Reader Feedback On Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

December 28th, 2011 32 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Last month, we asked you for your take on laws that require welfare recipients to take and pass a drug test in order to receive benefits. It was a hot topic, generating more comments than any blog posting since the U.S. attorney crackdown in California. We also set up a survey, which over 700 of you responded to.

So, what were the results? The vast majority of you, about 74%, were opposed to drug testing aid recipients altogether. The rest of you split roughly evenly between support for testing recipients for all drugs and support for testing for “hard drugs,” but not marijuana. The survey results skewed along the same lines as the views of our commenters, most of whom were opposed to testing altogether. Here’s a sampling of some other thoughts from our commenters:

Commenter Justin wants to look past ideology and focus on results:

Of course we would all likely prefer people receiving government assistance not use that aid to purchase anything besides the bare essentials. And if there were any indication that drug testing prevents drug use I would fully endorse its use. But the reality is every indication points to drug testing as being a very poor deterrent to drug use, in other words it simply doesn’t work

Reader David says if you’re going to drug test, do it consistently and equally:

I think anybody who receives government money, this includes all politicians and elected officials, should be subjected to random drug screens. What’s fair is fair.

Many of you agreed with Patrick in singling out companies that conduct testing:

 … the real beneficiary of drug testing welfare recipients is the dirty drug testing industry who I personally would love to see destroyed … We all know that the drug testing industry lobbies hard to maintain marijuana prohibition as they have a vested interest in doing so.

Thanks to all of you for responding to the survey and to those of you who took extra time to leave your thoughts in the comments section. As an organization focused on optimizing policy with respect to marijuana, we agree with the overwhelming majority of our members that drug testing aid recipients is intrusive, ineffective, and wasteful, and we will continue advocating against bills that require testing as a condition for receiving benefits.

We welcome our supporters’ feedback on this and other issues. If you’d like to share your opinion, leave your comments here at the blog or contact us directly. We can’t do our work without you, so it’s important to us that we have your support. Thanks again!

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Drug testing welfare recipients: What’s your take?

November 22nd, 2011 50 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Poll: Should welfare recipients be tested for marijuana and other drug use?

Like any policy-promoting organization, periodically we at MPP take a step back to examine our stance on various issues to make sure that we’re accomplishing two goals. First, we want to promote the best policy possible — the one that leads to the most positive outcomes for all parties involved. Second, as an organization dependent on the generous support of readers and members like you (support our work here), we want to be responsive to our members.

For as long as I’ve been a member of the MPP team, we’ve been opposed to bills that mandate drug testing of beneficiaries of unemployment and other forms of public assistance. While our supporters have generally taken action on these alerts and seem supportive as a whole, one alert generated a number of emails in disagreement. So, we’re using the blog as a means to ask you, our supporters, what you think.

Here are some of the reasons MPP has always opposed drug testing of beneficiaries:

  • Stripping indigent marijuana users — some of whom use marijuana for medical purposes— of aid is likely to be a significantly greater harm to that person than whatever harm results from using marijuana.
  • MPP supports treating marijuana similarly to alcohol. However, beneficiaries are not and cannot be subjected to testing to see if they used alcohol in the past few weeks, while marijuana metabolites stay in one’s system for weeks. The loss of welfare or unemployment benefits is another unfair non-criminal collateral sanction imposed by states to punish individuals who choose marijuana instead of alcohol, like educational discrimination and loss of a driver’s license.
  • There’s the “slippery slope” concern. What’s next, a drug test in order to obtain a driver’s license? In order to register to vote?
  • There’s the civil liberties concern that forcing welfare recipients to submit to drug testing is unconstitutionally invasive. Indeed, a federal judge recently stopped Florida’s drug testing regime on Fourth Amendment grounds.

It’s also noteworthy that testing beneficiaries may not even accomplish its stated goals of saving money.

Still, in this time of austerity, this proposition enjoys substantial support, according to a 2011 Rasmussen poll.

So, now it’s your turn. We’d like to hear from you, our readers and supporters. What do you think of efforts to require welfare and unemployment beneficiaries to take and pass a drug test for marijuana in order to receive benefits?

I’ve set up a simple, one question poll here, and if you have comments to share you can leave them below. Feel free to forward this to others who might be interested, so we can solicit as wide a response from our activists as possible, as we are genuinely curious about what you think.

Thanks everyone, now go have a great Thanksgiving!

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“Study” on marijuana and driving isn’t really a study, but is loaded with propaganda

November 17th, 2011 10 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Wikipedia defines propaganda as “present[ing] information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda is often biased, with facts selectively presented (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political, or other type of agenda.”

“Marijuana Use and Motor Vehicle Crashes”1 is a typical example of propaganda funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and, ultimately, us, the taxpayers. NIDA, which does not consider finding good things about illegal drugs part of its mandate, funds studies to look for harmful effects of illegal drugs, including cannabis. This is not research but statistical manipulation (meta-analysis) of selected prior research articles. The only science involved was described in the original articles.

In this case, Dr. Li’s article starts with the observation that the federal government considers cannabis to have “no currently accepted medical use,” in contrast with “16 states and the District of Columbia [which] have enacted legislation to decriminalize medical marijuana [cannabis].” The authors do acknowledge there are lots of articles on medical use (the U.S. Government, incidentally, owns a patent on medical uses as well as a monopoly on the availability of cannabis for research). The discussion of medical cannabis and legalization do not impact driving but are the target of this article.

Lies by omission: Dr. Li, et al. reference an article by Dr. DP Tashkin on the harmful effects on the respiratory system caused by cannabis use, written in 1987. Follow up research by Tashkin designed to find the harmful effects on the respiratory system, and published in 2007,2 did not find cannabis to be associated with harmful effects. The 2007 article was omitted.

In another example, Dr. Li, et al. reference an article by Dr. K.I. Bolla published in 2002 to document the “host of adverse effects” of long-term cannabis use. This was another NIDA article. With careful reading, including a review of data published separately online, one learns that when subjects were stratified by IQ, the below average persons who used more cannabis performed less well. The above average IQ persons who used more cannabis performed better. One could conclude from the article that chess players who test negative for cannabis use might be advised on the increased accuracy associated with cannabis use.  The authors only dwelt on the below average users studied, omitting the Carl Sagans in their study.

Dr. Li, et al. declare “[t]he only study that failed to detect a significant association between marijuana use and crash risk was a small case-control study conducted in Thailand … .” The authors, however, omit the conclusions of one of the articles from which the meta-analysis is constructed. Dr. KL Movig,3  the author of one of the nine source articles, studied the effects on driving of alcohol and other sedatives, amphetamines, opiates, cocaine, and cannabis, as well as combinations of these. What was found was the combination of drugs is the greatest hazard. No rocket science there — if your judgment is trashed by alcohol and you add a sedative or stimulant you are not going to be a safe driver. “[D]rug use, especially alcohol, benzodiazepines and multiple drug use and drug–alcohol combinations, among vehicle drivers increases the risk for a road trauma accident requiring hospitalization … No increased risk for road trauma was found for drivers exposed to cannabis.” Lying through omission.

The other articles combine apples and oranges, and each stands on the quality of research presented. The meta-analysis is a smoothie. Emphasizing the author’s position on this, the discussion ends as the introduction began, confounding medical cannabis use with recreational use and implying states with medical marijuana laws should see an increase in marijuana-related automobile accidents.

NIDA tried to connect smoking hazards of tobacco with smoking cannabis and failed. This article attempts to connect the hazards of drunk driving with drivers who use cannabis at any time, whether for recreational or medical purposes. Taxpayers should insist that the government not only end the war on drugs but also eliminate NIDA. After all, NIDA controls all the cannabis for research, and the DEA prevents approval of any alternative source of cannabis. Yet, NIDA has refused to provide marijuana to FDA-approved studies on the medical benefits of cannabis. Finally, the propaganda produced by NIDA is used by opponents of medical marijuana as a political tool. The ONDCP also substitutes NIDA propaganda for the science on cannabis, so that it can refuse to consider policy changes to allow medical cannabis or legalization, as occurred last week with the response to the “We the People” petition to the White House signed by 50,000 citizens. Eliminating NIDA, the DEA, and the ONDCP will provide savings to the federal budget. And that is a fact.

1 Mu-Chen Li, Joanne E. Brady, Charles J. DiMaggio, Arielle R. Lusardi, Keane Y. Tzong, and Guohua Li. “Marijuana Use and Motor Vehicle Crashes.” Epidemiologic Reviews (2011): mxr017v1-mxr017.

2 Hashibe M, Morgenstern H, Cui Y, Tashkin DP, Zhang ZF, Cozen W, Mack TM, Greenland S. “Marijuana use and the risk of lung and upper aerodigestive tract cancers: results of a population-based case-control study.” Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. October 2006, 15(10): 1829-34.

3 K.L.L. Movig, M.P.M. Mathijssen , P.H.A. Nagel , T. van Egmond, J.J. de Gier, H.G.M. Leufkens, A.C.G. Egberts. “Psychoactive substance use and the risk of motor vehicle accidents.” Accident Analysis and Prevention 36 (2004): 631–636. [An excellent source on the risks of driving with alcohol and drugs.]

If you have a science-based question about marijuana, email it to us at state@mpp.org, and it may be answered in our upcoming “Ask Dr. McSherry” feature.

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Blame It On the Weed

July 25th, 2011 25 Comments Morgan Fox

Have you ever noticed that any time a young person commits a horrifying act of violence, someone is always trying to blame their behavior on marijuana? It happened with Jared Loughner, the man accused of a January shooting spree in Tuscon. Within days of the tragedy, stories were flooding the media asserting that his documented mental illness was the result of marijuana use, despite the fact that he had stopped using marijuana months before. And now The New York Times is focusing on the marijuana use of a Florida teenager accused of killing his parents last week.

Tyler Hadley, 17, had a history of mental illness and drug abuse long before he allegedly bludgeoned his parents to death with a hammer. Instead of talking about the need for improved treatment of mental illness, however, The New York Times decided to concentrate on the fact that the accused had a party the night of the murders. Much was made of this party, particularly that marijuana use occurred. Hadley’s participation in an outpatient substance abuse program was also noted. Then the reporter goes off the deep end.

The rest of the article consists mainly of area residents discussing how they used the news reports of the case to warn their children about marijuana, and the prevalence of marijuana use in the small suburban community. How this is relevant to a murder investigation is beyond me.

Why does the media feel the need to blame someone or something for every tragic event, other than the person responsible for the actual actions involved? And why, more often than not, does that collective finger get pointed at marijuana? Not much was made of Hadley’s troubled mind, or the alcohol that Hadley consumed, or the pharmaceutical drugs he supposedly planned to use to kill himself when police arrived, suggesting he had regular access to them. Never mind that marijuana is rarely associated with violent behavior. And never mind the fact that marijuana does not cause psychosis!

Instead, what we get is more ridiculous “reefer madness.”

It is amazing that it has been almost 75 years since Henry Anslinger convinced America that marijuana turns people into crazed, bloodthirsty lunatics. It is even more amazing that journalists still use this hyperbolic frenzy to sell newspapers. But the most amazing thing… is that some people still swallow it. Hook, line, and sinker.


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You’re Invited to the Marijuana Policy Project’s Party at the Playboy Mansion!

March 23rd, 2011 5 Comments Kate Zawidzki


Did you see the announcement last week about our upcoming summertime fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion? The Marijuana Policy Project will be returning to host another event at the famed venue in Los Angeles on July 7, from 8:00 pm to midnight, and we hope you’ll attend.

The ticket price will increase approximately once a month as the event nears, so buy early, before the next price increase on April 1.  Please visit www.mpp.org/pb2011 for more details.

Part of the price of each ticket is tax-deductible, and 100% of the proceeds will go toward our efforts to end marijuana prohibition in the U.S.

In other words, this is a win/win/win situation: You attend an unforgettable party, you receive a tax deduction, and you help change our nation’s absurd marijuana laws, which are more harmful than marijuana itself.

In addition to the Mansion’s famous attractions — the monkeys, the Game House, and the grotto — there will also be a music act, comedians, fire-dancing, and a few surprises.

The work that MPP does around the nation to pass medical marijuana laws, improve existing medical marijuana laws, and decriminalize marijuana (just to name some of what we do), costs money. We do a variety of things to raise that money, and one of them is holding fundraisers at intriguing venues we know our supporters will want to check out.

These tickets almost sell themselves, so please consider forwarding this message to your friends, family, and colleagues to let them know that they should purchase a few tickets today, before the price goes up at the end of this month.

I hope to see you on July 7.

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Why Are Some Cops So Hostile to Marijuana Policy Reform?

January 19th, 2011 57 Comments Morgan Fox

This article by Rob Kampia was recently in Huffington Post:

A few years ago, when the Marijuana Policy Project was lobbying the Minnesota legislature to pass a modest medical marijuana bill, the state prosecutors association led the opposition. Rank-and-file police from the Twin Cities left their beats to fill up committee hearing rooms — in uniform, with handguns strapped to their waists — in an attempt to intimidate the state legislators on the committees.

And law enforcement lied, lied, lied, so much so that we started distributing daily “Law Enforcement Lie of the Day” videos to all state legislators and political reporters in the state. We also slammed the leading local prosecutor’s office with phone calls from angry constituents; he privately threatened to arrest us for “obstructing justice.” I almost wish he had arrested us so that he would have had to explain why trying to help sick people interferes with justice, but he didn’t.

For a couple years, it was all-out warfare, but we finally passed a medical marijuana bill through the legislature in May 2009, only to see Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) veto the bill, saying he preferred to “stand with law enforcement.”

State prosecutors, police, sheriffs, and attorneys general — not to mention federal DEA and FBI agents — are almost universally opposed to marijuana policy reform measures in every state, to the point where they actually spend time and taxpayer money campaigning and lobbying against us. Why?

1. IGNORANCE: For the most part, rank-and-file cops aren’t trained scientists or policy experts. They don’t spend much time reading medical studies or public policy analyses, and they generally don’t have much knowledge about the issue beyond how it directly affects their jobs. When presented with such information, they tend to listen to the people they encounter most in their work. Unfortunately, those people are almost always government officials or those with a vested interest in keeping marijuana illegal, such as drug treatment specialists. Since this information comes from “trusted sources,’ it’s usually accepted as fact, and differing viewpoints are therefore ignored.

2. JOB SECURITY: Before MPP helped decriminalize marijuana possession in Massachusetts in November 2008, we learned that marijuana-possession arrests accounted for 6% of all arrests in that state each year. So, to some extent, law enforcement was opposing our ballot initiative because they were concerned that some of them might need to be laid off if there were fewer “criminals” to arrest and prosecute. As for me, I never thought that 6% of law enforcement would be laid off; more likely, we were freeing up law enforcement to go after real criminals. Which leads me to…

3. QUALITY OF LIFE: According to the FBI, 48 law-enforcement officers nationwide were feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2009, and none of these were killed by enforcing drug laws. It makes sense that going after murderers would be more dangerous than sniffing under college students’ doors. But policing exists to make society safer, and hunting down nonviolent marijuana users at the expense of thousands of unsolved assaults, rapes, and murders does nothing to accomplish this.

4. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE: It’s hard for any person to change his or her political opinion after years of believing that opinion. So you can imagine how it would be even harder to change your opinion on an issue after you’ve ruined the lives of hundreds or thousands of people by arresting them on that issue. In other words, once a cop arrests marijuana users, testifies against them in court, and moves up the political food chain because of all this, it’s almost impossible for that cop to then declare, “I was wrong.”

Thankfully, there’s an organization of principled law enforcement professionals who are neither ignorant, self-serving, nor mentally calcified. I’m talking about Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization that deserves your wholehearted support.

And there is another ray of hope: When I talk to cops on the beat in the District of Columbia, where I live, I ask them, “What’s the worst crime you usually have to deal with?” They almost always answer, “Domestic violence.” I ask, “Is marijuana involved in that?” They laugh and say, “Never. It’s almost always alcohol.” So should marijuana be decriminalized, or maybe even legalized? “Probably, but the higher-ups would never go for that,” they say.

So there you have it: There are plenty of police officers who see the futility and unfairness of marijuana prohibition up close, but most law enforcement officials with real authority support marijuana prohibition. Why the discrepancy?

The most obvious explanation is that the higher-ups are (1) more likely to be appointed or hired by mayors and city councils, and (2) responsible for presenting departmental budgets to those politicians every year. So perhaps there’s a fifth reason why so many law enforcement officials are hostile…

5. FEAR OF OUT-OF-TOUCH POLITICIANS: Politicians are far behind the public when it comes to understanding the harms of marijuana prohibition. Whether politicians are afraid of being perceived as “soft on crime,” of sticking their necks out on what is still a fairly contentious issue, or of offending particular special interest groups, opposition remains high among elected representatives. Law enforcement officials looking for bigger budgets and better jobs will echo these politicians ad nauseum, providing them with political cover and legitimacy. And there we have a self-perpetuating cycle.

This is why it’s important to engage law enforcement on this issue at every opportunity. Whether it is the cop on your corner or the chief of police, opening the dialogue is vitally important.

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