A former Virginia police chief goes down for using the drug buy fund to buy pills for himself, a former Guamanian customs agent goes down for helping a relative import meth, and a former New Jersey police sergeant goes down for peddling weed on the side. Let's get to it:
In Alta Vista, Virginia, the former Alta Vista police chief pleaded guilty Wednesday to one felony count for using department drug buy funds to buy pills for himself and faking paperwork to hide it. Former Chief Kenneth Walsh, 51, had been charged with 15 felonies, but pleaded guilty to a single count of forging public documents. He also entered Alford pleas -- meaning he maintained his innocence while acknowledging there was evidence to convict him -- to 11 counts of forging public documents, one count of embezzlement, and one count of obtaining drugs by fraud. His sentencing is set for October.
In Linden, New Jersey, a former Linden police sergeant was sentenced last Friday to probation after he was busted for selling marijuana. Former Sgt. William Turbett III, 30, went down after police served a search warrant on his home and found "a small amount" of weed. He was a seven-year veteran of the department and earned a salary of $105,000 last year. He can no longer work in law enforcement.
In Hagatna, Guam, a former Guam customs agent was sentenced Monday to 14 years in federal prison for participating in a scheme to import two pounds of methamphetamine into the US territory. Jayvin Wyll Ueda Remoket pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and one count of warning the subject of a search. Remoket used his position as a customs agent to help a relative get the packages through customs.
The DEA is up to the same old same old, Arizona joins the list of states voting on marijuana legalization this fall, heroin overdoses jump in recent years in New York, and more.
DEA Again Refuses to Reschedule Marijuana. The DEA today again refused to reschedule marijuana, arguing that its therapeutic value has not been scientifically proven. The move rejecting a rescheduling petition from two governors comes despite medical marijuana being legal in half the states and in the face of an ever-increasing mountain of evidence of marijuana's medicinal utility. Today's action marks at least the fourth time the DEA has rejected petitions seeking to reschedule marijuana. The effort to get the DEA to move marijuana off the same schedule as heroin has been going on since 1972, and once again has garnered the same result. The agency did announce one policy change that could make it easier to conduct marijuana research. It said it would end the University of Mississippi's monopoly on the production of marijuana for research purposes by granting growing licenses to a limited number of other universities.
Fatal Overdoses Have Jumped in New York City in Recent Years. Fatal drug overdoses have jumped 66% in the city between 2010 and 2015, the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Reported Tuesday. Last year, 937 New Yorkers died of overdoses, compared to 541 in 2010. Heroin was involved in 59% of the deaths.
Vietnam Sentences Nine to Death for Smuggling Heroin to China. A court in Lang Son has handed out death sentences to nine men for smuggling about 500 pounds of heroin to China. Two others were sentenced to life in prison. Under Vietnamese law, possession or sale of more than 100 grams of heroin is punishable by death.
Marijuana arrest numbers are headed in the wrong direction in New York City, Ohio makes a first move toward implementing medical marijuana, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer declares war on new psychoactive substances, and more.
Chuck Schumer wants to play whack-a-mole with K2 and Spice. (LA Dept. of Health)
New York City Marijuana Arrests on the Rise Again. After declining during the first two years of Mayor Bill de Blasio's (D) administration, pot arrests are on the rise again in the Big Apple. The 9,331 people arrested on possession charges in the first half of this year is a 30% increase over the same period last year. That's not good news, but it's still nowhere near as bad as it was under Michael Bloomberg. In 2010, more than 50,000 were arrested for pot; this year, if current trends keep up, it will still be under 20,000.
South Dakota Judge Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign's Appeal. The state will not be voting on the issue this November after a state court judge denied a request from the campaign to overturn Secretary of State Shantel Krebs' finding that the group did not hand in enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. South Dakota has twice previously rejected medical marijuana at the polls -- the only state to do so.
New Psychoactive Substances
Sen. Schumer Responds to New Drugs With Old Prohibitionist "Whack-A-Mole" Strategy. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced today that he is filing a new bill that would criminalize the chemicals used to make new psychoactive substances such as synthetic cannabinoids ("Spice," "K2"), synthetic stimulants ("bath salts"), and synthetic opioids. "We need a federal hammer to nail these toxic concoctions of synthetic drugs to reverse this troubling trend… This federal legislation will ban 22 synthetic drugs, including powerful forms of fentanyl, crippling the unlawful chemists cooking up these drugs and the cartels that push them to our local stores and streets. Banning these drugs quickly will help the feds step up their game of whack-a-mole so that we can help stem the tide of synthetic drug use here in New York State and across the country."
Dark Web Drug Sales Triple Since End of Silk Road. It's been three years since federal authorities shut down the Silk Road dark web drug sales website, but online illicit drug sales have never been higher. Drug sales have tripled since then to somewhere between $12 million and $20 million a month, while revenues have doubled, according to a study published by Rand Corporation Europe. While dark web drugs sales make up only a small fraction of all illicit drug sales, many of the transactions are for more than $1,000, suggesting that drugs are being purchased online for resale on the streets.
Arizona legalizers fight a lawsuit aimed at knocking them off the ballot, Washington rakes in the tax revenue from legal pot, asset forfeiture is in the news in California and New York, and more.
Arkansas forced 800 welfare applicants to do drug screens, one came up dirty. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Arizona Legalization Campaign Wants Lawsuit Tossed. The group behind the state's legalization initiative has asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by foes seeking to keep the measure off the November ballot. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol argued that the effort is more about politics and ideology than ensuring state law is followed. Foes argued that the ballot measure's summary language does not describe everything the initiative would do. Both sides will be in court a week from today.
Washington State Sees Legal Marijuana Sales Push Past Billion Dollar Mark. After a sharp jump in adult sales last month as medical dispensaries were shut down, the state has now seen pot sales edge past a billion dollars, if revenue from processors and producers is included. The state has collected $273 million in excise taxes on the sales since they began two years ago.
California Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Set to Move After Compromise. After discussions with law enforcement groups, state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) has amended her asset forfeiture reform bill, Senate Bill 443, so that only property seizures worth less than $40,000 would require a criminal conviction before permanent seizure. Seizures higher than that amount would not require that standard of proof. Mitchell said the compromise would allow police to preserve their ability to go after large criminal enterprises. The police groups have now dropped their opposition to the bill.
NYPD Sued for Failure to Release Asset Forfeiture Data. NYPD collected more than $6 million in asset forfeiture revenues in 2013, but is ignoring records requests for information on how it collects and distributes the cash it seizes, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by a legal aid group representing low-income people. The group, Bronx Defenders, had submitted a public records request nearly two years, but NYPD has been unresponsive, the lawsuit alleges.
Arkansas Welfare Drug Test Program Finds Hardly Any Drug Users. According to data released this week by the Department of Workforce Services, exactly one welfare applicant out of 800 has failed a drug test. Another four refused to take it, rendering them temporarily ineligible for benefits. All five taken together constitute 0.63% of welfare applicants. The one failed drug test means 0.125% of all applicants tested positive. Arkansas and other states that have enacted such laws have done so on the unspoken assumption that welfare applicants are using drugs at the taxpayers' expense, but, once again, that has proven not to be the case.
We have a real doozey from Oklahoma, jail guards go bad all over the place, and more. Let's get to it:
In Marietta, Oklahoma, the Love County sheriff was arrested July 19 on charges of corruption, neglect of duty, and housing a fugitive. Sheriff Marion "Joe" Russell is accused of turning a blind eye to meth dealing out of his own home by his adult son, covering up a missing person case where another family member is the main suspect, and harboring a fugitive. His son, Willie Russell, has already pleaded guilty to meth dealing. The fugitive, a young woman, was dating Willie and staying at the sheriff's house even though she had four arrest warrants outstanding. He is also accused of arresting drunken women in bikinis and taking them to his house instead of to jail. There, they were allegedly sexually assaulted and given meth. The missing persons case involves a young couple who were last seen in a car owned by Russell's nephew.
In Florence, Alabama, a jail guard was arrested July 23 for trying to smuggle drugs into the jail inside a Bible. Kenneth Lee Lawson, 32, went down when fellow officers discovered suboxone hidden in the holy book. He is charged with bringing contraband into a jail facility.
In Canton, Georgia, a Cherokee County sheriff's deputy was arrested July 23 for stealing drugs from the department evidence locker. Deputy Jeffrey Goettel, 41, went down after the sheriff requested an audit of evidence and found that drugs were missing. An investigation pointed to Goettel, who authorities said pilfered morphine and oxycodone. He is charged with violating his oath of office, possession of a Schedule II drug, and theft by taking.
In Swan Quarter, North Carolina, a Hyde County jail guard was arrested last Friday for smuggling marijuana, tobacco, a cell phone, and knife into the jail. Guard Joshua Carawan is charged with possession of a controlled substance, tobacco, an electronics communication device, and a dangerous weapon inside a jail facility.
In Philadelphia, a former city jail guard was sentenced last Thursday to four years in federal prison for smuggling drugs and other contraband to inmates. John Wesley Herder, 50, was one of six guards charged last September with smuggling Oxycontin and cell phones in exchange for cash. Herder made $2,000 for twice smuggled dope and phones into the jail, but was also fined $2,300 in addition to prison time.
Obama commutes more drug sentences, Boston gets its first dispensary, more signs of how horrid South Dakota is on marijuana, Utah SWAT deployment data, and more.
Utah SWAT is aimed mostly at drug offenders. (Wikipedia/Creative Commons)
Oregon US Attorney Prosecuting Black Teen Over One Gram of Weed. In the first federal marijuana possession prosecution in the state in five years, teenager Devontre Thomas has been charged over a gram of pot found in another student's backpack at the federal Indian School they both attended. The other teen claimed he got the weed from Thomas, and that's enough for US Attorney Billy J. Williams to charge Thomas with "knowingly and intentionally possessing marijuana." Williams is getting blowback from many, including US Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who said "situations like this are best handled by the state."
South Dakota to Prosecute Consultants for Aborted Indian Tribe Pot Grow. Attorney General Marty Jackley announced Wednesday that two men who consulted with the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in its effort to grow marijuana have been indicted on a range of marijuana possession charges. The tribe began to grow after the federal government signaled that tribes could do so, but destroyed its crop after federal officials raided other tribes than had entered the business and after state officials threatened to arrest non-Indians who used marijuana there. One of the consultants was hit with felony possession and is looking at up to 7 ½ years in prison, while the other, who cooperated with authorities, only got a misdemeanor charge.
Boston Gets Its First Dispensary. The Patriot Cares dispensary is open on Boston's Milk Street as of today. The company says it's ready for 150 patients a day and that 200 patients have already registered.
South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Supporters Sue Over Signatures. The secretary of state's office said petitions from the South Dakota Coalition for Compassion came up short on signatures, blocking the measure from going to the voters, and now, the coalition has filed a complaint alleging that signatures were not properly counted. The coalition is seeking to have the secretary of state's decision thrown out and that a local judge will order the initiative placed on the November ballot.
Utah SWAT Used Overwhelmingly for Drug Crimes. Utah is the only state to currently require reporting on SWAT deployments, and the 2015 report has just been released. SWAT was deployed 457 times in 2015, including 281 forced entries into private residences. Three-quarters of those forced entries were drug raids. The data also showed that police were more likely to use "no-knock" search warrants against drug suspects than against violent crime suspects. Go figure.
Pardons and Clemency
Obama Frees More Federal Drug Prisoners, But Time is Running Out. Some 214 federal drug war prisoners saw their prison sentences commuted Wednesday as President Obama took another step toward fulfilling his administration's pledge to use his pardon power to cut draconian drug sentences and free prisoners serving decades-long stretches for non-violent drug crimes.Those whose sentences were commuted Wednesday will walk out of prison on December 1. With Wednesday's commutations, Obama has now commuted the sentences of 562 men and women sentenced under harsh federal drug laws, including 197 people doing life for drug offenses. That's more commutations than the last nine presidents combined.
Some 214 federal drug war prisoners saw their prison sentences commuted Wednesday as President Obama took another step toward fulfilling his administration's pledge to use his pardon power to cut draconian drug sentences and free prisoners serving decades-long stretches for nonviolent drug crimes.
"The power to grant pardons and commutations… embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws," the president said.
Those whose sentences were commuted Wednesday will walk out of prison on December 1.
With Wednesday's commutations, Obama has now commuted the sentences of 562 men and women sentenced under harsh federal drug laws, including 197 people doing life for drug offenses. That's more commutations than the last nine presidents combined.
But it's not close to the number whose sentences Obama could commute under a program announced in 2014 by then Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Assistant Attorney General James Cole. They called on nonviolent federal drug war prisoners to seek clemency in April 2014.
"In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing unfair disparities in sentences imposed on people for offenses involving different forms of cocaine, but there are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime -- and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime," said Holder. "This is simply not right."
Holder noted at the time that Obama had granted commutation to eight people serving time for crack offenses the previous December.
"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. The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences," Holder said.
Under Holder's criteria for clemency, low-level drug offenders who had served at least 10 years, had good conduct in prison, had no significant criminal history or connection to gangs, cartels, or organized crime, and who would probably receive a "substantially lower sentence" if convicted of the same offense today would be eligible for sentence cuts.
Of roughly 100,000 federal drug prisoners -- nearly half the entire federal prison population -- more than 36,000 applied for clemency. Many of them did not meet the criteria, but the Justice Department has reviewed nearly 9,500 that did. Of those, only the 562 have actually been granted clemency; applications are still pending for nearly 9,000 more. (An additional 8,000 pending applications are being handled by a consortium of private attorneys, the Clemency Project.)
Many of those might not make it to Obama's desk before the clock runs out on his term because the Justice Department has stumbled in administering the program. Thousands of prisoners doing harsh drug war sentences could lose their chance for early freedom because Justice didn't get around to hiring enough people to handle the flood of applications it generated.
That would undercut Obama's legacy of redressing drug war injustice. There are now only six months to go in his presidency, and nearly 18,000 prisoners who were told to seek clemency are now waiting for a response.
Here is President Obama addressing the commutation issue during an earlier series of sentence cuts:
Civil society responds as the death toll mounts in the Philippines, Massachusetts politicians endorse pot legalization, a new study finds national legalization could bring in $12 billion a year for the feds, and more.
Filipino President Rodrigo "The Punisher" Duterte (theinfluence.org)
Alaska Pot Board Member Fired, Alleges Governor Trying to "Subvert" Legalization. Gov. Bill Walker (R) has fired Marijuana Control Board member Bruce Schulte, and Schulte says it's because Walker and allies are trying to delay implementation of a voter-approved marijuana industry. "There's an underlying agenda to subvert the process, to delay the implementation of a legalized marijuana industry," Schulte said. "It doesn't look like the State of Alaska is really serious about making this happen." A replacement for Schulte has not been announced. Alaska approved marijuana legalization in November 2014.
As Philippines Drug War Death Toll Mounts, Rights Groups Demand UN Denounce Killings. More than 700 suspected drug users or dealers have been killed by police or vigilantes since Rodrigo Duterte took office as president less than three months ago, and now civil society is responding. More than 300 human rights and other organizations have signed letters to the International Narcotics Control Board and UN Office on Drugs and Crime urging them to speak out against the extra-judicial violence. "We are calling on the UN drug control bodies to publicly condemn these atrocities in the Philippines. This senseless killing cannot be justified as a drug control measure," said Ann Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), which coordinated the letter. "Their silence is unacceptable, while people are being killed on the streets day after day."
Your correspondent was on vacation last week, but drug policy and the drug war weren't. Illinois has decriminalized marijuana possession, Republicans are shifting on marijuana prohibition, Minnesotans with chronic pain now qualify for medical marijuana, Floridians can now get naloxone without an individualized prescription, and more.
It's official: Massachusetts will vote on marijuana legalization this fall. (regulatemass.org)
Poll: Even Republicans Now Favor Marijuana Legalization. For the first time, a plurality if not a majority of people who identify as Republicans say they support marijuana legalization. A new YouGov poll has 45% of Republicans in favor, with 42% opposed. Only eight months ago, Republicans opposed legalization in the same poll, by a margin of 50% to 36%.
Pot Prohibitionists Put Up $2 Million to Fight Legalization. The political arm of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana has raised more than $2 million to fight legalization initiatives in five states this year, including California, where Prop 64 is on the November ballot. The bulk of the money will go to California. The group is led by former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island) and former drug czar's office official Kevin Sabet.
Illinois Decriminalizes Marijuana. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 2228, which decriminalizes the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana and creates a maximum fine of $200. The law goes into effect immediately, making Illinois the 21st state to have decriminalized small-time pot possession.
Massachusetts Legalization Initiative is Officially on the November Ballot. State officials last month quietly certified that the initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has overcome the final hurdle to going before the voters in November. Advocates had to hand in a small number of signatures this summer when the legislature refused to act after the campaign handed in tens of thousands of signatures earlier this year. The initiative will be Question 4 on the November ballot.
Northern Marianas Could Vote on Legalization in November. A lawmaker in the US territory has pre-filed a bill that would let residents vote on legalization in November. Senator Sixto Igisomar is the man behind the move. The legislature must approve it by August 10 for it to make the ballot this year.
Florida Makes Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Available Without Prescription. The overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) is now available through a "standing order" from a doctor, meaning drugs users, friends, and family members no longer need an individual prescription to obtain the antidote. Additionally, the pharmacy chain CVS will begin stocking naloxone in all its pharmacies in the state beginning this month.
Italian Parliament Begins Debate on Marijuana Legalization.Last week, parliament began discussing whether to approve a marijuana legalization bill. The bill would allow for the possession of up to 15 grams at home and 5 grams on the street and let people grow up to five plants. It would also allow growing collectives of up to 50 growers. Rightist opponents of the measure have already filed more than 1,300 proposed amendments aimed at snuffing it. Debate on the bill will resume in September.
Indonesia Executes Four Drug Prisoners. Ignoring a growing global clamor against the practice, Indonesian authorities executed four convicted drug offenders last Friday. Ten others set to be executed at the same time won a temporary reprieve when a storm hit the island where the executions were taking place, but officials said they would be put to death later.
The Republican nominee's choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate means Trump has selected a man who is the very embodiment of last century's "tough on drugs" prohibitionist attitudes.
Trump VP pick Mike Pence doesn't have a great record on drug policy. (flickr.com/gage skidmore)
Pence's anti-drug reform stances are part and parcel of his overall social conservative, Tea Party positions. He has also been a strong opponent of gay marriage and abortion rights and a strong supporter of "religious freedom."
Indiana has tough marijuana laws, with possession of even the smallest amount of pot worth up to six months in county jail and possession of more than 30 grams (slightly more than an ounce) a felony punishable by up to 2 ½ years in prison. Selling any amount more than 30 grams is also a felony, again punishable by up to 2 ½ years in prison.
Mike Pence is just fine with that. In fact, three years ago he successfully blocked a move in the legislature to reduce some of those penalties, saying that while he wanted to cut prison populations, he didn't want to cut penalties to achieve that end.
"I think we need to focus on reducing crime, not reducing penalties," he said. "I think this legislation, as it moves forward, should still seek to continue to send a way strong message to the people of Indiana and particularly to those who would come into our state to deal drugs, that we are tough and we're going to stay tough on narcotics in this state."
Pence did sign emergency legislation allowing for needle exchange programs in some Indiana counties last year, but only after initial resistance, during which more than 150 cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in one county alone. His hesitance was in line with his anti-drug values, as evidenced by his 2009 vote as a US representative to keep intact a federal ban on funding for needle exchanges.
Pence is also a gung-ho drug warrior when it comes to the Mexican border, having voted to support billions in funding for Mexico to fight drug cartels and for using the US military to conduct anti-drug and counter-terror patrols along the border.
"Time for a quick reality check," he said in 2000. "Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill."
Pence has been handsomely compensated by tobacco companies for his advocacy against anti-smoking public health campaigns, even though they have proven wildly successful in driving down smoking rates. Pence can be viewed as a man who rejects proven public health interventions for one dangerous substance while insisting on failed punitive, prohibitionist policies for another, less dangerous, substance.
(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)