Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Colorado Enjoys Marijuana Legalization [FEATURE]

Legal marijuana sales began in Colorado on January 1, and now, just a few months in, Denver already appears to be well-placed to claim the title of America's cannabis capital. This past weekend, tens of thousands of people flooded into the city to celebrate the 4/20 holiday and attend the latest High Times Cannabis Cup.

There is a stage somewhere behind all that smoke.
For blocks around the north side expo center where the Cannabis Cup took place, thousands of eager pot aficionados clogged the streets, bringing traffic to a crawl, while inside, hundreds of exhibitors peddled their wares, demonstrating both the scope of cannabis-related commerce and the grasp of American entrepreneurs. Pot smoking was supposed to be allowed only in designated areas, which didn't include the lengthy lines of people waiting to get in the event, but that didn't seem to stop anybody.

Meanwhile, downtown at the Civic Center plaza facing the state capitol, the state's ban on public marijuana use was again ignored -- blatantly and massively -- at the Official 4/20 Rally. Despite Denver Police digital signs warning that public "Marijuana consumption is illegal" and "Marijuana laws enforced," at precisely 4:20pm on 4/20, the most massive, intense, and long-lasting could of pot smoke your reporter has ever seen wafted over the city. One hesitates to estimate how many pounds of marijuana went up in smoke in a few moments at the Civic Center.

Police made a few dozen arrests for public consumption over the course of the two-day rally, but the event was otherwise peaceable, and police generally kept a low profile.

Walking Raven and other retail marijuana outlets did big business over the 4/20 weekend.
And the city's marijuana retail outlets were doing brisk business, with lines of eager buyers, many from out of state, waiting for their chance to buy weed legally. In one pot store parking lot, middle-aged customers in a pick-up truck with Texas plates shared their happiness with a car-load of 20-somethings from Wisconsin, all of them drawn to Colorado by the chance to experience legal marijuana.

"I didn't think I'd live to see the day," said one of the Texans, smiling broadly, his brown paper bag filled with buds inside a blue prescription bottle with a child-proof cap and a label identifying the plant that grew the buds. "I don't know if I will live to see the day this is legal in Texas, so that's why we came here. This is history."

At the Walking Raven retail store on South Broadway last Saturday, proprietor Luke Ramirez oversaw a handful of employees tending to an unending line of customers. A favorite of customers and staff alike was Hong Kong Diesel, a 30% THC variety with a powerful aroma, going for more than $400 an ounce.

Like all of the first generation retail marijuana stores in the state, Walking Raven began as a medical marijuana dispensary, but transitioned into the adult retail business. That required time and money, Ramirez said.

"It was about $100,000 to start up, and it took about 100 days," he said, quickly adding that it was worth it.

"This is absolutely a profitable business model," Ramirez exclaimed between greetings to customers and issuing orders to his bud sellers. "We're paying a lot in taxes, but we have a large client base -- three million adults in Colorado, plus tourism."

Making the transition from a dispensary to an adult retail outlet also helped, Ramirez said.

"We've gone from about $3,000 a day in sales to $10,000," he explained.

The state of Colorado is making bank off Ramirez and his colleagues in the marijuana business. According to the state Department of Revenue, adult marijuana taxes and fees totaled $2 million in January and $2.5 million in February, the last month for which data is available. Observers expect that monthly figure to only increase as more stores open up.

Walking Raven proprietor Luke Ramirez
It's not all roses for Colorado's nascent pot industry, though. Ramirez ticked off the issues.

"The biggest obstacles are the government and its regulatory bodies," he said. "Will they increase or decrease taxes, what about zoning, how do we get out supply? Heavy regulation is an issue. And the seed-to-sale tracking program is very expensive; I have a full-time employee just for that."

And then there is that pesky federal marijuana prohibition. Although the Justice Department has made soothing noises about not picking on financial institutions that do business with the state's legal pot shops, most banks still have not gotten on board -- and there are other, related, issues, too.

"The federal law inhibits us from doing normal business," Ramirez said. "We can't get bank loans and we don't get the 280E federal tax break. We're classified as drug traffickers, so we can't write off our business expenses."

That's not to mention the security issues around dealing with large amounts of cash because the banks don't want to risk touching it.

"We have to have multiple safes and carry cash around," he said.

Still, Ramirez is open for business, and business is good. And not only is business good, Colorado's experiment with marijuana legalization seems to be advancing with few hiccups.

"Things are generally going quite smoothly," said Mason Tvert, an Amendment 64 proponent who is now a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Regulations are still being developed in certain areas, such as concentrates and edibles, but the system is up and running and working more or less as intended."

While it remains to be seen if the estimated $100 million in pot tax revenues this year actually happens, Tvert was confident the income would be substantial.

"We're now seeing a couple of million a month in tax revenues, and money from fees, as well," he said. "We will still see a lot more businesses opening in the future, so we anticipate revenues will increase. Also, all of the current stores were existing medical marijuana businesses that were able to make a tax-free transfer from medical to retail, but now they will have to start paying a 15% excise tax, which will bring in more than is currently being raised."

The state has, however, recently seen two deaths attributed to legal marijuana use, a college student from the Congo who fell from a balcony after eating a cannabis cookie, and a man who shot and killed his wife, also apparently under the influence of edibles (and perhaps pain pills). While the exact role of marijuana in those deaths is unclear, media and opponents have leaped on those tragedies.

The movement needs to address such incidents, said Tvert.

"We've known for some time that some people who have preexisting mental health conditions could find them exacerbated by marijuana," Tvert said. "People need to be educated about that. If marijuana were a major factor in these incidents, that is a rare thing, but it is something we should be looking and determining what we can do to better educate consumers and reduce the likelihood of any problems."

But such incidents notwithstanding, legalization is not about to get rolled back in Colorado. Instead, it's just getting started, and it's off to a pretty good start.

"This is the first quarter in the first year of a system just getting started," Tvert said. "Things are going pretty well."

Denver, CO
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Illinois patients can have guns, but New Hampshire patients can't grow their own medicine. And California counties stay busy as the legislature ponders actually regulating medical marijuana there. Let's get to it:

California

Last Tuesday, Long Beach voters overwhelmingly approved taxing any marijuana dispensary operating in the city. Measure A, which won 74 percent of the vote, would impose a city business tax of 6% of gross receipts per dispensary as well as a $25 to $50 per square foot tax on marijuana grows.

On Monday, a medical marijuana regulation bill won a committee vote. Senate Bill 1262 passed the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee and will next be heard in the Senate Health Committee. The bill is supported by police chiefs and the League of Cities and has been amended to make it more palatable to most, but not all, medical marijuana advocates.

Also on Monday, a Fresno County grower sued the county over excessive fines. Phaeth Holapatiphone, a medical marijuana card holder from Manteca, was growing 43 plants on her mother's Del Rey property when deputies ordered them removed in February. Her mother was ordered to pay $43,000 in fines by county supervisors, who authorized a tax lien against the property to collect the fines.

On Tuesday, Sacramento County supervisors voted unanimously to ban outdoor grows. The board passed, however, on banning indoor grows. Instead it will work with stake holders to develop an ordinance to cover indoor grows.

Also on Tuesday, Tehama County supervisors banned grows on vacant lots. They also voted to add a requirement for a yearly renewal of marijuana cultivation registrations and transferred enforcement of those registrations from the Tehama County Health Services Agency to the Environmental Health Department.

Florida

On Monday, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill won a House committee vote. House Bill 843 passed the House Judiciary Committee 15-3 and now heads for a House floor vote.

Illinois

Last Friday, llinois regulators said medical marijuana patients can keep their guns. Regulators finalizing the state's conditions for medical marijuana have removed a proposed rule that would have barred legal gun owners from becoming cannabis-using patients. Some patients had said they would rather continue to use marijuana illegally rather than give up their firearms owners ID cards. The wording drew numerous complaints in public comments from gun owners who hoped to apply for medical cannabis cards. Many said their rights were being trampled.

New Hampshire

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana grow bill was detoured and referred to interim study. The Senate Health, Education, and Human Services Committee failed to take decisive action on a bill that would provide licensed patients with legal access to medical marijuana while the state develops a system of regulated cultivation and distribution. Instead, the committee voted 3-1 to refer the bill for interim study. The bill, House Bill 1622, had already passed the House by a margin of three to one.

Wisconsin

Last Wednesday, Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill into law. He signed Assembly Bill 726, which would allow the limited use of CBD cannabis oil as a treatment for seizures.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Alabama deputy gets stung, a Baltimore cop gets jail for beating on a drug suspect, and a Texas jail guard gets to see the other side of the bars after selling marijuana to prisoners. Let's get to it:

In Camden, Alabama, a former Wilcox County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty last Tuesday to cocaine distribution charges. Greg Barge had been indicted on eight counts of trafficking cocaine from his patrol car after he got caught up in a sting and was arrested in June 2013 for transporting what he thought was cocaine, but was really a fake substance. He pleaded guilty to three counts: attempting to distribute cocaine powder, knowingly using a firearm in the commission of a drug trafficking crime, and violation of the Hobbs Act in which he unlawfully used extortion during interstate commerce. He's looking at between six and nine years in federal prison.

In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer was sentenced last Thursday to 45 days in jail for assaulting a drug suspect in custody. Officer Anthony Williams was convicted of assault and hindering the investigation that followed in a case known as "Ratgate" because a key witness in the case, also a police officer, had a dead rat left on his car in what authorities described as an incident of witness intimidation. Williams took a man who had been arrested from the police paddy wagon and back into a house, where he assaulted him. Williams said he had done nothing wrong and would do it again.

In Tyler, Texas, a former county jail guard was sentenced last Friday to five years in prison for selling marijuana and other contraband to an inmate at the Troup County Jail. Angel Rafael Vargas, 40, went down after an inmate's mother reported that her son told her jail officers would deliver contraband for payment, and authorities investigated. Vargas copped to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, three counts of furnishing prohibited items to an inmate and one count of bringing contraband into the jail.

Chronicle AM -- April 23, 2014

There's news on the marijuana legalization initiative front, decrim dies in New Hampshire, pot sentencing reform dies in Alabama, Illinois patients can keep their guns, drugged driving and reproductive rights make news, too. And more. Let's get to it:

Former drug offenders will have their voting rights restored in Virginia, thanks to Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Legalization Vote Pushed Back to November. A ballot initiative that could make Alaska the third US state to legalize recreational marijuana will go before voters in a general election in November rather than in August as previously scheduled, officials said on Monday. Alaska ballot initiatives typically go before voters in primary elections. But a lengthier-than-normal state legislative session this year forced the change because, under state rules, initiatives must go to voters no less than 120 days after the end of a session.

New Approach Oregon Legalization Initiative Gets Another Big Bucks Donation. The Drug Policy Action Network, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, has given $100,000 to the New Approach Oregon legalization initiative campaign. That's the second $100,000 in a week for the initiative, which has just commenced its signature-gathering phase.

Total Marijuana Ban Initiative Proposed in Montana. A Billings businessman has proposed an initiative for the November 2014 ballot that effectively would ban the possession, use, cultivation, trafficking and transportation of marijuana in Montana. Steve Zabawa submitted the measure last week. If approved, it would change state law to say that any drug listed on Schedule 1 of the Federal Controlled Substances Act "may not be legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana."

No Decriminalization for New Hampshire This Year. Criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana will not change, after the Senate refused to consider a House-passed bill. Under House Bill 1625, the penalty for having an ounce or less of marijuana or hashish would have been the same as a traffic ticket, and it would have lowered the penalties for growing less than six marijuana plants. The bill passed the House by a better than two-to-one margin, but the Senate refused to accept the bill. It had killed a nearly identical bill last session.

Louisiana to Retain Harsh Marijuana Penalties. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to kill a bill that would reduce the state's marijuana penalties, some of the harshest in the country. Senate Bill 323 would have made simple possession a misdemeanor punishable by no more than six months in jail. Under current law, repeat pot possession offenders can be jailed for up to 20 years. The measure failed on a 4-3 vote.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A bill to allow patients suffering from seizures or severe pain to use high CBD cannabis oil has passed the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 843 passed the committee 15-3 and now heads for a House floor vote.

Wisconsin Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Scott Walker (R) last week signed into law Assembly Bill 726, which allows the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat severe seizures in children.

Illinois Medical Marijuana Patients Can Keep Their Guns. Illinois regulators finalizing the state's conditions for medical marijuana have removed a proposed rule that would have barred legal gun owners from becoming cannabis-using patients. Some patients had said they would rather continue to use marijuana illegally rather than give up their firearms owners ID cards. The wording drew numerous complaints in public comments from gun owners who hoped to apply for medical cannabis cards. Many said their rights were being trampled.

Drugged Driving

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Presence of Marijuana Metabolite Not Sufficient to Prove Impaired Driving. The state's high court ruled Tuesday that motorists with a secondary marijuana metabolite in their system cannot be charged with a DUI on that basis alone, indicating the court was unconvinced the mere presence of the metabolite proves impairment. The state had argued that even the presence of metabolites in the urine of users was sufficient for a conviction, but the high court said "this interpretation would criminalize otherwise legal conduct" and "leads to absurd results." The case is Arizona v. Shilgevorkyan.

Michigan Bill Would Allow Police to Saliva Test for Drugs During Traffic Stops. The House Judiciary Committee is considering a package of bills related to drugged driving, including one, House Bill 5385, that would allow police to include saliva testing through a mouth swab. The measure is opposed by medical marijuana advocates, who raised concerns about the accuracy of the tests. The committee will continue taking testimony on the bills, which would also allow for police officers to confiscate driving licenses and issue temporary permits for drugged drivers as they do for suspected drunk drivers now.

Reproductive Rights

Tennessee Legislature Passes Bill Criminalizing Pregnant Women for Drug-Related Harm to Fetuses. A bill that holds women criminally accountable for illegal drug use during pregnancy, with punishments of up to 15 years in prison, passed the legislature last week. Senate Bill 1391 punished drug-using women if their babies are stillborn or born addicted or otherwise harmed. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) has 10 days to decide whether to sign it into law.

Alabama Supreme Court Rules That Women Can Be Charged With Chemical Endangerment if They Become Pregnant and Use a Controlled Substance. The state Supreme Court last Friday upheld the conviction of a woman who gave birth to a baby that tested positive for cocaine, even though the infant was healthy. In so doing, the court upheld the state's 2006 chemical endangerment law and held that the word "child" in the law includes fertilized eggs. The case is Ex Parte Sara Jane Hicks. Alabama and South Carolina are the only states that authorize the prosecution of pregnant women for drug use, although as we see above, Tennessee could soon join them.

Prescription Drugs

Oklahoma Senate Approves Bill Adding Prescription Drugs to Drug Trafficking Law. The Senate Monday approved a bill adding four additional drugs to the state's Trafficking in Illegal Drugs Act. The measure, House Bill 2589, adds morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and benzodiazepine to the list of controlled substances in the act. Individuals convicted under the act would receive a minimum of 10 years, which is twice the prison term for possession of these substances. The bill is supported by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. It has been amended and will return to the House of Representatives for reconsideration.

Opiate Pain Relievers

FDA Panel Recommends Against Approving Dual Opioid Medication. An advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted Tuesday against approving a combination morphine-oxycodone painkiller. The drug, Moxduo, would be the first medication to combine both opioids in one capsule. Moxduo's manufacturer, QRxPharma, says the drug is intended to provide faster relief from moderate to severe pain, with fewer side effects than currently available opioids. The panel voted unanimously against approving it, concluding that QRxPharma had not proved the drug is less likely to cause potentially life-threatening respiratory suppression, compared with taking oxycodone or morphine alone.

Search and Seizure

US Supreme Court Upholds Vehicle Stops Based on Anonymous Tip. An unusually divided Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that an anonymous 911 phone call reporting a reckless driver justified a traffic stop that led to a marijuana. The 5-4 decision saw Justice Antonin Scalia side with the court's liberal minority, but Justice Stephen Breyer's vote gave the conservative majority the win. The case is Navarette v. California. The ruling means police need not corroborate anonymous reckless driving tips before stopping a vehicle.

Voting Rights

Virginia Governor to Restore Voting Rights for Drug Offenders. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced Friday that he will immediately restore voting rights to anyone who has completed their sentence for a drug offense, and reduce the waiting period for other violent felonies from five years to three. Virginia is one of four states that ban all ex-felons from voting for life unless they receive clemency from the governor. But governors in these states can take executive action to alter the policies on these felons.

International

Sinaloa Cartel Losing Ground in Ciudad Juarez, Stratfor Analyst Says. The Carrillo Fuentes drug-trafficking organization, with its enforcement arm La Línea, is moving to regain the El Paso-Juárez corridor from the Sinaloa cartel, whose power in Juarez is eroding quickly, according to a terrorism and security analyst from the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. Click on the link for more details.

"Hundreds, Perhaps Thousands" Could be Freed Under New Federal Clemency Rules

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Justice Department will soon release new, more expansive criteria for recommending federal prisoner clemency applications for President Obama to review. That means Obama, who has so far freed a paltry 10 prisoners early in his first six years could free "hundred, perhaps thousands" in his final two, a senior administration official told Yahoo News Monday.

Most of those who will be eligible for clemency under the new criteria are doing time for drug offenses, a category that accounts for 50.1% of the federal prison population, or roughly 100,000 inmates. As the Justice Department noted in its press release, the move will be "an important step to reduce sentencing disparities for drug offenders in the federal prison system."

"The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety," Holder said in a video message posted on the department's website. "The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences."

Later this week, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole is expected to announce more specific details about the expanded criteria the department will use and the logistical effort underway to ensure proper reviews of the anticipated wave of applications, the press release said.

President Obama has, midway through his second term, begun moving to use his clemency power. In December, he commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses involving crack cocaine. He said the eight men and women had been sentenced under an "unfair system," including the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses that was reduced but not eliminated by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

This latest move was foreshadowed by a January announcement that the administration was taking the unprecedented step of encouraging defense lawyers to suggest inmates whom the president might let out of prison early, as part of its effort to curtail severe penalties in low-level drug cases, and again last week, when White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said Obama has directed the Justice Department to improve its clemency recommendation process and recruit more applications from convicts.

Drug reform advocates greeted the announcement as a step in the right direction and as a signal to state governors -- most drug offenders are doing time on state, not federal, charges -- but also as a tail-end fix for a problem that needs front-end solutions.

"This would be a positive step toward righting the wrongs of our broken criminal justice system. I hope governors with the same power at the state level follow his lead and reunite more families," said Anthony Papa, media relations manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, who was granted clemency in New York State in 1997 after serving 12 years under the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws.

"With half a million people still behind bars on nonviolent drug charges, clearly thousands are deserving of a second chance. Congress should act immediately to reduce the draconian federal mandatory minimum sentences that condemn thousands to decades behind bars for non-violent drug offenses," added Papa.

It could do that by passing the Smarter Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1410), which has already made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But in the meantime, liberating some of the thousands of people currently imprisoned with harsh drug sentences is a move that can't come soon enough.

Washington, DC
United States

US Supreme Court Rejects Florida Drug Testing Appeal

The US Supreme Court Monday declined to review a lower court ruling that found Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) plan to randomly drug test state employees unconstitutional.

US Supreme Court
The decision by the nation's highest court means that the ruling by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals finding the plan unconstitutional stands.

The drug test-happy governor had issued an executive order in March 2011 directing all state agencies to drug test new hires and randomly test current employees. But that order was challenged by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 79, representing state workers.

The union argued that random drug testing was a violation of the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures. In its decision, the 11th Circuit generally agreed with the union, finding the suspicionless drug tests unconstitutional, but also ordered the state and the union to determine which state employees could be subjected to such testing.

The legal proscription on drug testing state employees is not complete. There are exceptions for some public safety and law enforcement workers.

But Gov. Scott's ambitious plan to foist drug testing on all state workers without cause has been squashed.

Chronicle AM -- April 17, 2014

Marijuana legalization initiatives are in the news, the NCAA ponders relaxing marijuana penalties, a vaporizer company wants to drug test its workers, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

New Approach Oregon Legalization Initiative Starts Signature-Gathering. Signature gathering began today for the New Approach Oregon legalization initiative. Backers need 87,213 valid voter signatures by July 3, and they say they are confident they will get them. Another initiative, Paul Stanford's Oregon Cannabis Tax Act initiative, is already in the midst of signature-gathering.

New Approach Oregon Legalization Initiative Gets $100,000 Donation from Fragrance Heir. Henry van Ameringen, heir to a fragrance fortune, has donated $100,000 to the New Approach Oregon legalization initiative.

Alaska Legalization Initiative Campaign Challenges Opponents. In a Wednesday morning press conference, supporters of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska stood outside a downtown Anchorage office building with a giant novelty check written out to "No on 2/ Project S.A.M." for $9,015 -- the same amount of money the alcohol lobby donated to former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy during his time in office. Kennedy is the cofounder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national group that opposes marijuana legalization. The event served as a challenge to opponents of the Alaska measure -- a group collectively known as "Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No On 2" -- to show the public the science proving that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol.

Rhode Island House Panel Hears Legalization Bill. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a marijuana legalization bill. The measure, House Bill 7506, sponsored by Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), would allow adults to possess up to one once and grow one plant, as well as establishing a system of legal marijuana commerce. The committee took no action. Click on the link to get the flavor of the testimony.

NCAA Ponders Reducing Penalties for Athletes Who Test Positive for Pot. The NCAA is mulling a proposal to reduce the penalty for a student-athlete's positive marijuana test from a full-season suspension to a half-season, according to CBSSports.com. The site's senior college football columnist, Dennis Dodd, reported that the idea, which is likely to be approved, reflects the association's view that marijuana use is not performance enhancing.

Medical Marijuana

Wisconsin Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Scott Walker (R) has signed Assembly Bill 726, which would allow the limited use of CBD cannabis oil as a treatment for seizures.

Major Medical Marijuana Industry Company Announces Drug Testing Program, But Not for Pot. OPenVAPE, a vaporizer manufacturer that bills itself as "the nation's largest cannabis brand," announced today that it will begin a drug testing program for employees. But the company won't test for the drug its products are designed to be used with; instead, it will only test for "dangerous drugs." Click on the link to read their press release.

Sentencing

Drug Policy Alliance Intervenes in Case of Louisiana Man Doing 13 Years for Two Joints. The Drug Policy Alliance has filed an amicus brief with the Louisiana Supreme Court in the case of Bernard Noble, who is serving 13 years in prison for marijuana possession. "Thirteen years in prison for two joints is obscene," said Daniel Abrahamson, the lead author of the brief for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The punishment is so far out of proportion to the conduct that we really can't call it 'punishment' -- it is more like torture." Louisiana has some of the toughest drug laws in the nation.

Faith Leaders Issue Easter Statement on War on Drugs, Mass Incarceration [FEATURE]

A broad coalition of Christian leaders have taken the occasion of the holiest day on the Christian calendar to release an Easter statement calling for the end of the war on drugs and mass incarceration. They said they chose the Easter season to release their statement because of the spirit of the Resurrection, which Easter commemorates and celebrates.

The Rev. Edwin Sanders (cannabisculture.com)
The statement calls for repealing laws that criminalize drug possession and replacing them with policies that expand access to effective health approaches to drug use, including evidence-based drug treatment.

It also calls for the elimination of policies that result in racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates and that that unjustly exclude people with a record of arrest or conviction from key rights and opportunities.

The United States is the world leader in incarceration, accounting for 25% of the global prison population while only making up 5% of the planet's population. In state prisons, drug offenders typically make up 20-30% of all prisoners, although that proportion has begun declining as nearly half the states have undertaken sentencing reforms in recent years.

But while state prison population numbers have begun a slight decline, the federal prison population continues to increase, driven in large part by the war on drugs. As of this month, there were more than 216,000 federal prisoners, with just more than half (50.1%) doing time for drug crimes, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

"The cross that faith leaders are imploring others to take up is this unjust and immoral war on drugs and mass incarceration of the poor. In particular, poor black and brown young adults whose futures are being ruined at the most critical point in their lives," said Reverend John E. Jackson of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.

"We are guided by our religious principles to serve those in need and give voice to those who have been marginalized and stigmatized by unjust policies. We cannot sit silently while a misguided war is waged on entire communities, ostensibly under the guise of combating the very real harms of drug abuse. The war on drugs has become a costly, ineffective and unjust failure," says Reverend Edwin Sanders, who is a Board Member of the Drug Policy Alliance and the Senior Servant for the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

More than 100,000 people are doing time for drug offenses in federal prisons (wikimedia/chris piner)
"We are called upon to follow Jesus's example in opposing the war on drugs, which has resulted in the United States becoming the world's biggest jailer," added Sanders.

"Resurrection reality commissions and commands us to change these policies, laws and systems that rob whole communities of their most precious resource, their young. These are the ones Jesus faced betrayal, denial and desertion for. These are the ones Jesus gave up everything for. These are the issues Jesus was raised from a 3 day grave to speak truth to power to through our voices, through our crying loud and sparing not and through our organized efforts," added Jackson.

The story of the prodigal son is appropriate to ponder, said Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, Founder and Executive Director of The Ordinary Peoples Society, in Dothan, Alabama, himself a former drug war prisoner.

"The story of the prodigal son says he went out and lived a riotous life, like somebody who committed a crime or was on drugs or got incarcerated," said Glasgow. "The father of the prodigal son embraced him with open arms, but as a society, we don't do that. We incarcerate instead of trying to treat or restore. His father gave him shoes on his feet and a coat of many colors. These are things we're not doing when it comes to mass incarceration and the war on drugs."

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow (theordinarypeoplesociety.org)
The struggle against the war on drugs is a fight for civil rights and democracy, said Glasgow.

"After they gave us civil rights, they came along with the drug war and took our voting rights back," he said, referring to the hundreds of thousands who have had voted rights restricted or denied after being convicted of drug offenses.

There are concrete steps to take, said several speakers.

"We want to repeal the laws that criminalize drug possession and replace them with effective approaches, and put an end to any policy that unjustly excludes people because they have a previous criminal conviction," said the Rev Michael McBride, Director of Urban Strategies, Lifelines to Healing, Berkeley, California.

"We are fighting a righteous fight and standing in solidarity in the Holy Week to call for an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration," McBride added. "We are organizing hundreds of faith congregations across the country to build a faith and moral movement to address and redress these unjust policies. Holy Week reminds us that death does not have a final say, but that God is able to bring redemption for the worst things that happen in our lives. Mass incarceration is the civil rights issue of our generation, and the faith community is in the forefront."

"For those of us who follow Jesus, this is the time to receive his grace, but also to receive his calling," said Bill Mefford, director of Civil and Human Rights for the United Methodist Church, which has been at the forefront of the faith community's challenge to the drug war. "It is time to proclaim relief for the captives and freedom for the oppressed. Unfortunately, because we are the world's leader in incarceration, we don't have to look far," he noted.

Mefford is the chairman of an interfaith coalition working on Capitol Hill to reform the criminal justice system. It represents 35 faith organizations with millions of members.

"There are steps we can take to rescue ourselves from our own captivity," Medford continued. "We can pass the Smarter Sentencing Act as an incremental step toward justice reform that will address costly overcrowding at the Bureau of Prisons by cutting in half mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenses."

The Smarter Sentencing Act has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits a Senate floor vote. It has yet to move in the GOP-controlled House.

As Holy Week looms, it is indeed appropriate to ask that rhetorical question. When it comes to dealing with drug use and the drug trade, what would Jesus do?

New York City, NY
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

With a stroke of the governor's pen, Maryland becomes the 21st medical marijuana state. Meanwhile, those CBD medical marijuana bills continue to move. And more. Let's get to it:

Alabama

Last week, Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signed into law a limited CBD medical marijuana bill. Known as Carly's Law, Senate Bill 174 creates an affirmative defense for patients suffering from debilitating epileptic conditions -- or their caregivers -- for the possession and use of marijuana extracts that are high in CBD (a component of marijuana). It is a strong endorsement by Alabama lawmakers of the medical benefits of marijuana. Unfortunately, the law suffers from several fatal flaws that render it ineffective.

Arkansas

On Monday, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel rejected a medical marijuana initiative again. He rejected the popular name and ballot title for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. These are the same folks that put the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act on the ballot in 2012, but this year, another group, Arkansans for Responsible Medicine has claimed that initiative title. The 2014 Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act is now in the signature-gathering phase.

California

On Tuesday, the Vallejo city council agreed to extend a ban on taxing dispensaries. City officials sought the one-year extension to allow more time to draft regulations for the location and operation of dispensaries, now unregulated and outside city zoning laws. The city has wrestled with the issue since 2011, when voters overwhelmingly approved taxing dispensaries even though the city doesn't recognize them as legitimate businesses. Meanwhile, the police department has conducted raids on several dispensaries, but the cases fell apart in the courts after defense lawyers argued the collectives were following state laws. City officials estimated there are as many as two dozen dispensaries operating in Vallejo without city permission.

Colorado

On Monday, a bill to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions was introduced. Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), who's been actively involved in marijuana issues, introduced HB 1364, which would add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of medical conditions that qualify patients for access to medical marijuana.

Kentucky

Last Thursday, Gov. Steve Beshear (D) signed into law a a limited CBD medical marijuana bill. The measure, Senate Bill 124, which allows the hospitals at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville to provide oil derived from marijuana and hemp to children who suffer from certain severe seizures. The benefits also could apply to adults.

Maryland

On Monday, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed into law a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, making Maryland the 21st medical marijuana state. The measure is House Bill 881.

Minnesota

Last Thursday, a Senate panel heard, but then tabled, a medical marijuana bill. The Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing held a hearing on a bill that would allow qualified patients to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and buy it from a dispensary. But the committee took no action on Senate File 1641, tabling it until legislators return from the Easter/Passover break.

On Monday, a new poll had support for medical marijuana in the state at 68%. The latest KSTP-TV/SurveyUSA poll asked, "Do you think Marijuana should or should not? be legal ... when used for medical purposes?"

Oregon

As of Monday, at least 71 Oregon cities have moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries, and more than 40 others are considering bans, according to the League of Oregon Cities and the Association of Oregon Counties. The legislature allowed local governments to impose a one-year ban, if enacted by May 1. The law also gives local governments the ability to regulate when and where pot shops may operate. The state has 242 incorporated cities and 36 counties.

Tennessee

Last Wednesday, the state Senate approved a CBD medical marijuana study bill. The measure, which was added as an amendment to House Bill 2461, would authorize a limited, four-year study of the effectiveness of cannabis oil on certain types of intractable seizures.

Last Thursday, the House approved the bill. It now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam (R).

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM -- April 16, 2014

President Obama commutes a marijuana offender's sentence, organized opposition to a legalization initiative emerges in Alaska, draconian heroin bills are moving in Louisiana, and more. Let's get to it:

Heroin would get you even more time under draconian bills moving in Louisiana. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Denver Crime Rate Drops in First Months of Legal Marijuana Sales. According to crime statistics from the Denver Police, crime is down over the previous year in the first three months of legal marijuana sales there. Violent crime (including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) fell by 6.9% in the first quarter of 2014, compared with the same period in 2013. Property crime (including burglary, larceny, auto theft, theft from motor vehicle and arson) dropped by 11.1%.

Alaska Legalization Initiative Gets Organized Opposition. An organized opposition group has emerged to campaign against the Alaska legalization initiative. A group calling itself "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" officially filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission last week. The group includes only a handful of Alaskans and says it is not affiliated with Project SAM, the anti-legalization group that has been playing up the "Big Marijuana" theme across the country.

Legalization Bill Filed in New Jersey Assembly. Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Scotch Plains) and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) have filed Assembly Bill 3094 to legalize marijuana. The bill is companion legislation to Senate Bill 1986, which was filed by Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden) earlier this session.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Legislature Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Study Bill. The House voted 97-0 Monday to approve Senate Bill 2531, which would create a four-year study of the use of CBD cannabis oil in treating intractable seizures. The measure passed the Senate last week, and now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam (R).

Methamphetamine

Tennessee Senate Passes Pseudoephedrine Restriction Bill. A bill that would restrict non-prescription purchases of OTC cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical in meth manufacture, passed the Senate Tuesday. The bill would cap purchases at 4.8 grams per month and 14.4 grams per year of allergy and cold medicines like Sudafed that could be bought without a prescription. The Senate version differs from the House version in the allowable amounts. The House version has already passed, too, so the two will have to be reconciled before final passage.

Heroin

Draconian Heroin Bill Passes Louisiana Senate Committee. A bill to increase maximum penalties for heroin offenses from 50 to 99 years received approved Tuesday from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge), now heads for the Senate floor. Another draconian heroin bill, House Bill 332, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Lopinto (R-Metairie) would double mandatory minimums for heroin use and distribution. The full House passed that bill 94-1, and it will now be heard in the Senate.

Sentencing

President Obama Commutes Sentence for Marijuana Offender. President Obama Tuesday granted clemency to a marijuana offender sentenced to too much time because of a typographical error. Ceasar Huerta Cantu had been sentenced to 180 months in federal prison for marijuana distribution conspiracy and money laundering. Obama commuted the sentence to 138 months, which is what it would have been had his initial sentence been calculated correctly. That means Huerta will get out more than three years early. Obama commuted only one sentence in his first term but has been using the power more in his second.

International

Mexico Anti-Cartel Militias Refuse to Lay Down Arms. The so-called autodefensa militias in the southwest Mexican state of Michoacán -- which took up arms against the Knights Templar cartel more than a year ago -- are now refusing the government's demand to put down their weapons. The government had allowed them to keep their arms and integrate into the security forces, but early this month, announced its intention to disarm all civilians in the state. But the militias say they will disband only once the leaders of the Knights Templar Cartel are killed or arrested. "We prefer to die at the hands of the government than at the hands of a goddamned son of a bitch who dismembers and butchers you -- without releasing even a fingernail to your family. Because, that's what the criminals do," one militia leader told VICE News.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A notorious New York City narc goes on desk duty, an Alabama prison guard gets mixed up with meth, a Florida cop is in trouble for slinging steroids, and an LAPD cop gets his hand slapped for lying about a drug bust. Let's get to it:

In New York City, NYPD's most sued narcotics officer was off the streets as of last Friday. Detective Peter Valentin of Bronx Narcotics, who has been sued at least 28 times since 2006, and three of his colleagues have been placed on modified duty after an Internal Affair Bureau investigation for taking part in drug raids "of dubious merit." The city has already paid out at least $884,000 to settle lawsuits sparked by Valentin's misbehavior, including a case where a nursing mother spent a week on Rikers Island after Valentin arrested her for drug possession even though she truthfully stated that the powder he found in her home was powdered eggshells, not drugs. Dozens of cases in which Valentin and his crew were involved are now in jeopardy.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a Kilby State Prison guard was arrested last Thursday as part of a federal drug bust targeting a meth trafficking ring stretching from California to Dixie. Guard Phillip Burgin, 23, was arrested along with five other people, including two state prison inmates. The inmates are accused of directing the ring from inside via the use of cell phones. Burgin was stopped in late April by Oklahoma state police with 30 pounds of the drug in his vehicle, and he is charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. He was indicted on federal charges Thursday.

In West Palm Beach, Florida, a former West Palm Beach police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he was peddling steroids from businesses he owned. DeWitt McDonald is also accused of making at least one deal while armed and on-duty and of forging prescriptions from doctors who worked in his clinic. He was fired from the force seven months ago, after an investigation into his dealings began.

In Los Angeles, an LAPD officer was sentenced last Wednesday to three years probation for lying under oath in a 2008 drug possession case. Manuel Ortiz, 40, was found guilty of one count each of conspiracy and perjury for falsely testifying about his involvement in a drug bust where the case was dismissed after footage from the apartment building's security camera contradicted the sworn testimony of the officers.

Chronicle AM -- April 15, 2014

The Obama administration punts on marijuana rescheduling, Maryland's decrim excludes paraphernalia (for now), sneaky DEA tactics are being challenged in Arizona, fears of more cartel violence in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

Under Maryland's new decrim law, the pot won't get you busted, but the pipe could. (wikimedia/erik fenderson)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Holder Signals Administration Won't Reschedule On Its Own, Wants to Work With Congress. In an interview with The Huffington Post last Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration would not act unilaterally to reschedule marijuana. "I think that given what we have done in dealing with the whole Smart on Crime initiative and the executive actions that we have taken, that when it comes to rescheduling, I think this is something that should come from Congress," Holder said. "We'd be willing to work with Congress if there is a desire on the part of Congress to think about rescheduling. But I think I'd want to hear, get a sense from them about where they'd like to be."

Maryland Decriminalization Doesn't Include Paraphernalia. The decriminalization bill signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) yesterday does not decriminalize the possession of pipes, papers, and other marijuana-smoking paraphernalia. Bill sponsor Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) said he intentionally left intact the criminal penalties for having marijuana accessories. He said it could help ensure that if police see marijuana accessories in someone's car, they still have legal grounds to search the car for items like guns and heroin. But he also said the legislature would consider eliminating the paraphernalia penalties next year. In the meantime, prosecutors are trying to figure out how to proceed.

Rhode Island House Committee to Hold Hearing on Bill That Would Regulate and Tax Marijuana Like Alcohol. The House Committee on Judiciary is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. House Bill 7506, sponsored by Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), would allow adults to possess up to one once and grow one plant, as well as establishing a system of legal marijuana commerce. A press conference will precede the committee hearing. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) has signed into law Senate Bill 174, also known as Carly's Law. The measure creates an affirmative defense for patients suffering from debilitating epileptic conditions -- or their caregivers -- for the possession and use of marijuana extracts that are high in CBD. But it doesn't do anything for other medical marijuana patients.

Minnesota Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 68%. A new KSTP-TV/SurveyUSA poll finds that 68% of registered voters surveyed think marijuana should be legal when used for medical purposes. The poll comes as legislators struggle to push through a bill in St. Paul.

More Than 70 Oregon Cities Have Dispensary Moratoriums. At least 71 Oregon cities have moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries, and more than 40 others are considering bans, according to the League of Oregon Cities and the Association of Oregon Counties. The legislature last year passed a dispensary regulation bill, but some localities don't want dispensaries. The new law, however, only allows the moratoriums to stay in place for one year. The state has 242 incorporated cities and 36 counties.

Law Enforcement

Arizona "Whisper Stop" Highway Drug Busts Set Up Constitutional Clash. Defense attorneys in Arizona are challenging "whisper stop" highway drug busts, in which the DEA wants to arrest someone they suspect of trafficking drugs, but don't want to alert possible co-conspirators. In such cases, the DEA alerts local and state police to make the stop, but police and prosecutors have been remiss in failing to inform defendants and their attorneys about the reason for the stop, violating the Brady rule, which requires full disclosure of evidence that might help defendants by prosecutors. "We're about to have a big clash on this," said a Flagstaff defense attorney challenging the conduct. Click on the link for more details.

International

DC Event on "Politics of Crime in Mexico" Tomorrow. The Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and the Inter-American Dialogue are hosting an event tomorrow to present the new book "The Politics of Crime in Mexico: Democratic Governance in a Security Trap," by John Bailey. Click on the link for more details and to RSVP.

Mexican Cartel Conflict Expected to Heat Up in Tamaulipas. At least 30 people have been killed in recent days in fighting pitting factions of the Gulf Cartel against each other in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Most of those killing took place around Tampico, in the far south of the state, but in Mexican border towns like Nuevo Laredo, the Zetas are being blamed for an uptick in kidnappings and extortion. Now, there are fears the Zetas could make moves to try to eliminate the Gulf Cartel once and for all, when it is doubly weakened: by the infighting following the arrest of a major Gulf Cartel leader, and by the February arrest of Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who was aiding the Gulf Cartel against the Zetas.

Bermuda Medical Cannabis Activist Asks Jamaica Health Minister for Legal Shipment of Medical Ganja Oil. Bermuda medical marijuana advocate Alan Gordon has sent an open letter to Jamaica's health minister asking for a permit to export enough cannabis oil extract to supply some 300 Bermuda cancer patients with a 2-3 month supply. Gordon said that Bermuda's Cabinet has previously approved import permits from elsewhere on a per-patient basis, but were experiencing trouble with availability, price and quality which Jamaica seems well suited to alleviate. Gordon has also specified that the oil must be grown organically by Rastafarians, as a matter of social justice and "fair trade" principles. Gordon says he is not a Rastafarian but says that after the gravely ill patients, first consideration must be given to Rastafarians as a way of expressing society's remorse for oppression of Rastafarians under the old laws. No response yet from Jamaica.

Chronicle AM -- April 14, 2014

Maryland decriminalizes and becomes a medical marijuana state, a Tennessee hemp bill awaits the governor's signature, a Kentucky omnibus heroin bill appears dead for the session, a campaign is underway to free a Missouri marijuana lifer, and more. Let's get to it:

billboard for Missouri marijuana lifer Jeff Mizanskey
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Governor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Gov. Martin O'Malley today signed into law Senate Bill 364, making Maryland the 18th decriminalization state. The new law makes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $250 for a second offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Third-time offenders and individuals under 21 years of age will be required to undergo a clinical assessment for substance abuse disorder and a drug education program. The measure will officially go into effect on October 1.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) today signed into law House Bill 881, making Maryland the 21st state with a full-fledged medical marijuana law. The bill allows Maryland residents suffering from qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. Possession limits and regulations governing cultivation and dispensary facilities will be determined by a state-sanctioned commission prior to implementation. The measure will officially go into effect on June 1.

Kentucky Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) last Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 124, which will allow the limited use of CBD cannabis oil. Physicians at state research hospitals will be able to recommend use of the drug.

Colorado Bill Would Add PTSD to List of Qualifying Medical Conditions. Even though marijuana is legal in Colorado, one lawmaker, Rep. Jonathan Signer (D-Longmont) has introduced a bill, House Bill 1364, to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the state medical marijuana program's list of qualifying conditions. Because PTSD affects many veterans, who receive federal benefits, Singer said it's important to provide them with the ability to qualify under the state's medical marijuana law.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Again. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has again rejected the popular name and ballot title for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. These are the same folks that put the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act on the ballot in 2012, but this year, another group, Arkansans for Responsible Medicine has claimed that initiative title. The 2014 Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act is now in the signature-gathering phase.

Vermont Lawmakers Advance Dispensary Bill, But Reject Adding PTSD to List of Qualifying Conditions. A bill that would create dispensaries in Vermont has passed out of the House Human Services Committee, but the committee rejected an effort to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions. The measure is Senate Bill 247. It has already passed the Senate.

Hemp

Tennessee Hemp Bills Awaits Governor's Signature. Senate Bill 2495 and House Bill 2445, which would reclassify and regulate industrial hemp, have passed the legislature and await the signature of Gov. Bill Haslam (R). The bills would allow Tennessee farmers to grow hemp for research and development purposes. Earlier this year Congress approved language in a federal farm bill that would allow the cultivation of industrial hemp in the agricultural pilot programs in states that have already passed hemp measures.

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Appears Dead. A bill that responded to heroin use and sales in the Bluegrass State through a combination of increased treatment, overdose prevention, and harsher criminal penalties will not pass this session, a key legislator said. "There's basically no time left to pass it," Sen. Jared Carpenter (R-Berea), cosponsor of Senate Bill 5, said Friday. It had passed the state Senate, but got stalled in the Judiciary Committee in the Democrat-controlled House. The session ends tomorrow.

Law Enforcement

DEA in Illinois Spying on Indoor Garden Stores. The DEA in Illinois has investigated and raided at least two people after watching them make purchases at a legal local gardening center. Both had shopped at Midwest Hydroganics in Crest Hill. One, Angela Kirking, said she and her pet terrier woke to find four flak-jacketed DEA agents and five Shorewood cops in the bedroom of her Ranchwood Drive home at 5:00am on Oct. 11. At least one of the agents held her at gunpoint before 9 grams were allegedly found. A second person, a man from Channahon, was raided and charged with growing marijuana after shopping at Midwest Hydroganics. In both cases, the DEA took interest after it spotted them shopping at the store. Federal investigators then rooted through garbage and compared utility bills to get search warrants. Kirking's attorney said he is challenging the warrants and that he has heard of more cases linked to DEA spying on a legal business since the story broke.

A Quarter Million Immigrants Have Been Deported For Non-Violent Drug Crimes, Report Finds. The report, an analysis of federal immigration data conducted by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, details how roughly 40,000 people have been deported for drug law violations every year since 2008. That means that nearly 250,000 -- one-quarter of a million -- people were deported for nonviolent drug offenses in just the past six years. A nonviolent drug offense was the cause of deportation for more than one in ten (11%) people deported in 2013 for any reason -- and nearly one in five (19%) of those who were deported because of a criminal conviction. The report reveals that simple marijuana possession was the fourth most common cause of deportation for any crime, and the most common cause of deportation for crimes involving drugs. On average, more than 6,600 people were deported in each of the last two years just for personal marijuana possession, and overall, nearly 20,000 people were deported last year for simple possession of any drug or drug paraphernalia.

Florida Bill to Raise Drug Possession Thresholds Passes House. The House has passed a bill increasing the weight threshold for trafficking in oxycodone and hydrocodone in a move to ease what have been called overly harsh sentencing guidelines. Senate Bill 360 moves the current threshold of four grams of either drug to seven grams of oxycodone and 14 grams of hydrocodone.

Sentencing

Campaign On to Free Missouri Marijuana Lifer. The ongoing campaign to win the release of Jeff Mizansky, the only man in Missouri serving a life-without-parole sentence for a nonviolent marijuana charge, are continuing this month with help from Show-Me Cannabis and Change.org. Show-Me Cannabis has bought billboard space on I-70 near Kansas City (and near Sedalia, where Mizanskey was arrested) to bring attention to his case, and a Change.org petition calling for his release now has more than 360,000 signatures. Mizansky has three convictions, all for marijuana. Campaigners will hold a press conference at the state capitol on April 28.

International

New WOLA Report on Colombia's Peace Prospects Released. As negotiations between the leftist FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government continue, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has released a new report, Ending 50 Years of Conflict in Colombia, that analyzes the prospects for a peace accord and the challenges that will follow. Click on the title link to read the report.

US Sentencing Commission Votes to Cut Drug Sentences [FEATURE]

The US Sentencing Commission (USSC) voted unanimously Thursday to reduce sentences for most federal drug trafficking defendants. The move comes as the federal prison population continues to increase, driven in large part by drug offenders, even as prison populations in the states are on the decline.

In the past decade, in many states, the harsh Reagan-era war on drugs approach to drug use and trafficking has given way to smarter approaches geared toward diversion and treatment of drug offenders, but when it comes to reforms, the federal system has lagged behind.

Passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced -- but did not eliminate -- the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders, was a step in the right direction. And passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act (House Resolution 3382/Senate Bill 1410), which has already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is pending in the House, would be another.

That bill, which is supported by the administration, would direct federal judges to not sentence some drug offenders to mandatory minimum sentences, reduce mandatory minimum sentences for other drug offenders, and apply the more lenient crack cocaine sentencing scheme under the Fair Sentencing Act to crack offenders sentenced before it was passed. It also calls on USSC to amend its sentencing guidelines and policy statements for drug offenders to minimize federal prison overcrowding and reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing.

But in the meantime, USSC has now, with the administration's support, acted on its own. The commission voted to reduce sentences by amending the federal sentencing guidelines to lower the base offense guidelines in the Drug Quantity Table across various drug types.

The quantity tables place specific quantities of each controlled substance in corresponding sentencing "levels," which in turn contain a range of recommended sentences based on a defendant's criminal history. For instance, under the current guidelines, a drug offense involving at least 10 grams of methamphetamine, but not more than 20 grams, is in sentencing level 18, where the recommended sentence range for an offender with one or no criminal history points is 27-33 months. Under the new guidelines, the same quantity of methamphetamine will be a level 16 offense, which means the recommended sentence range for a first-time offense will be 21-27 months.

The example above is on the low end for federal drug sentences. USSC said the changes would affect about 70% of federal drug trafficking defendants and would result in an average sentence decrease of 11 months. That means the average federal drug trafficking sentence will drop from just over five years to just over four years.

The USSC move could cut the federal prison population by 6,500 over five years. (supremecourt.gov)
This commission has concentrated this year of addressing federal prison costs and capacity. It estimates that the changes it approved Thursday will reduce the federal prison population by more than 6,500 over the next five years and have an even greater impact over the long run.

"This modest reduction in drug penalties is an important step toward reducing the problem of prison overcrowding at the federal level in a proportionate and fair manner," said Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the commission. "Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991."

There are currently more than 216,000 federal prisoners, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons. Slightly more than half (50.1%) are doing time for drug offenses.

Attorney General Holder welcomed the move, calling it "a milestone" in reshaping the way the system deals with drug offenders. He called for Congress to take the next steps.

"It is now time for Congress to pick up the baton and advance legislation that would take further steps to reduce our overburdened prison system," Holder said. "Proposals like the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act would enhance the fairness of our criminal justice system while empowering law enforcement to focus limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety. I look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on these types of common-sense reforms."

Attorney General Holder approves -- and wants more. (usdoj.gov)
Civil liberties and sentencing reform advocates also pronounced themselves pleased at a step in the right direction.

"We commend the Sentencing Commission for taking this important step toward reforming federal drug sentences," said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "This change will save taxpayers money, help to rein in federal prison spending, and bolster the spirits of tens of thousands of federal defendants who are facing impractical and disproportionately long sentences."

"Our country is slowly but steadily reversing the damage done by the failed, racially biased war on drugs," said Jesselyn McCurdy, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "The actions taken by the Sentencing Commission today are another positive move toward reducing unnecessarily long sentences that have led to bloated, overcrowded prisons. Our criminal justice system is smarter, fairer, and more humane than it was a year ago, and we need to make sure momentum continues in the right direction."

"This is a terrific, if modest, first step toward genuine sentencing reform for drug offenders," said Mary Price, legal counsel for FAMM and an expert on the Sentencing Commission. "The next step is for Congress to pick up where the Commission left off by passing the Smarter Sentencing Act."

But first, Congress must allow the USSC recommendations to become law. The drug quantity table amendment, along with others approved by the commission, will go to Congress in May. Barring legislative objections, the new guidelines will become law on November 1, 2014.

Unless USSC votes to make the new guidelines retroactive, they will impact only those defendants sentenced after November 1. The commission voted Thursday to conduct a prison impact study before voting on retroactivity.

Chronicle AM -- April 11, 2014

A DC marijuana legalization initiative is about to start signature-gathering, we have a trio of state pot polls, the US Sentencing Commission moves to cut drug sentences, German criminal law professors call for marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Signature Gathering to Get Underway. Signature gathering for the District of Columbia marijuana legalization initiative will begin April 23, the DC Cannabis Campaign said this week. The campaign needs 25,000 valid signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot. An Alaska legalization initiative has already qualified for the ballot there; DC and Oregon now look like the best chances for more legalization initiatives qualifying for the ballot this year.

Louisiana Poll Has Support for Legalization at 44%. The 2014 Louisiana Survey has support for marijuana legalization at 44%, with 54% opposed. Support for medical marijuana was much higher, at 79%. The survey is conducted annually by the Public Policy Research Lab, or PPRL, and sponsored by the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs in the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication.

New Hampshire Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. There is solid majority support for legalization in the Granite State. A new WMUR Granite State Poll found found 55% of adults in the state support legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal recreational use. Only 38% oppose legalization. Support for legalization is up seven points in the last 14 months.

Rhode Island Poll Has Support for Legalization at 48%. More Rhode Islanders support legalization than oppose, but it doesn't quite have majority support just yet, according to a new Brown University poll. The survey has 47.6% supporting legalization, with 39.3% opposed.

Rhode Island Report Says State Could Generate Tens of Millions in Legal Marijuana Tax Revenue. Maybe this will get those poll numbers up. A new report from Open Doors, a local criminal justice reform group, estimates that if the state were to pass a tax and regulate legalization bill, it could gain between $21.5 and $82 million in annual tax revenues. A legal marijuana industry would also create hundreds of new jobs in the state, the report found.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Senate Committee Hearing, No Action Taken. The Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing held a hearing Thursday on a bill that would allow qualified patients to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and buy it from a dispensary. But the committee took no action on Senate File 1641, tabling it until legislators return from the Easter/Passover break.

Tennessee Senate Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Study Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved a CBD medical marijuana study bill. The measure would authorize a limited, four-year study of the effectiveness of cannabis oil on certain types of intractable seizures. A vote is pending in the House.

Drug Policy

Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network Convention To Address Drug War. The largest civil rights convention of the year has the war on drugs on its agenda. A panel called "Up in Smoke: Banning of Menthol, Legalization of Marijuana & Criminalization of African Americans" will address racial justice and the war on drugs Saturday. The convention started Wednesday and continues through Monday. Click on the link for all the details.

Salvia Divinorum

Rhode Island Bill to Ban Salvia Divinorum, Jimson Weed Advances. A bill that would ban the hallucinogenic drugs salvia divinorum and jimson weed has passed the House. House Bill 7191, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-Providence) seeks to target unregulated substances by prohibiting them. It now goes to the state Senate.

Law Enforcement

Maine Drug War Enhancement Bill Passes House. The House approved an amended version of Gov. Paul LePage's (R) bill to respond to drug problems in the state by increasing drug law enforcement. Legislative Document 1811 was amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to add funding for drug treatment and reduce the number of new drug agents, prosecutors and judges to be hired, but is still opposed by groups like the ACLU of Maine. The bill now moves to the Senate.

NYPD's Most Sued Narc Is Off the Streets. Detective Peter Valentin of Bronx Narcotics is off the streets. Valentin, who has been sued at least 28 times since 2006, and three of his colleagues have been placed on modified duty after an Internal Affair Bureau investigation for taking part in drug raids "of dubious merit." The city has already paid out at least $884,000 to settle lawsuits sparked by Valentin's misbehavior, including a case where a nursing mother spent a week on Rikers Island after Valentin arrested her for drug possession even though she truthfully stated that the powder he found in her home was powdered eggshells, not drugs. Dozens of cases in which Valentin and his crew were involved are now in jeopardy.

Collateral Sanctions

Missouri Could End Lifetime Food Stamp Ban for Drug Offenders. Missouri is one of only 10 states that have not opted out of a lifetime federal ban on food stamps for people with drug felonies, but that could change this year. A bill to end the ban, Senate Bill 680, passed the Senate last week and appears to have bipartisan support in the House. Bill sponsor Sen. Kiki Curls (D-Kansas City) said she accepted amendments imposing some restrictions -- retaining the ban for three-time drug felons, requiring a one-year wait for eligibility -- as necessary to move the bill forward.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Votes to Reduce Guidelines for Drug Sentences. The US Sentencing Commission voted Thursday to reduce sentencing guidelines for certain people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. The amendment would reduce the average sentence for drug traffickers by 11 months, by lowering the drug sentencing guidelines two levels. Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed the change during testimony before the commission last month. The amendment will go to Congress for its approval on May 1. Congress has six months to introduce and pass legislation to stop the proposed changes before they become law on November 1.

International

German Criminal Law Professors Call for Marijuana Legalization. Over 120 German professors of criminal law are supporting an initiative to legalize cannabis. They have called on the Bundestag to discuss the issue. The professors are part of the "Schildow Circle," founded two years ago by Lorenz Bollinger, professor emeritus of criminal law at Bremen University. Prime Minister Angela Merkel's coalition is skeptical.

Denmark Opens More Safe Injection Sites. Denmark's first safe injection site for hard drug users opened in October 2012. Now there are three in Copenhagen and at least one in each of Denmark's main cities. They have never had a fatal drug overdose on site.

Mexico Intra-Cartel Clashes Leave 28 Dead. At least 28 people have been killed in clashes between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel in northeastern Tamaulipas state since last weekend. Authorities described the fighting as "clashes or score-settling between criminal groups." The fighting comes after the February arrest of local Gulf Cartel leader Javier Garza, "El comandante 14."

Drug Bill in Australia's Capital Territory Will Ban New Drugs, Adjust Quantities That Trigger Dealing Charges. Under legislation proposed yesterday, Australia's Capital Territory (greater Canberra) will increase the quantity of drugs needed to trigger trafficking charges in a bid to separate out users from dealers. The amount of Ecstasy needed to trigger such charges would double, while the amount of cocaine would triple. The bill would also deal with new synthetic drugs by banning them, instead of regulating them, as neighboring New Zealand has done.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana remains on the agenda at statehouses across the country, Oregon communities decide whether to bother with temporary dispensary moratoriums, DC looks to expand its medical marijuana program, and more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, medical marijuana advocates began a recall effort against state Sen. Kimberly Yee for blocking funding of a study of marijuana as a treatment for PTSD in veterans. The Phoenix NORML affiliate and the Arizona Veterans Assistance Committee have undertaken a campaign to make the Phoenix Republican pay a price. They'll need to collect 18,297 signatures from Legislative District 20 by August 2.

California

Last Thursday, a district judge upheld Bakersfield's ordinance banning dispensaries. A group called Concerned Citizens for Bakersfield had filed a lawsuit to block it, arguing that the city hadn't complied with environmental requirements, but the judge wasn't buying it.

Also last Thursday, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano reintroduced his medical marijuana regulation bill. The San Francisco Democrat's new bill is Assembly Bill 1894. The previous version, Assembly Bill 604 had been pending in the Senate. The major change is the addition of language authorizing limited local transaction and use taxes.

Connecticut

Last Thursday, Connecticut picked locations for six dispensaries. The state Consumer Protection Commissioner announced that facilities in Branford, Bridgeport, Bristol, Hartford, South Windsor and Uncasville had been authorized by the state's medical marijuana program to dispense Connecticut-produced marijuana products.

District of Columbia

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana expansion bill was filed. The bill, sponsored by Councilmembers Yvette Alexander and David Grosso, would permit doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients suffering from any condition for which it provides medical benefits. Patients would then be allowed to apply to the Department of Health for acceptance in the District's medical marijuana program. All 13 members of the council are now cosponsors.

Illinois

Last Wednesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the Senate. The bill would allow children to use high-CBD cannabis oil to treat epilepsy. Filed by Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), Senate Bill 2636 now heads for the House.

Maryland

On Monday, the state legislature passed a medical marijuana expansion bill. The bill would create 15 licenses for medical marijuana growers. The measure is Senate Bill 963. It also would allow dispensaries to operate and let growers sell the medicine directly. Passage of the bill into law would make Maryland a full-fledged medical marijuana state.

Minnesota

Last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters unleashed TV ads attacking Gov. Dayton for opposing medical marijuana. An aggressive TV ad targeted the DFL governor after he told a St. Paul mother and her seizure-ridden child to just find medical marijuana on the street!

On Tuesday, medical marijuana supporters tried to attach their stalled bill to a broader health bill. A standalone bill, House File 1818, has been stuck in committee, but supporters plan to propose it as an amendment to a separate health bill. The vote will come after the legislature returns from spring break later this month.

Missouri

On Tuesday, a House committee approved a CBD medical marijuana bill. The bill would permit use of "hemp extract" with little THC and high CBD. Patients would need to have epilepsy that a neurologist has determined is not responding to at least three treatment options. The bill is House Bill 2238, and it has the support of the Republican House leadership.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, a patient sued NJ Transit for denying him a job. A former New Jersey Transit worker and medical marijuana patient who was denied a new position with the agency after testing positive for marijuana is suing in hopes of seeing marijuana recognized as a legitimate medication. Charlie Davis, 57, said he was denied both safety sensitive and non-safety sensitive positions with the agency. Courts in other medical marijuana states have generally upheld the rights of employers to fire workers who use medical marijuana even if it is legal.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, supporters rallied as a Senate committee considered a home cultivation bill. The measure, House Bill 1622, would allow two mature plants per patient, and the authorization would be only until a licensed cannabis dispensary opens within 30 miles of their residence.

Oregon

On Monday, the Newport city council enacted a moratorium on dispensaries. The council said the moratorium would remain until it could get rules and regulations in place, probably a few months. By state law, the moratorium must end by May 1, 2015.

Also on Monday, the Springfield city council rejected a moratorium on dispensaries. Other Lane County communities, including Florence, Junction City and Oakridge have approved one-year bans. Lane County and Veneta considered but decided against imposing moratoriums.

On Tuesday, the Coburg city council approved a moratorium on dispensaries.

South Carolina

Last Wednesday, the House passed a CBD medical marijuana bill. The bill allows people suffering from severe epilepsy to legally use CBD cannabis oil to control their seizures. House Bill 4803 is less restrictive than a Senate measure passed last week. It's unclear what happens next.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up More GOP Cosponsors

A sentencing reform measure pending in Congress has picked up more support from four more Republican members of the House this month. The Smarter Sentencing Act (House Resolution 3382/Senate Bill 1410) now has 26 cosponsors, including 10 Republicans. The Senate version of the bill was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in January.

The bill, which is supported by the administration, would direct federal judges to not sentence some drug offenders to mandatory minimum sentences, reduces mandatory minimum sentences for other drug offenders, and applies the more lenient crack cocaine sentencing scheme under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act to crack offenders sentenced before it was passed.

It also calls on the US Sentencing Commission to amend its sentencing guidelines and policy statements for drug offenders to minimize federal prison overcrowding and reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing, but at the same time directs that "penalties for violent and serious drug traffickers who present public safety risks remain appropriately severe."

The act is currently before the House Judiciary Committee. Bill sponsor Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) recently held a Republican Study Committee session on the bill, which resulted in four new GOP members signing on in one day.

The new cosponsors are Reps. Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Mark Sanford (R-SC), and Chris Stewart (R-UT). For a complete list of sponsors, click here.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- April 9, 2014

Attorney General Holder was on the pot-seat in Congress yesterday, New Jersey's legalization bill looks to have an uphill battle with public opinion, there's a psychedelic conference in Massachusetts this weekend, Uruguay is going to give medical marijuana to prisoners, and more. Let's get to it:

Trip the light fantastic at a conference on psychedelics at UMass-Amherst this weekend. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Holder Defends Administration Response to Marijuana, But Refuses to Go Further. Facing critics from both sides of the debate, Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday defended the administration's rather laissez-faire approach to marijuana legalization at the state level, but declined to go further to please reform supporters by taking executive branch action to reschedule the herb. He was appearing before the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link for more details and some of the repartee.

GOP Congressman Calls for Republicans to Nominate Presidential Candidate With States' Rights Position on Marijuana. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said Tuesday that the Republican Party should field a presidential candidate who supports states' rights to legalize marijuana -- as part of a broader states' rights agenda that also includes scrapping the Department of Education. "I think we ought to look for a presidential candidate who will make that part of his message," he said. "Just transfer it all to the states. Now this government would have nothing to do with education, and how about, from now on, drug laws are considered criminal matters, which is what our Founding Fathers had in mind, and that is up to the states." Rohrabacher also claimed (rather fancifully, unfortunately) that "Reagan did not want to put people in jail. He did not want to militarize our county in order to stop people from smoking weed."

Poll Finds New Jersey Evenly Split on Legalization, Less Support for Actual Bill. A new Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll has support for legalizing small amounts of marijuana at 48%, with 47% opposed. But when asked specifically about supporting a pot legalization bill, Senate Bill 1896, recently introduced by Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Middlesex), only 36% were in favor, with 49% opposed. "Obviously, New Jerseyans are really split on the idea of legalizing marijuana and are unsure about the specifics of the Scutari proposal," said Patrick Murray, director of the polling institute.

Medical Marijuana

Supporters Rally as New Hampshire Senate Considers Home Cultivation. Supporters of cannabis for therapeutic use are rallying in Concord this morning behind a bill that would allow for a limited home cultivation of marijuana plants for qualifying patients. The bill, House Bill 1622, would allow two mature plants per patient, and the authorization would be only until a licensed cannabis dispensary opens within 30 miles of their residence.

Missouri House Committee Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. A Missouri House committee has advanced legislation allowing the use of a cannabis extract by people whose epilepsy is not relieved by other treatments. House Bill 2238 passed the House General Laws Committee and is now set for a hearing in the House Rules Committee tomorrow.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription Drug Monitoring Bill Derailed in Oklahoma. A bill that would require doctors to check their patients' drug histories before writing narcotic prescriptions was derailed Tuesday by a House committee chairman, but sponsors expressed hope they could keep the issue alive. Rep. David Derby, chairman of the House Public Health Committee, would not let the bill be heard Tuesday during his panel's last scheduled meeting before a deadline for committee approval. He said he was concerned about several elements of the bill, including a provision that could allow the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to fine physicians $2,000 for failing to check the online Prescription Monitoring Program. The measure is House Bill 3030.

Psychedelics

Psychedelic Conference This Weekend at UMass-Amherst. Psychedelic and research and policy experts will speak on issues relating to the role of psychedelics in culture, medicine and science at the Psymposium 2014: The Nature of Psychedelics conference. The conference will be held at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst on April 12 & 13 and is open to the public. Click on the link for all the details.

Law Enforcement

Another Lawsuit Filed Against Crooked Suburban Chicago Cops. Another lawsuit has been filed against the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg and three of its former undercover tactical narcotics officers, who have been accused of selling illegal drugs they seized from dealers. Xavier Neodina filed the suit Monday in federal court claiming police used falsified information to get a search warrant for his home, that he was then arrested and sexually assaulted while being held in the Cook County Jail, and the officers "intentionally schemed and worked together" to set him up. This is the fourth lawsuit filed against Schaumburg and its crooked cops. At least a dozen people convicted of drug offenses have been cleared of charges. One of the cops has been sentenced to 12 years in prison, while two others face trial later this month.

International

Uruguay to Provide Prisoners with Medical Marijuana. Prisoners in the jails of Uruguay will be able to use marijuana if a doctor says it will benefit their health. Uruguay's drug czar, Julio Calzada, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that any inmates with doctors' orders will be prescribed marijuana to improve their physical or mental health.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Another jail guard dope smuggler, another cop with a pain pill problem, another cop brought down by a sting, another cop selling cocaine, and yet another cop smuggling cocaine. Ho-hum. Just another week of drug war police corruption. Let's get to it:

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Tulsa police officer was arrested last Thursday on multiple charges after getting caught up in a Tulsa Police sting operation. Officer Tyrone Jenkins, 40, took payments from an undercover officer and agreed to provide confidential information. He also allegedly attempted to sell cocaine. He is charged with two counts of violating the Computer Crimes Act, two counts of bribery, and one count of Attempted Intent to Deliver an Illegal Narcotic. He's looking at up to more than 50 years in prison.

In Concord, California, a Concord police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he was stealing prescription drugs from senior citizens. Officer Matthew Switzer, 38, a 12-year veteran, went down after a tipster contacted police about his alleged thievery. He allegedly took drugs from at least residents at a local senior housing complex. He is charged with two counts of first-degree burglary and one count each of second-degree burglary, fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs and elder abuse. His attorney says he's strung out on pain pills from an on-duty injury. He has since resigned from the force.

In Bryan, Texas, a Brazos County jail guard was arrested last Friday for smuggling drugs and tobacco into the jail. Cody Allan Jones admitted accepting a total of $1,100 to smuggle pouches of tobacco into the facility, but said he didn't know there was Ecstasy inside the pouches. He was booked into his place of employment, but bailed out the next day.

In Miami, a Miami-Dade police internal affairs lieutenant was arrested Tuesday on charges he was helping cocaine traffickers. Lt. Ralph Mata is accused of protecting cocaine smugglers, buying them firearms, doling out sensitive law enforcement intelligence, and even concocting a plot to murder rivals. The 22-year veteran, allegedly known as "The Milk Man," is portrayed as a key player in a smuggling ring that moved cocaine in produce pallets from countries including Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. Click on the link for more juicy details.

In Greenbelt, Maryland, a former Prince Georges County police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to 10 years in federal prison for his role in a conspiracy to sell cocaine and untaxed cigarettes. Sinisa Simic pleaded guilty in 2011 to cocaine trafficking, extortion and firearm offenses. He admitted protecting the sale and transport of multiple shipments of contraband cigarettes in Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere. He was one of 10 people, including two other police officers, enveloped in a corruption probe in the county.

Southern California Schoolgirl Killed in Drug-Related Police Pursuit

A 12-year-old Orange County girl was killed last week when a driver fleeing police seeking to apprehend him on drug and weapons warrants crashed into her family's car. Vivian Nguyen becomes the 14th person to die so far this year in US domestic drug law enforcement operations.

According to The Orange County Register, citing police sources, Westminster Police were chasing a Chevy Suburban driven by Aleksandr Apostoloic, 26, who was wanted on narcotics trafficking and weapons warrants, last Thursday afternoon when the Suburban slammed broadside into a minivan carrying Nguyen's family.

Vivian Nguyen died that same night. Her brother William, 13, is hospitalized in critical condition, and her mother, Helen, is in serious condition. Both are expected to recover.

Apostoloic was arrested midnight Thursday on suspicion of murder, assault with a deadly weapon and felony evasion, as well as the warrants for drug trafficking and weapons violations.

Twelve uninvolved bystanders died in police pursuits in California in 2012, the last year for which data is available. A 2006 law requires law enforcement agencies to implement pursuit policies and yearly training or lose their immunity to lawsuits related to pursuit injuries or damages. It was not reported whether the Westminster Police have done so.

Westminster, CA
United States

Chronicle AM -- April 8, 2014

The Maryland legislature passed both medical marijuana and decriminalization bills as the session ended in Annapolis, Colorado pot tax revenues aren't as high as the governor thought, the maker of the new opiate pain reliever Zohydro fights a state ban in Massachusetts, and more. Let's get to it:

Minnesota family with epileptic child testifies in favor of medical marijuana bill there. (MN House/Andrew von Bank)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Decriminalization Bill Passes, Governor Will Sign. A decriminalization bill has now passed the legislature in Annapolis, and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) says he will sign it. Senate Bill 364 decriminalizes up to 10 grams of marijuana for adults 21 and over. A first offense will result in only a $100 citation. A second offense will result in just a $250 fine, but a third offense would require an appearance in court and possibly drug treatment.

Maine Drug War Bill Could Result in Marijuana Legalization Referendum. Gov. Paul LePage (R) recently introduced Legislative Document 1811, a bill that would deal with the state's drug problems by adding more cops and prosecutors. The bill has run into serious opposition in the legislature, but now, two members, Sen. David Dutremble (D-Arundel) and Rep. Corey Wilson (R-Augusta) have crafted a compromise in committee that includes enforcement against high-level traffickers, increased funding for addiction treatment, and a referendum to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana put before Maine voters in 2015. The compromise is known as the "Dutrumble/Wilson minority report" and should be coming up for a vote soon.

Colorado Governor Scales Back Marijuana Tax Revenue Estimate. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) estimated in February that the state would take in $134 million in legal marijuana taxes this year, but has now cut that estimate by more than $20 million, citing uncertainty in the market. Legislative analysts predicted last month that revenues for the year would be only $65 million. The first $40 million from excise taxes has already been designated for school construction; any remaining money will be appropriated by lawmakers.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Maryland House and Senate reached final agreement Monday on a bill that would create 15 licenses for medical marijuana growers. The measure is Senate Bill 963. It also would allow dispensaries to operate and let growers sell the medicine directly. Passage of the bill into law would make Maryland a full-fledged medical marijuana state.

Arizona Politician Faces Recall Over Blocking Medical Marijuana Research. Medical marijuana opponent Sen. Kimberly Yee (R-Phoenix) blocked funding of a study of marijuana as a treatment for PTSD in veterans. Now, activists want her to pay a price. The Phoenix NORML affiliate and the Arizona Veterans Assistance Committee have undertaken a campaign to recall Yee. They'll need to collect 18,297 signatures from Legislative District 20 by August 2.

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Supporters Try to Attach Bill to Broader Health Bill. Medical marijuana is not dead yet this year in Minnesota. A standalone bill, House File 1818, has been stalled, but supporters plan to propose it as an amendment to a separate health bill. The vote could come as early as tomorrow.

CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Could Move in Missouri. A bill that would allow the use of CBD cannabis oil by people with epileptic seizures appears to have the support of key Republicans. House Bill 2238 is backed by the Republican House speaker, majority leader, and Democratic leaders. It is also supported by a Republican senator whose son has epilepsy.

Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Filed in District of Columbia. Councilmembers Yvette Alexander and David Gross have filed a bill that would expand medical marijuana access in the nation's capitol. The bill would permit doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients suffering from any condition for which it provides medical benefits. Patients would then be allowed to apply to the Department of Health for acceptance in the District's medical marijuana program. Under current law, only patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, or glaucoma are eligible for the program.

Law Enforcement

Postal Service Seizing More Pot Packages. The US Postal Inspection Service reports that it seized 9,100 parcels containing marijuana last year, up from 7,600 in 2012, a 20% increase. The poundage seized is also up, from 42,000 pounds in 2012 to 45,000 pounds last year. Inspectors aren't sure whether it's increased resort to pot-shipping in an era of drug-hunting troopers and deputies or better enforcement -- or both -- that is responsible for the increase. Marijuana accounted for more than two-thirds (68%) of all drug-laden packages seized.

Prescription Opiates

Zohydro Maker Sues to Block Massachusetts Ban. Zogeniz, the manufacturer of the recently approved hydrocodone drug Zohydro, filed suit Monday in federal court in Massachusetts to block the state from banning it. Zogenix seeks a temporary injunction to block an executive order from Gov. Deval Patrick (D). Patrick acted to ban Zohydro as part of a public health emergency he declared in response to growing heroin and opiate addiction in the state, saying it should be banned "until [it is] determined that adequate measures are in place to safeguard against the potential for diversion, overdose, and misuse." But the ban is an "impermissible" effort by the state to set its own prescription drug policy, Zogenix argued. "It impedes the FDA's Congressional mandate to approve a range of safe treatments to promote the public health." A hearing was set or this afternoon. Stay tuned.

International

Jamaican National Council on Drug Abuse Supports Ganja Decriminalization. Jamaica's National Council on Drug Abuse supports decriminalization in the island nation -- provided there are protections for young people. "The position of the NCDA is that, given the reality on the ground, the historical use, and certainly for medical purposes, [and the fact that] the majority of the country feel that it should be decriminalized, we certainly support the approval of medicinal marijuana in Jamaica. We also think that we should consider looking at decriminalizing for private personal use and also for religious purposes," Abel said. Just keep it away from the kids, he said.

The Corruption Files: Camden's Dirty Cops [FEATURE]

Special to Drug War Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com. Part 9 of his continuing series on Prosecutorial Misconduct and Police Corruption in Drug Cases Across America.

Camden, New Jersey. Tough times in a tough town. (wikimedia.org/adam jones)
A Day in the Life in Camden

August 2, 2008 was a typical summer day in Camden, New Jersey, a gritty, impoverished, mostly black community across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. A bright sun beamed down on the sweltering city as Joel Barnes, 26, prepared to attend a family barbecue at his grandmother's house -- a regular event for the Barnes family, where they relaxed and reminisced about days gone by. He had hurried over to a friend's house to get his help situating the barbecue pit and sprucing up Barnes's grandmother's back yard before the festivities.

But as he arrived at his friend's house, Barnes encountered heavily-armed Camden police officers rushing into the house with guns drawn shouting "Police! Police! Police!" and demanding "Where's the drugs?" Barnes and the other occupants of the house were herded into the kitchen, where Officer Robert Bayard handcuffed him. Bayard pulled a cell phone, cash and keys from Barnes's pocket. They found no drugs or contraband on him, so he figured he would be released once everything was settled.

It didn't work out that way.

[Editor's Note: All quotes from Camden residents come from The Philadelphia Inquirer unless otherwise specified.]

Another Camden cop, Officer Antonio Figueroa, led Barnes out of the house and threw him into a van, then left. When Figueroa returned to the van, he again demanded of Barnes "Where's the shit at?"

"I don't know if there's drugs in that house. I don't live here," an increasingly scared and nervous Barnes replied, explaining that he was only there to ask his friend for help with the barbecue pit. Barnes said in a nervous tone voice.

Figueroa then showed Barnes a bag containing PCP-laced marijuana and made him an ominous offer: "Tell us where the shit's at, and we'll make this disappear," Figueroa said, echoing the famous line in Training Day when the crooked cop played by Denzel Washington asks a suspect in a similar situation, "Do you want to go home… or go to jail?"

With Barnes continuing his denials, Officer Figueroa grew angry, telling him "The drugs in the bag carried more serious charges than any drugs that might be found in the house." Figueroa then told Barnes he could get a lesser prison sentence if just told police where in his friend's house the drugs were.

"I don't know nothing about drugs in the house," Barnes responded, pleading to be let go.

Officers Figueroa and Bayard continued to tag-team the young man, with Bayard repeatedly demanding "Where's the shit?" and Figueroa waving the mysteriously appearing bag of dope and telling Barnes "This is yours!"

"That bag's not mine," a desperate Barnes repeatedly protested.

Then, Officer Figueroa again returned to the van, yelling, "We found the shit! You're going to jail!"

Figueroa charged Barnes with possession of drugs with intent to deliver, and added on a drug-free zone enhancement charge. Despite bitterly protesting his innocence, Barnes was looking at up to life in prison if he went to trial. Figuring that a jury was more likely to believe a veteran police officer than a young black man from Camden, he agreed to a plea bargain.

On February 23, 2009, he copped to one count of drug possession within a school zone. Two months later, he began serving a five-year prison sentence.

"I felt helpless and didn't know what to do," Barnes said, recalling the experience. "I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, but all I knew was that the officers had the power and I had none."

"Joel told his lawyer he was innocent, and he didn't believe him; he told his mother he was innocent, and she didn't believe him. That must have been devastating, but the scope of the police misconduct was so dramatic that it was hard for an outsider to believe that police would do anything so outrageous," Alexander Shalom, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union told the Chronicle.

But Barnes was innocent. And he was not the only one to fall victim to what would eventually be exposed as a massive police corruption scandal in Camden.

There is unintended irony in Camden County's police recruitment campaign. (camdencountypd.org)
Taking Down the Platoon Squad

While Barnes -- and nearly 200 other innocent victims -- went off to prison thanks to the efforts of Bayard, Figueroa and their team, known as the Platoon Squad, other people victimized by the crooked cops were filing complaints. After repeated, persistent complaints of police dirty dealing, including ones from the Camden Public Defender's Office, Camden Police Internal Affairs and the FBI opened an investigation.

That investigation revealed a wide-ranging police corruption scheme that would have made the crooked cops in Training Day blush. In that film, Denzel Washington was a low-down dirty cop who framed the innocent and stole drug money. In Camden, he would have been just one of the boys.

The investigation resulted in the indictment of five members of the Platoon Squad on a variety of civil rights violation charges involving perjury and drug-planting conspiracies, as well as stealing money from suspects during illegal searches and making false arrests. The FBI even uncovered information that the brazen officers used illegal drugs and money stolen from suspected drug dealers and never reported to pay street snitches and prostitutes for information.

Platoon Squad Sergeant Supervisor Dan Morris pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deprive defendants of their civil rights and got eight months in federal prison; Officer Kevin Perry copped to the same charge and got 20 months, while Officer Jason "Fat Face" Stetser got 46 months on the same charge.

Only officers Bayard and Figueroa went to trial. To the shock of prosecutors and defendants alike, Bayard managed to beat the rap despite fellow officers testifying that he knowingly participated in the drug planting scheme. But Figueroa was found guilty and sent to prison for 10 years, the toughest sentence for any of the Platoon Squad.

Joel Barnes and ACLU attorney Alex Shalom discuss his case. (ACLU-NJ/Amanda Brown)
Payback Time

Criminal convictions for the Platoon Squad were just part one of the fallout. Part two came as the ACLU filed a federal class action civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the wrongfully convicted Camden residents.

"If any action by a police officer shocks the conscience, it is the planting of evidence on an innocent person in order to arrest him," the ACLU noted. "The police officers' actions violated the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits civil rights violations, and through their own actions or the lack of policies and supervision the Camden police officers conspired to plant drugs and falsely arrested the defendants for planted drugs and further provided the prosecutors with faulty evidence."

In January 2013, just as the criminal cases against the Platoon Squad were winding down, the city of Camden settled. The city agreed to pay out $3.5 million to be split between the 88 drug defendants who had joined the class action lawsuit. Joel Barnes was one of them. The innocent men served a combined total of 109 years in prison prior to being released.

The city of Camden also eventually settled a separate state civil rights lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of 11 people who were framed by the same rogue cops, but whose cases were dropped. That was another $390,000 in taxpayer money gone. In that case, Camden had to sue its own insurer, which had refused to pay the historic settlement.

ACLU attorney Shalom told the Chronicle the drug planting scheme was the worst and most brazen he had seen in many years.

"We often hear about it, but we were shocked it was so provable in this case," he said.

Shalom noted that even though many of the innocent defendants had had private counsel, they still pleaded guilty to false charges.

"A lot of things account for those decisions, not the least of which is that drug sentencing laws are so harsh that if they hadn't pleaded guilty they were facing insanely long sentences," he explained.

Rogue Cops in the Hood

The Platoon Squad considered Camden's Waterfront neighborhood, where most of the illegal arrests went down, as their fiefdom, where the only rules that mattered were their rules. "Drug dealers live here, but we run it," they reportedly told residents.

"Fat Face" Stetser admitted to the FBI in 2008 that he and three other officers arrested two people on suspicion of drug trafficking and planted drugs on them. This in a warrantless search of a residence where Stetser and his buddies falsely claimed the "suspect" they targeted had fled the scene and discarded the drugs as he tried to escape. That didn't happen. Stetser also admitted planting additional drugs on people found with small amounts of dope so they could be charged with more serious crimes.

Similarly, Sergeant Morris confessed to conducting a warrantless search where he stole cash and drugs, splitting the cash with Stetser.

Likewise, although Officer Bayard was found not guilty at trial, evidence showed that he wrote a report accusing Ron Mills, 46, of throwing a bag of drugs on the ground and eluding police after a foot chase. Bayard's report proved false because Mills weighed over 300 pounds and always walked slowly with a cane.

Another victim of false arrest was Anthony Darrell Clark, who was arrested on drug charges. Described as "slow" and emotionally disturbed, Clark was eventually released back to the care of his mother after the scandal broke.

"I always thought he was framed," Vera Clark told The Inquirer.

Benjamin Davis was another. He served his full 30 months before coming home. He said he pleaded guilty rather than fighting for justice because he didn't think he would be believed.

"With my priors I had no chance of beating it," he said.

Beaten down Waterfront residents had known for years they were being hassled by dirty cops, but never believed they could do anything about it. Seeing the Platoon Squad get what was coming to it was sweet.

"These were the dirtiest cops I've ever seen," said area resident Kevin Smith.

And Joel Barnes? He was languishing in prison when his mother read in the newspaper about the indictments against the Platoon Squad. He retrieved his court file and confirmed that the cops who had jacked him up were among the indicted. He sought succor from the court and from the Public Defender's office, but got nowhere. It was only when the ACLU stepped up with its lawsuit, that Barnes saw belated justice. He walked out of prison on June 8, 2010, after spending more than a year behind bars on false charges.

Meanwhile, of the Platoon Squad, only Figueroa remains in prison, and he has appealed his conviction. The others have gone on to start new lives, hopefully in positions where they will not be empowered to subvert the law and destroy the lives of others.

Police corruption not only shatters the lives of the falsely accused and convicted, it destroys respect for the law and the people who enforce it. In the case of Camden, the war on drugs provided both the pretext and the opportunity for bad cops to tarnish not only the reputation of their police force and their city, but also to cruelly wreck the lives of innocents.

Camden, NJ
United States

Chronicle AM -- April 7, 2014

Talk about unintended consequences! Faced with a declining US market share, Mexican marijuana farmers are switching to opium poppies. Plus, AG Holder has some words about rescheduling, the Maryland decrim bill is back from the dead, it looks like 2016 for California legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

With declining US market share, Mexican marijuana farmers are switching to poppies. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Holder Says Obama Administration "Willing to Work" With Congress to Reschedule Marijuana. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that the Obama administration would be willing to work with Congress if lawmakers want to reschedule marijuana. Holder did not mention that the administration, and he personally, already have the statutory authority to reschedule marijuana, without needing further permission from Congress. Either way, recategorizing marijuana would not legalize the drug under federal law, but it could ease restrictions on research into marijuana's medical benefits and allow marijuana businesses to take the usual tax deductions, e.g. not pay taxes on money that has been paid out for things like rent or payroll. "We'd be more than glad to work with Congress if there is a desire to look at and reexamine how the drug is scheduled, as I said there is a great degree of expertise that exists in Congress," Holder said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing. "It is something that ultimately Congress would have to change, and I think that our administration would be glad to work with Congress if such a proposal were made." 

Okay, There Will Be No California Legalization Initiative This Year. Proponents of the last two California marijuana legalization initiatives still alive this year have thrown in the towel. Dave Hodges, proponent of the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act (MCLR) announced today that it will not meet an April 18 signature-gathering deadline, while Berton Duzy, proponent for the revived California Cannabis Hemp Initiative (CCHI), which has received a signature-gathering extension, conceded that "We're not going to make 2014." In California, it's now all eyes on 2016.

Maryland Decriminalization Returns from the Dead, Passes House. Defying a powerful committee chairman who tried to derail a decriminalization bill by turning it into a study bill, House delegates Saturday passed House Bill 879 by a vote of 78-55. Final procedural votes on both measures are expected today, the last day of the session.

Delaware Governor "Willing to Discuss" Softer Marijuana Penalties. Gov. Jack Markell (D) is "willing to discuss" changes that would reduce penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to a spokesman for the governor. "The governor has supported making marijuana available for medical purposes and DHSS expects to license a dispensary that can open in Delaware this year," Markell spokesman Jonathon Dworkin said in a statement. "The governor is willing to discuss changing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana from jail sentences to just fines, but he would not support full legalization at this time without further studies and evidence of its consequences."

Thousands Rally at Annual Ann Arbor Hash Bash. An estimated 8,000 people gathered at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for the 42nd annual Hash Bash over the weekend. Police warned that people who toked up could get arrested, but that didn't seem to stop anybody. As The Detroit Free Press noted, "the event's usual plume of smoke hung over the crowd."

University of Colorado Will Close the Campus Again for 4/20. University of Colorado officials will close the Boulder campus on April 20 for the third straight year to prevent thousands of celebrants from marking the stoner holiday on campus. From noon to 6:00pm on April 20, CU faculty, students and staff will be required to show identification to enter campus. Officials brushed aside student complaints.

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Appeals Court Upholds Local Ban on Collective Gardens. The Washington Court of Appeals last week upheld the city of Kent's ban on medical marijuana collective gardens, ruling that the ordinance is not preempted by state law. The case is Cannabis Action Coalition et al. v. City of Kent et al.

Hemp

Nebraska Governor Signs Hemp Research Bill. Gov. Dave Heineman (R) last week signed into law Legislative Bill 100, which allows University of Nebraska campuses to grow hemp for research purposes. This is the first such bill to pass since Congress authorized search research when it accepted a hemp amendment to the omnibus agriculture bill this fiscal year.

Drug Testing

Michigan Suspicion-Based Welfare Drug Testing Bill Polls Well. Suspicion-based drug testing for welfare recipients has broad support across Michigan, a new poll shows. The poll, conducted by Marketing Resource Group, finds that 77% of respondents support legislation that would require the Department of Human Services to test welfare recipients suspected of using drugs, then send recipients with positive tests to rehab. House Bill 4118 has already passed the House and Senate, but was amended in the latter chamber, so it still needs another House floor vote.

Law Enforcement

California Bill Would Create Zero-Tolerance DUID Law. A bill that would make the presence of any detectable amount of any controlled substance, including prescription drugs, evidence of drugged driving has been filed in the Assembly. Assembly Bill 2500, sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Solano) is before the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Colorado Bill Would Make Mere Drug Possession Evidence of Child Endangerment. Under a bill introduced by state Sens. Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood) and Linda Newell (D-Littleton), the mere possession or use of illicit substances would be grounds for a claim of child endangerment. Senate Bill 178 was filed April Fools' Day, but it's no joke.

International

With Declining US Market Share, Mexican Farmers Switch from Marijuana to Opium. With the wholesale price of marijuana falling -- driven in part by decriminalization or legalization in sections of the United States -- Mexican drug farmers are turning away from cannabis and filling their fields with opium poppies, according to this lengthy article from The Washington Post. That means more, cheaper heroin for the US market. Pot farming "isn't worth it anymore," one farmer complained. "I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization." David Shirk, a Mexico researcher at the University of California at San Diego, told The Post, "When you have a product losing value, you diversify, and that's true of any farmer… The wave of opium poppies we're seeing is at least partially driven by changes we're making in marijuana drug policy."

Filipino Drug Warrior Mayor Issues Shoot-to-Kill Order for Cocaine Sellers. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, a man never known for letting human rights get in the way of his war on drugs, has issued a shoot-to-kill order against anyone selling cocaine from eight bricks of the drug still missing after police seized 64 of the one-pound packages. "Once they go out and use or sell them, they will become drug lords. I have a shoot-to-kill order, especially if they resist arrest -- if they do that, we can enforce the shoot-to-kill," Duterte said.

Jamaican Marijuana Growers Association Is Launched. A group of influential Jamaicans gathered Saturday to formally launch an association of supposed future marijuana cultivators as momentum builds toward loosening laws prohibiting pot on the Caribbean island. Some 300 people assembled at a conference center in downtown Kingston to officially launch the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association. Among other things, the group will lobby for creation of a regulated cannabis industry on the tropical island famed for its marijuana cultivation. The government has been making some promising noises about medical marijuana and decriminalization, but there is nothing definite so far.

Police Kill Wisconsin Man in "No Knock" Drug Raid

A Red Cedar, Wisconsin, was shot and killed by police during a February drug raid. Although we didn't catch the story at the time, Dennis Grohn, 32, becomes the 13th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

[Editor's Note: We only saw this story when a new story about Grohn's autopsy results came out. We strive to catch every drug war-related death in the US, but we're only as good as our Google news searches, so we once again implore readers to send us any news of drug war deaths they come across. We may have seen them already, but we may not have, either, and we appreciate your input in our bid to be as comprehensive as possible.]

According to The St. Paul Pioneer Press, citing police sources, members of the Dunn County sheriff's office, the West Central Drug Task Force and Eau Claire County Regional Tactical Team hit Grohn's home with a "no knock" search warrant at 2:00am on February 12.

The details of what happened next are sketchy, but Grohn ended up shot and fatally wounded shortly thereafter. He was pronounced dead in the emergency room of the Mayo Health Clinic.

There is no mention in either the initial accounts of the raid or in the autopsy story of Grohn having or brandishing a weapon. But according to the search warrant, police were looking for weapons, as well as methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, and other indicia of drug sales at his home.

But Dunn County District Attorney James Peterson determined last month that the use of deadly force by the Eau Claire County Regional SWAT team was justified and offered up the following detail:

"According to an investigation done by the State Department of Criminal Investigation, a member of the SWAT team entered Grohn's garage and saw him sitting in a chair. The deputy says Grohn growled and charged him. The men collided, and the deputy shot Grohn once. The two then fell to the floor in a struggle. Another officer told investigators he saw Grohn's hand on the deputy's rifle and that he feared for his own, and the deputy's, life. He then fired one shot at Grohn, killing him. Prior to entering the home the swat team had been advised that this was considered a high risk entry. Grohn had a history of violence toward police officers, weighed 280 pounds, was suspected of having a shotgun and was likely under the influence of meth. Peterson says Grohn was also likely aware he was facing a lengthy prison sentence if he was caught selling meth."
 

The autopsy report on Grohn came out this week, and the Dunn County Medical Examiner's Office said he was "heavily under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of his death," and that the amount of meth in his blood was "near a toxic range." But it wasn't meth that killed Grohn, it was a policeman's gun shot.

Red Cedar, WI
United States

Chronicle AM -- April 4, 2014

Cops like to say they don't make the laws; they merely enforce them, but that wasn't exactly the case today in Louisiana, Oregon, and Washington, DC. Plus, decrim has a last hurrah in Maryland, an Alabama welfare drug testing bill passes, Vermont moves against the new pain reliever Zohydro, and more. Let's get to it:

Politicians worry about the dangers of Zohydro, but they have little to say about its benefits.
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Legislators Try to Revive Decriminalization Bill Today. An effort was underway in Annapolis Friday to revive a decriminalization bill just days after it was scuttled in committee. The effort to revive House Bill 879 is being led by members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who will try to amend the bill on the House floor. It was turned from a decriminalization bill to a study bill earlier this week in the House Criminal Justice Committee, chaired by reform foe Rep. Joe Vallario (D-Prince Georges).

Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Derailed. Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) has pulled his measure to soften marijuana penalties from consideration in the House Criminal Justice Committee after testimony by the head of the Louisiana Sheriffs Association. Association executive director Michael Ranatza said sheriffs fear the bill, House Bill 14, could lead to decriminalization of marijuana. Louisiana has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country.

Oregon State Police Withdraw from Anti-Marijuana Summit. The Oregon State Police have withdrawn from an anti-marijuana conference scheduled for later this month after the police superintendent learned the event is closed to the public. OSP was listed as a cosponsor of the summit, which includes sheriffs from Malheur and Yamhill counties, a Medford police official and law enforcement officials from Colorado, Washington and Arizona, as well as anti-drug reform groups such as Drug Watch International, Save Our Society from Drugs, and the Drug Free America Foundation.

Medical Marijuana

Ammiano Reintroduces California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D) has reintroduced his medical marijuana regulation bill. The new bill is Assembly Bill 1894. The previous version, Assembly Bill 604 had been pending in the Senate. The major change is the addition of language authorizing limited local transaction and use taxes.

Connecticut Picks Locations for Six Dispensaries. Locations for Connecticut's six medical marijuana dispensaries have been selected, the state Consumer Protection Commissioner said Thursday. The facilities in Branford, Bridgeport, Bristol, Hartford, South Windsor and Uncasville were authorized by the state's medical marijuana program to dispense Connecticut-produced marijuana products.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Says Texas Can't Make Drug Tests a Condition for Receiving Unemployment Benefits. The US Labor Department has ruled that Texas cannot enforce a law passed by the Legislature in 2013 which makes passing a drug test a requirement for some workers to get and keep unemployment compensation benefits. The law was watered down by the legislature to cover only people who are in professions where drug testing is a requirement, like truck driving and nursing. The feds say the law as it is written is too vague and it is unclear exactly what workers will qualify.

Alabama Legislature Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The legislature has approved a bill that would require welfare applicants who have a drug conviction in the last five years to undergo drug testing before receiving benefits. People could keep their benefits after one positive drug test. After a second positive, the person would be ineligible for one year. The recipient would be permanently ineligible after a third positive drug test. Senate Bill 63 now goes to the desk of Gov. Robert Bentley (R).

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves Innovative New Device to Reverse Opiate Overdose. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Evzio, a handheld device containing naloxone, designed for lay people to use outside of hospital settings. When activated, the device will give verbal instructions about how to use Evzio to deliver the medication.

Prescription Opiates

Vermont Issues Emergency Rules to Restrict Access to Zohydro. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and state officials announced Thursday that Vermont is moving to restrict access to the new opiate pain reliever Zohydro, the first single-ingredient hydrocodone drug approved for patients in the US. New emergency rules require that prescribers of Zohydro conduct a thorough medical evaluation and risk assessment. This is only the latest move against Zohydro, which was approved by the FDA last fall -- Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) banned it outright earlier this week and a handful of congressmen have called for the FDA to reverse its decision. But Zohydro's maker, Zogenix, said the drug is no more potent than other hydrocodone medications. The company also says it has set up a board of experts to guard against abuse of the drug and that its sales representatives are not being paid based on the volume of sales, but rather on their efforts to ensure prescribers, pharmacists and patients are educated to understand the risks and benefits of extended-release opioids Politicians have been quick to raise the alarm about possible increases in addiction and overdose deaths with Zohydro, but they haven't been nearly as quick to talk about its usefulness in addressing the needs of legitimate pain patients.

Sentencing

Who Wants to Kill Sentencing Reform? No Surprises Here. The Huffington Post reports that law enforcement groups including the National Sheriffs' Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, the National Association of Police Organizations and the Major County Sheriffs' Association are quietly trying to kill a bipartisan bill that would roll back tough mandatory sentences for people convicted of federal drug offenses under legislation passed during the height of America's drug war three decades ago. The bill is the Smarter Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1410), which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. Click the title link for the full story.

New Report Shows Failure of Connecticut's Sentencing Enhancement Drug Free Zones. A new report from the Prison Policy Initiative finds that Connecticut's 1,500-foot sentencing enhancement zones are so pervasive that they blanket almost all urban areas, creating an "urban penalty" that increases the sentence imposed for a given offense simply because it was committed in a city rather than in a town. The report recommends the sentencing enhancement zones be shrunk to 100 feet. This would allow the law to actually create the specially protected places as intended. Connecticut Senate Bill 259, which just passed out of the Judiciary Committee, takes a similar approach and would decrease that size to 200 feet. The report is Reaching too far: How Connecticut's large sentencing enhancement zones miss the mark." You can read it by clicking on the title link.

Drug War Issues

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