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Privacy: Kansas House Passes Bill Mandating Drug Tests for Public Assistance

The Kansas House Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that requires Kansans who seek public assistance to undergo drug testing. The bill, HB 2275, passed by a margin of 99-26. It now heads to the state Senate.

Sponsored by Sen. Kasha Kelly (R-Arkansas City), the bill targets the 14,000 Kansans who receive cash assistance from the state Department of Social Rehabilitation Services. Recipients of financial support in temporary aid for families, general assistance, child care support, and grandparents as caregivers programs would all be subjected to drug testing. It would not apply to non-cash benefits, such as food stamps and medical care.

The bill envisions testing one-third of the target population each year. A positive drug test would result in an evaluation and possible drug treatment. Failure to complete evaluation and/or treatment would result in the termination of benefits, as would a third positive drug test.

As the Chronicle reported last week Kansas is only one of a number of states where legislatoes are pushing similar bills. Drug testing public assistance recipients was okayed, but not required, under the 1996 federal welfare reform bill. But the only state to actually implement such a plan, Michigan, was shot down by the federal courts, which held that it violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Kelly, unconcerned about constitutional niceties, said the state should work to keep parents off drugs and advance the interests of children. "Shouldn't you be fearful if you're using?" she said on the House floor.

Social Rehabilitation Services Secretary Don Jordan testified that only 3% to 8% of clients would likely test positive for marijuana, cocaine, or other illegal drugs. That figure is slightly below overall nationwide drug use levels. The program would cost $800,000 a year, he said. The bill will not be implemented unless the legislature makes a specific appropriation to cover the cost, but in a fiscal note, legislative analysts suggested the possibility of using asset forfeiture proceeds to fund the program.

The bill was opposed by the Kansas Public Health Authority, but legislators proved receptive to arguments like those of Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita), head of the House Health and Human Services Committee, who said if the bill failed to pass it is as if the legislature would be declaring: "Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer, we don't really care if someone buys drugs with your hard-earned money."

Rep. Marti Crow (D-Leavenworth) wasn't buying it. "Testing someone because they're poor? Where does that make any sense?" he asked. "This is crazy and mean."

But Crow was in the minority. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Methamphetamine: Bill Equating Meth Use with Child Abuse Passes New Mexico House

The New Mexico House voted 67-3 Saturday to approve a bill that makes using or possessing methamphetamine in a home where minors are present child abuse. At least three other states -- Iowa, Michigan, and South Dakota -- have already approved similar laws.

The bill, HB 117, amends the state's child abuse and neglect statute to include the following language: "Evidence that demonstrates a child has been knowingly, intentionally or negligently exposed to the use of methamphetamine shall be deemed prima facie evidence of abuse of the child."

While "meth equals child abuse" laws may be well-intentioned, critics say they do more harm than good. When Drug War Chronicle covered this issue in 2006, Richard Wexler of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform called them cruel and "ineffective."

"If the idea is to help children, these kinds of laws are extremely ineffective," said Wexler, head of the coalition and a harsh critic of the nation's child protection services. "If the idea is to drive women underground and leave the children far worse off, it's extremely effective. These laws hurt the children they are allegedly intended to help. Listen, you can't be a meth addict and be a good parent, but further criminalizing them doesn't help anything. The key is to offer treatment. If you simply confiscate the kids, then they wind up in America's dreadful foster care system, bounced from home to home, unable to form lasting bonds with anyone," he told the Chronicle.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women generally concentrates on the distinct -- but closely related -- issue of the plight of drug using expectant mothers (12 states and DC charge drug using mothers as child abusers, and 12 more have specific reporting procedures for infants who test positive at birth), but the group is also concerned about the meth as child abuse laws.

"This completely misses the boat if we're talking about the public health angle," said Wyndi Anderson, national educator for the group. "We try really hard to get a lot of women access to a whole range of public health services. They need addiction treatment. Automatically labeling them child abusers doesn't help them at all, it only helps get them into prison and their children into foster care," she told the Chronicle.

"These laws are an exercise in showboating," said Wexler. "The legislators want to look like they're cracking down on drugs and child abuse, but since it is already child abuse to commit an act that actually harms a child, these laws are redundant. All they do is frighten people away and take away one way to reach out to addicted parents and get the help that will help -- not hurt -- their children."

"When you equate meth use with child abuse, you create the possibility of a witch hunt," Anderson warned. "We want to keep communities healthy and families intact, and these kinds of laws will just bust up both. If you believe in family values, I don't see how you could be for something like this."

The bill now heads for the New Mexico Senate.

New Report: Trends in Incarcerated Parents

A new analysis by The Sentencing Project highlights the growth in the number of incarcerated parents and their children since 1991.  Incarcerated Parents and Their Children: Trends, 1991-2007 reviews data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and documents the growing impact of incarceration on children and families.
As of 2007, 1.7 million children had a parent in prison, an 82% increase from the figure of 936,000 in 1991. The racial/ethnic variation among this group is quite broad: 1 in 15 African-American children has a parent in prison, as does 1 in 42 Latino children and 1 in 111 white children. 
Due to the distance from home in which many parents are incarcerated - 62% of parents in state prisons are more than 100 miles from home - visits from children are declining over time.  In 2004, more than half of parents in state prisons and nearly half in federal prisons had never had a visit from their children.
To address the issues presented by these developments, The Sentencing Project recommends policy responses that include:

  • Supporting parent-child relationships through programs such as that of the Bedford Hills, NY women's prison in which newborn babies can live with their mothers for a period of time.
  • Revise legislation that impedes the prospects for successful reentry and uniting parents with children, such as the ban on receipt of welfare and food stamps for persons with drug convictions.
  • Reconsider lengthy sentencing policies that are overly punitive and contribute to greater separation between parents and children.
The full report, Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, is available here.

Sentencing: Woman Who Fled Michigan Drug Sentence 32 Years Ago Caught in California, Faces 20 Years

Susan LeFevre was a Michigan teenager when she was arrested in 1974 for selling relatively small amounts of heroin to an undercover officer. At the request of her conservative family, she pleaded guilty and hoped for mercy, but was instead sentenced to 20 years in prison despite having no previous record. With the help of family members, she bolted from prison in 1976 and fled to California, where she started a new life with a new identity.

Last week, thanks to an anonymous tip to the Michigan Department of Corrections, she was tracked down and arrested in San Diego, where she had lived a quiet upper middle-class life and raised three children with her husband of 23 years. Now, Michigan wants her back to do the rest of her sentence.

The case of LeFevre, now known as Marie Walsh, is putting the issues of crime and punishment and redemption and forgiveness, not to mention harsh drug sentencing, in the national spotlight. While the nation debates her fate, LeFevre sits in a California jail cell awaiting extradition to her home state.

"It's been a secret no one knew for so long, and now everyone knows," LeFevre told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday at Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee, a San Diego suburb. "I hope there's some mercy."

There sure wasn't any mercy when she copped a plea in Michigan more than 30 years ago. She plea bargained in a bid for a lenient sentence, or even probation. Instead she was sentenced to the maximum 10 to 20 years. "I kept thinking it had to be a mistake. I was supposed to have probation," LeFevre said.

And it doesn't sound like Michigan is feeling any more forgiving now than it was back when Gerald Ford was president. "Just because she escaped and evaded capture for 30 years doesn't mean your prison sentence is negated," said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan. She would have to do at least nine years to satisfy her sentence, he said.

That his wife has turned out to be a fugitive from justice means little to Alan Walsh, who never knew about LeFevre's secret past. "I've known my wife, Marie, for 23 years," he said in a statement. "She is a person of the highest integrity and compassion. During that time she's been nothing but a caring and wonderful wife and mother. She has raised three beautiful children and worked hard to build a good life for them, and has dedicated her life to their well-being. Her family is now threatened to be destroyed."

Barring a refusal by the state of California to extradite her back to Michigan, which is highly unlikely, LeFevre's only hope would appear to be a commutation of her sentence. Otherwise, she will become just one more drug war prisoner in Michigan's prisons overflowing with drug war prisoners.

Training: Domestic Violence Within the Context of Substance Use & Harm Reduction

The purpose of this training is to identify and develop best practices in working with substance using clients affected by domestic violence, using a harm reduction model. Victims of domestic violence encounter numerous barriers to accessing appropriate and comprehensive social, legal, medical and other supportive services. A particular focus of the training will address legal and/or immigration issues pertinent to substance users whose lives are impacted by domestic violence. Also to be discussed are the effects substance use has on the dynamics of power and control for persons involved in a relationship where physical/sexual/emotional abuse are occurring. The HRTI Trainer is Natasha Johnson-Lashley and the course fee is $70. For more information, contact Stephen Crowe at [email protected] or 212-683-2334.
Fri, 03/21/2008 - 11:00am - 6:00pm
22 West 27th Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10001
United States

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the US Prison System," by Silja Talvi (2007, Seal Press, 356 pp., $15.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

Forty years ago, some 11,000 women were imprisoned in the United States. By 2004, that number had skyrocketed to 110,000, and if you add in the women in jails on any given day, the number of women behind bars is around 200,000 -- many, many of them on drug charges.

While the overall US prisoner population has rapidly increased over the past few decades, the growth in the number of women behind prison far surpasses the overall rate. Yet most studies of the US prison and jail systems focus on the much larger male prisoner population. That's something investigate journalist Silja Talvi hopes to redress with "Women Behind Bars," and she has done an outstanding job of it.

Visiting numerous prisons -- not only in the US, but also, for comparative purposes, in Canada, England, and Finland -- and conducting hundreds of interviews with prisoners, guards, and advocates, as well as perusing the academic literature, Talvi has constructed a portrait of the US criminal justice system's treatment of women that is a harsh indictment of not only our prisons, but also the culture that perpetuates the resort to mass incarceration as a response to social problems.

It is not easy reading. After all, who wants to read about women prisoners being sexually harassed and raped by guards, who wants to read about prison wings full of mentally disturbed women prisoners screaming incessantly or rubbing feces on their cell walls, who wants to read about women prisoners committing suicide after being locked into cell-like "suicide prevention" rooms seemingly designed to drive them over the edge? Who wants to read about some of the weakest and already most brutalized members of our society who turn to dope or prostitution (or, too often, dope and prostitution), only to be imprisoned for their "crimes"?

It's an ugly subject, and that's part of the problem. Nobody wants to think about our world-leading prison population or the agonies we inflict upon it. In fact, our prison system is geared to shutting them up behind grey walls hidden from the public eye and, hopefully, from the public consciousness. But Silja Talvi is determined to rip the scales from our eyes and force us to look at what we have wrought.

She does so with verve, grace, and humanity. Not only does Talvi bring a keen critical intellect to bear, she also gives voice to the voiceless, standing aside at times to let the women prisoners of America speak for themselves. Their tales of suffering are heartrendingly grim, sometimes seeming as if they were coming from the seventh circle of Hell. The treatment of mentally ill women prisoners is a scandal. The use of female prisoners as sexual playthings by corrupted prison guards is another.

All too many of those stories are because of the decades-long, relentless escalation of the war on drugs. For many reading these words, the story of the imprisonment juggernaut created by the drug war legislation of the 1980s and nurtured by political inertia ever since is an already familiar tale. But Salvi tells it again, eloquently and passionately. We meet women like Amy Ralston, who suffered in prison for more than a decade because she wouldn't rat out her estranged husband , and Regina White, a black woman from South Carolina doing 12 years after crusading pro-life prosecutors charged her with manslaughter for doing cocaine while pregnant -- even though there was no evidence linking her child's death to her drug use.

Talvi offers a harsh critique of the policies and practices that generate thousands of new women prisoners on drug charges, many of them only spouses or girlfriends of the law's actual targets. All too often, Salvi notes, these women end up doing more time than the real culprits even if they had little or no involvement in any drug conspiracies. Prosecutors routinely make conscious decisions to charge them as co-conspirators and send them up the river for years or decades despite knowing that the women are small change. It is a cruelty and cynicism that makes even the hardened heart weep.

Talvi isn't a prison abolitionist; she argues that there are indeed some people who need to be behind bars, but that that number is a tiny fraction of those who actually are, especially women. But she is ready to take on the drug war, sex laws, and other freedom-sucking laws and practices: "I personally would prefer to see the decriminalization or legalization of drug use, the legalization of all forms of consensual sex (including prostitution), far more opportunities for truly therapeutic intervention, prevention- and intervention-minded counseling, real vocational education, and a regular and fair parole review," she writes.

Her book, a cry from heart, will hopefully help hasten that process. We should all hope so, for as the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky once famously noted, "A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its criminals." As it should be, for we are all complicit in this by our silence.

In fact, as I ponder this, I am reminded of another quote, this one from a freedom-loving radical in our national past. "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." That was Thomas Jefferson. He's probably been spinning in his grave for so long, there's nothing left by now.

Maybe, just maybe, Silja Talvi will help save us from ourselves by forcing us to help those we victimize the most. Let's hope lots of people read this book and take its lessons to heart.

(Copies of Women Behind Bars are available as part of our latest membership offer.)

Telephone Justice Moving Forward

[Courtesy of New York Campaign for Telephone Justice] 1) REPORTBACK on Walton v. NYSDOCS discussion from meeting 2) GTL: New contact info for Spanish-speaking customer service supervisor 3) MEETINGS: Scheduled changes in NYCTJ meetings 4) GET INVOLVED: Upcoming Advocacy Days in Albany to Repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws and Speak out for Women Prisoners ********************* 1. REPORTBACK on Walton v. NYSDOCS discussion from meeting Rachel Meeropol, CCR Staff Attorney on Walton v. NYSDOCS reported on the recent dismissal of the cases constitutional claims by Judge Ceresia of the NY State Supreme Court. She mentioned that she will be appealing Judge Ceresia’s decision to the Appellate Division in the next month and will likely make oral arguments before the Appellate Division in the early summer, and will hear a decision from them by the end of the summer. If the Appellate Division overturns Judge Ceresia’s decision, Walton v. NYSDOCS will proceed to discovery and trial. If the Appellate Division affirms Judge Ceresia’s decision, Ms. Meeropol will appeal to the NY State Court of Appeals – the state’s highest court – and, if this is the case, we will not receive a final decision until this time next year. All of this said, we spent some time at our meeting discussing how family members can help to increase the likelihood of the case succeeding. The last time Ms. Meeropol argued before the Court of Appeals (last January), the Justices immediately asked her, “how does Gov. Spitzer’s decision to eliminate the contract’s commission and reduce the rates affect this case?” She told them that it does not impact the case, because, while Gov. Spitzer’s decision to eliminate the kickback and reduce the rates (and the later passage of the Family Connections bill) has a positive impact on families moving forward, it does not provide relief for the prior unlawful taxing of prison families from the contract. During the meeting, then, we agreed that we need to mobilize families over the next year to continue pressing the issue that justice has not completely been served in regards to the NY prison telephone system. Families and advocates still need their money back! Some ideas we discussed are rallying outside the courthouse at upcoming arguments in Walton v. NYSDOCS, packing the courtroom at upcoming arguments in Walton v. NYSDOCS, conducting a surveying and publishing a report on how much money NY State stole from prison families over the years, and writing OP-EDs to our local newspapers. Please stay tuned for upcoming opportunities to engage in all of these activities. We need to make as much noise over the next year as possible if we want to win this potential class action lawsuit! 2. GTL: New contact info for Spanish-speaking customer service supervisor For those who have family members or are advocates for family members who speak Spanish, please take note that Denisce DeLeon is the Spanish language customer service representative at Global Tel*Link. She can be reached at [email protected]. I have not yet received her direct phone line, but please feel free to contact her via email for her phone number so that you may share it with Spanish-speaking families who have grave customer service problems with Global Tel*Link. 3. MEETINGS: Scheduled changes in NYCTJ meetings At our meeting last week, we discussed whether or not monthly meetings are still useful for families, advocates and allies. It seems that, since we have won much of our demands, monthly meetings are not as necessary as they once were; however, people expressed interest in continuing meetings when there are significant developments in the prison telephone system and the remaining lawsuit. As such, we decided that our NEXT meeting will be at the end of March 2008, so that we can discuss the NEW prison telephone contract which will go into effect April 1, 2008. While we do not have any information yet about what changes will result from the new contract, the new contract will have to comply with the Family Connections bill, passed last summer, and we hope it will include many of families’ demands that we brought before the Department of Correctional Services last year. SAVE THE DATE Wednesday, March 26, 2008** NYCTJ Meeting & Conference Call Join us to find out about what changes you will experience with the NEW prison telephone contract, which will go into effect April1, 2008 so that you are prepared for any unexpected changes in the system. Pick up fliers that will detail the changes so that you can share the information with your family, constituents and community. * In person: join us at 666 Broadway, 6th Floor. The closest trains are the B/D/F/V stop at Broadway-Lafayette and the 6 Train at Bleecker Street. Food will be served.
 * On the phone: Call in to the meeting by dialing TOLL FREE (800) 298-6863. The Conference ID number: 6143333. **We have decided to host the meeting on the last Wednesday of March (rather than our usual last Tuesday of the month schedule) so that people who attend the Repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws Advocacy Day (see below) will be able to attend. 4. GET INVOLVED: Upcoming Advocacy Days in Albany to Repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws and Speak out for Women Prisoners March 4, 2008 Coalition for Women Prisoners Advocacy Day Join the Coalition for Women Prisoners for a day trip to Albany to call on New York’s elected officials to stop using prison as a response to the social ills that drive crime and to start allocating more resources to community-based, gender-specific alternative programs that save money and rebuild lives and families, and that allow women to make a healthy, safe, and productive return to their communities after prison. Help Advocate for: *Increased funding for family visiting programs in women’s prisons and more time for incarcerated mothers with children in foster care to work toward reunification and to prevent their parental rights from being terminated forever. *Medicate coverage upon release for women who entered prison without Medicaid already in place. *Better health services for women in prison & NYS Department of Health oversight and monitoring of HIV and Hepatitis C care in state prisons. *Merit time and early release from prison for domestic violence survivors incarcerated for committing crimes as a result of the abuse they suffered. *Repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws & more funding for drug treatment and other alternative-to-incarceration programs for women. To get involved, contact Serena Alfieri at 212-254-5700 or at [email protected] March 25, 2008 Advocacy Day to Repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws 3/25/2008. Join the Drop the Rock Coalition for an Advocacy Day in Albany to speak out for repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. To sign up or for more information, contact Caitlin Dunklee at 212-254-5700 or at [email protected] alassociation.org. If you are interested in attending Advocacy Day, and need a letter requesting permission for your P.O., please contact Caitlin and she will send a letter on your behalf. In Struggle, Lauren Melodia, Organizer New York Campaign for Telephone Justice [email protected] tel 212.614.6481
United States

Families: Utah Supreme Court Rules Mere Presence of Drugs in Home is Not Child Endangerment

The mere presence of illegal drugs in a home is not sufficient to allow prosecution under a state law that says children are endangered when exposed to them, the Utah Supreme Court ruled last Friday. The court ruled unanimously in State v. Gallegos, which consolidated the cases of two women charged with felony child endangerment after police found drugs in their homes.

In one case, police found cocaine in a purse and a jewelry box on a dresser in a room where the mother and her three children were located. In the other, they found methamphetamine precursors in a set of plastic drawers in an outbuilding of a home where a 13-year-old lived with her mother.

The Utah law, similar to those in many other states, makes it a felony to allow a child "to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia."

In both cases, defense attorneys argued that "exposure" must include actual risk of harm and that the mere presence of drugs in the home did not rise to that level. The state high court agreed.

"There must be an actual risk of harm... Exposure must go beyond mere visual or auditory exposure, such as exposure to images of drugs on television or an infant being able to see a controlled substance from the confines of a crib," Chief Justice Christine Durham wrote for the court.

"The child must have a reasonable capacity to actually access or get to the substance or paraphernalia or to be subject to its harmful effects, such as inhalation or touching. This seems a common sense interpretation of the statute," the court said.

If the mere presence of a controlled substance were enough to establish grounds for child endangerment, many people who use legal prescription drugs "would be committing felonies," the opinion noted.

Feature: Can Medical Marijuana Cost You Your Kid? In California, It Can

Ronnie Naulls never saw it coming. The church-going businessman, husband, and father of three young girls knew he was taking a risk when he opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Corona, a suburban community in the high desert of Riverside County east of Los Angeles.

Although he had played by the rules, obeyed all state laws, and successfully battled the city in court to stay open, Naulls knew there was a chance of trouble with law enforcement. He knew there was a chance of the federal DEA coming down on him, as it has done with at least 40 other dispensaries this year alone.

Naulls family (courtesy green-aid.com)
But when they did come down on him, it was far worse than he ever imagined. At 6:00am on July 17, the quiet of Naulls' suburban neighborhood was disrupted by the whir of hovering helicopters as heavily armed DEA agents stormed his home and collective. They seized cash and marijuana, they seized his property, they seized his personal and business bank accounts. They arrested him on federal marijuana charges.

But that wasn't enough for the DEA. The raiders also called Child Protective Services (CPS). With Naulls already hustled off to jail, his wife sitting handcuffed in a police car, and his home in a shambles after being tossed by the DEA, CPS social workers said his three children were endangered and seized them. Naulls and his wife were also charged with felony child endangerment.

The three girls -- ages 1, 3, and 5 -- were held in protective foster care, with Naulls and his wife only able to see them during a one-hour supervised visit a week. "My oldest girl thought she was being punished for doing something wrong," he said. "When we went to visit her, she said, 'Daddy, we're ready to come home now, we promise to be good.'"

But the Naulls couldn't tell their children the only thing that would comfort them -- that they would be coming home soon. That would violate CPS regulations because it might not be true. In fact, it took five weeks of hearings and heartache before a family court judge decided the children would indeed be safe with their parents. But the child endangerment charges still stand.

"I was numb, totally flabbergasted, outraged, and left speechless," said Naulls. "They told my wife we were endangering the kids because of the medicine we had in the house, but we only had some in a refrigerator in the garage that has an alarmed door and my own medicine in a locked container in my office -- the DEA broke that lock. Would they treat us that way if it had been prescription Xanax?"

The DEA was not apologetic about its handiwork. A DEA spokesman confirmed that its people had called CPS. "Any time we do an operation where children are present, we have a responsibility to call CPS," said Special Agent Jose Martinez. "But we don't make the decision about whether the children are endangered."

While it would not discuss particulars of the Naulls case, the Children's Services Division of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, of which CPS is a part, denies that medical marijuana use or presence is a reason for removal of children on the filing of endangerment charges.

"Drugs alone does not constitute a reason for removal," said Susan Lowe, director of the division. "More relevantly, the issue of medical marijuana does not constitute a reason for us to remove children. There have to be other issues present that indicate neglect or abuse."

That claim brought a sharp response from Oakland-based attorney James Anthony, who represented Naulls on land use issues related to his dispensary. While he supported Lowe's statement of the Riverside County CPS policy, he said it didn’t reflect reality in the county.

"As a medical cannabis activist attorney and friend of the Naulls family, I would say that is very good news and seems to reflect a change of position -- or a position held at the top that has not filtered down yet to the working staff of CPS," said Anthony. "Riverside County CPS has an alarming reputation as quick to take children out of medical cannabis households and to press endangerment charges," he said. "The position the director laid out is exactly as it should be: medical cannabis is no more relevant to the best interests of children than any prescription drug -- the California Supreme Court said as much when it said that medical cannabis is as legal as any prescription drug," Anthony pointed out.

"In the Naulls case," Anthony continued, "what does the agency allege is the 'neglect or abuse'? Two loving parents? A nice middle-class home? Parents who care enough to avail themselves of legal, harmless, medicine to keep themselves well? The only abuse I'm aware of at the Naulls home was the abuse done by federal law enforcement when they invaded that home without warning and heavily armed -- terrorizing those poor children for no reason at all. The DEA could have called me and I would have advised my client to turn himself in -- it's not like he was hiding. If CPS wants to charge someone with child abuse, they should start with the DEA. Under their own standards as described here, there is no basis to prosecute Anisha Naulls for anything."

If there is any child abuse involved, it is coming from the state, agreed Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a group concerned with abuses of the child protection system.

"What has been done to these children is government-sanctioned child abuse," Wexler said. "Whether one believes what Mr. Naulls did is legal or not, there is not a shred of evidence that running a medical marijuana co-op harms children -- and overwhelming evidence that foster care does children enormous harm," he said.

"The act of removal from everyone loving and familiar can traumatize a child for life, and the younger the child, the greater the likelihood for such harm," Wexler continued. "For a young enough child it's an experience akin to a kidnapping. Children often believe that they have done something terribly wrong and now they are being punished. That's reflected in one child telling her father 'Daddy, we're ready to come home now; we promise to be good.' All that harm occurs even when the foster home is a good one. The majority are. But several studies suggest that at least one in three foster children is abused in foster care. So these children have gone from a situation where they clearly were not abused, into foster care, where the odds are at least one in three that they will be abused," Wexler said.

"I warn all my dispensary clients that the federal government will try to capture and imprison you, but it hadn't occurred to me that the government will also kidnap your children," said Anthony. "It's just unbelievable, barbaric."

Anthony also works with Green Aid, a group originally set up to support Ed Rosenthal's legal battles with the feds in Northern California. Green Aid has set up a Naulls Family Defense Fund to aid the now impoverished family in its effort to stay together and out of prison.

Sadly, the Naulls are not alone. Veteran activists say child removals by CPS or the loss of custody battles in California family courts because of medical marijuana are not uncommon and becoming more frequent.

"Medical cannabis patients and providers getting their kids taken away is, unfortunately not new," said Angel McLary Raich, who won the first medical cannabis custody case in California in the wake of Proposition 215. Despite a variety of debilitating and life-threatening conditions, Raich and her patient outreach group Angel Wings, have since become a resource for other medical cannabis community members facing either the child protection bureaucracy or the vicissitudes of family court in child custody cases.

Raich, who is probably best known as the plaintiff in the Supreme Court's medical marijuana case, Raich v. Ashcroft, said involvement with medical cannabis as a factor in either child custody or abuse or endangerment cases is a recurring problem. "I know of many cases where the kids have been taken away permanently, others where they have to have supervised visitation."

"We think this kind of thing is horrible," said Noah Mamber, legal coordinator for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana defense group. "Even as we are making progress on the criminal front, with the cops becoming better educated, as well as other areas like employment and housing, as the legal intake person for ASA I find myself taking many, many calls where medical cannabis is an issue for CPS or in family court. I've probably had 30 or 40 in the last couple of years, and those are just the people who call us."

That means there is work to do, activists said. Some are undertaking an educational process with the family courts and CPS, while others are looking to the legislature for relief.

"No one seems to understand medical marijuana in this context," said Mamber. "There seems to be an unfortunate bias in CPS workers and family court judges. There are cases where there are no other issues except medical marijuana, and they will force them to quit taking their medicine if they want their kids. It is absolutely true that there are cases where patient parents are being treated unfairly by CPS and the family court system."

"An educational process for the courts and agencies is definitely needed," said Anthony. "They can act with the best of intentions, yet wield an incredibly devastating impact on families because of their lack of knowledge."

Raich pioneered such educational work in Alameda County. The work continues, she said. "I'm working on training law enforcement and dealing with CPS and family court," she said. "That's my real passion. I cannot tolerate watching other people lose their kids over this stuff. It is just so wrong."

If anyone is having problems with CPS or family court over medical marijuana issues, call her, Raich said. Her number is in the Oakland phone book and contact information is on her web site.

ASA is working to even the playing field for patients through legislative action, Mamber said. "As it is now, family courts and CPS don't seem to be aware of Prop. 215 and Senate Bill 420, so we need legislation to guide them. We have drafted a bill that would amend the child protection law so that the medical marijuana status of a parent cannot be the sole basis for removal of a child," he explained. "They need to quit forcing patients to stop taking their medicine. This measure won't stop CPS from doing its job, but it will stop it from persecuting medical marijuana patients."

All that is going to take time. In the meantime, said Raich, medical marijuana patients or providers with children need to play it extremely safe. "Make sure you're being a good parent," she said. "Make sure your cannabis is out of reach of the children, make sure your house is clean, there are no hazards, always plenty of milk and formula on hand. Don't grow in the house, don't dry in the house, don't have more pot than food in the refrigerator. Take a parenting class. Know what you need to do. And if the cops come to the door, don't let them in without a warrant."

As for Ronald Naulls, he's still a bit shell-shocked. "I'm a businessman and a network engineer. I don't have a criminal record and I don't want to go to jail. I don't want to have to fight the state to keep my daughters. I'm praying for God's love, and I ask everyone to pray for me. But this is more than just about me, this is a fight for the patients and for my family."

FAMM urges Congress to heed message from Commission, New report finds crack disparity unjustifiable, up to Congress to fix the problem

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Federal crack cocaine penalties overstate the harmfulness of the drug, apply mostly to low-level offenders, and hit minorities hardest, concludes the U.S. Sentencing Commission in a new report to Congress, "Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy," released today, May 15. Based on these findings, the Commission maintains it's consistently held position that current crack cocaine penalties significantly undermine the congressional objectives of the Sentencing Reform Act, including fairness, uniformity and proportionality. The solution? Congress should act, says the report. Mary Price, vice president and general counsel of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a national, nonpartisan sentencing reform organization, says, "The prisoners, children and families torn apart by these unjustifiably harsh penalties are watching closely and will welcome crack sentencing reforms that restore some justice to crack penalties. Only Congress can change our harsh mandatory minimum crack laws. Lawmakers should not squander the important opportunity presented by the most recent set of findings and recommendations by the Sentencing Commission. The time is ripe for reform, especially given the bipartisan support for crack sentencing reform that has emerged in recent years." In its report, the Commission again unanimously and strongly urged Congress to act promptly on the following recommendations: (1) Increase the five-year and ten-year mandatory minimum threshold quantities for crack cocaine offenses to focus the penalties more closely on serious and major traffickers, (2) Repeal the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine and (3) Reject addressing the 100-to-1 disparity by decreasing the five-year and ten-year mandatory minimum threshold quantities for powder cocaine offenses, citing no evidence to justify such an increase in quantity-based penalties for powder cocaine offenses. In addition, the Commission seeks authority to incorporate any future changes to the mandatory minimums for crack into the federal sentencing guidelines. FAMM strongly supports these recommendations and looks forward to working with members of Congress to implement these reasonable and long-overdue reforms to crack cocaine sentencing. Visit www.ussc.gov to read the report. --------------------------------------------------- Note on Second Chance Act H.R. 1593, the Second Chance Act, was pulled from the floor of the House of Representatives before it was voted on. FAMM is investigating this unexpected action and will follow up with more information on www.famm.org and ealerts. --------------------------------------------------- What is FAMM? FAMM is the national voice for fair and proportionate sentencing laws. We shine a light on the human face of sentencing, advocate for state and federal sentencing reform and mobilize thousands of individuals and families whose lives are adversely affected by unjust sentences. For more information, visit www.famm.org or email [email protected].
Washington, DC
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