportunity to regain eligibility by passing two unannounced drug tests administered by a treatment program. Depending on how this is implemented, it could create a shorter and less expensive way for students to regain their financial aid.

"We regret that the Perry Fund remains necessary because Congress has not fully repealed its ill-conceived anti-financial aid law," said David Borden, executive director of DRCNet and founder of the Fund. "Along with helping a few deserving students each year, the fund also makes a statement -- we don't just think this is a bad law, we're actually handing out scholarships to individuals targeted by the government's drug war. We don't believe people should lose their financial aid because of drug convictions," he said.

With only partial reforms, there is still a sizable pool of potential HEA drug provision victims. This semester, the Perry Fund is helping two of them.

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Brandi McClamrock
Brandi McClamrock attends Forsyth Technical Community College for Healthcare Management in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. After being arrested in a pot bust, she found herself ineligible for financial aid.

"I was in school, and my roommate was dealing pot, and I helped her and one of her customers out by giving him a couple of bags," said McClamrock. "My roommate was setting me up; she had been busted and the cops offered her a deal: If she could get them somebody bigger, they would drop the charges. The cops raided my house and arrested me and charged me with three felonies, even though it was all less than an ounce."

After two years of court dates and legal expenses, McClamrock pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of possession with the intent to distribute. She escaped without jail time, but had to serve two years of unsupervised probation. But the consequences of her marijuana conviction were just beginning to be felt.

"I started getting turned down for jobs because of my criminal record," she said. "I've been waiting tables because I couldn't get a job in my field, so I decided to go back to school in health care management at my local community college. I can't afford to pay for college -- I can barely pay my own bills -- but when I filled out the FAFSA, they denied me."

That was a huge disappointment, said McClamrock. "I had no idea they weren't going to let me have financial aid because of that. I'm 25 years old, my criminal record is holding me back, and now I can't even go back to school? Even when I'm trying to better myself and my prospects?"

Fortunately for McClamrock, an advisor suggested she look online for scholarships she could apply for, and she found the Perry Fund. While the amount she received from the Fund was only in the hundreds of dollars, it was critical. "It was absolutely the difference between me being in school and not being in school," she said. "This is a really good thing."

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Matt Daigle
Matt Daigle is in his second year at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Florida, where is taking pre-chiropractic courses. He was also in school when he got busted selling marijuana to an undercover agent. He is this year's second Perry Fund recipient.

"I was ineligible for assistance for two years," he said. "I took a full semester off to work, then paid for one class last semester, but now I can afford to go back. One of the counselors at the college went online and found the Perry Fund, and it was really a big help. I only have one more semester of ineligibility for financial aid, and this is keeping me in school until then," said a pleased Daigle.

"The Fund is really a big help for a lot of people," he said. "The way that law is, they want to punish you. They want you to be a better person, but then they make it more difficult to do that. The Perry Fund lets you know there are people backing you up, and I'm grateful for that."

"These students have been sent to jail or prison, they've paid fines, they've paid lawyers, they've spent countless hours resolving their legal situations," said Borden. "Why, after all of that punishment already handed down, should they continue to get treated differently?"

"It's not just that we oppose having drug prohibition, which I do, and John Perry also did very strongly," Borden continued. "But this is also a second punishment of people who have already been punished by the criminal justice system. Staying in school to finish your education is almost by definition a positive step. It's foolish to make that more difficult."

Outright repeal -- not more limited reform -- is necessary for another reason, too, said Borden. "As long as this law is on the books, large numbers of people will continue to mistakenly assume they are permanently ineligible for financial aid. Many people just assume the worst, and having this law on the books just winds up pushing people to the margins. We get emails almost every day from people who think they aren't eligible when they are."

Marijuana: SAFER Takes on the NFL, Cites "Hypocrisy" of Player's Huge Fine for Marijuana Possession

New England Patriots running back Kevin Faulk was suspended for one week and fined two weekly paychecks, or about $300,000, by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this week after pleading guilty in July to misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. That has the marijuana reform group SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation) crying foul.

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SAFER Ricky Williams billboard, 2007 (saferchoice.org)
SAFER, whose primary argument is that marijuana is safer than alcohol and should not be treated more harshly, announced Thursday that it would deliver an online petition and letter calling for changes to the NFL's marijuana policy to Goodell today in New York City. For SAFER, the huge fine assessed against Faulk is rank hypocrisy from a sporting organization that accepts hundreds of millions of dollars in alcohol advertising.

The petition reads as follows:

"Players with the National Football League who use marijuana instead of alcohol to relax and recreate are making a rational choice to use a less harmful substance.

"Suspending these players and taking away hundreds of thousands (or sometimes millions) of dollars for using marijuana is driving them to use alcohol, a drug that -- unlike marijuana -- contributes to violent and aggressive behavior. Unless the NFL plans to suspend every player who receives a speeding ticket -- which is considered an offense on par with marijuana possession in some states -- it has absolutely no reason to suspend players for the simple use and possession of marijuana. Doing so is not only irrational, but given the NFL's acceptance and blatant promotion of alcohol, it is exceptionally hypocritical.

"Marijuana is safer than alcohol and the National Football League's substance abuse policy should be changed immediately to reflect that fact."

"The NFL has no problem with players using alcohol and it accepts hundreds of millions of dollars to promote booze to football fans of all ages," said SAFER executive director Mason Tvert. "Yet the league punishes those players who make the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol to relax and recreate. The NFL is driving its players to drink. Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it is far less harmful than alcohol both to those who use it and to others around them," Tvert said. "It is a mystery why Commissioner Goodell and the NFL would want to steer the biggest, toughest guys in the country away from using marijuana and toward using alcohol, which contributes to aggressive behavior and countless violent crimes."

This isn't the first time SAFER has gone after the NFL's marijuana policy. Last October, the group erected a billboard across the street from Invesco Field in Denver that featured an image of NFL superstar Ricky Williams in a Denver Broncos jersey, urging the recently reinstated player to "Come to Denver: Where the people support your SAFER choice."

Don't let Congress get away with it

 

Tell Congress to Stand Up for Students


Tell your representative and senators that you are tired of the same old "Drug War" politics.
http://www.ssdp.org/speakup/

 

Dear friends,

Congress failed us.

Despite a decade-long campaign by Students for Sensible Drug Policy, supporters like you, and a large and powerful coalition of more than 500 prominent organizations, Congress finally reauthorized the Higher Education Act (HEA) last week but chose to ignore our demands that they overturn the provision that strips financial aid from college students with drug convictions.

How come?

Outrageously, staffers on Capitol Hill are telling us that some members of Congress were terrified of facing negative attack ads calling them "pro-drug" if they voted for a bill reinstating aid to students with drug convictions.

Even as Congress was debating the HEA bill last week, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), the author and chief proponent of the aid penalty claimed on the House floor that his precious provision "has been much aligned [sic] by ***pro-drug groups*** around the country."

So you can see that one of the major roadblocks to reform is the false conventional wisdom that voters will punish politicians who do the right thing by repealing harmful and ineffective drug laws. 

It's up to reformers like you and me to smash this false conventional wisdom by standing up and showing politicians that they will actually win votes for doing the right thing (and that, conversely, we may punish them at the polls for letting their unfounded fears stand in the way of progress).  After all, it is this anti-education penalty itself that causes more drug abuse, right?

So no matter how many times you have taken action on this issue in the past, please take just one minute to edit and send a pre-written letter to your representative and two senators demanding that Congress stop letting senseless political fears keep deserving and hardworking students out of school.

Click here right now to take action. http://www.ssdp.org/speakup/

And please make sure you forward us any responses you get from your legislators so we can track who is standing in the way of change.  Send those important responses to [email protected] when you get them.

Despite this setback, SSDP and our coalition allies are as determined as ever to see this senseless penalty repealed.  We are already planning our strategy for the next Congress and presidential administration, and remain optimistic that despite the barriers we have yet to overcome, we will ultimately restore financial aid to the more than 200,000 students impacted by this penalty.  In the meantime, members of Congress need to continue to hear an unwavering message from constituents that the public will not stand idly by as our elected officials continue to deny access to education in the name of the so-called "War on Drugs."

If we don't speak up and demand change when legislators need to hear it most, who will?  Please take action today. http://www.ssdp.org/speakup/

Thanks for all that you do,
Tom Angell
SSDP Government Relations Director

P.S. If you'd like to see SSDP continue to work on this and other issues, let us know by making a donation today. http://www.ssdp.org/donate

P.P.S. If you are a student wishing to get involved in fighting back against Drug War attacks on youth, contact us about starting an SSDP chapter: http://www.ssdp.org/chapters/start

Almost Any Drug Offense Can Keep You from Becoming a Citizen or Getting a Green Card

Yasha Spector of drugpolicycases.com has joined us in the Speakeasy with a discussion of the intersection of immigration law and drug law. As Spector, who works in immigration law, explains in some detail:
[P]retty much every drug offense is sufficient to permanently bar getting a green card or obtaining U.S. citizenship.
There are exceptions that the government can make in limited circumstances, but they are limited, and many more cases carry the likelihood of automatic deportation -- no judicial exceptions. Plea bargaining might help one avoid a prison sentence, but it doesn't help with the immigration problems. There was a little good news in this area courtesy the Supreme Court in 2006. But there is still little to be done in most cases, and people are being deported who for all intents and purposes have never lived in any other country than here.

Immigration and Drug Law: A Dangerous Intersection

If one had to identify two areas of jurisprudence where Constitution often doesn’t seem to apply, the first one would probably be anything related to controlled substances. And, the second? Immigration Law.

For example, children who are brought here by their parents, illegally, across the border, cannot adjust their status to that of a legal one, even if they finished school and college here, are married to U.S. citizens and have U.S. citizen children. Same goes for persons who might have committed a crime in the past, if the government believes they committed an aggravated felony – and, for the purposes of immigration law, even some misdemeanors can be considered aggravated felonies. Illegal immigrants who get detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are often moved across the country to various detention facilities (New York detainees are often moved to Texas, for example), which makes their defense and the proper adjudication of their cases very difficult. Many of those facilities are no better than jails; in fact, some of them are jails, rented by the federal government from the States. The procedural due process for immigration detainees gets written entirely by the federal authorities; the Courts accept that immigrants’ rights are severely limited compared to those of U.S. citizens.

Predictably, when these two areas overlap, the results are often shockingly egregious. Roughly put, pretty much every drug offense is sufficient to permanently bar getting a green card or obtaining U.S. citizenship. (I have to mention, though, that there is a narrow exception to the rule: if it’s just an offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana, one could ask the government to make an exception and let him or her off the hook.)

Below, I try to summarize the current immigration law, as it pertains to people with drug convictions:

  • Any controlled substance conviction is a ground for deportation. (That also applies to green card holders. Many people don’t realize that green card holders can, and often are, easily deported for many crimes, which, under state law, often carry no jail time whatsoever.)
  • A conviction or an admitted commission of a controlled substance offense would pretty much bar a person from obtaining a green card, ever. Same goes for when the government has reason to believe an individual is a drug trafficker. In that case, a conviction isn't even necessary.
  • A conviction or an admission of a controlled substance offense makes a person ineligible for citizenship for 5 years.
  • Now, if it’s an aggravated felony conviction, then a person is permanently ineligible for citizenship. Since, (remember?) the list of offenses that the government considers aggravated felonies is very expansive, most drug offenses would fall under the category. An example would be any sale or an intent to sale offense or simple possession of more than 5 grams of crack. So, many people who had ever committed a drug offense in the past are permanently unable to obtain U.S. citizenship, no matter how long they had been living here.
  • As I mentioned above, these people, in addition to being unable to obtain their citizenship, would also face deportation – and, if the government considers their offense to be an aggravated felony, they could also face prison time, would never be able to enter the U.S. again and would have to remain in detention for the duration of their deportation proceedings, which often takes many months.
  • Furthermore, an aggravated felony would make a person ineligible for asylum; if the offense involves drug trafficking, that person would not be able to ask for relief even if there is a good chance that he or she would be killed or tortured in his home country, once deported.
So, if you are not a U.S. citizen and have been arrested for a controlled substance offense, please remember to consult an immigration lawyer in addition to the criminal defender. Our plea bargaining system often allows an easy way out by pleading to a lesser charge, something that often doesn’t carry any prison time – that tactic won’t work for those who are not U.S. citizens. I have been practicing immigration law for a while and I see many people who come to us (or call us from detention) looking for help, only to find that there is not much that can be done for them under the current legal framework. One should take great pains not to end up at the intersection of the Drug War and our clunky immigration system.

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