Drug War Chronicle #707 - November 3, 2011

1. Federal Crack Cocaine Prisoners Start Coming Home [FEATURE]

The first hundreds of what could be more than 12,000 federal crack offenders to win retroactive sentence reductions began walking out of federal prisons Tuesday, but there is much more work to do.

2. Decisions, Decisions...

The fight to stop the drug war has entered its possibly most critical time to date, a time of major challenges but also unprecedented opportunities. We need your help today to decide whether StoptheDrugWar.org can enter this moment at full strength.

3. US Reps, CA AG Chide Feds on Medical Marijuana

That federal offensive against medical marijuana distribution in California is rubbing a lot of people the wrong way, including a growing number of elected officials.

4. White House Rebuffs Marijuana Legalization Petitions

Can you guess the drug czar's official response to those White House marijuana legalization petitions? We thought you could. But did the White House guess that marijuana legalization would be their most popular petition topic?

5. SF "De Facto Drug Decriminalization" Sees Violent Crime Decline

Fewer drug arrests mean more violent crime, right? Wrong, at least in San Francisco.

6. Chicago to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession?

A proposal to decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of pot is headed before the Chicago city council next week.

7. Mexico Drug War Update

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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year.

8. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An investigation into a dope-slinging Brooklyn cop has opened a window on a wider culture of corruption in the NYPD, plus your typical handful of corrupt cop cases.

9. Trucker Shoots Self Before Roadside Pot Bust

A trucker carrying a load of weed north through Texas apparently shot himself rather than face arrest after being pulled over with more than 600 pounds. That's drug war fatality number 42 for the year.

10. This Week in History

Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.

1. Federal Crack Cocaine Prisoners Start Coming Home [FEATURE]

Hundreds of federal crack cocaine prisoners began walking out prison Tuesday, the first beneficiaries of a US Sentencing Commission decision to apply retroactive sentencing reductions to people already serving time on federal crack charges. As many as 1,800 federal crack prisoners are eligible for immediate release and up to 12,000 crack prisoners will be eligible for sentence reductions that will shorten their stays behind bars.

The numbers of those released vary by region, but federal prosecutors and defenders said Tuesday they would be freed by the dozens in different cities across the land. The public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia expected 75 to be released this week, while his colleague in San Antonio estimated 15 or 20 and his colleague in St. Louis estimated 30 to 50. The federal prosecutor for the Northern District of West Virginia said 92 would walk free there this week.

At this point, there is some confusion over how many people will be released and how fast.

"We're not sure how many are getting out today," a Bureau of Prisons spokesperson told the Chronicle Tuesday. "This is the first day. We're reviewing files, checking for detainers, so some might not be released. And we don't have a date set yet for when we're releasing numbers."

The releases come after Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in August 2010, which shrank the much maligned disparity between mandatory minimum sentences for crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. After Congress acted, the Sentencing Commission then moved to make those changes retroactive, resulting in the early releases beginning this week.

"For the past 25 years, the 100:1 crack/powder disparity has spawned clouds of controversy and an aura of unfairness that has shrouded nearly every federal crack cocaine sentence that was handed down pursuant to that law. I say justice demands this result," said Ketanji Brown Jackson, vice chairwoman of the Sentencing Commission, after it decided on retroactivity in June.

Both the Fairness in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Commission's decision to make it retroactive provoked ire from congressional conservatives. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), opposed both.

"This bill reduces the penalties for crack cocaine," Smith said during debate on the bill. "Why would we want to do that? We should not ignore the severity of crack addiction or ignore the differences between crack and powder cocaine trafficking. We should worry more about the victims than about the criminals."

But after a quarter century of skyrocketing federal prison populations driven almost entirely by harshly punitive drug laws like the crack statute, Smith's view no longer holds sway. That's in part due to years of efforts by reform advocates, who decried the evident racial disparities in the prosecution and sentencing of crack cases, as well as the Sentencing Commission itself, which for more than a decade has urged Congress to fix the law.

Despite the initial uncertainly, activists, newly freed prisoners, and family members greeted the event with elation. "Beginning today, thousands of individuals across the country will get another shot at justice," said Julie Stewart, director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "These people were forced to serve excessive sentences under a scheme Congress has admitted was fundamentally flawed, but, today, they can ask for long overdue relief."

"It's unbelievable. I'm ecstatic," said William Johnson, a Virginia man convicted of crack distribution conspiracy in 1997 and imprisoned ever since. The 39-year-old told CNN he only found out Monday he was going free the next day.

The joyous reunions taking place this week notwithstanding, the drug war juggernaut keeps on rolling, and there is much work remaining to be done. Not all prisoners who are eligible for sentence reductions are guaranteed to receive one, and retroactivity won't do anything to help people still beneath their mandatory minimum sentences. A bill with bipartisan support in Congress, H.R. 2316, the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act, would make Fair Sentencing Act changes to mandatory minimum sentences retroactive as well, so that crack offenders left behind by the act as is would gain its benefits.

And the Fair Sentencing Act itself, while an absolute advance from the 100:1 disparity embodied in the crack laws, still retains a scientifically unsupportable 18:1 disparity. For justice to obtain, legislation needs to advance that treats cocaine as cocaine, no matter the form it takes.

But even those sorts of reforms are reforms at the back end, after someone has already been investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced. Radical reform that will cut the air supply to the drug war carceral complex requires changes on the front end.

"We want sentencing reform; we'll take anything we can get," said Nora Callahan, director of the November Coalition, a drug reform group that focuses on federal drug prisoners. "But people have to start demanding that drug war policing tactics change, too. They could stop drug dealing when they see it and stop spending tax dollars on buy and bust operations. Those are front end solutions," she said.

"When the Sentencing Commission evaluated the sentencing schemes, they explained that 'the sentence begins at investigation,' exposing the police tactics that are the beginning of the sentencing process," Callahan continued. "Police control buy and busts and sting operations, and they determine how much drugs or cash they are going to talk some poor SOB into exchanging, or even simply discussing."

Some people imprisoned for too long under racially disparate US drug laws are walking free this week. Others are not. And as long as the drug war keeps rolling along, the federal prisons are going to keep filling up with its victims.

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2. Decisions, Decisions...

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/stopsign-200px.jpg
Last week we asked StoptheDrugWar.org readers to help us make some important decisions about what our organization can financially afford to do as the fight to stop the drug war enters its most critical moment to date. If you didn't see or would like to review last week's appeal, discussing what we need your support for and why it's so important for drug policy reform right now, you can find a copy here.

Since we sent that letter, more than 40 supporters have donated or pledged more than $6,500 for our work. Thank you!

One of the two specific decisions mentioned was whether we can continue using the high-powered legislative and email list service that has helped us so much the past two years. Along with reliably delivering email to all our subscribers -- a tough job in this time of spam and false spam positives -- this system is what's powered our major new Legislative Center. If you haven't already, please visit this compilation of hundreds of federal and state bills and votes, legislator scorecards, media and voter registration tools and more.

To know that we can responsibly afford this service another year, we need to raise another $3,500 between now and Monday. If you haven't already donated to this campaign, would you make a generous donation today for this or other StoptheDrugWar.org programs?

Some of you may not be familiar with the ways this type of service helps our work -- here are a few of them:

  • It gets thousands of emails on important drug policy issues to members of Congress. While lobbying visits and individually written letters are the most important types of contacts to make, the emails get counted, and if we don't get them there, our opponents will.
  • The letter-writing action alerts get forwarded by our supporters to lots of other people, who sign up to our list through them -- a highly effective way of growing the organization and the movement.
  • It lets us publish federal and state bills and votes -- hundreds of them so far -- categorized by issue, creating a clearinghouse of legislative intelligence gathering on what good trends there are that we can support, what the bad trends are that need to countered and where, who our allies and opponents are.
  • It lets readers like yourself and others look up who your legislators are, how they voted on bills that we've highlighted, who the current candidates are for public office, how things are looking in your and other states. It even lets people look up where to send letters to the editor, and provides help in registering to vote.
  • The system delivers our alerts and newsletters to you reliably, as I mentioned above, a tough job these days.

The fight to stop the drug war has entered its most critical moment to date: Support for marijuana legalization has reached 50 percent. Heads of state including the current presidents of Mexico and Colombia have called for alternatives to drug prohibition to be considered. Leading civil rights groups have called for an end to the war on drugs in its current form. And yet -- and yet -- the federal government under President Obama has escalated its campaign to crush California's medical marijuana industry to its broadest and most aggressive level yet.

We need your help to decide whether StoptheDrugWar.org -- our movement-building work; our organizational coalitions; our leading online publications like the Drug War Chronicle newsletter that keep the movement, journalists, policymakers and countless others informed and empowered -- can enter this historical moment at full strength. Will you step up today in meeting both the crisis and the phenomenal opportunities? Please make a generous donation to StoptheDrugWar.org -- non-deductible for our lobbying work, or tax-deductible for our educational work -- to help us make these decisions the way they should be.

Donations to our organization can be made online at http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate, or they can be mailed to: DRCNet Foundation (tax-deductible), P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036; or Drug Reform Coordination Network (non-deductible for lobbying), same address. (Contact us for information if you wish to make a donation of stock.)

Thank you for standing with us to stop the drug war's cruelties and meet the opportunity this time offers to make a brighter future. And don't get discouraged by the challenges our movement and the cause are currently facing -- time is on our side!

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3. US Reps, CA AG Chide Feds on Medical Marijuana

The unhappy reaction to the renewed federal offensive against medical marijuana growers and distributors continues to spread, with several members of Congress and California's attorney general among the latest to voice their displeasure.

Since the Sacramento press conference last month where California's four US Attorneys announced a crackdown on the medical marijuana using heavy-handed raids on businesses in exemplary compliance with state and local laws and a wave of letters to dispensary landlords threaten property seizure or even criminal prosecution if they don't throw out their medical marijuana tenants, reaction among medical marijuana supporters, including elected officials, has been growing.

On Friday, nine members of Congress, led by Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), sent a letter to President Obama expressing "concern with the recent activity by the Department of Justice against legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries in California that are operating legally under state law." The other congressional signers were Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Pete Stark (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Bob Filner (D-CA).

Citing "aggressive SWAT-style federal raids in at least seven states," as well as threats directed at landlords and elected officials, the solons told the president such actions "directly interfere with California's 15-year-old medical cannabis law by eliminating safe access to medication for the state's thousands of medical marijuana patients."

The nine US representatives called on the president to reschedule marijuana as either a Schedule II or Schedule III drug with recognized medicinal uses, either by administrative action or by supporting legislation to achieve that end. A bill that would do just that, H.R. 1983, the States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, has already been filed, they helpfully pointed out.

A week before the congressional letter, California Attorney General Kamala Harris added her voice to the choir of the concerned. "Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill," she noted in a statement.

"While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California," the state's highest elected law enforcement officer said. "I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice’s stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on ‘significant traffickers of illegal drugs.'"

In mid-October, state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), stalwart friends of marijuana law reform, were among the first to speak out against the federal crackdown, followed shortly by fellow San Franciscan state Sen. Leland Yee (D).

"Medical marijuana dispensaries are helping our economy, creating jobs, and most importantly, providing a necessary service for suffering patients," Lee said in a statement. "There are real issues and real problems that the US Attorney's Office should be focused on rather than using their limited resources to prosecute legitimate businesses or newspapers. Shutting down state-authorized dispensaries will cost California billions of dollars and unfairly harm thousands of lives."

In the face of widespread criticism, the US Attorneys have attempted to insulate their boss from the political heat, with a spokesperson making pains to tell the Huffington Post they had coordinated only with the Justice Department, not the Obama administration. But it is ultimately President Obama who is in charge, and who will pay whatever political price is to be paid.

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4. White House Rebuffs Marijuana Legalization Petitions

As promised, the White House has responded to the online petition to "Legalize and Regulate Alcohol," and seven other similar pot petitions as well, but the response wasn't favorable. That's not particularly surprising, given that the person chosen to deliver the response, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Gil Kerlikowske, is mandated by law to oppose legalization.

"Isn't it time to legalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol?" asked the petition submitted by "Erik A" of Washington, DC. "If not, please explain why you feel that the continued criminalization of cannabis will achieve the results in the future that it has never achieved in the past?

The threshold for an official response was at least 25,000 signatures by 30 days from October 3. The marijuana legalization petition was by far the most popular, with more than 74,000 signatures as of Friday night. Another seven petitions similarly calling for one form of pot legalization or another, which Kerlikowske also included in his response, carried an additional 76,000 signatures.

The marijuana legalization petitions far exceeded all others. Currently, the other leading contenders are banning puppy mills (30,234), abolishing the TSA (28,515), and two other issues that are closely related to marijuana reform -- allowing for industrial hemp (20,498) and ending the war on drugs (18,614).

The official response from drug czar Kerlikowske is certain to disappoint and infuriate marijuana legalization supporters and drug reformers, but should come as little surprise. Under the 1998 ONDCP Reauthorization Act, the drug czar is required by law not only to not spend any money to study legalization but also to "take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize" a Schedule I substance, a category that under federal law includes marijuana. The drug czar could no more come out for marijuana legalization than the 17th Century Holy Office could endorse a universe without the earth at its center.

That the administration chose the drug czar to respond sends a strong signal that legalization talk will go nowhere in this administration. That it chose to release its response during the late Friday afternoon "news dump," when it will hopefully vanish over the weekend suggests that it realizes it isn't going to win many political points with its position.

"Our concern about marijuana is based on what the science tells us about the drug's effects," Kerlikowske begins before warning that "marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment." He then wheels out marijuana treatment admissions and emergency room visits, reminds that potency has increased, and concludes that "simply put, it is not a benign drug."

Kerlikowske asserts that the administration is "ardently support[ing] ongoing research" into marijuana as a medicine, but scoffs at smoked marijuana as a medicine. Then he actually addresses the petition.

"As a former police chief, I recognize we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem," the drug czar continued. "We also recognize that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use."

Instead, Kerlikowske recommends, not surprisingly, his own 2001 National Drug Control Strategy, "emphasizing prevention and treatment while at the same time supporting innovative law enforcement efforts that protect public safety and disrupt the supply of drugs entering our communities." What is needed is not marijuana legalization, but more drug treatment and more drug courts, Kerlikowske concludes.

The legalization petition was drafted in response to the White House's We the People campaign "because we want to hear from you," according to the web page. "If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it is sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response."

The drug czar's recitation of the harms associated with marijuana use is certainly debatable and will doubtlessly be thoroughly criticized in days to come. But as the administration response makes clear, that marijuana is a dangerous drug that Americans cannot be trusted with to use responsibly is the official line, and they're sticking to it.

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5. SF "De Facto Drug Decriminalization" Sees Violent Crime Decline

Drug arrests in San Francisco have declined dramatically over the past two years without causing a spike in violent crime, calling into question the link traditionally made by law enforcement between drug law enforcement and reducing violent crime.

Drug arrests AND violent crime are down in San Francisco. (wikimedia.org)
According to figures compiled by the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco police made 9,505 drug arrests in 2009, but that number dropped dramatically to 5,834 last year. As of October 15, there had been only 3,751 drug arrests this year, leaving the city on pace to end the year with fewer than 5,000 if current trends continue. That means drug arrests declined 39% in 2010 over 2009 totals and are on track to decline another 25% this year

Meanwhile, violent crimes have also decreased during the same period, although not so dramatically. In 2009, police reported 7,391 violent crime arrests; a year later, that figure had dropped to 7,139. As of October 15 this year, police had logged 5,366 violent crimes (the figure last year at the same date was 5,715). If the current rate continues to year's end, the number of violent crimes should drop to somewhere near 7,000.

That's a 3% decrease in violent crime in 2010 and another 6% decrease this year. This even as drug arrest rates also plummet.

"This has been somewhat of a de facto decriminalization of drugs -- in other words, they're not being prosecuted," San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey told the Examiner. "And it does not appear that violent crime in San Francisco has risen, so it may say something about the necessity for the war on drugs."

Hennessy said he noticed a shift in 2010 after the police department's drug lab was embroiled in scandal and hundreds of drug cases were dropped. The jail population dropped dramatically then, possibly because of fewer arrests and prosecutions for drug crimes, he said.

Former San Francisco Police Chief and current District Attorney George Gascon told the Examiner that as police chief, he began focusing more on mid-level drug dealers and drug offenses associated with violent crimes, sending some minor drug possession cases to neighborhood and community courts. He said he is continuing that approach as district attorney.

Street level police said they were continuing to make low-level buy-bust and undercover operations, particularly near schools, but acknowledged that the department has less grant money for certain drug enforcement operations. Also, budget cuts have shrunk the force and resulted in less overtime.

"We're doing more with less," said Capt. Joe Garrity, whose district includes the Tenderloin, a drug dealing hotspot in the city. But drug arrests were declining there, too.

UC Santa Cruz professor of sociology and legal studies Craig Reinarman told the Examiner the majority of drug arrests are traditionally been for petty offenses, mostly marijuana. "The relationship between those arrests and violent crimes was always more tenuous than police like to let on," he said.

Hmmm… maybe San Francisco is on to something.

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6. Chicago to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession?

Chicago could be about to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Alderman Daniel Solis will introduce a proposal at this week's city council meeting to make possession of up to 10 grams a $200 ticket, with up to 10 hours of community service.

Chicago skyline
Solis and other supportive aldermen joined Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey at a press conference last week to drum up support for their proposal. County commissioners have already decriminalized small-time pot possession in unincorporated areas of the county.

Marijuana possession is currently a Class B misdemeanor in the city, with punishments ranging up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine. Chicago police arrest about 23,000 people a year for simple possession.

"It is not time to act tough on crime, it is time to be smart on crime. We need our resources spent somewhere else," Fritchey said, adding that the arrests and prosecutions eat up valuable law enforcement time and money.

Alderman Walter Burnett noted that minorities make up the vast number of those arrested for pot possession, and those arrests remain on their records even if the charges are dropped. He also noted that he had seen open marijuana use at rock concerts with no one getting arrested.

"I had the opportunity to go to Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, and I think I got contact high being at all those events," Burnett said. "Police there, everything. It wasn't predominantly African American, and guess what? No one got arrested at those events. If that was an African American event, the jails would probably be filled up. I think it's almost a discrimination issue."

Chicago Police Superintendant Garry McCarthy has talked about decriminalization as a means of keeping his officers on the street rather than tied up processing pot smokers, and Solis said he believes members of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration "think it makes sense" although "they haven't given us any strong indication they would support it." Still, said Solis, "Enough is enough."

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7. Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

Tuesday, October 25

In Reynosa, authorities dismantled a pirate communications network used by drug traffickers to communicate. In the last two weeks, authorities seized 21 antennas, 22 repeaters and dozens of other items.

In Veracruz, marines captured a local Zeta boss. Carlos Arturo Pitalua-Carillo, "El Bam-Bam," was arrested along with 5 other men. Pitalua-Carillo is alleged to be the Zeta boss for the Veracruz area and has been linked to two separate attacks on military checkpoints.

In Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas, a local Gulf Cartel boss was shot and killed. The man, known as Comandante Guerra, was the local boss for Valle Hermoso. His murder is thought to be the result of an ongoing internal struggle between rival factions of the cartel. Firefights and blockades that were reported in Reynosa and Matamoros on Tuesday and Wednesday morning have also been tied to the infighting.

In Ciudad Juarez, the dismembered pieces of four men were left scattered around the city. Some of the body parts were found near an elementary school and day care center. The bodies have not been identified. A note left at one of the crime scenes suggested the men belonged to the New Juarez Cartel. In other violence, a police officer was killed when his personal vehicle was riddled with gunfire and a quesadilla vendor was also murdered.

Wednesday, October 26

In Ciudad Juarez, a 24-year old pregnant woman was burned alive after the fetus was removed from her body. A note -- written in blood -- was left on a wall for her husband, who wasn't home at the time. Another child was rescued by firefighters from the home. The incident occurred at 2:00pm.

Saturday, October 29

In Cabo San Lucas, hundreds of shoppers were trapped inside a mall for two hours as a shootout took place between gunmen and Mexican security forces. Nobody was injured in the fighting. Police arrested two men that are alleged to have been involved in a fire fight the night before which killed a Mexican marine and an unidentified gunman and wounded three police officers.

Sunday, October 30

In Hidalgo County, Texas, a gunfight between sheriffs and Mexican cartel members left one officer wounded and a suspect dead. It is the first confirmed case of spillover violence in the county. Six people were taken into custody, including an alleged kidnap victim. According to a local official, the kidnapping was tied to a Gulf Cartel effort to recover a load of marijuana that had been stolen after the death of the cartel's second in command, Samuel Flores Borrego, in September.

Monday, October 31

In Agua Prieta, Sonora, authorities discovered two catapults used to fling packages of marijuana across the border into Arizona. Over a ton of marijuana was seized from the location.

In Culiacan, two men were gunned down with an AK-47 as they played in a soccer game. According to Mexican media outlets, both men are thought to have been tied to Chapo Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel.

In Ciudad Juarez, October ended with 153 murders. This is about the same as September, which ended with 146 murders. This is considerably less than October 2010, during which time a record 359 killings took place. October 17th was the most violent day of the month, with 17 killed. According to researcher Molly Molloy, 1,753 people have been killed in the city this year. Since 2008, 9,752 homicides have taken place.

In Phoenix, US authorities announced that a large drug-ring tied to the Sinaloa Cartel has been dismantled. Over the last month and a half, 76 people have been taken into custody. The organization, which had been in operation for at least five years, is thought to have made over $2 billion from marijuana and cocaine shipments into the US.

Tuesday, November 1

Near Santa Maria, Texas, a high-ranking Gulf Cartel boss was captured by border patrol agents as he tried wade across the river into the US. Jose Luis Zuniga Hernandez is believed to be the cartel boss for the city of Matamoros. Two other men were also apprehended.

In Saltillo, several gun battles were reported in various parts of the city. The fighting began at around 2:00pm when fire fights between groups of rival gunmen were reported in the city's east side, leaving at least one person dead. Later, fighting between marines and gunmen took place outside a local university, stranding students inside.

Editor's Note: We can no longer tally this year's drug war deaths in Mexico with accuracy. The figure for this year's deaths is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 8,200

TOTAL: > 42,000

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8. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An investigation into a dope-slinging Brooklyn cop has opened a window on a wider culture of corruption in the NYPD, plus your typical handful of corrupt cop cases. Let's get to it:

In New York City, at least 16 NYPD officers were arrested Friday in a ticket-fixing probe that originated with a complaint about a corrupt cop peddling dope out of a barbershop. The officers pleaded not guilty to hundreds of charges including misconduct, grand larceny, records tampering and obstructing governmental administration. Officer Jose Ramos, who owned a barbershop through which drugs were allegedly trafficked and who was at the root of the ever-broadening investigation has pleaded not guilty to drug and other charges. As police wiretapped Ramos, they overheard numerous conversations with people asking if Ramos could fix tickets for them, and the investigation expanded from there. Most of the other cops arrested were members of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association. Hundreds of NYPD officers swarmed courtrooms in Brooklyn to protest the charges, arguing that fixing tickets was a professional courtesy, not a crime. 

In Washington, Indiana, a Daviess County sheriff's deputy was indicted Friday on charges he helped a woman avoid drug arrests in exchange for sex. Chief Deputy Ronald Morgan is charged with bribery and assisting a criminal. Morgan went down after investigators learned that a Washington woman questioned last month about a meth lab had avoided arrest in the past by exchanging sexual favors with Morgan in return for tips about police investigations. If convicted, Morgan faces between two and eight years in prison. He was freed Friday after posting $750 bond.

In Memphis, Tennessee, a Memphis police officer was indicted October 27 as part of a two-year investigation into marijuana and methamphetamine trafficking. Officer Eric Johnson, 24, is charged with trafficking more than 2.2 tons of pot. Twenty-four other people were also indicted, including one person charged with meth distribution. No word yet on formal charges or whether Johnson has made bail.

In Denville, New Jersey, a Denville township police officer was arraigned October 26 for allegedly stealing narcotics from the evidence room. Officer Eugene Blood, 38, is charged with official misconduct, burglary, theft and attempted theft of controlled dangerous substances, attempted burglary and criminal mischief. Blood joined the department in 2003 and was named evidence custodian in 2007 until he was transferred back to patrol division in December. He was suspended without pay in August after an investigation into missing drugs began in April.


In Walla Walla, Washington, a former Washington State Penitentiary guard was arraigned October 26 on charges he intended to smuggle marijuana to a prisoner. Christopher Flippo, 25, was busted back in May when prison officials found pot and $200 cash in his vehicle in the prison parking lot. He allegedly told prison investigators he intended to take the pot into the prison and that he had been smuggling marijuana and tobacco to a prisoner since October. It's not clear what the exact charges are.

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9. Trucker Shoots Self Before Roadside Pot Bust

[Editor's Note: Drug War Chronicle is trying to track every death directly attributable to domestic drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing or death related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

A truck driver pulled over by a Texas state trooper apparently shot and killed himself before police found a load of marijuana in his truck's sleeper. The man, identified as Mason Burks of Springfield, Missouri, becomes the 42nd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety
, Burks was driving north on US Highway 59 near Lufkin when he was stopped for a commercial inspection by Trooper Mike McClain. US 59 begins on the Mexican border at Laredo, Texas.

When McClain stepped up to the truck window, he heard a gunshot. McClain retreated and called for back-up.

When backup arrived, police found Burks, 46, dead of a gunshot wound to the chest. Troopers then found 603 pounds of pot in the sleeper of the truck cab.

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10. This Week in History

November 6, 1984: The DEA and Mexican officials raid a large marijuana cultivation and processing complex in the Chihuahua desert owned by kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero. Seven thousand campesinos work at the complex, where between 5,000-10,000 tons of high-grade marijuana worth $2.5 billion is found and destroyed. Time magazine calls this "the bust of the century," and it reveals the existence of Mexico's sophisticated marijuana smuggling industry.

November 8, 1984: The international marijuana seizure record is set (still in effect today) -- 4,260,000 lbs in Mexico.

November 6, 1985: Upping the ante in the battle against extradition, guerillas linked to the Medellin cartel occupy the Colombian Palace of Justice. At least 95 people are killed when the Colombian military attack after a 26-hour siege, including 11 Supreme Court justices. Many court documents, including all pending extradition requests, are destroyed by fire.

November 5, 1987: Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio breaks the story that Reagan Supreme Court nominee Douglas Ginsburg admitted to having smoked marijuana with his students "on a few occasions in the '70s" while he was a professor at Harvard. Two days later, President Reagan asks Ginsburg to withdraw his nomination.

November 8, 1987: The New York Times reports that Al Gore said he last used marijuana when he was 24. He said he first tried the drug at the end of his junior year at Harvard and used it again at the beginning of his senior year the next fall. He also said he used the drug "once or twice" while off-duty in an Army tour at Bien Hoa, Vietnam, on several occasions while he was in graduate school at Vanderbilt University and when he was an employee of a Nashville newspaper (The Nashville Tennessean). Three days later Gore is quoted in UPI: "We have to be honest and candid and open in dealing with the (drug) problem."

November 6, 1989: Former President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz is quoted by the Associated Press: "We need at least to consider and examine forms of controlled legalization of drugs."

November 5, 1996: California's Proposition 215 (The Compassionate Use Act) passes with 56% of the voting public in favor. Proposition 200 (The Drug Medicalization, Prevention, and Control Act) in Arizona passes with 65% of the vote.

November 4, 1998: Voters in seven states overwhelmingly approve nine medical marijuana and larger drug policy reform initiatives.

November 3, 1999: The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (CJPF) cosponsors a press conference and releases a letter to Drug Czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey from distinguished American and Latin American leaders who reject the US export of the failed "war on drugs" to Latin America.

November 7, 2000: In California, citizens vote 61%-39% to pass Proposition 36, diverting nonviolent drug offenders into treatment rather than prison for first and second offenses. In Mendocino County voters approve a measure decriminalizing personal use and growth of up to 25 marijuana plants -- the Green Party-sponsored Measure G wins 52% of the vote.

November 3, 2001: DEA raids the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, a medical marijuana distribution facility, arresting its president, Scott Imler. City officials condemn the raid at a press conference attended by more than 100 center members.

November 9, 2001: The San Jose Mercury News reports that despite objections from former first lady Betty Ford and drug-treatment authorities, the US Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of John Walters as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

November 9, 2001: The Newark Star-Ledger reports that the US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Ecstasy in a study to treat victims of post-traumatic stress disorder.

November 5, 2002: Reuters reports that researchers say alcohol and violence pose more of an immediate health hazard than drugs for young adults who enjoy clubbing. Researchers say that drugs such as ecstasy, speed, cocaine and heroin are a serious problem in clubs, but assaults fueled by alcohol are the main reason clubbers seek hospital treatment.

November 7, 2002: Ruling in favor of NORML Foundation and Media Access Project complaints, the Federal Communications Commission says that public service announcements broadcast under the auspices of the White House drug office advertising program must identify themselves as being part of that program. As a result of the ruling, broadcasters are forced to insert tag lines stating "sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy."

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