Medical marijuana is legal in California, but you have a problem if you have to go through any Border Patrol checkpoints. The Department of Homeland Security isn't the Department of Justice, and DHS doesn't recognize medical marijuana.
District of Columbia voters overwhelmingly passed medical marijuana but waited 12 years for it to become law. Now the DC government is making them wait an extra five months before even beginning to set up a medical marijuana system, and the framework they've crafted has problems.
After Mexican President Calderon toyed briefly with the notion of legalization last week, his predecessor, Vicente Fox, has jumped in with a forthright call for legalization. Calderon didn't bite this week, but did show signs of recognizing he's created a disaster.
In Tulsa, a corruption scandal keeps on giving; in Austin, a cop is paying the price for partying a little too hearty; and in West Virginia, another jail guard goes down. Oklahoma doesn't get off with just Tulsa this week -- a Bureau of Narcotics agent in Oklahoma City has been charged with shipping weapons to Mexican cartels (yikes!).
StoptheDrugWar.org has completed the first stage of a major upgrade and expansion of our web site. This article explains some of what we've done so far, and also where some sections of the site that you've been used to from before can still be found.
Medical marijuana is legal in California, and the US Department of Justice has made it policy to not go after patients and providers in compliance with state law, but California medical marijuana patients who live or travel within 75 miles of the Mexican border are encountering another problem with the feds: the Border Patrol. Under US law, the Border Patrol is allowed to set up what amounts to a "Fourth Amendment-free zone" within that 75-mile perimeter, subjecting any and all comers to warrantless searches in its bid to stop illegal immigration and drug smuggling.
Border Patrol checkpoint with drug dog
Patients and advocacy groups are complaining that the border area checkpoints operated by the Border Patrol, part of the Department of Homeland Security, are sweeping up patients, detaining them, seizing their medicine, and sometimes arresting them on federal drug possession charges.
Retired Fresno fire-fighter Charles Berg is a case in point. Forced to quit working after being injured in a chemical fire, Berg relocated to the border town of Calexico on his physician's advice in order to take advantage of the dry, warm desert climate.
"Because of my remote location, I need to travel to see the medical specialists that treat me, so that I can live in a healthier climate," he wrote in a letter to California NORML seeking assistance. As a border resident, Berg became accustomed to going through Border Patrol checkpoints, but in August 2007 he had the misfortune of encountering one where drug-sniffing dogs were being employed.
"The K-9 was searching vehicles four to five back from the front of the line, but when it got to me the dog and agent stayed with my vehicle and upon reaching the front I was stopped," Berg related. "The agent directing traffic told me to pull over to the side, I started to inquire as to what was going on but was interrupted with a sharp command to, 'PULL OVER NOW!!' I complied immediately and was followed by the K-9 and handler. I was told to get out of the vehicle and to present my ID, all of which I did immediately. Every time I asked what was wrong I would be interrupted with shouts of 'shut up' or commands to 'sit down.' When agents began to search the vehicle and the dog jumped into my car, I stood up and said, 'Wait a minute, do you have a warrant to do that?' I was immediately restrained and handcuffed. Agents explained to me that I was under arrest because the K-9 had alerted to my vehicle and they were searching for what it alerted to. I was taken inside and bodily searched; my clothing was checked and I was patted down. I was left inside, handcuffed to a chair while my vehicle was searched for over an hour. I was finally released without charges after several hours, having been in custody, searched and arrested, and was then sent on my way with no explanation as to what they were looking for or what they had done. Every time I attempted to ask a question I was told to leave or they would arrest me for trespassing."
While Berg was not prosecuted, he did have his medical marijuana seized, and, to add insult to injury, the Border Patrol also seized his prescription pain medications. But that was not the end of Berg's adventures with the Border Patrol.
In December 2007, while traveling on Interstate 8 on his way to visit a cancer specialist in Phoenix, Berg encountered another Border Patrol checkpoint with a drug-sniffing dog. Again, he was arrested and his medications seized. This time he was stuck in jail for three days. Determined to take a stand, Berg refused his public defender's entreaties to cop a plea. His trial is still pending.
militarized US-Mexico border
"In the last few months since my trial was postponed the situation has gotten worse," Berg wrote. "I still live in Calexico, and have medical needs that require me to travel. I still need to travel to Palm Springs and San Diego at least twice a month. Because I know that my medication will be taken by the Border Patrol, I can no longer go on extended stays. It is an extreme burden to drive the 300-mile round trip, but if I don't do it this way I end up going days without any of my prescriptions and the Border Patrol takes them. My doctor says that pain meds are often excreted through sweat, and that the dogs will alert on that. Unfortunately, I can do nothing about the scents that are left behind. Despite the fact that I have been forced to travel without my meds, I am still stopped and searched by the Border Patrol."
Berg enlisted the help of the Fresno Firefighters union, but they also got nowhere with the Border Patrol. In fact, investigators for the union reported to Berg that they had spoken with an Agent V. Vega, regional Southern California Border Patrol supervisor, who told them: "It would be best if Mr. Berg moved out of the area. The Border Patrol's mission in California is to stop illegal immigration and enforce federal marijuana laws despite California legislation."
Earlier this week, the Chronicle contacted a Border Patrol public information officer for that region, who instead of answering questions asked that they be emailed to him. He has yet to reply to the emails. Calls to Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington have not been returned.
Berg is not alone. "Over the past year, we've received multiple reports of people being stopped by the Border Patrol," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access. "We've had two or three incidents where people were stopped for compliance checks in San Diego County to see if everyone had proper documentation. In those cases, the Border Patrol found medical marijuana, seized the medication, then cited them federally for possession."
San Diego County resident Jim Lacy, 60, didn't get arrested, but he has repeatedly had his medical marijuana seized by the Border Patrol. "I got my card in 2003," said Lacy, who was disabled after being hit by a train. "I almost died, I lost my spleen, I had ribs going through my lung, it left me crippled for life," he said. "The Border Patrol was smaller back then and not so uptight," Lacy said. "They didn't know anything about the California law, they were all fascinated. I showed them my paperwork, and they said just make sure you have the legal amount."
But it didn't quite work out that way, Lacy continued. "I tried it with a joint, I had the paperwork and everything. They found it and took it, and after about 40 minutes of being paraded around they let me go. The next time I tried it with a gram," he added. "They took it and tested it and said it wasn't pot, but they kept it. It was pot! I grew it myself. One agent said he would take it every time," Lacy recalled bitterly.
"The Border Patrol told me they would change their policy if Obama would write a letter like the Department of Justice," Lacy said. [Editor's Note: It was not President Obama, but Attorney General Holder who wrote the memorandum last year instructing the department to not go after patients and providers acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. But the Border Patrol is a division of the Dept. of Homeland Security, not DOJ.] "The Department of Justice doesn't control Homeland Security. I've written to all the political leaders, but nothing happens," he said.
"If you're going to have a zero tolerance policy, don't trick people," said Lacy. "People think they're safe in California, but if someone comes from some other county and comes down here, they'll never leave here with their medicine."
The problem has worsened as the Bush and Obama administrations have beefed up staffing for the Border Patrol in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, and, more recently, in response to the uproar over illegal immigration and prohibition-related violence just across the border. The number of agents nearly doubled, from 11,000 in 2000 to 20,000 now, and just this week, Congress passed and President Obama signed a bill that will add another 1,250 agents. (See related story here.)
"I wish they'd stop it," bemoaned Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML. "It just shows what a hydra-headed beast we have to deal with. It's not just DEA and the Department of Justice, but also Homeland Security on the border and Treasury with regard to the ability of dispensaries to get bank accounts, also with the Veterans Administration, which appears to be at least partially cleared up, also HUD with the public housing, also about Department of Transportation drug testing rules, there's just an enormous amount of work to be done at the federal level. We're not going to be out of a job anytime soon."
"Our view is that the federal government should have a clear, uniform policy on medical marijuana," said Hermes. "It's not acceptable that this issue be divided into different policies among the different federal agencies. It is incumbent on the Obama administration to get to work on a comprehensive federal policy on medical marijuana," he said. "The Justice Department has made its position clear with its memorandum last October, and the VA has more recently issued a policy that recognizes medical use," Hermes noted. "Instead of this piecemeal process and selective enforcement, we should be dealing with this uniformly."
ASA wants to hear from patients being hassled by the Border Patrol, Hermes said. "We have a legal hotline where patients can report these incidents. We have not yet taken legal action to address the behavior of the Border Patrol, but we may consider that in the future."
The District of Columbia will join 14 states that have medical marijuana programs, but it won't happen until next year under a plan announced last Friday by Mayor Adrian Fenty (D). That and other restrictive provisions of the mayor's order and the city's draft administrative rules have advocates greeting the news with mixed feelings.
DC City Hall
It's been a long time coming. Voters in the District approved a medical marijuana initiative with 69% of the vote a dozen years ago, but the city was blocked from enacting the will of the voters by the Barr Amendment, named after former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), which forbade the use of city funds to implement it. That rider to the District appropriations bill was removed by the Democratically-controlled Congress last year.
The council approved an amended initiative in May, but then the city had to wait 30 congressional working days to give Congress the opportunity to change its mind, which it didn't do. Now, the mayor has unveiled the draft rules, but the city will not start taking applications for dispensary and cultivation permits until January 1.
"It was 1998 when District residents overwhelmingly approved Initiative 59, and the District Council has been considering this legislation since February, so there's no reason for the mayor's office to be dragging its feet," said Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project. "Patients in the District who could benefit from medical marijuana have already had to wait 12 years for this law. Why should they be needlessly forced to wait another five months?"
Under the proposed rules, up to five dispensaries could operate and would pay $10,000 a year for the privilege. Similarly, up to 10 cultivation centers growing up to 95 plants at a time could operate and would pay $5,000 per year. Officers for those operations would additionally pay a $200 annual registration fee, managers would pay $150, and employees $75.
Patients would have to purchase their medicine from the dispensaries because, unlike all other state medical marijuana programs except New Jersey's, there is no provision for patients to grow their own.
Patients and caregivers would pay $100 a year to register, but those earning less than twice the federal poverty level would pay only $25 and would be eligible for subsidized pot on a sliding scale. Dispensaries and cultivation operations would have to set aside 2% of their revenue to subsidize poor patients.
Doctors recommending medical marijuana must have a "bona fide physician-patient relationship with the qualifying patient" and must have completed a physical exam of the patients no more than 90 days before writing the recommendation. Doctors could not have an office at a dispensary and dispensaries could not market themselves to doctors.
Medical marijuana patients would be able to take their medicine only in their homes or at a medical facility -- if they reside there and the facility agrees.
Dispensaries would be barred from selling alcohol or conducting any other type of business on the premises, and owners of dispensaries or cultivation operations must be "of good character" and have no felony convictions and no drug-related misdemeanor convictions. Dispensaries are barred from locating within 300 feet of a school or recreation center, and are barred from residential areas as well. They must have an approved security plan and must install a video recording system.
City officials and council members pronounced themselves pleased. Medical marijuana advocates had more mixed feelings and are looking to get some changes made during a 45-day review period, which is now under way.
"We are excited to see the DC law move closer to implementation," said medical marijuana patient Steph Sherer, who is also executive director of the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "But the voices of patients have barely been heard in this process, and if the law is expected to succeed we will need a place at the table. Patient advocates are concerned about a number of provisions in the proposed regulations and have made a series of requests that have, unfortunately, fell on deaf ears."
First and foremost, patients are seeking greater involvement in the development and oversight of regulations. Specifically, patients are seeking appointment to the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee once established by the District. But the regulations only require that those "who possess medical or scientific expertise" be appointed to the committee. "Without patient involvement, the law will fail to fully address the needs of the people for whom the law was intended to help," Sherer argued.
"The proposed regulations released today are detailed and comprehensive, but there are several issues that we hope are addressed before they are finalized," said MPP's Riffle. "For example, the draft regulations call for applications from prospective dispensary or cultivation center owners to be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis, which could lead to the first applicants being awarded licenses, rather than the best applicants. Also, the lack of a competitive, scored application process -- such as those utilized in Maine and other medical marijuana jurisdictions -- raises questions of transparency and fairness. However, patients will benefit from the regulatory prohibition on the use of pesticides or contaminants, and the detailed packaging and labeling requirements for medical marijuana products."
Advocates also expressed concern about the District's decision to put regulation of licensing of production and distribution of medical marijuana in the hands of the DC Alcohol and Beverage Control Board instead of the Department of Health. The latter department will be in charge of implementing the program's ID card provisions.
"Medical marijuana is a public health issue and should be treated as such," said Caren Woodson, ASA's government affairs director. "Instead, the District intends to regulate medical marijuana like alcohol, a recreational drug. Patients needs are far different from the needs of those who use liquor stores or night clubs."
As far as advocates are concerned, the city's draft is just that -- a draft. Now, it's time to get it right. The clock is ticking.
Last Tuesday, Mexican President Felipe Calderon briefly opened the door to drug legalization, saying it was something that needed to be discussed, only to clarify in a press release hours later that he remained opposed to legalization. Now, Calderon's predecessor, former President Vicente Fox, has stepped up to call forthrightly for legalization, and just two days ago Calderon again expressed a willingness to rethink his aggressive anti-drug campaign.
The discussion comes as Mexico staggers through the fourth year of Calderon's war on the so-called drug cartels. Despite deploying nearly 50,000 soldiers and federal police in the fight, violence has only increased, with the death toll rising year after year. And the drug trade goes on, seemingly unimpeded by the campaign.
Fox's call came in a Saturday blog post in which the ex-president cited the "enormous cost" of fighting organized crime, beginning with the more than 28,000 people the government admitted last week had been killed in prohibition-related violence since Calderon came to power in December 2006. He also cited the cost of corruption among law enforcement and public officials, the loss of tourism, and the threat to foreign investment.
Felipe Calderon attending security conference
"We should consider legalizing the production, distribution and sale of drugs," wrote Fox, like Calderon, a member of the conservative National Action Party (PAN). "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked. Legalizing in this sense does not mean drugs are good and don't harm those who consume them," he wrote. "Rather we should look at it as a strategy to strike at and break the economic structure that allows gangs to generate huge profits in their trade, which feeds corruption and increases their areas of power."
Fox also called for the "rapid return of the national army to its bases," saying it was "neither conceived for nor is prepared for police work." The military's role in Calderon's campaign has tarnished its image and led to "more and more" human rights violations, he added. The military's role should be taken over by a new national police force and there should be direct election of police chiefs and high commanders, Fox wrote.
On Tuesday, Calderon underwent his second session of talks on the drug war that he began last week, this time mostly with opposition legislators. Calderon wasn't ready to jump on Fox's legalization bandwagon, claiming that it would lead to increased drug use and wouldn't reduce drug traffickers' income. But he did signal an increasing awareness of the disastrous impact of his policies. "I know that the strategy has been questioned, and my administration is more than willing to revise, strengthen or change it if needed," Calderon said at the meeting. "What I ask, simply, is for clear ideas and precise proposals on how to improve this strategy."
Under the 70-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexican drug trafficking organizations were not so much suppressed as managed, but with the election of Fox, the modus vivendi between traffickers and the state was shattered. Midway through his term, Fox declared war on the cartels and went after their leaders. That led to intramural fighting within and among the cartels and to increased confrontations between traffickers and police, a situation that has only continued to escalate under Calderon.
Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 28,000 people, the government reported this month. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:
Thursday, August 5
In Ciudad Juarez, eleven people were killed in various incidents across the city. In one case, a 20-year old woman was shot dead as she walked with a 4-year old girl, who escaped unscathed. In another incident, an apparent extortionist was shot and killed after a shoot-out with security guards. Drug trafficking organizations across Mexico are also involved in extortion.
Friday, August 6
In Matamoros, at least 14 inmates were killed during a clash between rival gangs inside the prison. Troops from the Mexican army were eventually sent into the facility to restore order. It is unclear which groups participated in the fighting, but much of the recent violence in the Matamoros area been the result of fighting between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas Organization.
Saturday, August 7
In Mexico City, thousands of journalists marched to protest the killings and disappearances of journalists due to prohibition-related violence in the country. Similar protests were planned in Sinaloa and Chihuahua. Over 60 Mexican journalists have been killed since 2000. This year, the Committee to Protect Journalists says that 10 journalists have been killed, and many face daily threats to their lives and harassment.
Sunday, August 8
In Ciudad Juarez, over 200 armed federal police officers raided the hotel where their commander, Salomon Alarcon, was staying. After blocking off the streets to prevent his escape, they detained Alarcon at gunpoint, accusing him of having planted drugs on officers to force them to become involved in extortion plots. The officers found weapons and drugs in his hotel room. The officer was held captive until the Federal Police Commissioner General agreed to suspend him pending a full investigation into the allegations. It was later found that Alarcon was on the payroll of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Also in Ciudad Juarez, two federal police officers were shot dead as they walked in plainclothes through the center of the city at night. A large police operation was immediately launched, but no arrests or confrontations occurred.
In Palomas, Chihuahua, three severed heads were discovered in the main plaza as locals left Sunday mass. A charred SUV with the headless bodies was discovered south of the town. A note left with the bodies indicate that the victims were extortionists who were killed by a rival criminal organization. Last October, the mayor of Palomas was kidnapped and found murdered.
Monday, August 9
At a forum in Puerto Vallarta, Mexican authorities said that drug-trafficking organizations pay an estimated $100 million in bribes monthly to municipal police officials. According to Public Security Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, this estimate is based on officer perceptions and on a list of payouts to police officers that was seized during recent operations. He also said that 20% of municipal police officers make less than $79 a month, and 60% make less than $317 a month.
In Morelos, seven people were killed in prohibition-related violence. Among the dead were three men who were decapitated in the town of Ahuatepec. In Ciudad Juarez, police discovered the dismembered body of an officer.
Tuesday, August 10
In Morelos, 10-12 heavily armed men ambushed a police convoy carrying a high-profile prisoner to jail. Two officers and the prisoner were killed in the ambush. Mario Alberto Chavez Traconi, 54, was known as the King of Fraud. The ambush occurred after the police convoy was cut off by SUV's and the gunmen attacked the police officers with assault rifles.
A Texas asthma sufferer who went to California for a medical marijuana recommendation and then got busted in June on a Texas highway with small amounts of marijuana and hashish is facing up to life in prison after being indicted by a Brown County grand jury. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, a first-degree felony in the Lone Star State.
Chris Diaz, 20, has been jailed on $40,000 bond since the June 27 arrest. He was busted with 14 grams of weed and hash.
Under Texas law, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, while possession of hashish is either a state jail felony punishable by up to two years for less than a gram, or a second-class felony punishable by up to 20 years if less than four grams, although probation is also possible. It is unclear exactly how much hash Diaz had.
Diaz was pulled over for an expired license tag while en route from California to Austin, and according to the DPS trooper's report, could not produce a drivers' license or proof of insurance. He was then arrested for failure to identify, and during a subsequent search, police found a small amount of hashish on his person. A search of the vehicle then turned up more hash and marijuana in pill bottle from a California medical marijuana provider.
The DPS report said the search also turned up a cell phone "containing text messages referring to drug sales" and a notebook with "drug and law writings." Those are apparently the basis, legitimate or otherwise, for the drug distribution charge.
Texas does not have a medical marijuana law, and its authorities do not recognize having a recommendation from another state as a defense against prosecution.
A Sacramento Bee/Field Poll survey released over the weekend found support for legalizing marijuana in California at 51%. The poll was not measuring support for Proposition 19, the Tax and Regulate Cannabis marijuana legalization initiative, but instead asked respondents: "Which action best fits what you feel should be done about marijuana laws?"
Legalization got 51%, with 47% saying marijuana should be legalized and controlled like alcohol and another 4% saying marijuana should be legalized -- period. Thirteen percent wanted to keep current laws, but lessen the penalties (which pending decriminalization legislation would accomplish), while 19% wanted tough enforcement of existing laws and a hard-core 14% wanted even tougher pot laws.
Between those who want to legalize it and those who want to decriminalize it, the poll suggests nearly two-thirds of California voters favor relaxing the state's marijuana laws. Only about one-third support the status quo or hardening the state's approach to marijuana.
This Sacramento Bee/Field Poll is in line with recent robocall polls on Prop 19, which show the initiative at 50% in one poll, 52% in another. A Field Poll from early July had the initiative losing by a margin of 44%-48%. This is yet more evidence that the Prop 19 race will most likely be very tight indeed.
The poll also found that 47% of respondents had tried marijuana, but nearly half of those (23%) had not smoked in the last 15 years. Eight percent had toked up in the past year, with the San Francisco Bay area with the highest last year use rate (11.4%), followed by Los Angeles County (8.8%), Northern California (8.1%), interior Southern California (7.7%), the Central Valley (5.7%), and San Diego and Orange counties (4.8%).
SaveCalifornia.com, one of the "family values" groups that led the fight for Proposition 8, the ballot measure overturning gay marriage in the state (which was just struck down by a federal judge), has joined the fight against Proposition 19, the Tax and Regulate Cannabis marijuana legalization initiative.
Prop 19 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce and cultivation of up to 25 square feet by adults 21 and over anywhere in the state. It would also give counties and municipalities the local option to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana.
According to SaveCalifornia.com, Prop 19 would mean the end times are upon the Golden State. The group has announced a web site, StopProp19.com, which should be active by mid-week. In the meantime, it has released a YouTube video, which, ironically enough, has already been restricted to adults by YouTube because it "may contain content that is inappropriate for some users, as flagged by YouTube's user community."
For you grownups out there, the video provides a taste of the group's Reefer Madness rhetoric. Marijuana is the "gateway to meth and cocaine," the group claims. Pot is "the number one addiction for 60% of teens in rehab," the "public service announcement" says. Marijuana is "50-70% more cancer-causing than cigarettes," it warns.
"Marijuana could be sold in grocery stores," if the initiative passes, the ad warns, in a hyperventilating preview of opposition arguments. Passage would mean "skyrocketing" teen drug use, increased "drugged driving," and "higher costs for everyone as addictions soar." Passage of Prop 19 means: "Messed up minds, messed up lives, messed up families, California out of control!" as ominous drums sound in the background.
It looks like Thomasson's extremism extends to marijuana policy as well. At least this time, he doesn't have the deep-pockets to gin up another media campaign like he did with Prop 8. At least, not yet. Watch the anti-Prop 19 video here:
(This is an updated version, posted August 11, of an article originally published on August 7.)
Acting to fulfill a June request from President Obama, the Senate last Thursday approved spending $600 million to increase the law enforcement presence on the US-Mexico border. The House earlier approved a $701 million version of the bill, and Tuesday moved on a voice vote to accept the Senate version.
military drone planes
The Obama request was largely a response to the meltdown over immigration in Arizona and calls to "secure the border" from Republicans. It also reflected heightening concern about the prohibition-related violence bloodying the Mexican side of the border. Last year, Obama had vowed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but at this point, all that's left is more money for law enforcement.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) provides funds for purchasing more unmanned drone surveillance aircraft ($32 million), 1,000 new Border Patrol agents to form a rapid-deployment unit ($129 milllion), as well as another 250 agents each for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE ($50 million) and Border Protection ($29 million).
Then there's $10 million for investigators to stop corruption in the Border Patrol and ICE, $14 million for communications equipment for new officers, $6 million for forward operating bases near the border, $30 for border interdiction, $8 million for a federal law enforcement training center, $10 million for federal judiciary resources for increased caseloads, $196 million for the Department of Justice, $13 million for border area US Attorneys, $8 million for more US Marshals along the border, and $7 million for border processing of apprehended drug and human traffickers.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms gets $37 million in the border beef-up, the DEA gets $34 million, and the FBI gets $24 million. And then there's another $21 million for "interagency crime and drug law enforcement along the border," another $20 million for a federal prison system for immigration criminals, and, finally, $2.1 million to "expedite" the deportation of aliens along the border.
The Senate bill pays for the spending by imposing a new tax on companies that hire foreign workers. Companies affected would be those that hire more than 50 H1B or L visa foreign workers.
"What a relief that the Senate is still capable of passing measures that are really needed without playing political games," McCaskill said Thursday after the vote. "America must do a better job of securing our borders. This bill will help in a big way."
"This bipartisan effort shows we are serious about making the border more secure than ever. Now our attention must turn to comprehensive reform, which is the only way to fully address the problem of illegal immigration," said Schumer, the chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee.
And so the show goes on, just as the flows of drugs and immigrants go on.
If we can't keep drugs out of the prisons, how can we keep them out of the country?
In Oklahoma City, an Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN) agent was arrested Tuesday by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agents in a scheme authorities said was shipping weapons to Mexican drug trafficking organizations. OBN Agent Francisco Javier Reyes Luna, 29, faces two counts of providing false statements in violation of federal guns laws and one count of providing a restricted weapon to a person not licensed to own it for using a straw purchaser to buy five AK-47 semi-automatic rifles from a gun shop and for giving a .50 caliber Barrett semi-automatic rifle to an unknown individual. He may be facing more charges, if the federal complaint is any indication. He's out on $25,000 bail right now.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, one man was released from prison and another had charges dropped in a police corruption scandal that continues to fester. So far, 14 people have been freed from prison or had charges dropped in the scandal in which six former and current police officers have been charged in federal court with offenses including drug conspiracy, perjury, witness tampering and civil rights violations. Two men, former Tulsa Police officer John Gray and former US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Agent Brandon McFadden have already pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors. Gray admitted to lying on search warrant affidavits in the case of Hugo Gutierrez, who was released from federal prison last Friday. Gray also admitted stealing $10,000 from Gutierrez when he arrested him. Charges against Deon White were dropped July 29. His case is one of 53 associated with undercover Tulsa Police Officer Jeff Henderson, who was indicted July 20 on 58 counts of drug conspiracy, perjury, witness tampering and civil rights violations, federal court records show. The Tulsa World is keeping track of it all here.
In Austin, Texas, a former Austin police officer went on trial Tuesday for having sex with a hooker while on duty and paying her with drugs. Scott Michael Lando faces charges of prostitution, delivery of a controlled substance, misuse of official information, and aggravated assault by a public servant for a series of incidents dating back to May 2006. This trial only deals with four prostitution counts and will feature the hooker, who will testify that Lando gave her drugs and other items in return for sex. Prosecutors already told the court Lando had access to drug dealers and got drugs from them. The state will decide later whether to move forward on the other counts.
In Barboursville, West Virginia, a Western Regional Jail guard was arrested August 3 after getting caught in a sting by authorities. Nathaniel Shawn Johnson, 22, went down after the West Virginia State Police got a tip that he was bringing drugs and tobacco into the jail. They then used an undercover officer, who paid Johnson $300 after he agreed to buy and deliver Oxycontin and tobacco to the jail. He is charged with conspiracy and bringing a weapon onto jail grounds (he had a .22 rifle in his pickup).
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has rejected the federal government's contention that agents can conduct continuous GPS tracking of suspects without a warrant. In its ruling last Friday, the court held that such warrantless surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches and seizures.
GPS satellite (from noaa.gov)
The ruling came in US v. Maynard, in which two Washington, DC men, Antoine Jones and Lawrence Maynard, were convicted in a joint trial in 2008 of possessing and conspiring to distribute more than 50 pounds of cocaine. The men appealed their convictions, arguing that the government's evidence against them had come from a GPS device unlawfully attached to Jones' Jeep that tracked his movement continually, day and night, for a full month. The use of the device without a warrant violated their rights against unreasonable search and seizure, the pair successfully argued.
"It is one thing for a passerby to observe or even to follow someone during a single journey as he goes to the market or returns home from work," Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel that reviewed the case. "It is another thing entirely for that stranger to pick up the scent again the next day and the day after that, week in and week out, dogging his prey until he has identified all the places, people, amusements, and chores that make up that person's hitherto private routine."
Federal prosecutors argued that several other appellate courts had allowed the use of GPS devices without a warrant, but the DC appeals court held that those cases had not involved extended continuous surveillance. That sort of unfettered use of GPS can reveal personal information and threaten one's reasonable expectation of privacy, the court held.
"Prolonged GPS monitoring reveals an intimate picture of the subject's life that he expects no one to have short perhaps of his spouse," Judge Ginsburg wrote. "The intrusion such monitoring makes into the subject's private affairs stands in stark contrast to the relatively brief intrusion at issue," in the other cases.
"The court correctly recognized the important differences between limited surveillance of public activities possible through visual surveillance or traditional 'bumper beepers,' and the sort of extended, invasive, pervasive, always-on tracking that GPS devices allow," said EFF civil liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "This same logic applies in cases of cell phone tracking, and we hope that this decision will be followed by courts that are currently grappling with the question of whether the government must obtain a warrant before using your cell phone as a tracking device."
"GPS tracking enables the police to know when you visit your doctor, your lawyer, your church, or your lover," said Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU-National Capital Area. "And if many people are tracked, GPS data will show when and where they cross paths. Judicial supervision of this powerful technology is essential if we are to preserve individual liberty. Today's decision helps brings the Fourth Amendment into the 21st Century."
The Coalition for a Safer Detroit thought it had done everything right in its bid to get a marijuana legalization initiative on the city's November ballot. The group gathered sufficient signatures to make the ballot, and the city council went through the motions of considering the measure, opening the way for the voters to speak by failing to act. The next step should have been a rubber-stamp approval by the Detroit Election Commission, the body that only two months earlier had certified the signatures.
Detroit organizer Tim Beck (courtesy freedomactivist.net)
But on Monday, the commission voted 3-0 to remove the measure from the ballot. The surprise move came after Detroit Corporation Counsel and commission member Krystal Crittenden told the commission that in the opinion of the city's law department, which she oversees, state law forbidding marijuana possession preempted the measure.
The initiative simply excluded the use or possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by adults in private from the city's ordinance.
"This would have sent a message to the police that they should focus on more serious crime," said Matthew Abel, a Detroit attorney who worked with petition organizers.
Tim Beck, chair of the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, is considering whether to appeal the decision to the Wayne County Circuit Court.
(This announcement is reprinted from two weeks ago for the benefit of any who missed it then.)
If you've visited our web site during the past week you've probably noticed that... it looks different. Our web site has a new look, new structure, and new functionality that we hope will enable increased readership, more ways that we and our readers can make use of the site, and more enjoyment.
The biggest change to the site is an increased prominence devoted to how we present news and other current information. Previously, our home page had a box devoted to the Drug War Chronicle newsletter in the upper left-hand corner, presenting the top three articles, and with a link to read the latest issue of the newsletter. There was also a block in the right-hand column for "Latest News" links to recent articles in the mainstream media. Most of the page was devoted to the full text of items in the Speakeasy blog. The new home page presents teasers or summaries of the Speakeasy and Chronicle articles -- mostly including pictures now -- with links to read the full text of them. The Speakeasy is in the left-most column, and the Chronicle is in the middle.
Chronicle articles now come out on the site as they are written, as soon as possible after the news hits as we can manage. This reflects an increased emphasis we are giving to daily publishing, as opposed to weekly. The Chronicle column also includes links to the Latest News items (which we now call "Wire" or "Newswire"), as well as to our "In the Trenches" activist feed and other items, allowing all of the important types of content we publish to be highlighted prominently for our readers, as the content comes out, without making people go to all different parts of the page or site to see them. (Though see below for different links on the site to get information in ways similar to the old format.)
We have a featured item section at the top of the page, currently presenting one of the latest Chronicle features, but which will often display other content instead. The new web pages make it easier to submit or "like" items on Facebook, or to send them to Twitter, Digg, Reddit or Stumbleupon. You can now comment on Newswire stories (the links first take you to a page on our own site where we summarize the article, with a comment board and link to the article). And when there is really big news, our new, more compact Breaking News bar displays across all the pages on the site, not just the home page. The site also has a far more prominent signup form for our email list -- log on to your site account and it goes away.
This is the first stage of a multi-part upgrade and expansion of the site. The near- and medium-term future includes more new functionality, some important new content sections, and some additional graphic design work. We are also still working out some bugs and issues in the new design, so if you spot anything that doesn't seem to be working right, or which could be better, please let us know.
Some links and other information you can use to help make sure you can find the content you've gotten used to here:
We still publish weekly issues of the Chronicle, organizing the content that was published at the main page during the prior week. There is a link to the current issue near the top of the Chronicle main page, and soon we will have a permanent URL that always displays the current issue. (This week's URL, as you've probably seen here already, is http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/644.)
If you liked being able to read the full text of Speakeasy articles on our home page, a bunch of them one after the other without having to click from one page to the next, you can still do that, on the Speakeasy's main page, http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy.
Newswire links (formerly "Latest News"), in addition to displaying in the Chronicle's new column on the home page, also appear on their own at http://stopthedrugwar.org/wire.
In The Trenches items, which also display in the Chronicle's new column, appear on their own at http://stopthedrugwar.org/trenches. (Note that some Trenches and Wire items only appear in those sections, not on the home page.)
Last but not least, our donation form should be a lot easier to use. (The new form is mostly working now, but credit cards are temporarily offline -- hopefully for just another day or two -- while we sort out some issues with the new system. PayPal is set up in the meanwhile, which also offers a way to just use a credit card.)
Permission to Reprint: This issue of Drug War Chronicle is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.