In Honor of 4/20

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Today is National Weed Day in the United States. That may prompt chuckles among lots of, but, as lighthearted as much of today’s commentary might be, U.S. marijuana policy is no laughing matter.

In the U.S., marijuana is the topic of extreme federal and state laws criminalizing use, belongings, production and distribution. The expenses of these policies, not only in regards to the billions of dollars dedicated to imposing them, but likewise in harm to human lives, are incredible.

The U.S. has the largest reported prison population in the world, with an estimated 2.3 million people behind bars. More than 50 % of federal detainees are serving time for drug offenses. From 1.3 million individuals in state prisons in 2013, 210,000 were sent to prison for drug offenses; of those, almost 50,000 were there just for ownership.

The varieties of individuals arrested for drug offenses are even greater. FBI information (which is only partial) indicate at least 1.5 million “substance abuse” arrests in 2012; marijuana offenses represented 48% of these arrests. Of all drug arrests, 82% were for belongings; 87% of marijuana arrests were for possession. The American Civil Liberties Union has reported that in between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million arrests in the united state for marijuana alone.

In New york city City, Human Rights Watch recorded that in between 1996 and 2011, authorities made majority a million arrests for possessing percentages of marijuana in public– more than for any other offense. City officials suggested that these arrests permitted them to recognize future violent wrongdoers, however our analysis revealed this was not the case.

Rates of arrest and jail time are marked by stark racial disparities: African-Americans are just 13% of the US population, however they represent 41% of state and 42% of federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses. African-Americans are almost 4 times as likely as whites to be detained for cannabis ownership, even though African-Americans and whites utilize the drug at comparable rates.

The influence on those imprisoned and detained can be ravaging. A conviction not just suggests loss of liberty for the imprisoned individual, however can have ripple effects for their household and neighborhood. Convictions can suggest losing the right to vote and dealing with enormous hurdles to obtaining work, housing, and food support. For immigrants– including lawful permanent residents– conviction for even a small drug offense commonly suggests deportation and irreversible separation from their U.S. households.

Even for those who are not convicted, an arrest can indicate embarrassment, detention, loss of employment, and other collateral repercussions.

And then there are the costs to the united state criminal justice system itself, as police, along with overstretched district attorneys and courts, hang around, cash and energy pursuing low-level drug offenses that might otherwise be utilized on more significant criminal offenses.

Existing U.S. drug policies emphasizing criminalization of the drug trade have actually also had disastrous consequences outside the country, consisting of by considerably enhancing the success of illegal drug markets and fueling the development and operations of groups responsible for large-scale violence and corruption in nations from Colombia and Mexico to Afghanistan.

Advocates of criminalizing substance abuse typically suggest that it is needed to keep people from damaging themselves or others. But imprisoning people who make use of drugs restricts their autonomy and rights to personal privacy, while doing little to secure them. Instead, fear of police can drive people who make use of drugs underground, preventing them from getting health services and increasing the risk they face of violence, discrimination, and significant health problem.

There are better ways to safeguard people who use drugs, consisting of by offering drug abuse treatment and social support. And governments can criminalize negligent or unsafe behavior (such as driving under the influence) to manage harmful conduct by people who use drugs without criminalizing drug use itself.

Fortunately is that, increasingly, U.S. states are getting up to the costs of current extreme drug policies, and experimenting with new strategies– at least concerning cannabis. Four states have legislated the drug. Lots have actually legalized it for medicinal functions. In 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder provided guidance for federal district attorneys that would enable US states to legalize marijuana, noting that a regulated market might further federal concerns of battling the mob. Other nations, like Colombia and Mexico, are pressing for– and even (like Uruguay and Portugal) explore– options to current strategies.

The United States still has a long way to go in addressing the local, national, and international harm of its drug policies. However gradually, new ways forward will certainly be spreading out like, uh, weed.

New Law to Strip Social Security Numbers From Medicare Cards

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Worried about the rising occurrance and sophistication of identity theft, the majority of personal health insurance business have actually abandoned the use of Social Security numbers to determine people. The federal government even forbids private insurers to make use of the numbers on insurance cards when they offer medical or drug benefits under contract with Medicare.

But Medicare itself has actually continued the practice, inscribing Social Security numbers on more than 50 million benefit cards regardless of years of warnings from government watchdogs that it positioned millions of individuals at risk for financial losses from identity theft.

That will change, after President Obama signed a costs last week that will certainly end the use of those numbers on Medicare cards.

“The Social Security number is the essential to identity theft, and thieves are having a field day with seniors’ Medicare cards,” said Agent Sam Johnson, Republican politician of Texas, who pushed for the modification with Rep Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat.

The primary function of the law, adopted with broad bipartisan support, was to revamp the method doctors are spent for treating Medicare clients. But it makes other modifications too. One section that received little interest says Social Security account numbers have to not be “shown, coded or embedded on the Medicare card.”

Congress provided $320 million over four years to spend for the modification. The money will certainly originate from Medicare trust funds that are funded with payroll and other taxes and with recipient premiums.

In his budget for 2016, Mr. Obama asked for $50 million as a down payment “to support the removal of Social Security numbers from Medicare cards”– a step that federal auditors and investigators had been suggesting for more than a decade.

More than 4,500 individuals a day register for Medicare. In the coming decade, 18 million more people are expected to certify, bringing Medicare enrollment to 74 million individuals by 2025.

New recipients are commonly shocked, even stunned, to discover that their Medicare cards lug their Social Security numbers. Medicare uses them as the primary means of determining recipients, positioning the numbers on advantage cards in addition to a couple of letters or numbers that suggest the basis of a person’s eligibility.

In transferring to stop the practice, Congress was encouraged by the proliferation of electronic health records and a rash of recent cyberattacks, consisting of an information breach at Anthem, among the country’s biggest insurance providers.

Medicare authorities have up to four years to begin providing cards with new identifiers. They have 4 more years to reissue cards held by current beneficiaries. They plan to change the Social Security number with “a randomly produced Medicare recipient identifier,” but the details are still being exercised.

Paula L. Ercolini, a 70-year-old Medicare recipient in Sharpsburg, Ga., outdoors Atlanta, said she wished that her Medicare card did not include her Social Security number.

“The Social Security number has the potential to open up your files, your life to hackers and burglars,” she said. “But you practically need to supply it when you go to new physicians. They won’t see you if you do not.”
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The card itself informs recipients: “Carry your card with you when you are far from home. Let your healthcare facility or physician see your card when you require medical facility, medical or health services under Medicare.”

Ann H. Rossie, 81, of Seattle, stated she stressed that having Social Security numbers on Medicare cards “makes us all susceptible if our wallet is taken.”

“Changing to another number will be a humongous task,” stated Ms. Rossie, a former Social Security asserts rep. “However Medicare needs to recognised the terrible effect on any person whose identity is taken. It ruins your self-confidence, and it can take years to re-establish your identity and credit.”

Members of Congress said the use of Social Security numbers on Medicare cards supplied a study of administrative inertia.

Considering that 2004, the Government Responsibility Workplace, an investigative arm of Congress, has actually repeatedly prompted officials to reduce using Social Security numbers as identifiers. In 2007, the White House Workplace of Management and Budget informed companies to “remove the unnecessary collection and use of Social Security numbers” within two years.

In 2008, the inspector general of Social Security required immediate action to remove the numbers from Medicare cards, saying their display “needlessly places countless individuals at risk for identity theft.” Because very same year, the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs started carrying out sophisticated plans to get rid of Social Security numbers from their identification cards.

However the Department of Health and Human being Solutions, which monitors the agency that administers Medicare, has “lagged behind other federal companies,” the Government Responsibility Workplace said.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and chairwoman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, stated she was puzzled by the delays. “This still does not appear to be a concern” for Medicare administrators, she stated.

Medicare authorities stated their top infotech experts had actually been preoccupied with efforts to develop and repair HealthCare.gov, the online system for buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which was overcome by technical problems soon after it began operating 18 months earlier.

An internal firm report points out concerns about “the budgetary and logistical difficulties of getting rid of Social Security numbers from Medicare cards.” The Medicare firm depends upon more than 200 computer system systems and pays more than a billion claims a year from 1.5 million health care service providers.

AARP, the lobby for older Americans, and another consumer group, the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare, stated they supported the brand-new prohibition.

“Older adults are targeted by scams artists, who use their Social Security numbers to obtain loans and credit cards,” said Amy E. Nofziger, supervisor of the scams prevention program at AARP.

In one case described by Stephen R. Wigginton, the United States lawyer for the Southern District of Illinois, a healthcare facility worker and a previous employee were founded guilty of taking personal details from the charts of older clients then using the information to make an application for charge card in the victims’ names.

The previous worker was caught on video camera at a shop using a credit card gotten with the personal information of a 90-year-old woman who had been admitted to the medical facility from an assisted living center.