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Florida’s Drug-Testing of the Poor Proves a Failure, but Some States Still Want to Follow their Example

By Kellen Russoniello, George Washington University Law student and NORML Legal Intern

The recent push for implementing drug testing for potential welfare recipients across several states has revealed at least two things: 1. The policy is not economically sound; and 2. It really brings out the hypocrisy in some elected officials.

NORMLReeferMadness 233x300 Florida’s Drug Testing of the Poor Proves a Failure, but Some States Still Want to Follow their ExampleLast summer, Florida implemented a law requiring all welfare applicants to submit to a mandatory drug test before receiving any benefits (Applicants had to pay the $ 30 for the test themselves, only to be reimbursed later if they passed. For more information, see this NORML blog post.). Not surprisingly, the program was brought to a quick halt. Back in October of 2011, a federal judge ruled that the Florida drug testing law was unconstitutional.

Further, in the few months that the program was up and running, it was shown that only 2% of welfare applicants tested positive for drugs. About 9% of the general population reports using drugs in the past month. So much for Governor Rick Scott’s theory that the poor use drugs more often than the rest of the populace.

Even more striking is the amount of money that Florida lost from this poorly designed policy. The Tampa Bay Online estimated that $ 3,400 to $ 8,200 in savings would be recognized every month from drug testing welfare applicants. As it turns out, the program is estimated to have cost Florida over $ 200,000. From any perspective, this policy can be regarded as a failure.

Despite the lessons that can be learned from Florida’s debacle, several states are still considering implementing programs to subject their impoverished population to drug tests. The Huffington Post reported that twelve states attempted passing legislation in 2011 that would require drug tests for welfare applicants. Florida, Missouri, and Arizona were the only three that succeeded. However, Pennsylvania has just begun a pilot program in Schuylkill County that subjects certain applicants to drug tests. By tailoring their laws to apply only to applicants that have aroused reasonable suspicion, these states are hoping to avoid constitutional problems like those that ultimately invalidated the Florida law and a similar Michigan law in 2000 (which was affirmed in 2003). Several states have also tried to drug test those who seek unemployment benefits, state employees, and private sector employees, including the passage of an Indiana law that requires drug testing for those in a state job-training program.

When pressed, legislators that support this policy try to justify their position by claiming that the taxpayers should not subsidize drug addiction. But taxpayers pay for much more than just welfare. Some of their money goes towards paying their legislators’ salaries. Wouldn’t this same rationale justify drug testing legislators? This has been the tactic of many Democratic state legislators to thwart Republican efforts to test welfare applicants. In fact, a Republican State representative in the Indiana General Assembly recently pulled a bill after another representative amended it to include drug testing for legislators. The bill was reintroduced and passed by the Indiana General Assembly the following week, which included a section requiring legislators to submit to random drug tests. Missouri and Tennessee currently have bills that would require legislators to submit to drug tests. These were introduced in reaction to a slew of bills aimed at requiring drug tests on different areas of the population. It seems that the legislators who want to drug test the poor aren’t really convinced of the merits of the program when applied to themselves.

Hopefully, state politicians will come to their senses as knowledge about the failure of Florida’s policy becomes more well-known. But given this country’s track record on drug policy, I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath.

To see a hilarious summary of Florida’s drug-test-the-poor policy, watch this Daily Show clip, which includes Florida State Representative Scott Plakon’s and Governor Rick Scott’s reactions to being asked to take a drug test.

NORML Blog, Marijuana Law Reform

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New York City: Still The Marijuana Arrest Capital Of The World

Low level marijuana arrests in New York City rose for the seventh straight year in 2011 to 50,680. The arrest total is the highest total on record since former pot smoker Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office and it is the second highest total of pot arrests ever recorded in the history of the city (just 587 arrests behind the record holding year 2000, when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani oversaw some 51,267 people arrested for marijuana violations).
MJarrests New York City: Still The Marijuana Arrest Capital Of The World
Shockingly, the near-record high arrest total comes just months after New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called on officers to cease making marijuana misdemeanor arrests. Apparently, NYPD officers aren’t very good at listening to their commanding officer.

Of course, what is most troubling about these arrest figures is that under state law they largely shouldn’t be occurring at all. Since 1977, New York State law has categorized the possession of 25 grams of marijuana or less as a violation, not a misdemeanor crime. So then how are NYPD making so many misdemeanor pot arrests? By violating the spirit of the law, if not the law itself.

Rather than ticketing low level marijuana offenders, City police for over a decade have been taking advantage of a separate statute, NY State Penal Law 221.10, which makes it a criminal misdemeanor to possess pot if it is ‘open to public view.’ According to an investigation last year by New York City public radio station WNYC, it was determined that City cops routinely conduct warrantless ‘stop-and-frisk’ searches of civilians, find marijuana hidden on their persons, and then falsely charge them with possessing pot ‘open to public view.’

And what has been the result of these illegal ‘stop and frisks?’ A press advisory issued yesterday by the Drug Policy Alliance lists the grim details.

– The NYPD has made more than 100,000 marijuana possession arrests for the last two years; nearly 150,000 marijuana possession arrests in the last three years; and more than 227,000 marijuana possession arrests in the last five years.

– New York City spent at least $ 150 million in the last two years and has spent at least $ 340 million in the last five years making marijuana possession arrests.

– In the last decade since Michael Bloomberg became mayor, the NYPD has made 400,038 lowest level marijuana possession arrests at a cost to taxpayers of $ 600 million dollars.

– Nearly 350,000 of the marijuana possession arrests made under Bloomberg are of overwhelmingly young Black and Latino men, despite the fact that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young Blacks and Latinos.

– In the last five years, the NYPD under Bloomberg has made more marijuana arrests (2007 to 2011 = 227,093) than in the 24 years from 1978 through 2001 under Mayor Giuliani, Mayor Dinkins, and Mayor Koch combined (1978 to 2001 = 226,861).

Commissioner Kelly’s 2011 memorandum explicitly directed officers to stop charging defendants with criminal misdemeanors in instances where the contraband ‘was disclosed to public view at an officer’s direction.’ Nevertheless, the record number of low level pot arrests appears to be continuing unabated. Most likely, it will take an act of law to stop this practice.

Fortunately, bipartisan legislation is pending in both the New York State Assembly and Senate to stop this disgusting, ongoing practice. Assembly Bill 7620 and Senate Bill 5187 reduce marijuana penalties involving cases where where marijuana was either consumed or allegedly possessed in public from a criminal misdemeanor to a non-criminal violation. Passage of SB 5187 and AB 7620 will save taxpayer dollars, protect New York City’s citizens against illegal searches, and reduce unwarranted racial disparities in arrests by clarifying the law and standardizing penalties for marijuana possession offenses.

If you reside in New York and want to end the City’s dubious distinction of being the ‘marijuana arrest capital of the world,’ then please contact your state elected officials today and urge them to support SB 5187 and AB 7620. You can do so via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

NORML Blog, Marijuana Law Reform

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Medical marijuana backers still hope to amend MT law

Medical marijuana backers still hope to amend MT law
Montana medical marijuana industry representatives say they are making progress in their efforts to overturn the recently passed medical marijuana law. The group "Patients for Reform Not Repeal" says it has collected more than 30000 signatures as they
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Patient: Closing medical marijuana dispensary would be a 'disaster'
Mandeville, of Albion, was among around a half dozen medical marijuana patients who stopped by People's Choice Alternative Medicine Thursday morning across the street from Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. An AnnArbor.com reporter sat in the lobby for an
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Hospitals in Greater Manchester to treat patients with cannabis
Hospital doctors are to treat patients with cannabis in a world first for Greater Manchester. Experts believe the drug can relieve pain by numbing muscles – and say it does not give users a 'high'. Patients at North Manchester General and Fairfield in
Read more on Manchester Evening News

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