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Why Is Pennsylvania Still Suspending Driver's Licenses for Drug Offenses?

Close to 150,000 people have lost driving privileges in Pennsylvania between 2011 and 2016 because of a policy dating back to a 1991 federal law.
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Richard Drew/AP

Russell Harold, 52, has been missing doctor appointments he needs for treatments for his disability, and his personal finances have taken a dive because his driver’s license is suspended. Harold’s business was traveling to people’s homes to clean them, which earned him roughly $700 a week before the suspension. He makes only a little above that much monthly now, and he can only get to people’s homes if they transport him and his cleaning tools there. He was arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana and the anxiety prescription drug Xanax last year, and though that arrest had nothing to do with operating a vehicle, his license was suspended for two years as part of his sentence.

Pennsylvania is one of a dozen states, and Washington, D.C., that will revoke a person’s driver’s license for up to two years for a conviction in a drug-related crime, even if that crime has nothing to do with driving. Close to 150,000 people have lost driving privileges in Pennsylvania between 2011 and 2016 because of that policy. This is “irrational,” argues the legal non-profit Equal Justice Under Law, which is suing the state of Pennsylvania on behalf of Harold and another man, Sean Williams, whose employment and family responsibilities are also jammed up due to a driver’s license suspension from a drug crime conviction. The state has not responded to the lawsuit yet, and declined comment to CityLab about it.