October 1, 1998
Pair of Lawsuits Challenge New Louisiana Drug Testing Requirements
October 1, 1998, Baton Rouge, LA:
A suit filed today by NORML Legal Committee member William Rittenberg argues that a
new law requiring elected officials to undergo random drug testing is unconstitutional.
State Rep. Arthur Morrell, a fourteen-year Democrat from Orleans Parish, is the
plaintiff in the suit.
"I don't like to be overly optimistic, but it looks like an easy lawsuit [to win,]" said Rittenberg, who seeks to enjoin the state statute. Rittenberg's complaint says the drug testing law violates protections against unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed by the U.S. and state constitutions. The suit also maintains that the statute is in violation of his plaintiff's rights to due process and his rights against self incrimination.
Rittenberg's challenge follows a class action suit filed last week by the Louisiana American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of state judge Philip O'Neill. "All we are doing is ... slowly ... chipping away at our constitutional rights," O'Neill said. "If allowed to continue, we will still have the drug problem but no constitutional freedoms."
Rittenberg said that the state will automatically consolidate both cases.
Backers of the court challenge are confident that a 1997 Supreme Court ruling striking down a similar Georgia drug testing law will apply to the Louisiana statute. In that case, the high court found that drug testing political candidates without individualized suspicion and absent "special needs" was unconstitutional. Rittenberg argues that officials enacted the Louisiana statute "merely for symbolic reasons" and not in response to any special governmental need justifying an "arbitrary governmental intrusion."
NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. agrees. "The desire to set a good example is insufficient to justify an exemption to the Fourth Amendment," he said.
Rittenberg added that a separate state statute mandating drug testing for virtually all residents receiving moneys from the state -- including welfare recipients, state employees, state university students, and those holding state contracts -- is also vulnerable to a constitutional challenge.
For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or William Rittenberg of The NORML Legal Committee @ (504) 524-5555.
Man Held In Oklahoma Jail For Possessing Legal Weed Still Faces Court Battle
October 1, 1998, Montpelier, VT:
A Vermont man who spent 25 days in an Oklahoma jail for possessing legal herbs
still faces prosecution by unrelenting state officials.
"He's not guilty of anything but being black and having ... dreadlocks and driving in Oklahoma," said attorney Jim Hadley, who is handling the case.
Police jailed defendant George Singleton earlier this year on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance after seizing a bag of what they presumed was marijuana during a traffic stop. Blood tests later found Singleton to be drug and alcohol free, and identified the herbs in question to be rosemary and mullein. Shockingly, police continued to hold Singleton in custody under a little known state law prohibiting an individual from possessing any substance that looks similar to an illegal drug.
Singleton made bail after 25 days, but must return to Oklahoma next Thursday to face charges of driving under the influence, The Associated Press reported. State officials admitted the charge is unusual considering blood tests determined Singleton was drug free at the time of his arrest.
"It is an unusual case because of the fact that we don't have proof of any illegal substance," Oklahoma District Attorney Gene Hayes said. The state will not go forward with charges that Singleton possessed a "look-alike" substance, the AP reported.
"The absurdity of this prosecution illustrates how far our laws have run amok because of our nation's misguided war on marijuana smokers," said attorney Tanya Kangas, director of litigation for The NORML Foundation.
For more information, please contact Tanya Kangas of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.
Senate Mulls Whether To Prohibit Possession Of Large Amounts Of Cash By Travelers
October 1, 1998, Washington, D.C.:
Legislation introduced in the Senate recently seeks to allow law enforcement to
confiscate the money of individuals traveling with more than $10,000 cash.
"This legislation predetermines that anyone possessing large amounts of cash must be a criminal," charged NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup, Esq. "It places a presumption of guilt on the defendant and forces owners to go to court and prove their innocence if they wish to reclaim their money. Essentially, this bill seeks to give the government a license to steal under the guise of fighting the war on drugs."
The Drug Currency Forfeitures Act, sponsored by Sens. Max Cleland (D-Ga) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), states that police may seize cash from individuals traveling through defined "drug transit areas." The bill broadly defines such areas to mean any port-of-entry, airport, or highway.
"The idea that any American should have to explain to the police where their money came from is offensive, and the idea that the police can pocket your money if they don't like your answers is downright criminal," said Libertarian Party National Director Steve Dasbach.
The bill currently awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
For more information, please contact either NORML Foundation Litigation Director Tanya Kangas, Esq. @ (202) 483-8751 or George Getz of The Libertarian Party @ (202) 333-0008 Ext. 222.
New Roadside Test Can Detect Drug Impairment, Police Claim
October 1, 1998, Chicago, IL:
New technology unveiled by Illinois state police can allegedly determine whether a
driver is under the influence of marijuana and other drugs by gauging an eye's response to
light. Police said that the device, known as EYECHECK, will be tested in four
locations across the state, but failed to estimate when or if the technology will become a
standard part of police equipment.
EYECHECK resembles a pair of binoculars. Police will ask drivers suspected of being under the influence to peer into the equipment. Three flashes of light dilate the pupils, and the device then measures the response to the stimuli. Proponents of the technology claim that EYECHECK works faster and more efficiently than blood and Breathalyzer tests.
Presently, urinalysis is the most common type of test used to determine marijuana consumption; however, the test can not detect impairment or how recently the drug was consumed.
For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.
Federal Officials Say No To Montana Hemp Beer Maker
October 1, 1998, Missoula, MT:
A state microbrewery seeking to unveil a new line of hemp beer for commercial
distribution found federal officials less than enthusiastic. Representatives from
the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms recently told the brewery to stop making the
beer because the agency was "concerned about the image it presents to young
Tim O'Leary, who heads the Kettlehouse microbrewery, criticized the BATF's decision to ban his product. "They're trying to keep something (hemp seeds) that has no effect on people out of a product that can really have an effect on people if they use it unwisely," he said. "That seems just a bit absurd."
O'Leary wished to join at least half a dozen breweries nationwide that already manufacturing hemp beer. The beers substitute sterile hemp seeds for barley and hops at different parts of the brewing process. Hemp proponents maintain that the seeds give beer a creamier head and herbal flavoring.
For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751 or NORML board member Don Wirtshafter of The Ohio Hempery @ (740) 662-4367.