Toke Over the Line?
of National Drug Control Policy recently announced an initiative
to crack down on drug-impaired drivers, and was met immediately
with a barrage of criticism from groups calling the initiative
new initiative is a thinly disguised zero-tolerance policy
that will do little to detect impaired driving and much to
punish responsible citizens for crimes they did not commit,”
said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of Drug Policy Alliance,
a group touting itself as the nation’s leading organization
working to end the war on drugs.
The Drug Policy Alliance argues that law enforcement officials
will fail to distinguish between evidence of use and actual
impairment, under the new initiative. “The goal is to ensure
safety on the roads,” said Nadelmann. “That will not happen
by severely punishing someone who smoked a joint in the privacy
of their own home the night before.”
Citing evidence that traces of marijuana stay in the body
for up to two weeks, critics claim that sober drivers could
have their licenses taken away and be prosecuted as criminals
if new roadside drug testing techniques are implemented.
Tom Riley of the ONDCP dismisses claims that the new initiative
is a plan to target marijuana users under the guise of a safe-driving
campaign. He admits that the ONDCP is supporting the development
of technologies that could detect drug impairment at traffic
stops, but insists that no such technologies are going immediately
into use. “The purpose of this exercise is to draw attention
to the fact that a lot of people are driving under the influence
of drugs,” he said.
While the dangers of drunk driving have become increasingly
ingrained in the public consciousness, drugged driving is
a problem that many Americans remain unaware of, claims the
ONDCP. Riley argues that efforts to raise public awareness
are largely responsible for the reduction of alcohol-related
deaths on American roadways, and says that he’d like to see
a similar reduction in drug-related deaths as a result of
the current campaign.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates
that illegal drug use is involved in 10 to 22 percent of all
motor vehicle crashes. Riley claims that even if these statistics
are grossly inflated, reducing drugged driving will save thousands
To accomplish this, the ONDCP has begun airing a television
commercial aimed at teenagers, meant to highlight the dangers
of driving while high. Two more commercials will begin airing
Strike, Residents Strike Out
is about resident care,” shouted picketers outside the Guilderland
Center and Rosewood Gardens nursing homes last week, as stalling
labor negotiations with management resulted in an estimated
160 workers walking off the job for three days.
permanent employees say residents are like family,” said Janet
Parsons, who has been a licensed practical nurse at Guilderland
Center for four years, and who participated in the strike.
“Now they are being cared for by strangers, and this is very
disconcerting to the residents.”
Workers said they went on strike from Nov. 21 through Nov.
23 because their employer, Highgate Management Llc., refuses
to bargain with representatives from their labor union, 1199
Service Employees International. Employees from both adult-care
facilities are asking their employers, who own six nursing
homes statewide, to provide workers with better wages and
benefits. Employees are also asking for more supplies and
staffing to better care for residents.
Representatives from Highgate Management Llc. did not return
calls for comment prior to publication, but did release a
statement to local media, saying that “meaningful discussions
. . . continue with labor officials although no resolution
appears imminent.” A previously scheduled round of discussions
between union representatives and management took place after
the strikes, and a spokesman from 1199 SEIU characterized
them as “not bad.”
made no agreements or resolutions on the contract, but the
owners showed up at the table for the first time,” said John
Joyce, 1199 SEIU spokesman. “In that respect the strike was
success. We wanted the owners to come to the bargaining table
and negotiate in good faith, and we see things as moving forward.”
Workers from Staffing by Priority, a temporary-employment
agency also owned by Highgate Management Llc., cared for residents
at the two nursing homes during the strike. Representatives
from the New York State Department of Health, which monitored
patient care at the two homes during the strike, said staffing
levels were adequate, but adequate care doesn’t cut it for
family members of some residents.
the strike it was awful,” said Lia Bott, whose grandfather
is a resident at Rosewood Gardens. “Agency people stood around
in groups and laughed, some of the residents didn’t get fed.
It was like pulling teeth to get [my grandfather] changed.
I was glad to see the regular aide when he came back to work.”
new Web site, unveiled last Thursday by the Citizens’ Environmental
Coalition, promises New Yorkers an overall picture of pollution
concerns in their neighborhoods.
According to CEC codirector Kathy Curtis, this is the first
Web site of its kind where New Yorkers can go and find all
the information that they would need to assess possible pollution
hazards in their community. In the past, she explained, people
would have to spend countless hours searching the Web, going
to various sites to obtain an overall environmental picture
of their area. But now people can zoom in on maps of their
community and get all of the information in one stop. www.ecoTHREATNY.org
provides viewable pollution sources and maps showing toxic-waste
dumps, levels of water pollution, emission sources, radioactive
waste sites, oil spills, solid-waste landfills, and air-pollution
someone were to purchase a home,” explained Curtis, “and wanted
to investigate the area where they were about to move to,
from an environmental perspective, all they would have to
do is go to the Web site and map out what is happening in
that particular location.”
For example, in Albany County alone, the Web site shows 19
Superfund toxic waste sites, 25 facilities required to report
their toxic-release inventory, and 56 industrial, commercial
or municipal water-pollution sources.
are so many different environmental problems, it’s difficult
to see the big picture,” said CEC codirector Bobbie Chase.
“People deserve to have access to this information, and now
they can get the knowledge they need to protect their families,
help change failed regulatory policies and prevent pollution.
It’s one-stop shopping, with no need to devote months wandering
through the maze.”
ecoTHREATNY.org also provides text-based pages that explain
each type of pollution, links to key government nonprofit
and community groups, and pollution prevention tips for the
searching: Lonnie Palmer.
Photo by Teri Currie.
to Displace a Sixth Grader
to the superintendent of the city school district, Albany
fifth-graders graduating to sixth grade in 2004 may end up
with no place to go due to delays in the plan to build a third
middle school in the city.
end up in trailers somewhere if we don’t solve this problem,”
said Lonnie Palmer, the district superintendent.
For the 2004 school year, the school district wanted to open
a new middle school, the city’s third, in Westland Hills Park.
The opening of the school was to coincide with the district’s
reconfiguration of its grade structure, where elementary schools
would house students in grades k-5 and middle schools would
expand to include students in grades 6-8. But because the
district wanted to build the new middle school on public parkland,
and federal money was spent on improvements in Westland Hills
Park, the district needed National Park Service approval before
it could go forward with its proposal. The park service requires
environmental impact studies on both the construction of the
new school and the conversion of replacement parkland.
But Palmer said a Nov. 14 letter from the state office of
Parks, Recreations and Historic Preservation, speaking on
behalf of NPS and informing the school district that it would
have to provide further environmental review, came too late.
so frustrating about all this, is if somebody would have said
to us last summer, ‘You’ve got to jump these hurdles before
we can agree to it,’ we could’ve gotten that done,” said Palmer.
“But to do that now creates a year’s delay and significant
Palmer estimates that inflation on the existing costs of construction,
and temporarily housing and busing the displaced sixth graders,
could cost the district an additional $1.5 million. The Albany
City School Board will meet on Dec. 10 to decide if it should
continue its pursuit of a third middle school in Westland
Hills or begin plans for a new school elsewhere.
kids are in buildings that are over 90 years old on average—they
need new schools,” Palmer said. “They are not accessible for
the disabled, they don’t have modern class size and the amenities
necessary for an education today. Somebody ought to start
thinking about that.”