Florida’s Drug-Testing of the Poor Proves a Failure, but Some States Still Want to Follow their ExampleFebruary 18, 2012
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.
Last 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.
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[Fact: Drugs are pervasive in our society and, one way or another, adolescents will be exposed to mind-altering substances.]
It is an unmistakable reality that a significant number of high school students will try marijuana. According to the recent 2011 Monitoring the Future Survey, nearly 40 percent of all high school seniors admit to having smoked marijuana in the past year – a percentage that has held relatively stable since the study’s inception over 35 years ago.
Some want to use this fact as a justification to deny any opportunity to rationally discuss marijuana, its use, and its risks with children in an open and honest manner. They think that saying anything about marijuana other than encouraging its total abstinence is condoning its use. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
When society teaches sex education, are we suggesting that all the teenagers go out and engage in sexual intercourse? No. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that the best way to reduce the negative effects associated with sex (unwanted pregnancy, STD’s, etc) is through honest, objective information that allow people to understand their options and provides them with the tools they need to make informed decisions.
When we talk to teenagers about the dangers of drinking and driving, are we condoning alcohol use among minors? No, of course not. It is, however, a reality that many adolescents will a) likely consume alcohol as seniors in high school and b) have access to a car. Yes, we encourage students not to drink. But, we urge them specifically not to drink and drive.
We can all agree that teens should not smoke pot, or be using any mind-altering substances. Those are important, developmental years. Still, teens should be educated regarding how smoking marijuana can affect their body’s development specifically, how to reduce any harms associated with its use, and to distinguish between use and abuse. There should be honest, truthful drug education.
As Kristen Gwynne states in her AlterNet article, “Give young people accurate information, and they will use it to make better decisions that result in less harm to themselves, because teens, like everybody else, do not actually want to get hurt or become addicts.”
She goes on to say, “Giving students honest information about drugs [will]…increase the odds that they will use drugs safely, and reduce the likelihood of experiencing the [relative] harms associated with [it].”
By contrast, the Drug Czar and federal law advocates for complete prohibition, limited information explaining the real effects of marijuana and condemning any opportunity, as Gwynne states, to provide “education that helps teens understand their health options, and ways of reducing the harm of drugs.” When it comes to our children, like everything else we teach in school for development and behavioral growth, drug education should be based in reality, not a denial of it.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “If a state expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
A new study out today estimates that one-third of US young people will be arrested or taken into custody for illegal or delinquent offenses (excluding arrests for minor traffic violations) by the age of 23.
CBS News/Web MD reports on the findings here:
Parents and non-parents alike might be shocked to learn a new study estimates that roughly 1 in 3 U.S. youths will be arrested for a non-traffic offense by age 23 – a “substantively higher” proportion than predicted in the 1960s.
The study, posted online by the journal Pediatrics, shows that between about 25% to 41% of 23-year-olds have been arrested or taken into police custody at least once for a non-traffic offense. If you factor in missing cases, that percentage could lie between about 30% and 41%.
What was learned was that the risk was greatest during late adolescence or emerging adulthood. The study also shows that by age 18, about 16% to 27% have been arrested.
… The researchers base their conclusion on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, ages 8 to 23. Data analyzed in the new study came from national surveys of youth conducted annually from 1997 to 2008.
Their finding contrasts with a 1965 study that predicted 22% of U.S. youths would be arrested for an offense other than a minor traffic violation by age 23.
Why the Rise in Arrests?
The researchers cite some “compelling reasons” for the increase.
“The criminal justice system has clearly become more aggressive in dealing with offenders (particularly those who commit drug offenses and violent crimes) since the 1960s,” the authors, all criminologists, write. In addition, “there is some evidence that the transition from adolescence to adulthood has become a longer process.”
From the 1920s through the 1960s, the proportion of the population that was incarcerated remained remarkably stable at about 100 inmates per 100,000 people, researcher Robert Brame, PhD, of the department of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, tells WebMD. Today, Brame says, that figure has soared to 500 inmates per 100,000 people.
While it is commendable that CBS is highlighting the findings of this troubling data, it’s frustrating that the network’s editors appear blissfully unaware
of what is one of the most painfully obvious drivers of this surge in juvenile arrests: the ever-increasing enforcement of marijuana prohibition.
As I stated from the stage at the 2008 NORML national conference, “It’s Not Your Parents’ Prohibition,” the so-called ‘war’ on pot is largely a criminal crackdown on young people.
Young people, in many cases those under 18-years-of-age, disproportionately bear the brunt of marijuana law enforcement.
… According to a 2005 study commissioned by the NORML Foundation, 74 percent of all Americans busted for pot are under age 30, and 1 out of 4 are age 18 or younger. That’s nearly a quarter of a million teenagers arrested for marijuana violations each year.
… [I]f we ever want the marijuana laws to change, that we as a community have to better represent the interests of young people, and we must do a better job speaking on their — and their parent’s — behalf.
(Read my entire remarks here.)
Since 1965, police have made an estimated 21.5 million arrests for marijuana-related offense, according to cumulative data published by the FBI. Some 8 million of these arrests have occurred since 2000.
Assuming that nearly three out of four of those arrested in the past decade were under age 30, that equates to the arrest of some 6 million young people — including 2 million teenagers — for marijuana-related offenses since the year 2000.
In short, marijuana prohibition isn’t protecting kids; its endangering them. We now have an entire generation that has been alienated to believe that the police and their civic leaders are instruments of their oppression rather than their protection.
And the sad fact is: they’re right.
By: Diane Fornbacher
From the majestic redwoods of Humboldt county to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the NORML Women’s Alliance’s Sabrina Fendrick, Kyndra Miller, Melissa Sanchez and I toured almost the entire Sunshine State for nine days prior to Thanksgiving to rally our sisters and brothers in preparation for what will be a mighty 2012 for us all in drug policy reform.
The tour began at a beach-side co-op in the company of our NORML Women’s Alliance colleague Annarae Grabstein of Steep Hill Lab. We enjoyed a brainstorming session and sunset barbecue, then prepared for the incredibly scenic drive north up to Humboldt county the next day to attend 707 Cannabis College’s Hempfest event at the Mateel Community Center in Garberville.
The panel was moderated by Terri Klemetson, News Coordinator for Redwood Community News (KMUD). Speaking were the esteemed Paul Gallegos, Humboldt County District Attorney; Mark Lovelace, Humboldt County Supervisor; Dan Rush, Director of the Medical Cannabis and Hemp Division of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union; Matt Witemyre, Chief of Staff at Medi-Cone; Alexis Wilson-Briggs, Esq., Criminal Defense Attorney/Pier 5 Law Offices and recently named San Francisco and Sacramento NORML Women’s Alliance Community Leader; Samantha Miller, President-Chief Scientist at Pure Analytics, LLC; and Paul J. Von Hartmann, Cannabis Scholar and Biodynamic Agriculturist.
The panel was very lively, and at times heated, with Wilson Briggs asking for clarification from D.A. Gallegos on many different topics, most specifically regarding enforcement tactics, difficulties reconciling state law versus the federal stance on cannabis and protecting local citizens. Overall, the energy was receptive, friendly and informative. Citizens addressed the panelists at the culmination of the event and what was most enlightening to us was how open and honest the farmers were with officials, genuinely wanting to work with the system, be respected in their industry by the government and have best practices so that they may do clean as well as successful business.
Afterward, we were treated to a tour of 707 Cannabis College with Kellie Dodds, Pearl Moon and Donna King. 707 is located in the heart of the “Emerald Triangle” where, “the highest quality education in the health benefits of appropriate cannabis use, sustainable cannabis horticulture and evolving cannabis law” is provided. We were delighted to see that the NORML Women’s Alliance has a huge presence at 707 with a permanent education access table, lots of enthusiasm and solidarity.
The next day, before heading to our evening fundraiser and screening of “A NORML Life” in San Francisco, we spent the day at the historic Pier 5 Law offices of Tony Serra, where NWA’s Kyndra Miller, Esq. has an office. Pier 5 has a long history of defending human rights and is an environment that has a strong female presence. While we were nearing the end of our workday, we were treated to a visit from the humble and sweet, Mr. Clint Werner. He stopped by with his amazing book “Marijuana: Gateway to Health”, a new release.
At the screening of Rod Pitman’s, “A NORML Life”, many NORML principals are featured in the film including Members of the Board: Dale Gieringer, Madeline Martinez, George Rohrbacher, William Panzer, Esq., Allen St. Pierre, and Keith Stroup . Tonya Davis, winner of NORML’s Pauline Sabin Award (In Honor Of And Recognition For The Crucial Need And Importance Of Women Leadership In Ending Marijuana Prohibition) was prominently featured in an inspiring narrative. Also in the house was Lynette Shaw (Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana), Paul Armentano (Deputy Director NORML) who gave a rousing speech in support of the NWA, Ellen Komp (CANORML), Jack Rikess (Toke of the Town), NORML Attorney Matt Kumin, actress Heather Donahue of the Blair Witch Project, and many others at the forefront of reform in California. Executive Producer of the film, Mr. Pitman, gave a very entertaining free form Q&A session after the screening. The event was hosted by NORML Board member Richard Wolfe and his terrific assistant, Grynn. Catering was provided by the lovely Caitlin Martens.
The next day, we headed south to Los Angeles and the Hollywood Hills for our fundraiser, A Cause to Laugh, at The Comedy Union in Los Angeles. The event was hosted by Brooks Colyar and comedienne Simply Cookie emceed. In the house was Co-Founder and Director of Unconventional Foundation for Autism, Ms. Mieko Hester-Perez, well known also as Joey’s Mom. We want to thank everyone who participated in making this event amazing, especially Enss Mitchell, purveyor of the Comedy Union for believing in the NWA and providing valuable insight to achieve our goals for all demographics. Also, special thanks to Cheri Sicard for volunteering, as well as Kandice Hawes (OCNORML) for attending with friends.
It’s really quite difficult to summarize the trip into words but Melissa Sanchez was able to really encapsulate the energy of what we experienced during our whirlwind tour. She explained that, “from the people of Humboldt – people with so much heart living in the beautiful old forest – to the people of San Francisco who are dedicated to the never-ending work of politics and activism to Los Angeles where we were reaching out to a community who knows all about the real impact of the war on drugs, it was inspirational journey. Our movement is large and encompasses people who are not yet active in it: People whose families are affected by the drug war in Latin America, mothers who are patients but can’t speak out because they are afraid of the state taking their children, seniors who are fed up with taking medicine that may end up hurting them instead of healing them, and many others. The NORML Women’s Alliance is here to help bring more people into the movement. The more diverse and broad our movement, the sooner we will see significant change.”
If you too believe in a better and safer world, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the NORML Women’s Alliance today. Thank you so much for your financial and moral support.