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IN Democrats Call for Marijuana Legalization, PA ACLU Opposes Parental Drug Screening Bill, More... (11/15/21)

Renewed clashes between prison gangs linked to rival drug cartels left at least 68 more dead over the weekend, an Oklahoma marijuana legalization initiative gets hit with a nuisance lawsuit, and more.

The Pennsylvania ACLU says a proposed parental drug screening bill is unconstitutional. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Indiana Democratic Party Calls for Marijuana Legalization. The Indiana Democratic Party, has announced its full support for marijuana legalization and called on the General Assembly to get the job done. They also called on Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) to rescind his opposition to legalization. Bills to legalize marijuana have so far gone nowhere in the GOP-dominated legislature, but the Democrats said legalization "would provide the opportunity to create an additional revenue stream for the state, create good-paying jobs, develop a long-term cash crop for Indiana's ag and business communities, provide medicinal opportunities for people like the state's veterans and seniors, and could start the process of expunging records for simple possession across the state."

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative Hit with Legal Challenge. A marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action is being challenged in court by an incarcerated person, Paul Tay. Tay's lawsuit raises numerous claims about the constitutionality of the initiative, including challenging the validity of signatures gathered in Indian County. "We believe that we have a really strong case," ORCA Director Jed Green said. "[The man filing this challenge] wants attention… this is the second time that he's done this." Green called the lawsuit "a shotgun challenge," going after multiple points and seeing if any of them stick. Green says the challenge is what he calls a shotgun challenge, going after multiple points and seeing if any of them stick. "We don't believe that a lot of it is really pertinent," he said. There will be a hearing on the challenge on December 14.

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania ACLU Opposes Bill to Compel Parental Drug Screening in Abuse and Neglect Cases. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has come out against HB 1737, which would allow county children and youth services (CYS) agencies to obtain court orders to compel parents to undergo drug and alcohol testing during child welfare investigations if there is evidence that impairment due to drug or alcohol use is a contributing cause of alleged abuse or neglect. "Because drug testing is considered a search, both the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions require the government to show that it has probable cause before it can compel an individual to undergo a drug test," the group said. "HB 1737 would permit unconstitutional intrusions on parents' privacy rights because it does not contain a requirement that a CYS agency have probable cause to believe that an act of child abuse or neglect has occurred and that drug testing the parent will reveal evidence relating to such abuse." The bill passed the House last week.

International

Ecuador Prison Clash Leaves at Least 68 Dead. In the latest outbreak of fighting among prison gangs linked to international drug trafficking groups, at least 68 prisoners were killed in an hours-long gun battle Saturday inside the Litoral Penitentiary, the country's largest prison. This is the second major outbreak of violence at Litoral in less than two months. In September, 119 prisoners were killed in gang-related clashes there. Another 79 prisoners were killed in clashes last February. So far this year, more than 300 prisoners have died in the violence. The prison violence comes amid a national state of emergency decreed by President Guillermo Lasso in October that empowers security forces to fight drug trafficking and other crimes. The country's prisons hold some 40,000 inmates, including 15,000 jailed awaiting trial, and are filled way above capacity.

CT Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization in Budget Proposal, Baltimore Announces Policing Reform, More... (2/11/21)

The appetite for busting pot smokers grows weaker in Fort Lauderdale and Milwaukee, Idaho could this year finally legalize hemp, and more.

Baltimore police are reforming some of their stop and search practices. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization Plan in Budget Proposal. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) on Wednesday released his budget request, which includes a plan to legalize marijuana. His plan would involve creating a "comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, use, and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety, and social justice," Lamont said. "The proposal builds on the significant work that the Legislature has done on adult-use cannabis in recent sessions and ensures alignment with the approaches pursued by regional states," a summary of the plan says.

Florida's Broward County Gives Up on Misdemeanor Pot Prosecutions. Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale) State Attorney Harold Pryor has told county police agencies not to bother referring misdemeanor marijuana possession cases for prosecution. "Prosecuting these cases has no public safety value and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources," Pryor wrote in a memo to the law enforcement agencies. He asked them to refer violators to drug-treatment programs instead of the criminal justice system. Possession of up to 20 grams is a misdemeanor under state law. Neighboring Miami-Dade County enacted a similar policy six months ago. Dade and Broward are the state's two most populous counties.

Milwaukee County Board to Consider $1 Fine for Pot Possession. Board Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez has proposed an ordinance that would make the maximum penalty for possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana a $1 fine. Currently, possession is punished with fines of between $250 and $500. The board's Judiciary Committee will take up the ordinance on March 11.

Hemp

Idaho House Committee Files Hemp Bill. Acting on the behest of the state Farm Bureau, the House Agriculture Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to file legislation to legalize industrial hemp in the state -- the only state yet to do so. The committee vote sets the stage for a full hearing on the bill, which agriculture leaders say they hope will end years of debate on legalizing the crop.

Drug Testing

Utah Bill Would Ban Hair Follicle Drug Tests in Child Welfare Cases. Rep. Christine Watkins (R-Price) has filed House Bill 73, which would ban the use of hair follicle drug tests in child welfare cases. "It discriminates against people with dark hair," she said in a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday. "This is very, very disturbing," Watkins said. "Melanin in dark hair binds with the drugs for a longer time." That means Black and Hispanic parents disproportionately test positive in those tests, she added. The bill has the support of the state Department of Child and Family Services, which said it had been moving away from using the tests.

Law Enforcement

Baltimore Police Unveil New Stop and Search Policies to Comply with Federal Consent Decree. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announced Wednesday that the department has implemented a new "stops, searches and arrests" policy as the department seeks to comply with a federal consent decree and eliminate unconstitutional interactions with the public. Under the policy, officers will be trained in what constitutes "reasonable, articulable suspicion" for stopping a citizen. The new policy makes clear that someone fleeing when he sees police is not an adequate reason to stop and investigate him. Police had frequently resorted to "jump outs at corners," jumping out of their vehicles at corners known for drug trafficking and detaining anyone who ran away. No more.

Book Review: Three Takes on the Opioid Crisis [FEATURE]

RX Appalachia: Stories of Treatment and Survival in Rural Kentucky, by Lesly-Marie Buer (2020, Haymarket Books, 264 pp., $22.95 PB)

Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic, by Eric Eyre (2020, Scribner, 289 pp., $28.00 HB)

White Market Drugs: Big Pharma and the Hidden History of Addiction in America, by David Herzberg (2020, University of Chicago Press, 365 pp., $27.50 HB)

America remains in the grip of what is arguably its third great opioid addiction and overdose crisis. It began in the late 1990s as doctors tried to address an historic problem of under-prescribing and unavailability of opioids for chronic pain treatment that affected many patients. But mistakes were made along the way, and a massive tide of not always well targeted prescription opioids swamped the country. As regulators and law enforcement cracked down on pain pills, that morphed into a deadly wave of heroin addiction. And then we got fentanyl, which quickly took first place as a cause for overdose deaths. Produced mostly in China and Mexico, fentanyl is used by some hardcore addicts with high tolerance, but mainly appears as an adulterant added to heroin or in counterfeit prescription pills.

The authors of the three books reviewed here take on various aspects of the phenomenon, from the granular nitty-gritty of the lives of poor, white, female drug users ensnared in the treatment and rehab system in present-day Appalachia, to a state-level look at how drug distribution companies flooded West Virginia with literally billions of prescription opioids, to a long-term overview of the effort to regulate drugs and the subsequent -- and enduring -- historic division of drug use and users into markets black and white. (And by white markets, we are referring not only to legality but also, sadly yet unsurprisingly, skin color.)

Taken together, the three books weave a damning indictment of pharmaceutical companies, the people and entities that are supposed to regulate them, and the moral crusaders who -- too often, successfully -- use the issue of drug use to call for repressive policies, especially aimed at people who aren't "good people;" that is, poor and/or non-white people.

There are also some things the books don't do more than tangentially. They don't touch on the issue of access to pain medications for chronic pain patients. These are people who often suffer not from too-easy access to prescription opioids, but from obstacles to access, and who have suffered even more as politicians and regulators moved to rein in what they argue is massive overprescribing of such medications.

Whether it's being prosecuted for seeking their medicine in the black market or being forced to jump through hoops to obtain their medicine or being refused it altogether in the white market, these are people whose access to the medicines they need is encumbered. Their story is an important part of the debate over opioids (and drug policy more generally), but it gets only a side mention in one of these three works. But over-prescribing of opioids and under-prescribing of them continue to coexist.

The books also don't attempt to disentangle supply-driven opioid abuse, from the so-called "deaths of despair." The same social and economic factors that have driven up the suicide rate in recent decades, and which arguably helped to elect Donald Trump, increase the rates at which drugs are used and abused, including opioids. That in turn leads to more overdose deaths, and some apparent overdoses actually are suicides.

And the authors don't ask their readers to question whether any given "pill mill" or seemingly too large prescription, is really what it looks like. If we accept that abuses in the supply system have played a role in the opioid crisis, that doesn't mean that any given doctor or pharmacist or distributor is guilty as charged. A medical practice with patients treating patients from hundreds of miles away, could be a "pill mill," but it could also have the one doctor who understands pain treatment and is willing to work with poor people whom other doctors view as too risky. A prescription that seems huge because of the number of pills, could represent diversion to the underground market – or it could mean that a long-term pain patient who needs a large dosage because of tolerance built up over time, and who doesn't use technology like a medically-inserted morphine pump, is reliant on pills and their standard-sized dosages that are designed for less tolerant patients. Without considering those contexts, pill numbers can be a misleading metric, at least some of the time.

The books do discuss some options for making effective opioid addiction treatments more easy for more patients to obtain, or for reducing the likelihood of a user coming to serious harm. But the most effective treatment for this type of addiction is the use of other opioids, in what's known as Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). Through controlled use of methadone or buprenorphine supplied by clinics, people with opioid addictions are able to stabilize their lives and avoid catastrophic physical harms, while maintaining responsibilities like work and family needs. Making MAT available through a doctor's office, while training doctors in their use, would reduce the harm of opioid addiction by providing a legal alternative that works -- in this case a quality-controlled opioid. Offering HAT, too -- heroin assisted treatment, or heroin maintenance, as Canada and some European countries do for people who have tried methadone or buprenorphine without succeeding -- would do more.

And that begs the question about prohibition itself. Though some may find it counterintuitive to talk about legalization as a solution to a problem driven by increased drug availability, it is the case that this opioid crisis in its entirety has transpired under the current system – a system in which all drugs of this type are illegal unless one has a prescription, and in which most people are usually not supposed to be given prescriptions. Fentanyl, which today accounts for 2/3 of US opioid deaths and has room to spread geographically and increase further, is a textbook example of the consequences of prohibition -- most people taking it, and nearly all of those who die from it, thought they were taking something else. If people who developed addiction problems had access to predictable, (relatively) safe, easy to access and financially affordable options, that might be better even than a less heavy-handed system but still prohibition-based system.

All that said, there is an opioid crisis. These three books provide an eye-opening and important look at some critical sides of the phenomenon.

Lesly-Marie Buer is a Knoxville-based harm reductionist and medical anthropologist whose RX Appalachia is a compelling examination of the socially constructed suffering of mainly poor, white women who use drugs in a cluster of eastern Kentucky counties. She spent months living in the area, followed the women to court, to drug treatment, and opioid maintenance programs, and interviewed them extensively over time.

The result is a nuanced portrayal of these women's lives and struggles as they contend with the demands of institutions of social control even as they have to deal with poverty, child custody issues, and their stigmatization as drug users and therefore bad mothers. In that very important sense, RX Appalachia gives voice to the voiceless.

It also voices an unrelenting critique of a social and political system that provides unequal access to resources, chronically underfunds services to the poor and needy -- including but not limited to drug treatment and mental health services -- and is more willing to impose social controls on these women than to help them deal with the complexities of their lives. Appalachia RX is an important contribution to our understanding of the way drug policies, as well as broader social and economic trends, play out on the bodies of these multiply oppressed women.

How some of those women got strung out in the first place is the subject matter of Death in Mud Lick, still in Appalachia and just across the West Virginia line from those Kentucky women. Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre won a Pulitzer Prize for his years of doggedly chasing down the story of how drug distribution companies pumped billions of opioid pain pills into the state in just a few years, and here, he puts that reporting in book form. It's quite a tale.

Eyre starts with a single drug overdose death, and by the time he's done, has unraveled a tangled tale of negligence, indifference, and profit-driven decision-making that left 1,728 West Virginians dead of drug overdoses in a six-year period. Thanks to Eyre's journalistic persistence and to a legal team determined to get to the bottom of the flood of pain pills that overwhelmed the state (and the region and the nation), we now know that drug companies dumped some 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone tablets into the state during that same period.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Pharmaceutical corporations such as Purdue aggressively promoted their opioid products, doctors turned medical practices into pill-prescribing machines, pharmacies blithely filled numberless prescriptions, and drug distribution companies such as Cardinal and McKesson just as blithely delivered all those pills to the pharmacies, despite warning signs.

And regulators failed to regulate. Whether it was the state Board of Pharmacy or the DEA, regulators were asleep at the switch as an opioid epidemic grew right in front of them. And state officials were compromised by ties with the pharmaceutical industry and the distributors.

Eyre tells his tale with journalistic panache, taking the reader with him as he and his struggling newspaper take on the state political establishment and the distributors in the court battles that ultimately forced the companies and the DEA to release the records that documented the deluge of opioids. Death in Mud Lick is a real eye-opener.

But for David Hertzberg, an associate professor of history at the University of Buffalo and author of White Market Drugs, Eyre's story is just the latest chapter in the long history of America's effort to control drugs. Hertzberg begins with the opioid crisis of the late 19th Century and ably describes how the competing forces seeking to deal with it -- therapeutic reformers, repressive moral entrepreneurs, pharmaceutical companies, the medical profession -- created a class- and race-based bifurcation of the world of psychoactive substances into "medicines" and "drugs."

If it was prescribed by a physician, it was medicine. If not, not. The world of legal, regulated drugs became Hertzberg's white market. The world of repressed, prohibited drugs is the familiar black market. One serves middle-class white people and is concerned with consumer safety. The other serves the poor, the unconnected, the immigrant, the people of color, whose drug use and sales are considered crimes.

The history of drugs in America is well-trodden ground, but Hertzberg brings both new revelations and a new perspective to the subject. The drug reform movement's archvillain, Harry Anslinger, the master of Reefer Madness propaganda, becomes more than one-dimensional as Hertzberg tells the story of his strict scientific approach to opioids. As head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Anslinger enlisted a Committee on Drug Addiction to closely study opioids, and those scientists even developed their own new opioids (they were market flops), as well as closely measuring the addictive potential of other potential new opioid products. Here, Anslinger was acting not as the heavy-handed lawman, but as the protector of white market consumers.

And as he tells the story of pharmaceutical companies continually coming up with new psychoactive products, patterns begin to occur. After the original drug prohibition laws a century ago effectively suppressed opioid use for decades, the pharmaceutical companies came up with barbiturates in the 1930s, amphetamines in the 1940s and 1950s, benzodiazepines in the 1970s and 1980s, before hitting it big again with opioids in the OxyContin-led bonanza beginning in the 1990s and lingering like a bad hangover to the present day. In all those cases, the profit motives of the drug makers overwhelmed regulatory structures designed to protect those good, deserving consumers of the white market -- even as the drug companies demonized black market drug users for causing the problems.

Given this history of pharmaceutical and regulatory fecklessness, Hertzberg comes to a shocking, but not really surprising conclusion: Left to their own devices, profit-drive drug companies peddling addictive products will function in ways that are incompatible with the public health. In Hertzberg's words:

"Profit-driven drug markets follow a predicably damaging cycle. Companies hype new medicines as safe and beneficial and sell with insufficient regard for consumer safety; a health crisis ensues as consumers are left ill-equipped to make informed decisions; authorities respond with consumer protections and destructive drug wars; the pharmaceutical industry devises strategies to circumvent the new restrictions and start the cycle again. After umpteen repetitions of this cat and mouse game, it may be time to acknowledge the impossibility of establishing a safe, for-profit market for addictive drugs. Alternatives exist: state monopolies, for example, or public utility models. We need to consider these and other creative ideas for dramatically minimizing or even eliminating profit from psychoactive capitalism."

Whether a shift to models of that type is what's needed, or just better regulation, is a question for debate. But it's clear that ending drug prohibition isn't enough. Reimagining the white market is necessary, too.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances, Ukraine Marijuana Protest, More... (10/28/19)

Some Nebraskans want to see a return to increased drug testing in child welfare cases, Mexico's marijuana legalization advances but faces a delay, the INCB criticizes the Australia National Capital Territory over marijuana legalization, and more.

Drug Testing

Nebraska Committee Hears Complaints About Reduction in Child Welfare Drug Testing. State senators last Friday held a hearing about changes in state policies that have led to reduced drug testing of parents and children in child welfare and neglect cases. Under a policy adopted last year, only court-ordered testing is allowed. "Child advocates" have criticized the policy as effectively giving parents time to prepare for drug tests and are seeking a legislative fix to go back to more rigorous drug testing protocols.

International

Australia Capital Territory Marijuana Legalization Violates UN Treaties, INCB Says. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has responded sharply to the Australian Capital Territory's move to legalize marijuana, saying the move would violate international drug control treaties. The message came in a letter from the INCB to the Australian federal government, which opposes the move. "The board has noted with concern recent reports regarding the legalization of cannabis possession, use and cultivation in small amounts in the Australian Capital Territory, effective 31 January 2020," the letter read. "The board wishes to recall that cultivation, production and distribution of cannabis for non-medical purposes is inconsistent with the provisions of the 1961 convention as amended, in particular article 4(c), which requires state parties to limit the use of narcotic drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes."

Finland's Government Will Consider Decriminalizing Marijuana in Response to Citizen Petition. Some 50,000 Finnish citizens have signed a petition asking for marijuana decriminalization, triggering an automatic review by Parliament. The proposal would decriminalize up to 25 grams of weed and the cultivation of up to four plants.

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances but Will Be Slightly Delayed. A marijuana legalization bill has advanced through the congress's Justice, Health, Legislative Studies, and Public Security committees. A floor vote was originally scheduled for this week, but the bill is now being referred to a multi-party panel as legislative leaders seek to build consensus around its provisions. The bill would allow people 18 and over to use, possess, and buy marijuana from licensed dealers. People could also grow their own -- up to four plants. A Cannabis Institute would be responsible for regulating the industry. Sen. Ricardo Monreal, the ruling MORENA party's leader in the Senate, said on Saturday the delay was worth it. "I will slow it down a little," he said. "Many economic and social interests have been unleashed and I would like to do things well," he added.

Ukraine Marijuana Activists March in Kiev. Hundreds of activists representing several NGOs rallied in Kiev on Saturday calling for the legalization of medical marijuana and for the government to lift the threshold on how much marijuana one can possess without criminal penalty. Participants said they rallied to try to get the government's attention.

Chronicle AM: Trump Undercuts AG on Pot, Key GOP Pol Nixes Food Stamp Drug Tests, More... (4/16/18)

The president appears to leave his attorney general out to dry on marijuana policy, New York's governor is being pushed left on pot by a celebrity challenger, a key GOP lawmaker opposes the Trump push to drug test food stamp recipients, and more.

Donald Trump looks like he's hung Jeff Sessions out to dry when it comes to marijuana policy. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Appears to Undercut Jeff Sessions' War on Weed. President Trump last week signaled a dramatic turnaround in administration marijuana policy, telling Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner that the Justice Department would not go after state-legal marijuana in Colorado and that he would support moves to address the contradiction between legal marijuana states and federal pot prohibition. That puts Trump in line with his own campaign statements that marijuana should be a states' rights issue, but at odds with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization and who has explicitly told federal prosecutors they are free to go after the legal marijuana industry. Sessions, who is much abused by Trump for failing to protect him from the Mueller investigation, now finds himself on the outs on pot policy, too.

Maine Governor Says Legal Marijuana Implementation Bill Faces "Automatic" Veto. Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage is threatening an "automatic" veto of a compromise bill designed to get the state's legal marijuana commerce system up and running. He said he was unhappy with a provision that allows registered medical marijuana patients to avoid paying excise taxes, suggesting that people would register as patients just to avoid taxes. But the House has already passed the bill by a veto-proof majority and the Senate could do so this week.

Sex in the City Challenger Pushes New York Governor to the Left on Pot Policy. Actress Cynthia Nixon, best known for her role in Sex in the City, is pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the left on marijuana policy. Nixon has announced her candidacy for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and she has made marijuana legalization a banner issue. Cuomo has opposed legalization, although he shifted slightly in January, when he announced he would form a panel to explore freeing the weed. But now, with Nixon getting lots of attention for her pot stance, Cuomo is hinting at more movement. "The situation has changed drastically with marijuana," he said at a news conference last Thursday. "It's no longer a question of legal or not legal. It's legal in Massachusetts. It may be legal in New Jersey, which means for all intents and purposes, it's going to be here anyway. The majority of the legislature is, I would say, against legalizing it," he continued. "I said it's a new day; let's look at the facts. I know people have opinions -- and it's hard to get people to change opinions -- but opinions should be based on facts. So let's talk to the experts, let's put together the facts."

Drug Testing

Key GOP Lawmaker Opposes Drug Testing for Food Stamps. Rep. Mike Conway (R-TX), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said last Friday that he "generally opposes" drug testing food stamp recipients. The remarks were in reaction to a plan floated last week by the Trump administration to allow states to do just that. The Agriculture Committee has authority over the food stamp program and is currently crafting a bill that includes an overhaul of the program, but contains no provision for drug testing. "I'm generally opposed to drug testing because I think it hurts the children," Conway said. "Most of these folks who are on the program, if they've got children involved, the children would still get their SNAP benefits but the parents wouldn't, and you're hurting the kid." Conway said he'd rather "figure out a way to help them."

International

Australian Greens Call for Marijuana Legalization. The Australian Green Party has called for the full legalization of marijuana, with a new government agency to act as the sole wholesaler of packaged pot. The Green proposal also includes a provision for growing up to six plants at home. The Greens aren't considered a major party in Australia, but they do have federal representation. The call for legalization differentiates the Greens from Labor and the Liberal/National Coalition, both of which support a 2016 plan to legalize only medical marijuana.

Irish Greens Call for Marijuana Decriminalization, Dutch-Style Coffee Shops. The Irish Green Party has called for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. The current law has "made criminals out of decent people," the party says. The Green proposal would decriminalize the possession of up to five grams, as well as contemplating a Dutch-style coffee shop system. The Irish Greens aren't considered a major political party, but they do have two people in the Dail, the Irish parliament.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Four Ways Using Even Legal Marijuana Makes You a Second Class Citizen [FEATURE]

Marijuana is now legal in nine states constituting about one-fifth of the US population, and medical marijuana is recognized in a total of 29 states. That means people in those states can possess and use marijuana without fear of criminal prosecutions (if they have a doctor's recommendation in the medical marijuana-only states).

people enjoying marijuana (Darrin Frisby Harris/Drug Policy Alliance)
But even in legal marijuana states, pot smokers face restrictions that in effect turn them into second-class citizens, unable to do things non-drug users or users of legally sanctioned drugs, such as alcohol, can do, or somehow punished for doing them. While legalizing marijuana is a giant breakthrough, as long as marijuana users face stigma, discrimination, and worse over their choice of substances, the job is only half-done.

Here are four ways even legal marijuana users get screwed:

1. Employment Rights

You may be able to smoke pot legally, but it can still cost you your job. Even in legal marijuana states, legalization laws generally are careful not to intrude on the rights of employers to conduct drug testing for pot and to fire people who test positive -- even if they're not high or impaired at work.

Legal cases in California, Colorado, Montana, and Washington have all upheld the right of employers to fire or refuse to hire workers who test positive for marijuana even if they have a medical marijuana recommendation. But the law is rapidly evolving, and a recent case from Connecticut, a nursing home that refused to hire a medical marijuana patient after he tested positive for THC was ordered to reinstate the job offer.

A thriving economy and growing social acceptance of marijuana may also bring some solace to pot smokers. As Bloomberg noted just last month, we are now seeing a "slow decline in pre-employment drug screening," with some major employers abandoning the practice in the face of a tight job market. That trend, unsurprisingly, is being led by companies in the marijuana legal states. In Colorado, for instance, the percentage of employers using pre-employment drug tests declined from 77% in 2016 to 66% last year.

But still, if you smoked a joint on Friday night, Walmart still doesn't think you're fit to stock their shelves on Monday morning.

2. Gun Rights

If you smoke pot, you can't legally purchase or own a gun. As more states move toward legalization, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) has clarified its Form 4473, the federal Firearms Transaction Record that purchaser must fill out to buy a gun: "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" the form asks.

And just so you stoners get it, ATF has added the following language: "Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside."

That means marijuana users who want to legally purchase a weapon have to lie on Form 4473. And that's a federal crime. (Unlikely to be caught and prosecuted, but still.)

In August 2016, a federal appeals court upheld the ban on gun sales to medical marijuana patients. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the federal government's ban on gun sales to medical marijuana cardholders does not violate the 2nd Amendment. The decision came in the case of a Nevada woman turned away from a gun shop after obtaining a medical marijuana card. The ruling sets precedent for all nine states in the circuit, including California, Oregon, and Washington.

There have been proactive efforts by law enforcement in a handful of states to, for example, order registered medical marijuana patients to turn in their guns, but those have so far been aborted in the face of loud opposition. In Pennsylvania, the state Health Department is no longer providing the names of patients to law enforcement after newspapers there reported the patients would not be able to buy firearms; in Illinois, regulators removed a rule that would have barred legal gun owners from becoming patients; and in Hawaii, police had to walk back a plan to force patients to hand in their guns.

Still, as long as the federal government maintains marijuana prohibition and as long as ATF considers marijuana a controlled substance, pot smokers' gun rights are at risk. And the NRA doesn't seem to care.

3. Parental Rights

In both medical marijuana states and full-blown legal pot states, parents have lost custody of their children over their marijuana use. Part of the problem is that marijuana remains federally illegal, turning the pot-using parent into a criminal in the eyes of courts of child protective services workers. Another part of the problem is discrimination and subjectivity about what constitutes "the best interest of the child." If a child protective bureaucracy or even an individual case worker harbors anti-marijuana sentiments, even non-problematic recreational use of pot can be used to take children from the home or deny custody to the offending parent.

Marijuana use is especially likely to pop up in divorces where custody of the child or children is contested. If your spouse griped about your pot-smoking while you were married, be prepared for him or her to try to use it against you in a nasty divorce case. Divorce attorneys warn parents facing this prospect to quit smoking pot now, well ahead of any court dates and court-ordered drug tests.

That's another way pot-smoking parents get hammered. Courts may demand onerous drug testing for months or year or require that visits with children be supervised.

Medical marijuana support groups report hundreds of cases of parents losing custody of their kids, some merely for having registered as medical marijuana patients. But there are small signs of positive change on the horizon: California's Prop 64, for instance, includes a provision saying courts can no longer rescind or restrict a parent's custodial rights solely because they have a medical marijuana recommendation.

That's a start, but we still have a long way to go before pot-smoking parents can rest easy.

4. Housing Rights

You can be kicked out of your home for using marijuana if you are poor and live in HUD, Section 8, or other federally-subsidized housing. Under a 1999 HUD Memorandum Regarding Medical Marijuana in Public Housing still in effect, any activity relating to controlled substances, including even medical marijuana, can get you evicted.

And it doesn't have to be just you. If you live in federally-subsidized housing and your grandson gets caught smoking a joint in the parking lot, you can find yourself tossed out on the street.

Even people who don't live in federally-subsidized housing face problems, especially if they live in rental housing. Landlords can prohibit tenants from using marijuana, and rental apartment industry associations typically counsel their members that "banning the use or possession of marijuana on site does not violate any landlord/tenant or fair housing laws, even when marijuana has been legalized by local ordinance or state statute." Nor, they argue, is allowing the use or cultivation of medical marijuana a "reasonable accommodation" required by law, even if it's been medically recommended.

Marijuana is increasingly legal and accepted, but the progress is uneven, and the battle to be treated like normal citizens remains unfinished.

Montana Prosecutor Calls for "Immediate Crackdown" on Pregnant Drug and Alcohol Users [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Taking the war against pregnant women to a whole new level, a Montana prosecutor called this week for an "immediate crackdown" on women who use drugs or alcohol while pregnant; urged friends, family members, health care providers, and even strangers to turn in women they suspect to authorities; and warned drug- or alcohol-using pregnant women to "immediately self-report" to state health authorities to avoid criminal prosecution.

On the Crow Reservation, Big Horn County, Montana (Wikimedia)
Even though there is zero scientific evidence supporting policies of coercion and punishment directed to pregnant women, some jurisdictions, mainly in the South, have taken to prosecuting women who give birth to children with drugs in their system. That's not good enough for Big Horn County Attorney Gerald "Jay" Harris, who has concocted a toxic brew of anti-abortion and war on drugs ideology, along with a nice dollop of real world racial disparity, to call for prosecuting women while they are still pregnant -- and to go after them if they seek abortions to avoid prosecution.

In a Thursday press release, County Attorney Harris announced the crackdown, saying he will seek protection orders restraining pregnant women from any non-medically prescribed use of illicit drugs or alcohol, and those who violate the orders will be jailed to "incapacitate" them.

"It is simply not satisfactory to our community that the protection of innocent, unborn children victimized in this manner and subject to a potential lifetime of disability and hardship relies exclusively on social workers removing the child from the custody of the mother at birth," Harris explained. "This approach is not timely and has not proven to be a sufficient deterrent to this dangerous, unacceptable behavior and will no longer be the state's policy in Big Horn County."

Big Horn County, home to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Native American reservations, is 60% Native American and only 33% white, including County Attorney Harris.

Harris called on both the reservations and other prosecutors in Montana to join him in his crusade, which National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) described in a statement as a "reckless call to hunt down pregnant women." The advocacy group said it was "shocked by this attack on the health, liberty, and basic human rights of women in Big Horn County."

Harris's statement "irresponsibly promotes medical and scientific misinformation, promotes an environment of fear and reflects a shocking disregard for the rights and well-being of women and families, NAPW charged.

NAPW warned that Harris has no legal authority to carry out such a policy, saying enforcement would violate state and federal law. It also had a heads-up for potential busy-bodies: "People who heed the prosecutor's call to report pregnant women and violate patient privacy and confidentiality may themselves be subject to legal action," the group advised.

As NAPW noted, policies of coercion and punishment directed at pregnant women are actually counterproductive. Such policies discourage them from seeking prenatal health care and may even drive some to seek abortions to avoid arrest. And this is where Harris's anti-abortion politics and view of women as essentially little more than incubators rears its head.

"In the event an expecting mother chooses to abort an unborn child instead of refraining from drug or alcohol use and litigation extends beyond our local courts, we trust Attorney General Fox will make the right decision on behalf of all Montanans and continue this fight to the extent necessary to ensure justice is afforded to the most vulnerable of our society," he warned.

The NAPW, for its part, is cautioning women against "self reporting" to government agencies that could incarcerate them and is further urging "every medical and public health provider in Big Horn County to immediately oppose this dangerous, unethical, and counterproductive policy." It is also encouraging everyone who supports the health, dignity, and human rights of pregnant women to contact Harris "to let him know you oppose this outrageous action."

Harris thoughtfully provided his office phone number on his press release. It is (406) 665-9721.

Chronicle AM: MA MJ Talks Resume, WI "Cocaine Mom" Law Back in Effect (For Now), More... (7/10/17)

Massachusetts lawmakers finally figured out their budget, so now maybe they can figure out how to implement the will of the voters on legal pot; the Supreme Court lets Wisconsin continue to enforce its "cocaine mom" law as the state appeals a lower court ruling it's unconstitutional; Colombian coca cultivation was way up last year, and more.

Colombian coca cultivation jumped last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Lawmakers Resume Talks on Implementing Legalization. A House-Senate conference committee was set for a closed door meeting Monday afternoon to restart negotiations over legislation that would implement the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. House and Senate negotiators are split over a number of issues, foremost among them taxation rates and whether localities can ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Seeks Letters of Intent from Prospective Growers and Dispensaries. The Health Department last Friday asked prospective medical marijuana growers and dispensary operators to send in letters of intent to apply under the state's new medical marijuana law. The department said it wants a better idea of how many applications it will receive in coming months. Interested parties have until July 28 to send in their letters.

Drug Policy

US Supreme Court Lets Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law Stay in Effect Pending Appeal. The Supreme Court last Friday issued an order lifting an injunction against Wisconsin's "cocaine mom" law imposed in April. The law allows state officials to detain pregnant women suspected of using drugs or alcohol. A federal district court judge ruled the law unconstitutionally vague and issued the injunction, but now the Supreme Court will allow the state to continue to use the law while it appeals the lower court ruling.

Sentencing

Report: Some Federal Prosecutors Ignored Obama Sentencing Recommendations. A report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General released last Friday finds that at least 20 of the country's 94 federal prosecutorial districts did not follow Obama administration "Smart on Crime" sentencing recommendations aimed at reducing the number of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Still, the report noted, the initiative had an impact: Drug offenders sentenced without mandatory minimum sentences increased from 40% in 2014 to 54% in 2015.

International

UN Says Colombia Coca Cultivation Increased Dramatically Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that the amount of land under coca cultivation jumped from 250,000 acres in 2015 to 363,000 acres last year, an increase of nearly 50%. The UNODC notes that most of the increase came in areas that had been under the control of the now demobilized FARC guerrillas. The Colombian military failed to take effective control of those areas, leaving a power vacuum filled by dissident guerrilla groups, rightist paramilitaries, and drug trafficking organizations.

Chronicle AM: SD Sued Over Forced Catheterization of Toddler for Drug Test, More... (6/30/17)

The ACLU sues South Dakota over the forced drug testing of a toddler, Detroit residents again sue the dope squad for killing dogs in pot raids, Pennsylvania's governor signs an asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Trump's EPA head stops California from setting pesticide regulations for marijuana crops.
Marijuana Policy

EPA Rejects California's Request to Recognize Allowable Marijuana Pesticides. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt last week rejected the state's request to recognize acceptable pesticides for pot crops. Pruitt used the fact of marijuana's continuing illegality under federal law to justify the decision: "Under federal law, cultivation (along with sale and use) of cannabis is generally unlawful as a schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. The EPA finds that the general illegality of cannabis cultivation makes pesticide use on cannabis a fundamentally different use pattern."

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Health Department Issues Dispensary Permits. The Health Department announced Thursday it had granted 27 medical marijuana dispensary permits. Each permit holder can open up to three dispensaries. They will be permitted to begin selling medical marijuana in six months. Click on the link for a list of permit recipients.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed into law Senate Bill 8 on Thursday. The bill does not end civil asset forfeiture, but does impose a higher burden of proof on law enforcement before forfeitures can take place, mandate a hearing before any seized real property is forfeited, and add protections for third-party property owners.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Sued Over Forced Catherization of 3-Year-Old for Drug Test. The ACLU of South Dakota has filed a pair of lawsuits over the forced use of a catheter to take a urine sample from a three-year-boy to test for drugs as part of a child welfare investigation. The suit comes in the case of a Pierre woman whose boyfriend violated probation by testing positive for illegal drugs. Child protective workers then told the women her children would be taken away if she did not submit them to a drug test. The federal lawsuit names as defendants the state of South Dakota and the hospital whose employees actually performed the procedure.

Law Enforcement

Detroit's Dog Killing Drug Cops Sued for Third Time. A Detroit couple has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Detroit Police alleging officers needlessly and maliciously killed their three dogs during a July 2016 marijuana raid after officers refused to let them retrieve the animals from the back yard. That brings to three the number of active lawsuits filed against Detroit cops for killing dogs during pot raids. The culprit is the department's Major Violators Unit, which conducts hundreds of raids a year in the city, and which has left a trail of dead dogs in its wake. One officer alone has killed 69 dogs.

Illinois Supreme Court Rules County DAs Can't Form Their Own Dope Squads. The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday the county prosecutors cannot form their own policing units to conduct drug interdiction efforts, including traffic stops. The ruling came in a case involving the State Attorney's Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Unit created by the LaSalle County district attorney. The unit operated for five years, mainly stopping cars on their way to and from Chicago. Previously, state appeals courts had ruled that the units were an overreach of prosecutorial authority, and now the state's highest court has backed them up.

Chronicle Book Review: This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency, by Anthony Papa

After decades of the war on drugs and other "tough on crime" policies, America seems finally to have begun to come to its senses. The imprisonment rate has leveled off, and we're no longer seeing year after year after year of ever-increasing numbers of people behind bars in the land of the free.

We've seen that change at the federal level, with the Fair Sentencing Act, softening of the sentencing guidelines for drug offenses, and Justice Department instructions to prosecutors to avoid hitting bit players with mandatory minimum sentences. We've seen that at the state level, with sentencing reforms in dozens of states leading to an actual reduction in the number of state prisoners. And we've even seen it at the local level -- the nation's system of city and county jails -- through things like marijuana decriminalization and reforms in bail practices.

That's all well and good, but we're still the world's leading jailer, in both absolute and per capita term, with more than two million people locked up (China only has 1.5 million). Tens of thousands of them are non-violent drug offenders sentenced under draconian laws enacted before the fever broke -- confined not for years, but for decades -- and writing less brutal sentencing laws now isn't much help to them.

In his waning days in office, President Obama struck a bold blow for justice and made modern presidential history by granting clemency to more than 1,700 federal drug prisoners. Let's be crystal clear here: These were not pardons granted to people who had finished their sentences and long ago returned to society and now wanted their records wiped clean. Obama's commutations meant that people currently spending their lives behind prison walls walked free -- years or decades before they otherwise would have. Hundreds, mostly third time drug offenders serving life sentences, would have died in prison.

But the president can only grant pardons or commutations to people in the federal system, and the vast majority of American's prisoners are in state prisons. Each state governor holds a pardon power similar to the federal chief executive's, but it is used sparingly, some might even say stingily, and has certainly never been wielded in a mass fashion to achieve a social justice end like Obama did at the federal level.

That's a crying shame -- and a potential focus of reform organizing -- because a governor's signature can liberate a human being who not only deserves a chance to breathe the air of freedom, but who may actually make our world a better place by being in and of it instead of being locked away from it -- and us.

Ask Tony Papa. He was a young New York City family man with his own business who, short on cash, took an offer to make a few hundred bucks by delivering some cocaine back in the 1980s, when New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws were still in full effect. It was a sting, and Papa got popped. Like thousands of others, the luckless he quickly entered the state's drug war gulag, sentenced to 15 years to life.

In an earlier work, 15 to Life, Papa told the story of his bust, his seeming eternity behind bars, his slammer-honed artistic talent, and how an anguished self-portrait that seemed to encapsulate the horror and madness of crushing drug prohibition resulted in some high-placed interest, followed by media attention, a public campaign on his behalf, and his release after 12 years when he was granted clemency by then-Gov. George Pataki. It is a remarkable tale of punishment, perseverance, and redemption.

And now, he's back with the rest of the story. In This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency, the personable Papa tells the tale of his life after rebirth -- and makes achingly clear how the trauma of years-long incarceration lingers in the psyche of the freed. There is a clear public policy moral buried in these pages, too: Getting out of prison is only the first step, reentry into society is hard, society itself seems to make it even harder, a virtual obstacle course for people taking the baby steps of freedom, but if we as a society are smart, we will make the effort, for our own collective sake as well as out of a humanitarian impulse.

Compared to most newly freed prisoners, Papa had it good. The campaign for his release had made him connections, he could find work, he could revive his familial ties, yet still he struggled, and understandably so. When you've spent a dozen years being told what to do, freedom isn't easy.

Papa had his demons, and part of the way he fought them was by resolving not to forget the prisoners he left behind. Within a year of his release, inspired by the courageous years-long struggle of the Argentine Mothers of the Disappeared, those survivors of the thousands taken and killed by the military dictatorship of the 1970s, he and comic/political gadfly Randy Credico formed the New York Mothers of the Disappeared along with family members of the thousands imprisoned under the Rockefeller laws.

Papa, Credico, and the Mothers played a critical role in early efforts to overturn the Rockefeller drug laws, and his tales of feckless politicians, preening celebrity intervenors, and back room double-dealing are the inside dirt on the glacial process of bringing some sanity to the state's drug laws. It ain't pretty, but reform did happen -- eventually -- and Papa got his social justice payback. If that isn't redemption-worthy, I don’t know what is.

This Side of Freedom is one part memoir, one part social history, one part heart-felt manifesto. Papa is an effective, engaging writer who tells his story in discrete episodes and has a knack for jumping from the personal to the political like a quivering quantum particle. You'll meet a range of colorful characters and experience the gamut of human emotion -- the highs, the lows, the ennui -- as you follow Papa's path.

His is one portrait of life in turn-of-the-21st Century America: mindless cruelty and brutality, mixed with racial injustice, but leavened with the will to resist. Read and ask yourself: How many other Tony Papas are out there, watching their lives tick away as they're locked in the cells, when they could be out here helping the rest of us make our world a better, more just and humane place?

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