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Chronicle AM: FDA Opens Public Comment on International Scheduling of New Drugs, More... (8/15/17)

It's the mid-August doldrums, but the FDA has opened public comment on whether and where to schedule a bunch of new drugs -- and CBD! -- under the international drug control treaties, the NBA's commissioner hints he's softening his stance on marijuana, and more.

A bunch of fentanyl analogs are among the new drugs -- and CBD! -- being considered for global scheduling. (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

NBA Head Hints Openness to Examining Medical Marijuana. National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver, who has been a staunch foe of relaxing the league's marijuana policy, hinted on a recent trip to Israel that he may be changing his mind. When asked by a reporter about whether the NBA would follow the more pot-friendly NFL's lead, Silver responded thusly in remarks quoted by Uproxx: "I would say it's something we will look at," Silver said. "I'm very interested in the science when it comes to medical marijuana. My personal view is that it should be regulated in the same way that other medications are if the plan is to use it for pain management. And it's something that needs to be discussed with our Players Association, but to the extent that science demonstrates that there are effective uses for medical reasons, we'll be open to it. Hopefully there’s not as much pain involved in our sport as some others, so there’s not as much need for it."

Maryland Regulators Approve Eight More Cultivation Licenses. The state's medical marijuana regulators on Monday gave final approval for licenses for eight medical marijuana cultivation companies. Previously, only one grower had received a license. More growers are needed to provide product for the state's anticipated 102 dispensaries.

Drug Policy

FDA Opens Public Comment on New Drugs Considered for International Scheduling. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published a notice in the Federal Register announcing a 30-day public comment period for persons or organizations wishing to weigh in on whether and where a number of unscheduled drugs should be included in the restrictive drug schedules of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The substances under consideration include several fentanyl analogs, some new psychoactive substances (AB-PINACA, AB-CHMINACA), pregabalin, tramadol, ketamine, and cannabidiol. You have until September 13 to file comments.

Chronicle AM: NIH Awards Grant to Study MedMJ and Opioids, Hawaii Dispensary Woes, More... (8/14/17)

The National Institute of Health is ready to see what impact medical marijuana can have on opioid use, Hawaii's first dispensary hits a (temporary) regulatory hurdle, human rights groups warn on the Philippines and Indonesia, and more.

Can medical marijuana help with chronic pain and reduce opioid dependence? NIH pays to find out. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marianas Islands Legalization Bill Refiled. Sen. Sixto Igisomar has refiled a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 20-62. This version of the bill is not yet available on the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands legislative website, but last year's version is available here. The bill would not legalize marijuana by itself, but would allow a popular vote on the question: "Should the commonwealth legalize and regulate marijuana by approving the CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018?" If approved by a majority of voters, it would then become law.

Medical Marijuana

NIH Awards Grant to Study Marijuana and Opioid Addiction. The National Institute of Health last week awarded a $3.8 million grant to researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System to study the effects of medical marijuana on opioid use and addiction. The study will examine chronic pain patients suffering from HIV in hopes of developing rigorous evidence to back a growing number of anecdotal claims that marijuana can reduce the resort to opioid pain relievers and treat the associated pain.

Hawaii's First Dispensary Temporarily Shuttered By Bureaucratic Delays. Maui Grown Therapies, the state's first permitted medical marijuana dispensary, had to suspend sales just five days after opening due to supply issues because of delays at the Hawaii State Labs Division. The dispensary was set to begin sales to walk-in customers Monday, but now has to hold off until, it hopes, Wednesday.

International

Is Indonesia Embracing Philippines-Style Drug War? Death Toll Mounts. Amnesty International has reported that at least 55 people have been killed under an apparent "shoot on sight" policy aimed at drug offenders in the archipelago. The victims were killed "without judicial process," the human rights group noted. President Joko Widodo and National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian have repeatedly expressed frustration with drug trafficking and what they call lenient punishment for them. On June 21, Widodo reiterated an earlier order for law enforcement to shoot drug dealers without compunction.

Human Rights Watch Says Philippines Drug Testing of College Students Threatens Their Safety. The Philippines Commission on Higher Education has approved a plan for mandatory drug testing of college students, but Human Rights Watch warns that "mandatory drug testing of students puts them in the crosshairs of Duterte's abusive drug war, risking the creation of school-to-cemetery track for students testing positive for drugs." The rights group also scored the plan because it allows police to "carry out any drug-related operation within the school premises," allowing "police to extend their anti-drug operations to colleges and university campuses, putting students at grave risk." More than 8,000 people have been killed since President Duterte unleashed his brutal crackdown last year.

Chronicle AM: CA Judge Rules for Growers, CT Judge Rules for Patient, More... (8/11/17)

Federal judges stuck up for California marijuana growers and a Connecticut medical marijuana patient, another Seattle suburb goes NIMBY on safe injection sites, and more.

Connecticut fed judge: Medical marijuana user denied job for positive drug test can sue. (Wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Federal Judge Blocks Prosecution of Marijuana Growers. A federal district court judge in San Francisco ruled on Tuesday that federal prosecutors cannot move forward with their prosecution of two Humboldt County pot growers because the pair was in compliance with state laws. Judge Richard Seeborg held that the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment blocked such prosecutions, and the case is closed unless or until that amendment expires.

Nevada Opens Up Marijuana Distribution Rights. The state Department of Taxation concluded Thursday that there weren't enough liquor distributors who wanted to transport marijuana to pot shops and decided to open the business up to other potential distributors. "The capacity of only liquor wholesalers to serve the market seems lacking," said Deonne Contine, executive director of the tax department, in remarks reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "I think the evidence is fairly clear today that this market needs to be opened up," she said.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Federal Judge Rules Employee Not Hired Because of Medical Marijuana Can Sue. A federal district court judge in New Haven ruled on Tuesday that a woman who was using medical marijuana in compliance with state law can sue an employer who rescinded her job offer after she tested positive for marijuana. The woman had previously disclosed her medical marijuana use and had quit her former job when, one day before she was supposed to begin her new job, the company notified her it was rescinding the offer. The ruling echoes one last month in Maine's Supreme Judicial Court, and may signal the beginning of judicial recognition of the employment rights of medical marijuana users.

Arkansas Hasn't Seen Any Grow or Dispensary Applications Yet. With the state halfway through its application period for medical marijuana grow and dispensary licenses, state officials said Friday that they had yet to receive any applications, but they weren't worried. "We are not concerned, as we understand the applications require detailed and specific information that will take time to complete," Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin told the Associated Press. "Applicants are likely performing their due diligence to provide quality applications." The deadline for applications is September 18.

Harm Reduction

Another Seattle Suburb Rejects Safe Injection Sites. The city council in south suburban Federal Way voted Tuesday night to ban safe injection sites in the city. The vote comes after a King County task force recommended opening two safe injection sites in the county, which includes Seattle. Another Seattle suburb, Bellevue, approved a similar NIMBY ban just days ago. One safe injection is set for Seattle; the other is supposed to open in one of the suburbs.

Chronicle AM: Trump Wants More Drug War to Fight Opioids, New Pot Poll, More... (8/9/17)

A new Quinnipiac poll has support for marijuana legalization at a record high, Trump calls for a return to tough drug war policies to fight opioids, Hawaii gets its first dispensary, and more.

#WINNING in the polls.
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Record 61% for Legalization. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, the highest figure ever reported by Quinnipiac and up two points since February. Support was above 50% for all demographic groups except Republicans (37%) and people over 65 (42%). The poll also found that fully three-quarters (75%) of respondents thought the federal government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states where it is legal. Support for medical marijuana was even higher a near-unanimous 94%.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Gets First Dispensary. Maui Grown Therapies opened for business on Tuesday in Kahului. It's the first dispensary in the state to be permitted and open its doors. The store was only open for a couple of hours Tuesday, with the owners saying they were doing a "soft opening." A second dispensary, Aloha Green, was set to open in Oahu on Wednesday.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Wants More Drug War, But No State of Emergency for Opioid Crisis. President Trump said Tuesday that a stronger law enforcement is necessary to fight the opioid crisis and criticized the Obama administration for prosecuting fewer drug offenders. He also critically highlighted shorter average sentences for drug offenders under Obama and advocated for abstinence-based drug treatment. But he did not act on a recommendation from his opioid panel headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) that he declare a national state of emergency.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Suburb Votes to Ban Safe Injection Sites. The Bellevue City Council voted Monday night to ban safe injection sites even though none had been proposed for the city, the second-largest in Kings County after Seattle. Members said the vote was driven by fears the site could hurt development of a homeless center now being planned. But it is also a sign of broader objections to such facilities in the area and comes after the Metropolitan King County Council voted in July not to spend money setting up sites unless a locale's elected officials first approved it. Safe injection supporters said that vote effectively kills any sites outside the city of Seattle.

International

Tillerson Offers to Help Duterte Fight Drugs -- If Philippines Leader Changes Tactics. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday and told him the US would provide anti-drug assistance if he would rein in his brutal tactics. Tillerson obliquely noted harsh criticisms of the Philippines' bloody drug war by human rights groups and others and suggested the US could help find more suitable tactics. Duterte was noncommittal.

Why Are Pot Shops Mainly in Poor Neighborhoods?

Recreational marijuana retail sales outlets are disproportionately located in poor neighborhoods. That's what the industry journal Marijuana Business Daily found when it recently analyzed the their distribution in two of the first major cities to host legal pot shops.

Herbs4You marijuana shop, Denver. (Wikimedia)
In Seattle, the Daily found that 40% of pot shops were in zip codes where the average income was in the bottom 25th percentile. In Denver, the trend was even more pronounced, with nearly 45% of the stores located in the poorest neighborhoods.

Those zip codes account for 26% of the population in Seattle and 27% in Denver, so it's not that retailers are simply going where the people are. And there's no evidence it's some nefarious plot to target poor residents for stupefaction.

So what's behind the trend? According to the Daily, part of the answer is the initial reluctance by property owners to get involved with a business still federally illegal. And landlords with properties in middle- or upper-class neighborhoods could appeal to more upscale tenants outside the marijuana business, leaving tenant-hungry property owners in poorer areas more amendable to filling vacancies even with more potential risky businesses.

"That's where the retail space was available," cannabis entrepreneur and Dank dispensary owner Greg Gamet told the Daily. "Landlords had a hard time renting properties in these areas previously… they're more apt to rent these when there's no renters."

And poorer areas were cheaper and easier to do business in. Where times are tough, the flame of NIMBYism flickers less brightly. Low-income neighborhoods generally didn't protest the arrival of pot shops, which meant jobs and economic development, and they didn't place as many regulatory hurdles as more well-off areas.

Low-income neighborhoods also mean lower rents. And lower rents meant higher profit margins compared to pot shops in tonier parts of town, a critical factor in consolidating one's position in the early days of the highly competitive legal weed business.

But the phenomenon of pot stores being overrepresented in poor neighborhoods may prove ephemeral, in part because of the very economic success of the shopkeepers and in part because the stigma around marijuana is eroding and the revenue flows are enticing, even for hard-eyed businessmen with valuable real estate assets.

"Moving forward," the Daily predicts, "major cities in markets that legalized recreational marijuana after Colorado and Washington state -- like Boston and Portland, Oregon -- are less likely to see clusters of retail marijuana stores in low-income neighborhoods."

For better or worse.

In Bid to Defend Marijuana Arrests, NYC Mayor de Blasio Attacks Drug Reformers

Last month, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) released a report noting that marijuana arrests under New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio continue to be marked by shocking racial disparities, much as they were under his predecessors, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Stung by the criticism, de Blasio is fighting back, but his response so far has consisted of attacking DPA as "legalizers" and comparing apples to oranges.

New York City still has a marijuana arrest problem under Mayor de Blasio. (Wikimedia)
The DPA report, Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York, noted that while marijuana possession arrests are down under de Blasio from the grotesque numbers achieved under Giuliani (more than 40,000 arrests in 2001) or Bloomberg (more than 50,000 arrests in 2011), NYPD still arrested made more than 18,000 of them last year. A whopping 86% of them were black or brown, maintaining the racial disparities so apparent in earlier administrations.

That's "a far cry from the Mayor's pledge to rein in NYPD's targeting of people of color," charged DPA New York State Director Kassandra Frederique in the report. That de Blasio had managed to bring pot arrests down to an average of only 20,000 a year during his tenure shouldn't be portrayed as progress, argued Frederique, instead describing it as "slower injustice, but slower injustice is still injustice delivered."

De Blasio struck back last Friday, releasing a statement that called the DPA report "misleading" and attacked DPA as "a group committed to legalization." De Blasio's statement emphasized that marijuana arrests had dropped significantly under his administration -- something DPA never disputed -- but failed to address the claim of continuing racial disparities in arrests. Instead, it merely noted that because arrests were down overall, arrests of black and brown people were down, too.

But the takeaway sentence in de Blasio's statement inadvertently makes DPA's case:

As a result of this new policy, arrests for marijuana possession are down 37%  -- from almost 29,000 in 2013 to approximately 18,000 in 2016. This has translated into approximately 9,600 fewer arrests of Black and Latino New Yorkers for marijuana possession in 2016 as compared to 2013.

In other words, a reduction of less than 11,000 total marijuana arrests between the two years resulted in about 9,600 people of color not being arrested. De Blasio's own data and arguments show that the city's minorities clearly take the brunt of marijuana law enforcement, his wriggling notwithstanding.

And now, DPA is returning fire at de Blasio.

"Mayor de Blasio is not disputing the data published in our report, he is trying to spin his poor record to look as though he has made some progress," Frederique said in a Friday press release. "In reality, New York City was the marijuana arrest capital of the world under Bloomberg and still holds that dubious title under de Blasio today. The 18,000 arrests in 2016 alone and outrageous racial disparities are a disgrace to the city and a blight on the mayor’s record. The unjust and racially-targeted arrests are devastating black and Latino communities across the city."

Frederique also applied some political ju-jitsu to de Blasio's "legalizer" attack.

"The mayor’s efforts to discredit the report and the Drug Policy Alliance by calling us legalizers, is a desperate attempt to distract the public from the facts of his abysmal record. Our report is based on data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Rather than attack his critics, the mayor should attack the problem of racially-targeted arrests," she said. "For the record, the Drug Policy Alliance is committed to marijuana legalization to increase access for patients and end targeted policing in communities of color. And we’re not alone; nearly 60% of Americans also support legalization."

Instead of attacking critics, the mayor should fix the problem, Frederique added.

"It’s time for the mayor to get out of the spin cycle and back to work," she prescribed. "The mayor must end the biased policing practices that have ruined the lives of so many young black and Latino New Yorkers now."

New York, NY
United States

Chronicle AM: Secret Safe Injection Site in US City, VT "Blue Ribbon" MJ Panel, More... (8/8/17)

The body representing state legislatures again calls for marijuana reforms, Vermont's governor is about to empanel on commission to study legalization issues, a safe injection site has been operating secretly in a US city for the past three years, and more.

The Vancouver safe injection site has a hidden counterpart somewhere in the US. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

National Conference of State Legislatures Urges De-Scheduling Marijuana. The National Conference of State Legislatures has approved a resolution calling for marijuana to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act. The resolution approved on Monday specifically references access to banking, saying such a move would result in "… enabling financial institutions the ability to provide banking services to cannabis related businesses." This marks the third year in a row the conference has passed a resolution on marijuana, going a bit further each time. In 2015, it resolved that federal laws should be amended to allow states to set their own pot policies, and last year, it resolved that marijuana should be down-scheduled.

Vermont Governor About to Convene "Blue Ribbon Commission" on Legalization. Gov. Phil Scott (R) says he will shortly convene a commission to study issues around marijuana legalization, but it looks like his emphasis will be on how to detect marijuana impairment in drivers rather than examining models for legalization. Earlier this year, Scott vetoed a legalization bill, citing concerns about driving and youth, and he says now that he will not sign a bill that doesn't have stringent standards on impaired driving.

Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Split on Decriminalization. Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam sent a letter Monday to the State Crime Commission, which is studying decriminalization, in support of the notion. That position contrasts with Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, who says he opposes legalization or decriminalization, but is open to exploring reforms to ensure that penalties are commensurate with the offense committed. Polling shows a majority of Virginians favor decrim. Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra, meanwhile, says just tax and legalize it.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Republican Will File Medical Marijuana Bill to Fight Opioid Overdoses. State Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) says he plans to file a medical marijuana bill in a bid to combat opioid abuse. He said he was acting after hearing from constituents. "People telling me their personal stories, how they've been helped by this product, how far behind Indiana is on this issue," he told the Indianapolis Star. "That right there, we have a responsibility to at least investigate it and determine the facts, and if there is something positive out there, we have to pursue that."

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Asset Forfeiture Reforms Go Into Effect Wednesday. A new law limiting civil asset forfeiture reform goes into effect Wednesday. House Bill 2477 does not end civil asset forfeiture, but raises the standard of proof necessary for seizures from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence."

Harm Reduction

Underground Safe Injection Site Has Been Operating in a US City for Three Years. In a report released Tuesday, two researchers revealed that they've been studying an unpermitted safe injection site in operation since 2014. They reported that no one died while using drugs at the site and that two overdoses were reversed by staff members administering naloxone. The report comes as pressure to authorize such sites is mounting, with lawmakers in states like California and New York and cities including San Francisco, Seattle, and Ithaca, New York, backing such efforts.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, 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.)

Chronicle AM: DEA to Cut Pain Pill Quotas Next Year, Sessions Eyes WA's Legal Pot, More...(8/4/17)

Attorney General Sessions is giving the hairy eyeball to Washington state's legal pot program, the DEA is moving to reduce prescription opioid production next year, the head of the Los Angeles city council wants the city to create a bank for the pot industry, and more.

The DEA is set to cut Schedule II opioid manufacturing by 20% next year.
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Criticizes Washington Legalization in Letter to State Officials. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a letter late last month to officials in Washington state challenging the way the state has implemented marijuana legalization and asking them to address concerns raised by a Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) report critical of legalization. That report, Sessions wrote, "raises serious questions about the efficacy of marijuana 'regulatory structures' in your state." He cited portions of the report focusing on the diversion of legal weed out of state, drugged driving, and use by minors, all of which are areas flagged by the Obama administration's Cole memo as possibly being grounds for federal intervention.

Los Angeles City Council President Proposes Pot Bank. LA City Council President Herb Wesson called in a speech late last month for the city to create a bank that would serve the marijuana industry, as well as other social needs in the city. Citing images of pot shop owners lugging around sacks of cash, he argued that city officials had a responsibility to figure out a way to make legalization work and that access to banking was a key part of it.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Panel Advises Expanding List of Qualifying Conditions. In a report issued last week, the state's Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel said it was ready to approve 43 more qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana. Among them are chronic pain, migraines, anxiety, opiate-use disorder, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, autism, and Tourette syndrome. But it's not a done deal yet -- there's a two month public comment period now, and the state health commissioner makes the final decision, after that.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Proposes Cutting Amount of Opioids Manufactured Next Year. In a Federal Register notice dated August 7, but available for viewing now, the DEA is proposing reducing the amount of Schedule II opioid pain relievers manufactured in the US by 20% in 2018. "Demand for these opioid medicines has dropped," the DEA, citing prescription data. "Physicians, pharmacists, and patients must recognize the inherent risks of these powerful medications, especially for long-term use," said Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in a statement. "More states are mandating use of prescription drug monitoring programs, which is good, and that has prompted a decrease in opioid prescriptions."

Asset Forfeiture

Las Vegas Civil Asset Forfeiture Happens Mainly in Poor, Minority Neighborhoods, Report Finds. A new report from the Nevada Policy Research Institute shows that civil asset forfeiture in the city happens mostly in poor and minority neighborhoods. The report found that two-thirds of all seizures were made in zip codes where the nonwhite population averages 42% and the poverty rate was 27%. The report also found that more than half of all seizures were for cash or assets valued at less than $1,000. Las Vegas Metro Police seized more than $2.1 million last year, the report found. In recent years, seizures ranged from a high of $515,000 in one case to a low of $74 in another.

Chronicle AM: Wyden Wants DOJ to Release MJ Recs, Pressure on DHS Over Meth Death, More... (8/2/17)

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has asked Attorney General Sessions to release recommendations on possible changes in federal marijuana enforcement, congressmembers want changes at Customs and Border Protection after video of a Mexican teen's death after drinking meth in front of Customs agents went public, and more.

Puerto Rico is hoping medical marijuana will deliver an economic miracle. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ron Wyden Asks Sessions to Release Crime Task Force Marijuana Recommendations. Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden sent a letter to Attorney General Sessions Tuesday pressing him to reveal any possible changes to federal marijuana enforcement policies contained in recommendations presented to him last week by the Justice Department's Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. "It is concerning to see this administration failing, once again, to be transparent and straightforward with the American people about the motivations behind its policy shifts," Wyden wrote. "I write to you today to ask that the recommendations of the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety immediately be made public."

Medical Marijuana

Puerto Rico Looks to Medical Marijuana as Economic Medicine. Economically ravaged Puerto Rico is counting on medical marijuana to boost its economy. The island's treasury secretary estimates the industry could generate up to $100 million a year and help reduce an unemployment rate currently around 12%. The US territory is in a fiscal crisis, facing billions in budgets cuts and a public debt load of $70 billion. David Quinones, operations director of Puerto Rico's largest medical marijuana producer, Natural Ventures, told the Washington Post: "Name one new industry in Puerto Rico capable of generating millions and billions in capital and improving an economy in a mega-crisis. There is none."

Law Enforcement

Oregon Drug Task Force Disbanding. The Lane County Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team is disbanding effective immediately, with Board Chairman Rick Lewis, the police chief in Springfield, citing budget and staffing issues. The task force, which was founded in 1987 to deal primarily with meth labs, has disbanded once before. In 2005, it was shut down for three years after budgeting shortfalls. Last year, the task force made 110 arrests and seized nearly 15 pounds of meth and $133,000 in cash.

After Death Of Teen Who Drank Liquid Meth At Checkpoint, Lawmakers Call For Action. Members of Congress are calling on the Department of Homeland Security to take steps to improve training after video of a Mexican teen drinking liquid methamphetamine in front of Customs agents and then dying became public last week. The boy, Cruz Velazquez Acevedo, died in 2013. "What happened to Cruz Velazquez was absolutely horrible, and we must guarantee that something like this never happens again," Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., said in an email Monday to KPBS. "I am requesting an immediate response from the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that proper training is put in place for Customs and Border Protection agents." The Department of Homeland Security has already paid a $1 million settlement with the teen's family.

Judge Forces First-Time Drug Offenders to Take Christian Drug Treatment Course

A municipal court judge in Louisiana with an apparently limited understanding of the US Constitution is forcing first-time drug offenders seeking probation to attend a Christian program called "Life Choices" offered by a local church.

The First Amendment's Establishment clause mandates that the government cannot in any way promote, advance, or otherwise endorse any religion, a principle well-established in federal jurisprudence. That bright dividing line between church and state also applies to court orders and terms of probation that require participation in religious programs, as can be seen in a line of cases decided in federal appeals courts over the past 20 years.

The fundamental principle behind Establishment cause jurisprudence is, as noted in Lee v. Weisman (1992), that government must remain neutral toward religion because "the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere."

Not in the court of Sulphur City Court Judge Charles Schrumpf, though. As the Freedom From Religion Foundation noted in a July 20 complaint letter to Schrump and probation officer Barbarba Adam, Schrump's way of handling those cases is completely unconstitutional. Probationers in the program receive a Bible and have to complete homework that involves reading passages from scripture, as well as from the evangelical text "Made to Crave."

According to the letter, probationers who objected to participating in the Life Choices program because of its religious content have been told by Probation Officer Adam to "take it up with the judge" in a threatening tone and warned that failure to complete the program would result in the revocation of their probation.

According to the blog Friendly Atheist, which spoke with a person ordered to take the course, the course teacher said that while attendees weren't required to be Christian, that was the ultimate goal, and Probation Officer Adams responded to an attendee who said he was an atheist by saying, "We'll see how you feel after eight weeks [of class]."

The foundation is demanding that the practice be ended and that if the court is going to impose drug treatment or counseling as a condition of probation, it does so through programs that are "medical and secular, not religious in nature." At this point, the foundation is not threatening a lawsuit; only seeking notification "of the appropriate actions taken by the Court and the Probation Office to protect the right of conscience of probationers in their care."

There is no word yet on whether Judge Schrumpf will heed the foundation's complaint and restore the Constitution in his court or whether he will double down in defiance. In the meantime, if you get caught with drugs in Sulphur Springs, may God help you.

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