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Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) today signed into law a bill that will allow the state to file criminal charges against pregnant women who use drugs on the grounds that they are potentially harming their fetuses, even though there is little scientific evidence that being exposed to illicit drugs in the womb causes long-term harm to children.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) (tn.gov)
In his signing statement, Haslam said he signed the bill after "extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials" and will "be monitoring the impact of the law through regular updates with the court system and health professionals."

The bill foresees prison sentences of up to 15 years for women who used drugs and whose babies were stillborn or born addicted or otherwise harmed.

Haslam's move comes just one day after acting head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) slammed the notion in a visit to the state.

"Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," said acting drug czar Michael Botticelli. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease."

Haslam's approval of the measure, Senate Bill 1391, also comes in the face of a massive outcry from reproductive rights and criminal justice groups across the country, who say that criminalizing pregnant women is the wrong policy approach. Those advocates argue that criminalizing pregnant women who are using drugs works against getting them to come forward to seek medical treatment and that the law will disproportionately impact poor, non-white women.

"Today, the Tennessee governor has made it a crime to carry a pregnancy to term if you struggle with addiction or substance abuse," said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "This deeply misguided law will force those women who need health care the most into the shadows. Pregnant women with addictions need better access to health care, not jail time."

It isn't just activists who are upset. According to National Advocates for Pregnant Women, most medical expert groups oppose such laws. And specialists in obstetric medicine and drug addiction called on Haslam to veto the measure.

"Tennessee has become the first state to ignore the warnings of medical and public health experts to pass a law criminalizing pregnancy outcomes," the pregnancy advocacy group said this afternoon.

Nashville, TN
United States

Chronicle AM -- April 7, 2014

Talk about unintended consequences! Faced with a declining US market share, Mexican marijuana farmers are switching to opium poppies. Plus, AG Holder has some words about rescheduling, the Maryland decrim bill is back from the dead, it looks like 2016 for California legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

With declining US market share, Mexican marijuana farmers are switching to poppies. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Holder Says Obama Administration "Willing to Work" With Congress to Reschedule Marijuana. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that the Obama administration would be willing to work with Congress if lawmakers want to reschedule marijuana. Holder did not mention that the administration, and he personally, already have the statutory authority to reschedule marijuana, without needing further permission from Congress. Either way, recategorizing marijuana would not legalize the drug under federal law, but it could ease restrictions on research into marijuana's medical benefits and allow marijuana businesses to take the usual tax deductions, e.g. not pay taxes on money that has been paid out for things like rent or payroll. "We'd be more than glad to work with Congress if there is a desire to look at and reexamine how the drug is scheduled, as I said there is a great degree of expertise that exists in Congress," Holder said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing. "It is something that ultimately Congress would have to change, and I think that our administration would be glad to work with Congress if such a proposal were made." 

Okay, There Will Be No California Legalization Initiative This Year. Proponents of the last two California marijuana legalization initiatives still alive this year have thrown in the towel. Dave Hodges, proponent of the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act (MCLR) announced today that it will not meet an April 18 signature-gathering deadline, while Berton Duzy, proponent for the revived California Cannabis Hemp Initiative (CCHI), which has received a signature-gathering extension, conceded that "We're not going to make 2014." In California, it's now all eyes on 2016.

Maryland Decriminalization Returns from the Dead, Passes House. Defying a powerful committee chairman who tried to derail a decriminalization bill by turning it into a study bill, House delegates Saturday passed House Bill 879 by a vote of 78-55. Final procedural votes on both measures are expected today, the last day of the session.

Delaware Governor "Willing to Discuss" Softer Marijuana Penalties. Gov. Jack Markell (D) is "willing to discuss" changes that would reduce penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to a spokesman for the governor. "The governor has supported making marijuana available for medical purposes and DHSS expects to license a dispensary that can open in Delaware this year," Markell spokesman Jonathon Dworkin said in a statement. "The governor is willing to discuss changing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana from jail sentences to just fines, but he would not support full legalization at this time without further studies and evidence of its consequences."

Thousands Rally at Annual Ann Arbor Hash Bash. An estimated 8,000 people gathered at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for the 42nd annual Hash Bash over the weekend. Police warned that people who toked up could get arrested, but that didn't seem to stop anybody. As The Detroit Free Press noted, "the event's usual plume of smoke hung over the crowd."

University of Colorado Will Close the Campus Again for 4/20. University of Colorado officials will close the Boulder campus on April 20 for the third straight year to prevent thousands of celebrants from marking the stoner holiday on campus. From noon to 6:00pm on April 20, CU faculty, students and staff will be required to show identification to enter campus. Officials brushed aside student complaints.

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Appeals Court Upholds Local Ban on Collective Gardens. The Washington Court of Appeals last week upheld the city of Kent's ban on medical marijuana collective gardens, ruling that the ordinance is not preempted by state law. The case is Cannabis Action Coalition et al. v. City of Kent et al.

Hemp

Nebraska Governor Signs Hemp Research Bill. Gov. Dave Heineman (R) last week signed into law Legislative Bill 100, which allows University of Nebraska campuses to grow hemp for research purposes. This is the first such bill to pass since Congress authorized search research when it accepted a hemp amendment to the omnibus agriculture bill this fiscal year.

Drug Testing

Michigan Suspicion-Based Welfare Drug Testing Bill Polls Well. Suspicion-based drug testing for welfare recipients has broad support across Michigan, a new poll shows. The poll, conducted by Marketing Resource Group, finds that 77% of respondents support legislation that would require the Department of Human Services to test welfare recipients suspected of using drugs, then send recipients with positive tests to rehab. House Bill 4118 has already passed the House and Senate, but was amended in the latter chamber, so it still needs another House floor vote.

Law Enforcement

California Bill Would Create Zero-Tolerance DUID Law. A bill that would make the presence of any detectable amount of any controlled substance, including prescription drugs, evidence of drugged driving has been filed in the Assembly. Assembly Bill 2500, sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Solano) is before the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Colorado Bill Would Make Mere Drug Possession Evidence of Child Endangerment. Under a bill introduced by state Sens. Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood) and Linda Newell (D-Littleton), the mere possession or use of illicit substances would be grounds for a claim of child endangerment. Senate Bill 178 was filed April Fools' Day, but it's no joke.

International

With Declining US Market Share, Mexican Farmers Switch from Marijuana to Opium. With the wholesale price of marijuana falling -- driven in part by decriminalization or legalization in sections of the United States -- Mexican drug farmers are turning away from cannabis and filling their fields with opium poppies, according to this lengthy article from The Washington Post. That means more, cheaper heroin for the US market. Pot farming "isn't worth it anymore," one farmer complained. "I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization." David Shirk, a Mexico researcher at the University of California at San Diego, told The Post, "When you have a product losing value, you diversify, and that's true of any farmer… The wave of opium poppies we're seeing is at least partially driven by changes we're making in marijuana drug policy."

Filipino Drug Warrior Mayor Issues Shoot-to-Kill Order for Cocaine Sellers. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, a man never known for letting human rights get in the way of his war on drugs, has issued a shoot-to-kill order against anyone selling cocaine from eight bricks of the drug still missing after police seized 64 of the one-pound packages. "Once they go out and use or sell them, they will become drug lords. I have a shoot-to-kill order, especially if they resist arrest -- if they do that, we can enforce the shoot-to-kill," Duterte said.

Jamaican Marijuana Growers Association Is Launched. A group of influential Jamaicans gathered Saturday to formally launch an association of supposed future marijuana cultivators as momentum builds toward loosening laws prohibiting pot on the Caribbean island. Some 300 people assembled at a conference center in downtown Kingston to officially launch the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association. Among other things, the group will lobby for creation of a regulated cannabis industry on the tropical island famed for its marijuana cultivation. The government has been making some promising noises about medical marijuana and decriminalization, but there is nothing definite so far.

Chronicle AM -- February 14, 2014

Marijuana legalization is dead in the Hawaii statehouse this year, but still kicking at the Oregon capitol, the annual Monitoring the Future survey is out, Uruguay's president chides the US and Europe on drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

Uruguayan President Mujica has some advice for the US and Europe (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Legalization Bill Killed, But Decrim Bill Still Lives. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the Aloha State died in a state Senate committee Thursday, but a decriminalization bill still lives. Senate Bill 2733 was "deferred" in committee, or, as Sen. Will Espero, chair of the Public Safety Committee said in remarks reported by the Associated Press, "At this time, the legalization bill is dead." But a decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 2358, remains alive.

Oregon Bill to Put Legalization on November Ballot Advances. A bill that would put marijuana legalization to the voters in November advanced on a 3-2 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. Senate Bill 1556 must now pass the Senate Rules Committee before going to a Senate floor vote. Supporters said it would give the legislature more control than a legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach Oregon.

Maryland Bill Would Ban Cooperation With Feds on Marijuana Prohibition. A bipartisan group of legislators has introduced a bill that would refuse cooperation with federal marijuana prohibition laws. House Bill 1016 prohibits enforcement of any federal law or regulation prohibiting cannabis by any state agency, political subdivision of the state, or any agent or employee of the state or political subdivision of the state acting in their official capacity, or a corporation providing services to the state or political subdivision. The bill relies on the "anti-commandeering" doctrine that says states cannot be compelled to enforce federal laws. Click on the link for more.

Tennessee Poll Reveals Splits on Marijuana Policy. A Middle Tennessee State University poll has found that only 33% said it should be legalized, with 57% saying it shouldn't. But when that 57% was asked if adults should be allowed to have marijuana if prescribed by a doctor, nearly two-thirds of them said yes. When the one-third that said legalize is combined with the 36% that said medical was okay, that creates a strong majority at least for medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Legislative Foes Snub Debate. Key legislators blocking the advance of medical marijuana bills added insult to injury Friday by failing to show up to an informal debate on the issue at the state capitol to which they had been invited. Sen. David Haley (D), author of Senate Bill 9, invited Senate President Susan Wagle (R) and Committee on Public Health and Welfare Chair Sen. Mary Pilcher-Clark to the event sponsored by Kansas for Change, but they were no-shows.

Guam Medical Marijuana Bill "Inorganic," Election Commission Says. The legal counsel for the Guam Election Commission said Thursday a pending medical marijuana bill violates the Organic Act that established democratic government in the US territory. At the request of legislators, Senate Bill 215 sponsor Sen. Tina Muna Barnes (D-Mangilao) amended her bill to have it approved by voters in a referendum, but the legal counsel said the Organic Act has no provision for such referenda.

New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Modification Bill Stalled. A bill that would expand the state's medical marijuana program to include several more diseases, but also limit the amount of marijuana patients could purchase in a month is on hold after key lawmakers said it needed more work. House Bill 1616 has some problematic provisions, including one that would criminalize patients for possessing their medicine in a motor vehicle unless it is in a locked container, legislators said. Lawmakers will continue to review it, they said.

Drug Use

Annual Monitoring the Future Teen Drug Use Study Released. The annual survey of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders was released Thursday. There's not a whole lot shocking in it. Illicit drug use is generally down slightly, except for marijuana, which is up slightly, although in "non-significant" amounts among 8th and 10th graders, and flat for 12th graders. The complete survey is at the link.

International

Uruguay's Mujica Says US, European Drug Policies Must Change. In an interview with Reuters Thursday, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, whose country recently legalized marijuana commerce, said the US and Europe need to find a new strategy to deal with drugs. "The industrial societies are the ones that have to change," he said. "For a small country, it's possible to experiment with this, but it's also very possible for a developed country because of the resources it has. There are big markets, they have great buying power, and that is a big economic attraction. Until things change there, it will be very difficult to change elsewhere," said Mujica. "Any North American state is more important than Uruguay, in dimensions, in its economic force," he said. "But it's still a bit like a lady embarrassed to admit her natural sins and lying to herself. What we are doing is much more open."

UNODC Calls on Sri Lanka to Enact More Prohibitionist Laws to Stop Sea Smuggling. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Thursday called on Sri Lanka to enact mechanisms allowing it to prosecute those caught drug smuggling on the high seas. UNODC complained that without such a law, smugglers caught at sea off Sri Lanka are simply set free after their drugs are dumped into the ocean. The Sri Lankan government said it would have to consider the idea. [Ed: The thriving global drug trade and dim interdiction statistics demonstrate the futility of the approach that UNODC is calling for.]

Teen Drug Use Survey Figures Spark Marijuana Debate [FEATURE]

This year's annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey on the habits of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders was released Wednesday, and most of the results were uncontroversial. But with two states having already legalized marijuana for adults and opinion polls suggesting more and more Americans are ready to move ahead with legalization, battles are raging over the numbers on teen marijuana use and what they mean.

The survey found that for most drugs, teen use levels are stable or declining. Synthetic marijuana use was down, as was cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking, and the use of inhalants, synthetic stimulants, prescription opioids, salvia divinorum, and hallucinogens other than LSD.

Drugs where teen use levels were stable included LSD; amphetamines; Adderall, specifically; Ritalin, specifically; ecstasy; cocaine; crack; heroin; methamphetamine; crystal methamphetamine; sedatives; tranquilizers; Rohypnol; Ketamine; and steroids. For most of these drugs, use levels even in 12th grade were quite low. For instance, 2.2% of seniors reported using LSD, 2.3% reported using Ritalin, and 4.0% reported using ecstasy.

When it comes to marijuana, 23% of seniors said they smoked in the month prior to the survey, 18% of 10th graders did, too, and so did 12% of 8th graders. Some 6.5% of seniors reported daily use, as did 4.0% of 10th graders, and under 2% of 8th graders.

It helps to put those numbers in historical perspective. All of the numbers are above the historic lows in teen drug use reported at the end of the Reagan-Bush era in the early 1990s, but well below the historic highs in teen drug use reported in 1979, just before the Reagan-Bush era began.

For seniors, the all-time low for monthly use was 11.9% in 1992, but the recent high was 23.1% in 1999. This year's 22.7% is actually a decline of two-tenths of a percent from 2012, and in line with figures for the past decade showing rates hovering in the upper teens and low twenties. It's a similar story at the younger grade levels.

The survey also found that the notion that regular use of marijuana is harmful is losing favor among teens. Only 39.5% of seniors saw it as harmful, down from 44.1% last year, and down significantly from views over the past two decades.

Despite the relative flatness of the marijuana use numbers, some warned that the sky is falling, cherry-picking the numbers and warming to favored themes to support their points of view.

Ever since Reefer Madness days, teen marijuana use has worried the grown-ups.
"Let these numbers be a wakeup call to parents and decision-makers alike," said Kevin Sabet, a former senior drug policy advisor in the Obama Administration now serving as the director of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). "There is no way to properly 'regulate' marijuana without allowing an entire industry to encourage use at a young age, to cast doubt on the science, and to make their products attractive -- just like Big Tobacco did for 50 years. Today's Big Marijuana is no different."

"These increases in marijuana use over the past few years are a serious setback in our nation's efforts to raise a healthy generation of young people," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Teens deserve to grow up in an environment where they are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and drug use never factors into that equation. Today's news demands that all of us recommit to bolstering the vital role prevention and involved parenting play in keeping young people safe, strong, and ready to succeed."

"This is not just an issue of increased daily use," said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). "It is important to remember that over the past two decades, levels of THC -- the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana -- have gone up a great deal, from 3.75% 1995 to an average of 15% in today's marijuana cigarettes. Daily use today can have stronger effects on a developing teen brain than it did 10 or 20 years ago."

Volkow also latched onto figures showing that 12% of 8th graders had tried marijuana in their lives.

"We should be extremely concerned that 12% of 13- to 14-year-olds are using marijuana," Volkow added. "The children whose experimentation leads to regular use are setting themselves up for declines in IQ and diminished ability for success in life."

In 2012, MTF added questions about where students obtain marijuana. In states that have medical marijuana, 34% of pot-smoking seniors said one of the ways they got their marijuana was through someone else's prescription (recommendation). And 6% said they got it with their own recommendation.

"A new marijuana industry is forming in front of our eyes, and make no mistake about it: they are delighted their customers -- today's youth -- consider their product safe," remarked former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, a Project SAM cofounder. "The rise of legalization and medical marijuana has sent a message to young people that marijuana use is harmless and non-addictive."

But while the drug czar, Dr. Volkow, and Project SAM were sounding the tocsin about the threat of teen marijuana use, others reacted more calmly, taking solace from the findings that teen cigarette smoking and drinking, not to mention other drugs, had declined.

"These findings should put to rest any claims that reforming marijuana laws and discussing the benefits will somehow contribute to more teens using marijuana," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It's time for prohibition supporters to stop hiding behind teens when debating marijuana policy."

The declines in teen cigarette smoking and drinking show that regulation -- not prohibition -- is the way to address substance use, Tvert said.

"Regulation clearly works and prohibition has clearly failed when it comes to protecting teens," he argued. "Regulating alcohol and tobacco has resulted in significant decreases in use and availability among teens, and we would surely see similar results with marijuana. At the very least, this data should inspire NIDA and other government agencies to examine the possibility that regulating marijuana could be a more effective approach to preventing teen use."

Marijuana Use Fairly Stable, Annual Survey Finds

The annual Monitoring the Future survey of teen drug use is out, and anyone trying to use the numbers to argue that marijuana reform is causing a spike in teen pot-smoking is going to have a hard sell.

Here's what MTF had to say about teen marijuana use:

"Annual marijuana prevalence peaked among 12th graders in 1979 at 51%, following a rise that began during the 1960s. Then use declined fairly steadily for 13 years, bottoming at 22% in 1992 -- a decline of more than half. The 1990s, however, saw a resurgence of use. After a considerable increase (one that actually began among 8th graders a year earlier than among 10th and 12th graders), annual prevalence rates peaked in 1996 at 8th grade and in 1997 at 10th and 12th grades. After these peak years, use declined among all three grades through 2006, 2007, or 2008; after the declines, there began an upturn in use in all three grades, lasting for three years in the lower grades and longer in grade 12. In 2011 and 2012 there was some decline in use in grade 8, with 10th and 12th grades leveling in 2012. In 2010 a significant increase in daily use occurred in all three grades, followed by a nonsignificant increase in 2011. In 2012 there were non-significant declines for daily use in the lower grades and a leveling at 12th grade with use reaching 1.1%, 3.5%, and 6.5% in grades 8, 10, and 12, respectively."
 

The bolding is ours. There are short term ups and downs, but they seem to be of mainly rhetorical and polemical significance.

If you look at the handy tables at the end of the report, you see that combined lifetime marijuana use for all three grades (8, 10, and 12), was at 30.7% last year, about the same as it was in 1995 (31.6%) or 2005 (30.8%). Much happens, but little changes.

Ditto for annual use: 26.1% in 1995, 23.4% in 2005, 24.7% last year.

Ditto for monthly use: 15.6% in 1995, 13.4% in 2005, 15.1% last year.

Ditto for daily use: 2.7% in 1995, 2.9% in 2005, 3.6% last year.

The daily use figures could be alarming ("Daily Teen Pot Smokers Up 25% Since 1995"), except the trend-line is not steadily upward, but varies from year to year (it was 3.7% in in 2001 and 2.7% in 2007).

Look for some terrifying spin about how the numbers show the kids are going to pot. But when you look at the numbers more closely and over time, when it comes to teens and marijuana, meh, what's new?

Radel Hypocrisy Charge Doesn't Withstand Scrutiny

[Update: I've posted an improved version of this editorial in the Chronicle. Request links and likes there instead. - DB]

One of the top political stories this week is the recent bust for cocaine possession of Rep. Trey Radel, a Republican freshman congressman from Florida. Radel pleaded guilty today, and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation. As I write this piece, he is giving a press conference to apologize to the country and his family.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/trey-radel-200px.jpg
Trey Radel
Since the bust came to light, headlines have been circulating to the effect of Radel having voted for legislation to drug test food stamp recipients. I believe this is off base, because it is true only in a technical sense. As the body of the articles explain, what Radel voted for was an ultimately failed version of the Farm Bill, one of the major, recurring federal budget bills that get authorized every five years. It includes things like agricultural subsidies, funding for the food stamps program as a whole (now known as SNAP, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, rather than "food stamps"), many other items. Drug testing of food stamp recipients was just one provision out of many in the bill, and a look at the bill's roll call shows that while it was mostly Republicans who voted for it, there were also some Democrats, including some liberals who almost certainly opposed the drug testing provision. Politicians frequently have to vote for bills that include provisions they don't like, because they want to larger package to pass.

The drug testing language was actually added to the bill through an amendment sponsored by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), which was passed on a voice vote, no roll call. That means there is no way to know, at least from the official legislative record, what Radel's position on the amendment was. His vote for the Farm Bill is consistent with supporting the amendment, with opposing the amendment, or with having no position on it. It's legitimate to point out, as a Politico article did, that Radel's arrest "brings up drug testing for food stamps." I hope it does, but that's a different point.

A ThinkProgress article noted that Radel has made comments suggesting "nuance" in his views on drug policy, pointing out he cosponsored a bill to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenses. Perhaps in a nod to the "drug testing vote" headlines, the article has an update at the bottom mentioning the vote. I believe the original thrust of the article was on target, and I don't see the hypocrisy angle holding up in this case, at least from as much as we know right now.

Youth Drug Use on Decline, Most Media Fail to Notice

One of the two annual major drug use surveys in the US released its results this week, coinciding with National Recovery Month, according to the news release from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health contains a wealth of information and is hard to boil down, but there are some number that seem salient.

One of them is that current marijuana use by adults (past 30 days) has increased from 5.8% of the population in 2007 to 7.3% in 2012, or 18.9 million current users. However, current marijuana use among youths aged 12 to 17 decreased slightly from 2011 to 2012, 7.9% down to 7.2%, although it's up slightly from 2006 and 2007 (6.7% in both years), but in turn down from 2002 (8.2%). It doesn't look like teen marijuana use is going up generally, and it may be going down, but data like this is usually complicated.

Another is that heroin use has been going up, 373,000 past-year users in 2007 vs. 669,000 in 2012. But cocaine and methamphetamine use have dropped significantly during the same timeframe, while nonmedical use of prescription drugs has stayed about constant.

The other major annual drug use survey, Monitoring the Future, has a category that I believe is useful, "Illicit Drugs Other Than Marijuana." NSDUH doesn't seem to provide a breakdown on that. MTF has found that while use of any given illicit drug besides marijuana varies, the percentage using some illicit drug besides marijuana is roughly constant over time.

Also, drug use by older people (the "baby boomers") is way up relative to a decade ago, though still only about 7%.

How did the mainstream media do? Mixed. A number of outlets highlighted the increase in drug use by older persons, and I certainly agree that's a key finding. But most major outlets focused on the increase in marijuana use overall, while failing to note the decrease in teen marijuana use, including TimeCNN, US News and World Report, USA Today and Fox News. In the (quick and incomplete) look at Google News links that I took, only ABC noted that youth illicit drug use had dropped even as overall illicit use had increased.

I think it's a significant "fail" that most major media did not note that, given the importance place that youth drug use naturally holds in these concerns. Overall, though, the media did not "freak out" over the drug use stats, and that's a good thing.

I've only taken a fairly quick look at the new numbers. We'd welcome any insights readers have on this topic -- even if you think I'm wrong -- post to the comments below, or email us your thoughts or links to your own analyses.

GAO Says ONCDP Not Achieving Drug Goals So Far

Just a day after the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released its latest annual national drug control strategy, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report finding that ONDCP has fallen well short of goals enunciated in its 2010 national drug strategy.

In the report, Office of National Drug Control Policy: Office Could Better Identify Opportunities to Increase Program Coordination, GAO noted that ONDCP and the federal government "have not made progress toward achieving most of the goals articulated in the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy." In some areas, including reducing teen drug use, reducing drug overdose deaths, and reducing HIV infections from injection drug use, GAO found, ONDCP was not only not making progress, but sometimes the numbers were moving in the opposite direction.

For instance, under the broader goal of "curtailing illicit drug consumption in America," ONDCP had set use reduction goals to be achieved by 2015. It sought to reduce last month drug use by teens by 15%, but has achieved no movement. Similarly, it sought a 15% reduction in past month use by young adults, but has achieved no movement. It also sought to reduce lifetime use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco by 8th graders by 15%, and was making progress toward its goal with alcohol and tobacco, but not with illegal drugs.

Likewise, under ONDCP's broad goal of "improving the public health and public safety of the American people by reducing the consequences of drug use," ONDCP identified goals of reducing overdose deaths, drug-related hospital emergency room visits, and drug-related HIV infections by 15% by 2015, but showed "movement away from goal" between 2010 and 2012.

Drug czar Gil Kerlikowske is talking up a "21st Century Approach" to drug use with a heavy emphasis on treatment and prevention, but the latest national drug budget still allocates 58% of funding to law enforcement and interdiction. And those remaining funds for treatment and prevention are "fragmented" across 15 federal agencies, with much overlapping. GAO reviewed 76 federal drug treatment and prevention programs and found 59 of them overlapped.

GAO did note that while ONDCP was not showing progress in most of its goals, it had implemented 107 of the 112 "action items" contemplated to meet those goals. The auditors noted that "ONDCP officials stated that implementing these action items is necessary, but may not be sufficient to achieve Strategy goals."

Washington, DC
United States

Public Benefits Drug Test Bills Move in Three States

Bills that would require recipients of public benefits such as welfare or unemployment benefits to submit to drug testing have advanced in three states. On Monday, an unemployment drug testing bill passed the Arkansas Senate. On Tuesday, a welfare drug testing bill won a Senate committee vote in North Carolina. And on Wednesday, a welfare drug testing bill passed the Texas Senate.

The Arkansas bill, Senate Bill 38, would require random, suspicionless drug testing of people receiving unemployment benefits. Those seeking unemployment would have to sign a waiver to allow for random drug testing, and they would be ineligible for benefits if they refused to sign or failed the drug test.

It passed the Republican-led Senate on a 25-5 vote and now goes to the House.

"Arkansas law states that you have to be adequately seeking employment, and by that you have to pass a drug test since so many employers require drug tests," said bill sponsor Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-District 33), who said 80% of employers in the state require drug tests. His bill was "more of an enforcement mechanism than anything else," he added.

The bill is being opposed by the ACLU of Arkansas, which is threatening to fight it if it becomes law. But even if the bill gets through the House, Gov. Mike Beebe (D) has signaled it might not survive his veto pen.

"We have concerns about whether the bill will put us in violation of the federal unemployment laws administered by the US Department of Labor," Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample told Reuters. "There are also continued concerns as to whether the cost of implementing such a program would produce any real savings in offset."

The North Carolina bill, Senate Bill 594, sponsored by Sen. Jim Davis (R-Macon), would require applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to undergo mandatory suspicionless drug tests at their expense. Applicants would be reimbursed if they tested negative, but denied benefits if they tested positive -- until they have entered and paid for drug treatment.

Things got testy before the measure passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

"If you have money to buy drugs, you have money to buy food, you have money to support your family," Davis said. "You don't deserve public assistance." Non-drug users "will gladly" pay for drug tests because they know they will be reimbursed, he said.

"If they're already there because they need food stamps, where are they going to come up with that money? They're scraping the bottom," Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Orange) shot back.

Bill Rowe of the North Carolina Justice Center told lawmakers that studies showed drug use is no more common among welfare recipients than the general public, and that similar laws in Florida and Michigan had been found unconstitutional, sparking an angry reaction from one lawmaker.

"Our Fourth Amendment doesn't allow suspicionless testing of people," Rowe said. "There's no decision that says this is okay."

"You're okay with (drug users) getting federal dollars if they've had a doobie and get the munchies and need more food stamps?" challenged Sen. Tommy Tucker (R-Union). "Sit down."

Noting that the bill "mostly affects poor people and a significant number of them people of color," Sen. Angela Bryant (D-Rocky Mount) said its sponsors were letting their "prejudice" show. "There's a lot of people getting government money," she said. "Let's not start with poor people on this. Let's start with ourselves. When you run for election, you should have to take a drug test. If we give a scholarship, you should have to take a drug test."

"I really reject the notion of injecting race into this thing," Davis shot back. "I'm sick and tired of it. This is not a racial bill."

The bill was approved on party lines and now goes to the Senate Health Committee.

The Texas bill, Senate Bill 11, would require TANF applicants to undergo a drug use assessment, and if there is "good cause to suspect" drug use, they must then undergo a drug test. A positive drug test would result in a denial of benefits for six months, with a second positive drug test resulting in a denial of benefits for a year, although they could be restored after six months if drug treatment is completed.

People who had prior drug convictions or previous positive drug test results would face mandatory drug testing.

"Taxpayer dollars shouldn't be used to subsidize a person's drug habit," said bill sponsor Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound).

"Welfare should never subsidize the irresponsible choices of otherwise capable people who instead elect to stay at home, play video games, and get high with their friends," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) said.

The bill passed the Senate on a 31-0 vote after Nelson agreed to language sought by Democrats that ensured that children of parents who tested positive wouldn't lose their benefits. It now goes to the House.

Missouri Marijuana, Hemp Bills Filed

Members of the Missouri legislature have introduced three different marijuana law reform bills this month -- one to decriminalize possession; one to expunge misdemeanor offenses, including possession, from the record after five years; and one to legalize industrial hemp.

Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City) and two cosponsors introduced the decriminalization bill, House Bill 512, at a press conference earlier this month. The bill would make the possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana or paraphernalia punishable only by a fine, but it would still be a criminal offense -- a misdemeanor -- instead of a civil infraction. The bill would also encourage judges to use "suspended imposition of sentence," under which the person is not convicted and, if he successfully completes a probationary period, there is no longer any public record of the matter.

Perhaps decriminalization is not quite the right word."Depenalization" would be more correct.

"Every year, nearly 20,000 Missourians are put in chains and then relegated to second-class citizenship by a criminal record for the possession of small amounts of marijuana," said John Payne, executive director of Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, who addressed the press conference. "This policy costs Missouri taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year, but does nothing to decrease marijuana use or eliminate the harms associated with the black market. There are no other proposals before our legislators that can do so much good so easily."

At the same press conference, Rep. Ellinger also introduced the expungement bill, House Bill 511. Under current Missouri law, only a very few specified offenses can be expunged. This bill would allow expungement for all misdemeanor offenses, including marijuana and paraphernalia offenses, except for violent or sex offenses.

"Although these measures may seem like long shots, one year ago, no one would have predicted that the Republican majority in both houses would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine or reduce the term of probation in most felony drug cases by one half, especially during an election year," said Dan Viets, a veteran attorney with Show-Me Cannabis Regulation. "Those reforms passed with bipartisan support, and these bills can too. That means we will do everything we can to make it happen in 2013."

And this week, Sen. Jason Holsman (D-South Kansas City) introduced an industrial hemp bill, Senate Bill 358. It would exempt industrial hemp -- defined as containing less than 1% THC -- from the state's controlled substances act and allow anyone not convicted of a drug-related crime to grow it. An identical bill was introduced in the House last year, but didn't move.

After the snow melts in Missouri, legislators will be getting back to work. It would be nice if the Show Me State could show the rest of us the way forward.

Jefferson City, MO
United States

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