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Pedestrian Killed in Drug Investigation Police Chase

An Ohio man walking to his job was struck and killed by a vehicle being driven at high speeds as it was being chased by police doing a drug investigation. Agyasi Ector, 27, becomes the 27th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WDTN 2 TV News, citing law enforcement sources, Trotwood Police began chasing a vehicle "as a result of a drug operation." During the chase, the fleeing vehicle reached speeds of up to 100 mph, Captain John Porter said.

The vehicle crashed on Shiloh Springs Road near Olive Road, where Ector was walking. He was struck by the vehicle and killed.

The two men in the fleeing vehicle, who have not yet been identified, were treated for non-life-threatening injuries at a local hospital. Police said they face possible charges of murder and felonious assault.

Captain Porter said that despite the fatal result of the high-speed pursuit, police did everything right.

"It wasn't the officer that crashed in this," he said. "It wasn't the officer that lost control in this particular situation. We prepare the officers very specifically on policy and procedure, and as far as we can tell from our preliminary investigation, our officers followed all of those policies and procedures."

WDTN 2 TV News obtained a copy of the department's pursuit policy. It says pursuits should be called off if "the risk of continuing the pursuit is greater to the member and the community than the risk the suspect poses to the community if they escape."

Trotwood, OH
United States

Chronicle Book Review: To End the War on Drugs

To End the War on Drugs: A Guide for Politicians, the Press, and Public by Dean Becker (2014, DTN Media, 340 pp., $19.95 PB)

Dean Becker is on a crusade. As I write these words, the Houston-based activist, advocate, and journalist is in Washington, DC, preparing for a Tuesday press conference in which he, along with other drug reform advocates, will announce a "Summer Reading Assignment" for Congress, the executive branch, the Supreme Court, and the governors of the 50 states. The assignment is to read his new book, To End the War on Drugs.

(Just last week, Becker put out a special "Policy-makers edition" of the book for this purpose.)

Becker is convinced that if the politicians just understood how horribly wrong-headed and misguided drug prohibition is, they would see the error of their ways and repent. I'm not sure I share his trust in the power of truth to overcome hide-bound thought processes and entrenched interests, but To End the War on Drugs is chock-full of argument and information that will be of great use to anyone seeking an understanding of how far off-the-rails our prohibitionist drug policies have taken us.

To End the War on Drugs is a compilation (and, hopefully, not the culmination) of Becker's 15 years in the trenches of what I call drug reform movement journalism. By that I mean reporting that seeks to accurately portray the effects of drug prohibition as well as the battles to change the drug laws, but which is informed by a certain editorial perspective. That perspective is that the drug war is a disaster.

When I first started covering the drug war for the Chronicle 13 years ago, I was almost alone in providing systematic coverage. There was High Times, but there weren't the dozens of marijuana-related magazines and hundreds of pot-related blogs that there are now. There wasn't much interest in marijuana reform in the mainstream media, let alone much concern about prison overpopulation, racism, and law enforcement militarization. The blogosphere was in its infancy. It was a pretty lonely beat, but Dean Becker was there.

He's been at it since 1999, creating his own movement journalism version of a media empire, beginning with the Drug Truth Network's Cultural Baggage radio shows broadcast from Houston's Pacifica radio station, which currently airs on around a hundred stations, and now including the Unvarnished Truth TV program. At the same time, Becker has also been an activist, working with the Drug Policy Forum of Texas and once heading Houston NORML.

The words of those Becker interviewed for the programs form the bulk of To End the Drug War. The book contains excerpts from interviews with more than a hundred people involved in the drug war or in ending it, including politicians, cops, lawyers, judges, researchers, scientists, and even other journalists (including yours truly, whose comments on the Mexican drug war a few years ago warranted a few pages). There is plenty of ammunition in there for folks seeking to demolish drug prohibition.

And that's exactly what Becker wants to do. He makes no bones about it. The interview excerpts make up the bulk of the book, but they are divided into various topics, with Becker providing an introductory page or two for each topic, and that's when Dean gets to shine. Journalists are usually doing the listening, not the talking -- watch out when we get a chance to say what's actually on our minds!

In his mini-essays, Becker makes it crystal clear that his mission, his obsession, his over-riding goal, is to drive a stake through the heart of the drug war. His is a demand for freedom and justice, and he is happy to leave the hesitations, the equivocations, and the qualifications to others. And he doesn't pull a lot of punches.

"Incrementalism" is, in Becker's view, a trap, a detour, a diversion. Drug prohibition, with all its horrors, has gone on more than long enough, and half-measures like drug decriminalization are not sufficient to end the evil. It is time to quit screwing around and end the drug war, he writes.

Similarly, while of course Becker wants marijuana legalization -- and he wants it now! -- he also understands that the drug war doesn't end with weed. It isn't white pot smokers who are filling our prisons, and legalizing weed isn't going to empty them out. It's going to take actually ending drug prohibition. Incremental measures such as sentencing reforms -- while a blessed relief to the victims of the drug war -- aren't going to end the injustice.

When it comes to drug prohibition, Becker is an absolutist. And I don't think that's a bad thing. To End the Drug War is his cri de couer. It deserves to be widely read, not only by those seeking ammunition to reinforce their policy positions on the drug war, but by those decision-makers and opinion-shapers at whom it is aimed.

Chronicle AM -- July 28, 2014

The New York Times comes out for marijuana legalization, a Florida poll finds majority support for it, Rand Paul introduces a bill to wipe out the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. Let's get to it:

The nation's "newspaper of record" wants to free the weed. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Editorial Board Calls for End to Federal Marijuana Prohibition. What is arguably the most influential and respected newspaper in the United States is ready to free the weed. In a Sunday editorial, the New York Times called forthrightly for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," the newspaper proclaimed. "We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times's Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws."

Alaska Legalization Initiative Backers File Campaign Finance Complaint Against Foes. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska has filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission charging that the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign deceived the public trust when its campaign spokesperson, Kristina Woolston, said her employer, Northwest Strategies is donating its time to the campaign. State law requires that donations be filed as campaign contributions.

Florida Poll Finds 55% for Marijuana Legalization. A majority (55%) of Floridians are ready to legalize marijuana, a new Quinnipiac University poll has found. It looks to be a generational thing; 72% of people under 30 support it, but only 36% of people 65 and older do. The poll also had 88% support for medical marijuana.

More Michigan Towns to Hand in Local Decriminalization Initiative Signatures Tomorrow. Initiative organizers in Port Huron, Lansing, and Portage are preparing to hand in signatures for local decriminalization initiatives tomorrow. The Safer Michigan Coalition says organizers have already handed in signatures in 14 other towns: Frankfort, Huntington Woods, Mt. Pleasant, Pleasant Ridge and Utica; in prior weeks, they did so in Berkley, Grosse Pointe Park, Harrison, Hazel Park, Lapeer, Montrose, Oak Park, Onaway and Saginaw.

Santa Fe, New Mexican, Decriminalization Initiatives Comes Up Short on Signatures. A campaign to put a municipal decriminalization on the Santa Fe ballot in November has hit a bump. Only 3,569 of the 7,000 signatures it handed in were valid; it needs 5,763 to qualify. But campaigners still have more time to gather more.

Medical Marijuana

Bill to Allow Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Filed in US House. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) today introduced a bill that would exempt low-THC, high-CBD marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Staten Island Narcs Are NYPD's Most Sued. Seven of the 10 most sued NYPD officers work out of a Staten Island narcotics unit, according to an analysis by the New York Daily News. Those Staten Island narcs account for 21% of the more than 600 cases filed against NYPD officers in the past decade. Taxpayers have shelled out more than $6 million to settle suits against them. Most of the suits against them allege false arrests for charges that are later dropped. Detective Vincent Orsini, who has been sued 21 times since 2003, with payouts of nearly $1.1 million, is the most-sued cop on the Island.

Sentencing

Rand Paul Introduces Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties. The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It is not yet up on the congressional web site.

International

Gun Battles Continue in Northeast Mexico Across from US Border. Fighting between various Mexican drug cartel factions in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas continues. Gun battles in Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, left six suspected cartel gun men dead, including at least one killed by Mexican marines.

Florida Man Killed in Drug Bust Gun Battle

A Belle Isle, Florida, man died Wednesday during a gun battle with undercover deputies trying to seize a package from his home. Giles Harrison Carter, 29, becomes the 26th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WOFL Fox 35 Orlando, citing police sources, undercover Orange County sheriff's deputies belonging to the department's narcotics unit were attempting to intercept a package from a home when Carter opened fire, then retreated inside his house. Deputies said he barricaded himself inside and continued to exchange gunfire with them.

"During the shooting, the deputies had some conversation with him [Carter]. They were identified," said Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings during a news conference held on Wednesday afternoon. "He [Carter] had a handgun. At that point, the gun was pointed directly at them, is what I'm being told at this time. They fired at him, he retreated into the home and came back and fired another volley of rounds at the deputies."

Sheriff Demings did not say whether the undercover deputies "were identified" as such by Carter before that point.

An Orange County SWAT team was called in to rescue the deputies, who were "pinned down by the gun fire." After a brief conversation between Carter and the SWAT team, the team entered the home and reported finding him dead.

It's not clear whether Carter was shot by police or died at his own hand. Nor is it clear whether he was the intended recipient of the package or what was actually in it.

Carter, an Army veteran, had been arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia last Friday. But other than that, he had no criminal record, his attorney in that case said.

"Mr. Carter is fairly new to the area, and he had previously been in the US military. He told me he was a veteran, and we were approaching the State Attorney's Office about avoiding prosecution completely and looking into a pre-trial diversion program to keep his record clean, so that he could obtain and maintain security clearances with the federal government," said attorney John Gihon. "Mr. Carter, he was a smart guy. He was intelligent and educated, and it really came across in the short time that I knew him. To find out now that he's dead; that's really a shock to me."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) will conduct the deputy involved shooting investigation and the Orange County Sheriff's Office Professional Standards section will conduct an administrative review.

Belle Isle, FL
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 25, 2014

Wichita looks set to vote on decriminalization this fall, Rand Paul (busy, busy) files a federal asset forfeiture reform bill, drug users finally get a voice at the International AIDS Conference, and more. Let's get to it:

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/KFC_logo2.jpg
Marijuana Policy

Wichita Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Turns in Twice the Necessary Signatures. Organizers of a decriminalization initiative signature-gathering campaign yesterday turned in 5,800 signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot. Kansas for Change needs 2,928 valid voter signatures to qualify. They turned in the signatures at 4:20pm.

Five People Ticketed for Marijuana Possession in First Week of DC Decriminalization Law. DC police have cited five people for marijuana possession in the week since the DC decrim law went into effect. Four of the five citations came in predominantly black areas of the city east of the Anacostia River. Last year, before decrim, police made about 11 marijuana possession arrests a day.

Poll: California Latinos Strongly Oppose Deportation for Marijuana Possession. A new poll from Latino Decisions and Presente.org finds that nearly two-thirds (64%) of California Latinos strongly oppose deporting non-citizens for marijuana possession. Marijuana possession is the fourth most common criminal offense leading to deportation, according to a 2012-2013 study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

Asset Forfeiture

Rand Paul Files Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has filed a bill to reform federal asset forfeiture laws. Yesterday, he introduced the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) ACT, Senate Bill 2644, which would require the government to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the property it wishes to forfeit is connected with a crime. The FAIR Act would also require that state law enforcement agencies abide by state law when seizing property. It would also remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General's Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury's General Fund.

International

Drug Users Get a Voice at Global AIDS Conference. For the first time, a group of drug users has been allowed space at the International AIDS Conference, taking place this year in Melbourne, Australia. The International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD) had a booth at the conference and also held a movie premiere event at the conference for the film, "We are Drug Users."

British National Survey Finds Slight Overall Increase in Drug Use. The number of drug users in Britain increased by 0.7% last year, according to the 2013 to 2014 Crime Survey for England and Wales. Some 8.8% of adults used drugs in the past year; 6.6% used marijuana. Cocaine was the second most commonly used drug, at 2.4%.

Guatemalan President Still Mulling Marijuana Legalization. President Otto Pérez Molina said in an interview in Washington yesterday that he hadn't ruled out the possibility of legalizing marijuana. "Right now we have a commission that's following what's been happening in Uruguay, Portugal, Holland, Colorado, and the state of Washington," he said. "I expect to receive the studies, analysis and recommendations at the end of the year and from there we will make the decisions that would best fit our country." Pérez Molina will be hosting an international conference on drug policy in Guatemala in September. [Editor's Note: We are not aware of any conference in Guatemala this fall. It's not clear if Perez Molina misspoke or the Washington Post misheard. There is a V Conferencia latinoamerica sobre la politica de drogas set for Costa Rica in September.]

WOLA Releases Analysis of Ecuador Drug Policy Trends and Contradictions. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has published "Reforma y contradicciones en la politica de drogas de Ecuador." The report identified advances and blockages in Ecuador's path to a more progressive drug policy. Click on the link to read it in Spanish or use your translate button or wait a few days for WOLA's English version to read it in English.

Rand Paul Files Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has filed a bill to reform federal asset forfeiture laws. Yesterday, he introduced the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) ACT, Senate Bill 2644, which would require the government to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the property it wishes to forfeit is connected with a crime.

A modern form of highway robbery?
It also takes aim at state and local law enforcement agencies who evade state laws requiring that seized assets go into state general funds or other specified destinations by instead turning their seizures over to a federal agency, which delivers back 80% of the value of the seized goods to the local or state law enforcement agency involved.

The FAIR Act would require that state law enforcement agencies abide by state law when seizing property. It would also remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures' assets from the Attorney General's Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury's General Fund.

"The federal government has made it far too easy for government agencies to take and profit from the property of those who have not been convicted of a crime. The FAIR Act will ensure that government agencies no longer profit from taking the property of U.S. citizens without due process, while maintaining the ability of courts to order the surrender of proceeds of crime," Sen. Paul said.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. As of today, it has no cosponsors.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana takes another step toward self-regulation, patients and supporters rally for a fired Arizona medical marijuana researcher, Illinois expands its medical marijuana program, and more. Let's get to it:

National

On Wednesday, a national herbal medicine industry group issued guidelines for medical marijuana manufacturers. The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) released medical marijuana manufacturing guidelines, completing its compendium of industry standards. The guidelines complement those set by American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) for the plant's identity, purity, quality and botanical properties.

Arizona

On Monday, a state court judge ruled that patients can sell to other cardholders. A Pima County Superior Court judge has thrown out charges against a medical marijuana patient who offered plants for sale to other cardholders for a $25 "donation," holding that the state's medical marijuana law is vague and can be interpreted as allowing for such activities. So far the ruling only applies to the case at hand, but local prosecutors have vowed to appeal, and a higher court ruling (favorable or otherwise) would set precedent statewide.

On Tuesday, veterans gathered at the University of Arizona to demand reinstatement of a medical marijuana researcher. The veterans gathered at the UA College of Medicine in Phoenix to protest the firing and demand the reinstatement of Dr. Sue Sisley, who was set to do FDA-approved research into medical marijuana for veterans with PTSD before she was fired. Sisley accuses political opponents of medical marijuana of being responsible for her termination.

On Wednesday, the campaign to reinstate medical marijuana researcher Dr. Sue Sisley picked up steam. Veterans rallied yesterday at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix in support of the medical marijuana researcher, who says she was fired because of political opposition to her research on the use of medical marijuana for PTSD in veterans. A Change.org petition seeking her reinstatement now had over 67,000 signatures (30,000 of them from Tuesday alone) and a there is also a Facebook page supporting her.

Arkansas

On Monday, the state attorney general rejected the wording of a medical marijuana initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the wording of an initiative aimed at putting medical marijuana on the 2016 ballot. The initiative is sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, which tried unsuccessfully to get a similar initiative on the ballot this year.

California

Last Wednesday, a Northern California congressman called on federal prosecutors to go after "trespass" marijuana growers, not people complying with state law. US Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) sent a letter Wednesday to Northern California US Attorney Melinda Haag urging her "to focus prosecutorial and enforcement resources on trespass marijuana growers, not low-level marijuana offenders complying with state law." Hoffman called "trespass" growers "the greatest emerging threat to public safety and environmental health" in Northern California. Click on the link to read the letter in its entirety.

Last Friday, a Kern County judge ruled that a collective can appeal a court decision overturning the county's Measure G dispensary ordinance. Superior Court Judge Kenneth Twisselman ruled that the Highway 99 Collective can appeal his earlier ruling that Measure G violated state environmental laws. Highway 99 was the only collective to comply with Measure G and had been cleared to operate under the restrictive ordinance.

On Monday, the San Bernardino city attorney called on the city council to begin studying ways of enforcing its dispensary ban -- including by allowing a small number of dispensaries. City Attorney Gary Saenz acknowledged the "futility and high cost" of attempting to eradicate dispensaries and suggested the council "move the distribution of medical marijuana from the black market to the regulated market."

On Monday, the San Jose city clerk reported that a signature-gathering campaign to protect the city's dispensaries had fallen short. That means most of the city's 80 dispensaries will have to close by next July. A restrictive ordinance passed by the city council last month limits them to less than 1% of the city's parcels.

Illinois

On Sunday, the governor signed a bill to expand access to medical marijuana. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) yesterday signed into law a bill that will expand the state's medical marijuana program by allowing people with seizure disorders to use it and by allowing minors to participate in it with parental consent. The measure is Senate Bill 2636.

New Mexico

Last Thursday, the state backed off on proposed changes to the medical marijuana program. The state Department of Health announced last Thursday that it will not move forward with proposed rule changes that included limiting the number of plants patients could grow and requiring criminal background checks for patient growers. The department said there will likely be another hearing for public comments before new rules are finalized this fall.

New York

Last Thursday, a state-level medical marijuana business alliance was formed. Albany-area medical marijuana lobbyists have formed a business alliance to jointly fight for their interests. The group is called the Medical Cannabis Industry Alliance of New York. Members will include growers, advocates, real estate interests, and other businesses associated with medical marijuana.

Washington

Last Thursday, the UFCW said it would start representing Washington medical marijuana workers. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 367 announced this week that it expects to represents workers at a Puyallup medical marijuana collective. The UFCW represents a variety of retail, food processing, manufacturing, and production workers, but has also been active in the medical marijuana industry and has a Cannabis Workers Rising campaign, especially in California, where it has organized numerous work sites.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More cops with pain pill problems, another jailer busted, another cop caught in a protection sting, and another cop gets caught peddling steroids and prescription drugs. Let's get to it:

In Pacific, Missouri, a Pacific police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he stole hydrocodone and oxycodone from the department evidence room. Arthur Tullock, 55, is accused of "appropriating" the pills for his own use. He is charged with two counts of theft of a controlled substance and is now out on bail.

In Dawson, Georgia, a Terrell County jail guard was arrested last Friday after he got caught bringing drugs into the jail. Jantzsen Richardson is charged with possession of marijuana, but more charges are pending.

In Waycross, Georgia, a former Pierce County sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Wednesday to 93 months in federal prison for protecting drug dealers. Randy Strickland, 55, agreed to act as a look-out for people he believed were dealing meth, but he was actually caught up in a sting by a snitch monitored by federal agents. He had only sought $100 for providing security.

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a former West Palm Beach police officer was sentenced last Friday to five years in prison for selling drugs while on duty, in uniform, and carrying his service weapon. Dewitt McDonald, 46, admitted illegally selling steroids and prescription drugs and copped to one count of carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking offense.

In Clarksburg, West Virginia, a former Shinnston police officer was sentenced Monday to four to 16 years in prison for confiscating hydrocodone from people, then removing pills from the pill bottles before turning them in to the evidence room. Charles Roscoe Henning III had pleaded guilty last month to four counts of obtaining a controlled substance by misrepresentation by fraud, forgery, deception or subterfuge.

Chronicle AM -- July 23, 2014

South Portland, Maine, will vote on marijuana legalization in November, medical marijuana researcher Dr. Sue Sisley's campaign to be reinstated is picking up steam, Mississippi officials get an earful at a public forum on a welfare drug testing law, and more. Let's get to it:

Evo Morales is not only president of Bolivia; he's also the president of the country's largest coca growers' union. (wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

South Portland, Maine, Marijuana Possession Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. Officials in South Portland confirmed today that a citizen initiative to make marijuana possession legal for adults within city limits has qualified for the November 2014 ballot. Citizens for a Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, submitted more than 1,500 signatures, and just 959 valid signatures of registered city voters were required. The South Portland City Council will consider whether to enact the measure or refer it to city voters at its meeting scheduled for August 4.

Delaware House Hearing on Marijuana Decriminalization Today. The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing on a decriminalization bill today. The amended version of House Bill 371 would make possession of up to an ounce a civil offense, punishable only by a fine. Under current law, small time possession is a misdemeanor that can garner up to six months in jail.

Medical Marijuana

National Herbal Medicine Industry Group Issues Guidelines for Medical Marijuana Manufacture. The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) today released medical marijuana manufacturing guidelines, completing its compendium of industry standards. The guidelines complement those set by American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) for the plant's identity, purity, quality and botanical properties.

Arizona Judge Rules Patients Can Sell to Other Cardholders. A Pima County Superior Court judge has thrown out charges against a medical marijuana patient who offered plants to sale to other cardholders for a $25 "donation," holding that the state's medical marijuana law is vague and can be interpreted as allowing for such activities. So far the ruling only applies to the case at hand, but local prosecutors have vowed to appeal, and a favorable higher court ruling would set precedent statewide.

Campaign to Reinstate Arizona Medical Marijuana Researcher Picks Up Steam. Veterans rallied yesterday at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix in support of medical marijuana researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, who says she was fired because of political opposition to her research on the use of medical marijuana for PTSD in veterans. A Change.org petition seeking her reinstatement now has 66,000 signatures (30,000 of them from yesterday alone) and a there is also a Facebook page supporting her.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Public Forum on Welfare Drug Test Law Leads for Calls to Amend It. A welfare recipient, civil liberties advocates, and Democratic politicians strong criticized the state's new law mandating drug testing for some welfare recipients at a public hearing yesterday. They called for it not to be implemented until it can be amended by the legislature. No one spoke in support of the law.

Law Enforcement

Orange County, Florida, Women Sue SWAT Team Over Violent Drug Raid. A mother and daughter are suing the Orange County Sheriff's Office after a SWAT team drug raid left a family dog dead and the daughter wounded by police gunfire inside their own home. The raid was aimed at a relative who didn't even live at the residence. Police found marijuana seeds and "drug paraphernalia" in the room where the relative had stayed, but charges against him were later dropped.

International

Bolivian President Wins Reelection as Head of Country's Largest Coca Growers Union; Vows to Expand Crop if Re-Elected as President. Evo Morales was a coca grower union leader before he was elected president of the country, and he's still a coca grower union leader. He was just reelected as head of the union, and he told union members that Bolivia needs a new law for coca production that would allow for expanded cultivation.

Sentencing Commission Cuts Up to 46,000 Drug War Prisoners' Sentences [FEATURE]

In a much anticipated move, the US Sentencing Commission last Friday voted unanimously to retroactively apply previously approved reductions in federal sentencing guidelines to federal drug war prisoners already serving their sentences. The move means more than 46,000 federal prisoners will be able to apply for sentence reductions.

"This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

It's not going to be a flood of inmates suddenly walking out of federal prisons. Prisoners will not be able to seek sentence cuts until November 1 and none will be released before November 1, 2015. Those cuts will average about two years, turning what are currently average 11-year sentences to average nine-year sentences.

It is not quite a done deal. Congress has until November 1 this year to move to block it, but there appears to be little sign of any significant effort underway to do so.

The move is the latest in an effort by the Sentencing Commission to reduce the excesses of drug sentencing resulting from harsh laws passed mostly in the 1980s. It comes as the federal prison population continues to expand, even as state prison populations have begun to shrink following the enactment of sentencing reforms at the state level.

Before the Commission acted, it opened the issue to public comment, and the response indicated intense interest in making the move. The Commission received some 65,000 letters during the comment period, the vast majority endorsing the proposed change. Commenters included nearly a dozen US senators and representatives, including members of both the House and the Senate judiciary committees, all of them in support of the move, as well as federal judges, civil liberties, civil rights, and sentencing and drug reform groups.

According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, there are 100,549 people serving federal time for drug offenses, accounting for nearly half (49.7%) of all federal prisoners. The next two biggest categories are weapons offenses (15.7%) and immigration offenses (10.4%).

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Patti Saris (uscourts.gov)
The federal prison population has tripled since 1991, largely driven by harsh drug war sentences, the Sentencing Commission found, and the federal prison budget is now eating up $6 billion a year, or one quarter of the entire Justice Department budget. The federal prison system is currently 32% over capacity, with that figure rising to 52% over capacity in maximum security prisons.

The Sentencing Commission acted in April to redress harsh prison sentences by reducing the base offense levels in drug quantity tables in the federal sentencing guidelines so that drug offenses are scored lower in the federal sentencing grid. That reduces the length of possible sentences for a given offense under the guidelines.

"The Commission has the statutory duty to ensure that the guidelines minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed capacity," Judge Saris explained. "Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991" and high prison costs "are reducing the resources available for federal prosecutors and law enforcement, aid to state and local law enforcement, crime victim services, and crime prevention programs -- all of which promote public safety," she added.

"Many of the same factors which led us to vote in April to reduce drug guidelines support making those reductions retroactive," Saris continued. "The same changes in the guidelines and laws I mentioned earlier that made the lower guideline levels more appropriate prospectively also make lower guideline levels appropriate for those offenders already in prison, most of whom were convicted after many of these statutory and guideline changes were already in place. In addition, retroactive application of the amendment would have a significant impact on reducing prison costs and overcapacity, which was an important purpose of the amendment, and the impact would come much more quickly than from a prospective change alone."

The Sentencing Commission's action was greeted with cheers from the drug reform and sentencing reform communities.

The Sentencing Commission during a May public hearing. (uscourts.gov)
"We did it!" exclaimed Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) president and founder Julie Stewart. "We got full retroactivity of the drug guideline amendment! Because of your help, 46,000 federal drug offenders sentenced before November 1, 2014, will now be eligible to file a motion in federal court asking for a shorter sentence. I am thrilled with this outcome, especially because we did it together," she said. "More than two dozen FAMM supporters were present with me in the hearing room when the Commission voted in favor of full retroactivity. All of us were overjoyed at the result."

"The Sentencing Commission has promoted fundamental fairness by making its amendment retroactive, ensuring that sentence dates do not determine sentence lengths," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "This vote reflects an historic shift in the decades-long war on drugs, which has filled half of federal prison cells with people convicted of drug offenses. That war has come at a ruinous cost for all Americans, but particularly for communities of color. Not only has there been an enormous financial cost to the public, but there is little evidence to suggest that excessively punitive federal drug policies have improved public safety," he said.

"Retroactive application of the drug guidelines amendment is an important step toward addressing the unjust racial disparities produced through federal sentencing policies as well," Mauer added. "Because drug law enforcement has disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos, reduced drug penalties will help to mitigate the effect of harsh sentencing policies on communities of color."

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But that's what politicians do when they're scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did today was right and just."

The Sentencing Project's Mauer told the Chronicle Tuesday he thought it unlikely that Congress would attempt to block the reform.

"I have not heard of any significant opposition that is developing," he said. "My guess is that since it was a unanimous recommendation from the commission and that this is an election year and members have that on their minds, I'm optimistic there won't be any serious threat of this not going through."

Still, prisoners, their friends, families, and supporters will be waiting for that November deadline for congressional action to pass before they exhale. But it does look as if the federal government has taken a rather significant step in reversing some of the worst excesses of the drug war.

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