Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Abbie Hoffman: Steal This Urine Test

There's a great scene in the new Aaron Sorkin / Netflix movie "The Trial of the Chicago 7" where Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) of Students for a Democratic Society says to Yippie! Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), "My problem is that for the next 50 years, when people think of progressive politics, they’re going to think of you and your idiot followers, passing out daisies to soldiers or trying to levitate the Pentagon. So they’re not gonna think of equality or justice; they’re not gonna think of education or poverty or progress. They’re gonna think of a bunch of stoned, lost, disrespectful, foul-mouthed, lawless losers. And so we’ll lose elections." 

I know this to be true because I campaigned for Hayden when he ran for Governor of California in 1994. I would talk to young people, saying, "You know Tom Hayden, the Chicago 7?" Only when I said, "with Abbie Hoffman" did the bells of recognition ring. (Hayden lost that election, and Abbie remains enduringly popular.) 

The credits of the movie mention Hoffman's bestseller "Steal This Book" but not its 1987 sequel, "Steal This Urine Test" in which he blows the lid off the bogus urine testing industry that discriminates against marijuana smokers by detecting inactive metabolites that can stay in the body for weeks after use. 

Hoffman wrote of NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) chief Dr. Robert DuPont's evolution from a somewhat liberal scientist to a zealot-like proponent of urine testing:  
NIDA’s role in promoting the [EMIT] immunoassay became a prestigious and eventually a financial coup for DuPont. At first, like the test developers, he intimated that the procedures would be confined to medical applications. In his preface to a 1973 Urine Testing Guide, he wrote: “Urine screening for drugs of abuse has become a necessary adjunct to treatment (of addiction).” When it later became apparent that Reagan was about to trounce Carter in the 1980 election, Carter administration appointees hoping to survive shifted to the right. It was no longer healthy to confer with NORML. In urine testing, diagnosis took a back seat to the possibility of mass surveillance…. 

Researchers pursued the complex metabolic path of cannabis with the gusto of small-town dogcatchers, but even unlimited grant dollars couldn’t expedite an accurate test. Finally a compromise was reached. Instead of search for a primary THC metabolite—the one responsible for the high—an assay would look for a more accessible but inert chemical. Called THC carboxylic acid, it doesn’t produce the high, but remains in the body for weeks after exposure to the drug. The accuracy would suffer, but tests for the presence of marijuana, however old, were enough to satisfy the developers. 

After Reagan defeated Carter for president in 1980, DuPont signed on as head of the American Council on Marijuana (ACM, later the American Council on Drug Education), a "quasi-scientific fear-mongering group." By 1980, Hoffman wrote, 

The Bladder Cops were now armed and dangerous. The EMIT assays, conceived as an adjunct to medical practice, were now being pedaled as the ultimate snitch…. The ACM and NIDA, hand in hand, hawked the immunoassay as the final solution to the Drug Menace, which itself was being touted as the chief threat to “traditional social values."

After Reagan declared war on drugs, it seemed that everyone with a semester of high school chemistry was cashing in. ...Urine has literally and figuratively become the Gold Rush of the eighties. 

DuPont then joined with Peter B. Bensinger, former director of the DEA, forming the company Bensinger Dupont, to provide corporations with “a full-service solution to drug testing with management and training.” Bensinger emerged as "the most outspoken proponent of mass testing, appearing regularly in the media as an "unofficial spokesman." 

In 1981 DuPont served as a paid consultant for Straight, Incorporated, a controversial drug rehabilitation program that treated adolescents and was the subject of numerous allegations of abuse and which was successfully sued for false imprisonment and maltreatment.  Today Dupont heads the Institute of Behavior and Health, which has teamed with We Save Lives to push oral fluid testing for drivers across the US, funded by NHTSA grants. 

Hoffman, meanwhile, was targeted, hounded and heckled by the FBI's COINTELPRO program, and died of an apparent suicide in 1989, as depicted in Steal This Movie! (2000). Drug testing remains so entrenched in the US workplace that other countries call us "The Land of the Pee." But now 19 states plus New York City have passed laws protecting medical or recreational users' employment rights, and courts are beginning to side with employees over employers on the issue. Join Cal NORML's fight for workers rights in California.

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