Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Senator Aims to Force Drug Testing Upon Unemployed

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has introduced an amendment that would require drug tests of anyone who applies for welfare or unemployment benefits. Under the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, states have the authority to enact drug testing requirements, but they are not mandated to conduct tests under current law.
"This amendment is a way to help people get off of drugs to become productive and healthy members of society while ensuring that valuable taxpayer dollars aren't wasted," says a press release from Hatch's office. "Money saved as a result of this amendment would be used to reduce the deficit."

The Hill noted that: "Under the Hatch amendment, individuals who fail to qualify for benefits because they failed a drug test wouldn't necessarily be jailed, but would be enrolled in a state or federal drug treatment program."
Linda Hilton of the Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City argues that the amendment would actually cost the government money, because federal officials would have to free up more funding for alcohol and drug treatment programs. "If people who need all kinds of help can't get certain kinds of help, that is just not right," Linda said. She added that she "couldn't fathom the idea of denying assistance to a person with an alcohol dependency, and she worries it could punish entire families for the addiction of a parent."

This is just another ineffective, counterproductive, and expensive plan that, while claiming to save money, will ultimately be another example of the drug war pissing taxpayers' money down the drain.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summer Comes Early for Youth in Mexico: School Too Dangerous

Nayarit's a small, Pacific Coast state in northwest Mexico. It's sandwiched between two larger states, Jalisco to its south and a northerly neighbor, Sinaloa. Nayarit is not a well-traveled tourist destination, and rarely attracts much news. But this past week its governor made history by canceling school early, three weeks early, in fact.

His reason? Widespread fear of the four-year drug war -- known by Mexicans as "the Uncertainty" -- that's seen students, young people and other civilians turned into "collateral damage" in an internecine war between drug cartels and government forces. Since 2006 throughout Mexico killings have soared to 23,000. Nayarit is in the domain of the Sinaloa Cartel, but other cartels, such as La Familia of Michoacan State, have made a claim on their territory, heightening the bloodshed.

The decision to close schools has attracted some criticism. Both the federal Ministry of Education (SEP) and the Interior Ministry (SEGOB) opposed the governor's decision. And high school students feared they would not be able to graduate or hold graduation ceremonies since they must attend school for a federally mandated period of 200 days. But Governor Ney Gonzalez Sanchez's statement indicated closures only for kindergarten, primary, and secondary schools. Nayarit's secretary of education has supported the decision because of widespread "psychosis and panic."

Parents in the state supported the move, too. They delivered a petition for closure to the governor. And the leader of the National Federation of PTAs, Leopoldo Garcia, told newspaper El Universal that his organization would respect the petition as "we are not going to risk our children." Garcia explained that the fear came from a showdown over the previous weekend in an area of the state capital Tepic which houses three schools and in which thirty people died.

In northern states such as Nayarit -- and certainly in other Mexican states know for cartel turf wars -- parental fears may not be misplaced. Since 2006 and the onset of President Felipe Calderon's militarized strategy, the homicide rate for youth aged fifteen to seventeen has increased dramatically. An NGO based in Mexico City called the Network for the Rights of the Child (REDIM) has calculated that the homicide rate for children in Nayarit between 15 to 17 years old in 2006 was 1.67 per 100,000 in that age range. Fast forward to 2008 and the rate was 10.24 per 100,000 in the same age range. Similar leaps in homicide rates for youth may be found in every northern state on the Pacific Coast.

Will school closures bring peace for children? It's unlikely: the Governor sent a request to the President for police and military reinforcements at the same he ordered school closures. And over the past four years, but especially in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, militarization has brought more deaths, not less. Meanwhile in Nuevo Leon, another northern state, news sources report that the state has just issued a manual for students at schools which come under gunfire.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Medical Marijuana Costs Parents In Child Custody Disputes

While medical marijuana laws protect patients from some criminal charges, it seems that some patients have been deemed inadequate parents based solely on their marijuana use, even without evidence of drug abuse. 

Unfortunately, this can result in loss of custody and even visitation rights of their children. Americans for Safe Access has reported that since mid-2006, they have received calls about 61 such cases. Judges and court councils have seemed to overlook medical patients who use marijuana responsibly, and have labeled all users as unfit parents. 

In Colorado last month, an appeals court ruled that medical marijuana use is not necessarily a reason to restrict a parent's visitation. Washington courts say otherwise:
"The court cannot countenance a situation where a person is using marijuana, under the influence of marijuana, and is caring for children," an Island County, Wash., judge ordered in one such dispute. "There's nothing in the medical marijuana law that deprives the court of its responsibility and legal authority to provide for proper care of children so that people aren't caring for children who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs."
Nicholas Pouch, a Washington medical marijuana patient, grows cannabis in an old chicken coop on his organic farm. He uses it to treat pain from carpal tunnel syndrome and old sports injuries. Acting on a tip from his former partner, a drug task force raided his grow operation in 2007. Even though Pouch's criminal charges were dropped, his partner cited the arrest and his marijuana use to win full custody of their 9 and 11 year old boys. For the past two and a half years, Pouch has seen the boys twice a month during supervised visits.
"There's no reason anybody should have to go through this..." Pouch said. "...I am not an activist at all, but I have the right to use this. It aids my pain, and it allows me to function in my everyday activities where pills and opiates don't."
Some patients need medical marijuana to provide better care for their children. Jacqueline Patterson, featured in the documentary: "In Pot We Trust", is a widowed mother of four children. She also suffers from cerebral palsy, which causes a severe stutter. When she uses medical marijuana to relieve muscle tension, her speech dramatically improves. Cannabis actually enables her to be a better mother to her four kids.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, two of the 14 states with medical marijuana laws - Michigan and Maine - specify that patients won't lose custody or visitation rights unless the patient's actions endanger the child or are contrary to the child's best interests. All medical marijuana laws need to include protecting parents' rights to save families from splitting apart. 

The children that are caught in these messy custody-divorce cases are just another causality  of the war on drugs.

National Call-In Day: Wednesday, June 23, 2010

SSDP is participating in the National Call-In Day to tell Congress to pass the National Criminal Justice Commission Act. Please do your part to help reform our criminal justice system.

BACKGROUND INFO: In 2009, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and 15 bipartisan cosponsors introduced the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, S. 714 , legislation that would create a bipartisan Commission to review and identify effective criminal justice policies and make recommendations for reform. The Senate Judiciary Committee has reviewed and favorably passed the bill and it is now awaiting passage out of the United States Senate. We need your help urging Senate Leadership to prioritize and pass this important legislation! 

On Wednesday, June 23rd, individuals nationwide will urge passage of this legislation by calling Senate Leadership to ask them to prioritize and support Senate passage of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, S. 714. We hope that you will join us by making these critical calls!
Please call the following Senators to ask them to prioritize and support Senate passage of this legislation:
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), 202-224-5556
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), 202-224-3135
  • Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), 202-224-9447
RSVP to our Facebook Event for this day of action to receive updates and communicate with other participants.

MESSAGE: I am calling to ask the Senator to prioritize and support immediate Senate passage of S. 714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, because:
  • Having a transparent and bipartisan Commission review and identify effective criminal justice policies would increase public safety.
  • The increase in incarceration over the past twenty years has stretched the system beyond its limits.  These high costs to taxpayers are unsustainable, especially during these times of economic downturn.
  • The proposed commission would conduct a comprehensive national review – not audits of individual state systems – and would issue recommendations – not mandates – for consideration.