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Chronicle AM -- November 21, 2013

Movement toward legal marijuana commerce continues in Washington, movement toward dispensaries continues in Massachusetts, medical marijuana polls very well in Florida, and more. Let's get to it:

Coming soon to a Washington state retail store near you.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Marijuana Business License Applications Pile Up. As of Wednesday morning, the state Department of Revenue had received 585 completed applications for marijuana business licenses in the two days since the process opened up Monday. They include 27 applications for processors, 134 for growers, 144 for retailers, and 280 for operations doing both growing and processing. The state foresees 334 marijuana retail outlets. The number of growers and processors remains to be seen, but regulators want to limit legal production to two million square feet statewide.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Poll: Crist 47%, Scott 40%, Medical Marijuana 82%. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana in Florida at 82%, the greatest support for medical marijuana ever polled there, and nearly as much as the support for the leading gubernatorial contenders combined. The poll comes as People United for Medical Marijuana is in the midst of a signature-gathering campaign to put an initiative on the 2014 ballot. The poll strongly suggests that if the initiative can make the ballot, it will win.

Last Day for Dispensary Proposals in Massachusetts. Today is the deadline for the 158 qualified applicants seeking to open medical marijuana dispensaries in the Bay State. They are vying to be one of the 35 dispensaries envisioned by state law. In the second phase of the selection process, applicants will now go before a committee that will score their applications on a number of factors, including ability to meet the health needs of patients, appropriateness of the location, geographic distribution, local support, and plans to ensure public safety.

New Mexico's Bernalillo County Bans County Employees from Using Medical Marijuana. Bernalillo County (Albuquerque), the state's most populous county, has banned the use of medical marijuana by county workers under a new policy issued November 12 by County Manager Tom Zdunek. Zdunek cited federal prohibition and county policy as reasons for the ban. "This is a backwards policy that will prevent people who are suffering from accessing the medicine that works for them," said Jessica Gelay, policy coordinator for Drug Policy Alliance in New Mexico. "It is unconscionable that the County Manager would unilaterally attempt to deny Bernalillo County employees the right to use a medicine recommended by their physician. Patients deserve above all else, the freedom to choose the safest and most effective treatment for their disabling conditions -- whatever that treatment might be. It is time to stop demonizing marijuana and creating a double standard for prescription medications."

Cannabis Oil for Kids Greeted Warmly at Utah Capitol. Parents seeking access to cannabis oils for their epileptic children got a warm reception at a pair of committee hearings at the statehouse Wednesday. This is only a first step; there is no bill pending, but the response from lawmakers was largely positive, especially if such "hemp supplements" contained only small amounts of THC. There are about 10,000 Utah kids suffering from "refractory seizures" from epilepsy, and 35 of them are on a Colorado waiting list for a cannabis extract called Alepsia.

Drug Testing

Minnesota Now Drug Testing Public Benefits Recipients with Drug Felonies. People with a previous drug felony who are receiving or seeking public benefits are now subject to random drug testing under a law passed by the legislature in 2012. Those programs are the Minnesota Family Investment Program, General Assistance Program, Minnesota Supplemental Aid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. About 1% of state public benefits have felony drug records, similar to the proportion in the general population.

International

Myanmar Opium Eradication Campaign Falls Short. Opium eradicators in Myanmar's southern Shan State have fallen well short of wiping out the poppy crop. Police had planned to eradicate 30,000 acres of poppy in the past 30 days, but only actually destroyed about 4,600 acres, or 13% of the target. They blamed manpower shortages, poor road links, and a flawed crop substitution program for their failure to meet their targets. Myanmar is the world's second largest opium producer, but lags far behind Afghanistan, which produces about 90% of the illicit global supply.

Tanzania Scolded on Need for Drug Reform, Harm Reduction. The Tanzanian government needs to come up with a harm reduction strategy for drug users and reform its drug laws, Doctors of the World harm reduction specialist Damali Lucas told a Dar es Salaam press conference Monday. The country's 1995 drug law does not differentiate between someone holding a small amount of drugs and someone holding large amounts, she noted. She also called for a harm reduction policy to be implemented to address the spread of HIV and related illnesses.

Editorial: Did Trey Radel Really Vote for Drug Testing?

One of the top political stories this week was the recent arrest of Rep. Trey Radel, a freshman Republican congressman from Florida. Radel pleaded guilty to cocaine possession yesterday and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation. Last night he gave a press conference to apologize to the country and his constituents and family, and announced he would be taking a leave of absence to pursue counseling and drug treatment.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/borden12.jpg
David Borden
Since the bust came to light, numerous headlines have circulated to the effect of Radel having voted for legislation to drug test food stamp recipients. But this is only true in a technical sense. As the text of these articles notes, unlike their headlines, the legislation Radel voted for was an ultimately failed version of the Farm Bill, one of the recurring major federal budget packages authorized every five years. Drug testing was a noxious but small part of the legislation, which also was a mechanism for continuing agricultural subsidies, for continuing the SNAP program itself, and many other things. There were Democrats who voted for the bill too, the roll call shows, some of them liberals who undoubtedly opposed the drug testing provision. Also, the amendment that got drug testing added to the Farm Bill was passed through a voice vote, and there is therefore no record of who voted for or against it. That means that Radel's vote for the Farm Bill could have been consistent with supporting drug testing of SNAP recipients, opposing drug testing, or having no position on it. There is no way to know without delving further. Politicians often have to vote for bills despite there being provisions they don't like, because they want an overall bill to pass.

Radel is also one of just three Republican sponsors of the Justice Safety Valve Act, a bill to undo mandatory minimum sentencing by allowing judges to impose sentences below any specified minimums. Although mandatory minimums extend to more issues than drugs, it is drug offenders who are the principle targets of them. So Radel has actually done more than most members of Congress to try to at least reduce the use of incarceration in America, and for drug offenders in particular. A piece published on ThinkProgress.org Tuesday in fact noted a number of statements Radel has made that express skepticism about drug war policies. It also noted that he has expressed opposition to marijuana legalization, so there are facts on both sides. On the other hand, most members of Congress are still likely to say they're not for legalization, despite our movement's recent victories and where opinion polls have gone, so I'm not inclined to attach much significance to that.

Radel news conference, 11/20/13 (TodayNews via YouTube)
That doesn't mean there isn't a valid lesson to be learned from the Radel arrest. A Politico article fairly described the incident as "bring[ing] up drug testing for food stamps." Nancy Pelosi legitimately made this point. Radel's Republican colleagues who are the main supporters of the drug testing amendment may deserve the hypocrisy charge. But it's less than clear that Radel does.

More important than piling on a member of Congress who probably doesn't deserve it, but more important in any case, is to make the points that the incident helps to illustrate about the discrimination and injustices inherent in drug war policies -- like drug testing poor people who don't use drugs more than anyone else, and throwing them out the window when they make the same mistakes in their stressful lives that many others who have easier lives make too.

North Carolina Legislature Overrides Drug Test Bill Veto

North Carolina's Republican Gov. Pat McCrory last month vetoed a welfare drug testing bill championed by his own party in the legislature, saying it was "a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion" and "not a smart way to combat drug abuse." But this week, the legislature managed to override that veto.

In votes in the General Assembly Tuesday and the Senate Wednesday, the Republican-controlled legislature chose to move forward with the drug tests, which will require some welfare applicants to pay out of their own pockets for drug testing before they can receive benefits.

Six Democrats joined the Republicans in the Assembly, making the veto possible by a margin of just two of the needed 3/5 of elected members. Three Republican assemblymembers voted against it. In the Senate, three Democrats voted for the override, with no Republicans voting against it. Republican senators had enough votes to override the veto on their own.

The legislation, House Bill 392, will require people applying for the state's welfare and food stamp programs to undergo drug testing if social service workers determine there is reasonable suspicion they are using drugs. It will also require county workers to ensure that applicants do not have outstanding felony warrants and were not violating probation.

The votes to override were sharply criticized by civil liberties advocates.

"It's very disappointing that the legislature put so much effort into passing this cruel and constitutionally suspect bill. HB 392 does nothing to help those who test positive for drug use get treatment, but it does allow the government to conduct costly, unnecessary, and unreasonably intrusive searches of North Carolinians who seek public assistance to care for their families," said ACLU of North Carolina policy director Sarah Preston in a Wednesday statement.

"Forcing people in need to pay up front for urine tests is not only cruel but will likely deter many low-income families from even applying for assistance. Why the legislature was so adamant about passing this bill is unclear, since all available evidence shows that public aid applicants are no more likely to use drugs than the general public, and similar programs in other states have been found to be unconstitutional and fiscally wasteful," Preston pointed out.

Indeed, other states that have implemented such programs have found them costly and ineffective. In Florida, only 2% of applicants tested turned up positive, while early numbers from Utah and Oklahoma suggest similarly uninspiring results.

Charlotte, NC
United States

ACLU-Illinois Sues Chicago Over Public Housing Drug Tests

The ACLU of Illinois Thursday filed a class-action lawsuit against the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) over its policy requiring drug testing of residents in mixed-income developments. The ACLU charges in US District Court that the CHA's policy of suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Lawsuit plaintiff Robert Peery (aclu-il.org)
A positive drug test would lead to the eviction of the resident.

The CHA instituted the mixed-income residence drug testing program as part of its "Plan for Transformation," which tore down many of the city's crime-ridden high-rise housing developments and replaced them with mixed-income developments. Residents of the demolished low-income housing developments were given the option of moving into the new properties, but were required to take an initial drug test and be tested again every time the lease was renewed.

"Through the CHA's mixed-income program, public housing families reside in housing that is new, privately-owned and privately operated, alongside market-rate and affordable renters. One of the requirements of renters is that they follow property rules," CHA spokeswoman Wendy Parks said in a statement Wednesday. "And if those rules happen to include drug testing, then public housing families -- like their market-rate and affordable renter neighbors -- must adhere to those rules."

The suit, filed on behalf of lead plaintiff Joseph Peery, is seeking a temporary injunction to block drug testing and a permanent ban on the practice. It also asks that the CHA be ordered to pay plaintiffs' legal fees.

"Mr. Peery repeatedly has taken and passed a suspicionless drug test," the lawsuit says. "Mr. Peery is a law-abiding person, and does not use illegal drugs. He strongly objects to the CHA's suspicionless drug testing. He finds it humiliating and invasive, and it makes him feel stigmatized as a presumptive criminal and drug user."

"I'm required to go into the business office, urinate in a jar, then hand it to an office staffer. Anyone working in or visiting the office can watch the process," Peery said at a Wednesday press conference. "It's embarrassing. You can only imagine how the grandmothers in the developments feel. We're being singled out in public housing. It's not fair."

"This misguided policy unfairly stigmatizes Mr. Peery and CHA residents like him," said Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel at the ACLU of Illinois. "It presumes he is guilty of illegal drug use, solely because he is a public housing resident, until he proves otherwise with a drug test."

"No one should have to suffer an invasion of their privacy -- like forced urinalysis -- in order to live in their own home," added ACLU staff attorney Karen Sheley.

Chicago, IL
United States

North Carolina Governor Vetoes Welfare Drug Test Bill

North Carolina Gov. Robert McCrory (R) Thursday vetoed a welfare drug testing bill pushed through the legislature by his Republican colleagues. Drug testing welfare applicants or recipients was a "government overreach," he said.

The bill, House Bill 392, would have required people applying for the state's welfare and food stamp programs to undergo drug testing if social service workers determined there was reasonable suspicion they were using drugs. It would also have required county workers to ensure that applicants did not have outstanding felony warrants and were not violating probation.

"While I support the efforts to ensure that fugitive felons are not on public assistance roles, and to share information with law enforcement, other parts of the bill are unfair, fiscally irresponsible, and have potential operational problems," McCrory said in a veto statement. "Drug testing Work First applicants as directed in this bill could lead to inconsistent application across the state's 100 counties. That's a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion," he said.

"This is not a smart way to combat drug abuse," McCrory continued. "Similar efforts in other states have proved to be expensive for taxpayers and did little to actually help fight drug addiction. It makes no sense to repeat those mistakes in North Carolina."

While vetoing the bill, McCrory did issue an executive order that would implement the bill's fugitive felon provision.

The veto won praise from civil liberties and civil rights advocates.

"Our state and federal constitutions protect the privacy and dignity of all North Carolinians against unreasonable searches, and all available evidence has shown that welfare applicants are no more likely to use drugs than the general public," Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU in North Carolina said in a statement.

The ACLU and other groups had written McCrory on July 31 urging him to veto the bill.

Charlotte, NC
United States

North Carolina Welfare Drug Testing Bill Passes

A bill that would require public benefits recipients to take a drug test upon suspicion they are using drugs passed won final approval in the North Carolina legislature late last week and now heads for the governor's desk. The bill had passed both houses of the legislature earlier this month, but had to win a concurrence vote in the Senate after the House amended it.

Last Thursday, the Senate gave final approval to the bill, passing it 32-4 without debate. That despite concerns raised in the House that it would push drug users away without encouraging them to get help.

The bill, House Bill 392, requires participants in the state's Work First program, which offers cash benefits, training, and support services to families, to submit to drug testing if authorities have a reasonable suspicion they are on drugs. The bill also requires stringent background checks to ensure recipients don't have probation or parole violations or outstanding felony warrants.

Republican senators amended the bill to make it more palatable by inserting language clarifying that drug test results would remain confidential and that people who tested positive would be referred to treatment resources. They also deleted language that required county employees to tell potential recipients they wouldn't be drug tested if they didn't apply for Work First.

"We've worked really, really hard to make this bill fair," said bill sponsor Sen. Dean Arp (R) during debate earlier this month. "I hope my colleagues feel we tried to address their concerns."

He didn't convince Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Chapel Hill), the only senator who took to the floor to speak against the bill before it passed the first time.

"There is no evidence that people who are getting Work First checks are more likely... to be drug users," she said. "This is just a stigma, and one more kicking people when they are down."

And it is a burden on county social service departments and the taxpayers, Kinnaird said. "It's an added burden time-wise, paperwork-wise," she said. "And it's an unfunded mandate."

Imposing drug testing on public benefits recipients has been an increasingly popular move among Republican-dominated state legislatures in the last few years. States such as Florida that have passed bills to require mandatory, suspicionless drug testing have, however, run into problems with the federal courts, which view drug testing as a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and thus require probable cause or a search warrant.

A second generation of public benefits drug testing bills, such as the one passed last week in North Carolina, seeks to get around the constitutional issue by specifying that only beneficiaries who somehow arouse particularized suspicion of drug use are subject to testing. Those laws have yet to be challenged in the federal courts.

Raleigh, NC
United States

Michigan House Approves Welfare Drug Test Bill

The Republican-controlled Michigan House Friday approved a bill that would allow for the suspicion-based drug testing of welfare recipients. The bill, House Bill 4118, now heads to the state Senate.

The bill would set up a pilot program in three counties, to be evaluated after one year. The Department of Human Services would report results to the legislature.

It would require new welfare applicants to undergo a screening for drug use using an "empirically validated substance abuse screening tool," and if the screening indicates the likelihood of drug use, "the applicant is required to take a substance abuse test." The same procedure would apply to existing welfare recipients, who would be required to be screened annually.

Drug testing would be paid for by the state, unless the applicant or recipient tested positive. In that case, he or she would have to pay for the test.

People who tested positive on a drug test could continue to receive benefits if they enter drug treatment, while those refusing or failing to follow treatment would lose their benefits.

The Michigan legislature is following in the footsteps of a handful of other states that have passed public benefits drug testing bills, despite evidence in recent weeks that such programs have few tangible benefits. In Utah, for example, authorities screened more than 4,400 welfare applicants, but found only nine people who tested positive on drug tests.

Lansing, MI
United States

North Carolina Welfare Drug Testing Bill Moving

A bill that would require public benefits recipients to take a drug test upon suspicion they are using drugs passed the state Senate Wednesday. It had already passed the House, and now returns there for a concurrence vote after it was amended in the Senate.

The bill, House Bill 392, requires participants in the state's Work First program, which offers cash benefits, training, and support services to families, to submit to drug testing if authorities have a reasonable suspicion they are on drugs. The bill also requires stringent background checks to ensure that recipients are not probation or parole violators or have outstanding felony warrants.

The measure is part of a package of conservative bills being rammed through the Republican-dominated legislature. This session, Republicans have passed abortion restrictions tied to an anti-sharia law bill, repealed the Racial Justice Act, and disqualified the state from receiving federal funds for benefits for the long-term unemployed, in addition to hammering away at public benefits recipients with the welfare drug testing bill.

Those actions have generated weeks of Moral Mondays protests by social justice and civil rights activists. More than 700 people have been arrested to far in Moral Mondays civil disobedience at the state capitol.

Republican senators amended the bill to make it more palatable by inserting language clarifying that drug test results would remain confidential and that people who tested positive would be referred to treatment resources. They also deleted language that required county employees to tell potential recipients that they wouldn't be drug tested if they didn't apply for Work First.

"We've worked really, really hard to make this bill fair," said bill sponsor Sen. Dean Arp (R). "I hope my colleagues feel we tried to address their concerns."

He didn't convince Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Chapel Hill), the only senator who actually took to the floor to speak against the bill.

"There is no evidence that people who are getting (Work First) checks are more likely... to be drug users," she said. "This is just a stigma, and one more kicking people when they are down."

And it is a burden on county social service departments and the taxpayers, Kinnaird said. "It's an added burden time-wise, paperwork-wise," she said. "And it's an unfunded mandate."

Raleigh, NC
United States

Utah Spent $26K to Ferret Out Welfare Drug Users, Found Nine

Last year, Utah joined the handful of states that have passed laws mandating drug tests for people seeking welfare benefits. To avoid constitutional challenges, the state created a screening process to come up with a reasonable suspicion that certain welfare applicants were using drugs.

But preliminary data reported by the Salt Lake Tribune shows that of 4,425 people screened for drug use after seeking aid, only 813 were deemed to be at high risk of drug use, only 394 were actually subjected to drug testing, and of those, only nine were denied benefits because they tested positive and five are undergoing treatment.

The state spent more than $26,000 to achieve these results. It spent more than $5,000 to administer the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI) test to applicants and more than $20,000 to pay for drug testing. Those figures do not include staff costs to administer the SASSI test or the costs of drug treatment.

Of the 813 SASSI test-takers who ranked high, more than 300 tested negative, 163 chose to abandon the aid application process and 137 were denied eligibility based on other criteria. Others had false positives or incorrect SASSI scores or failed to show up for the drug test.

The SASSI Institute claims its diagnostic test is 94% accurate at detecting people with a high probability of substance abuse, but the Utah numbers belie those claims. Of those assessed as likely drug or alcohol abusers by the test, only 1% actually tested positive for drugs. In the best case -- assuming that everyone who abandoned the aid application process or didn't show up for a drug test was actually using drugs -- the predictive value of the SASSI test was under 50%.

"It seems silly to drug test hundreds. It's not worth the money they're spending," Gina Cornia of Utahns Against Hunger told the Tribune, adding that welfare workers could still screen clients for substance abuse the old-fashioned way -- by forging relationships with them.

Geoffrey Landward, deputy director for Utah's Department of Workforce Services, wasn't ready to draw any conclusions.

"People can read the numbers and make their own conclusions," Landward said. "This was a policy decision made by the legislature, signed into law by the governor, and our responsibility is to execute as best we can."

Salt Lake City, UT
United States

Oklahoma Welfare Drug Screening Finds Few Dopers

Last year, the Oklahoma legislature passed and Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed into law a bill mandating drug screening for welfare applicants. The bill was designed to save the state money by weeding out drug users seeking Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds.

But the new law is finding few welfare drug users. According to the state Department of Human Services (DHS), in the first four months that the law was in effect, some 1,300 people underwent screening to see if there was reasonable suspicion they were using drugs, but only 29 were denied benefits. That is about 2.2% of those screened, a drug use level well below the national average of about 8%.

Some 340 people were deemed by the screening process to be likely drug users, but again, only 29 of them were denied benefits. That is closer to the 8% national average, but also shows that more than 90% of those determined by screening to be likely drug users were not.

And of those 29 people denied benefits, only 16 actually failed a drug test. Thirteen others simply refused to comply with demands for additional testing.

The testing and screening procedures have cost the state $74,000, according to DHS. According to the Okahoma TANF Program, the average TANF benefit is $3,500 a year, meaning at most, the state will have saved about $25,000 net through the drug testing program -- but only if all 29 people are denied benefits for an entire year. The law allows people denied benefits to seek them again after six months if they have completed drug treatment.

There are no figures available on how long those 29 people were denied benefits, but at best, the Oklahoma welfare drug testing programs appears to be a wash, at least when it comes to saving the state money. It's not so easy to put a dollar value on demonizing poor people as drug addicts or humiliating them by forcing them to undergo drug testing to obtain benefits.

Oklahoma City, OK
United States

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