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California Fair Sentencing Act Signed Into Law

California Gov. Jerry Brown Sunday signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which will undo racial disparities in the sentencing of cocaine offenders under laws passed during the crack cocaine hysteria of the 1980s. Brown did not issue a signing statement.

CA state Sen. Holly Mitchell's bill to eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity has been signed into law.
The law, Senate Bill 1010, eliminates sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It also eliminates related disparities in probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for those offenses.

"Whether sold as crack or powder, used on the street or in a corporate penthouse, the penalty for cocaine use should be the same for everybody," said Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), chair of California's Legislative Black Caucus. "My bill establishes fairness in sentencing. We must break the drug-driven cycle of arrest, lock-up, unemployability and re-arrest," Mitchell went on to say. "The law isn't supposed to be a pipeline that disproportionately channels the young, urban and unemployed into jail and joblessness."

Although crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug, legislation in the 1980s, driven by fear, misinformation, and political posturing, created much harsher penalties for crack cocaine offenses.

The racial impact of those laws was dramatic. In California, 77% of people imprisoned for crack offenses are black, 18% are Hispanic, and less than 2% are non-Hispanic whites. With blacks making up only 6.6% of the state's population, they are clearly being hit disproportionately by the crack sentencing disparity.

"The California Fair Sentencing Act takes a brick out of the wall of the failed 1980's drug war era laws that have devastated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men," said Lynne Lyman, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We are actively dismantling institutional racism. I hope California's action gives momentum to the remaining 11 states that still retain this unjust and irrational racial disparity in their penal codes."

The bill was sponsored by a dozen civil rights, racial justice, and criminal justice reform groups. It also won the support of the district attorneys of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Chronicle AM: OR Marijuana Poll, Colombia Drug Accord, Big Philly Drug Case Dismissal, More (9/26/14)

A new poll is surely leading to nail-biting in Oregon, a dirty narc is costing Philadelphia prosecutors dozens of drug cases, Colombia reveals details on drug accords with the FARC, a Canadian drug policy rally is coming next week, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Latest Oregon Poll Has Initiative at 44%. A new SurveyUSA poll has support for the Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative at 44%, with 40% opposed, and 16% undecided. The high number of undecideds may be an artifact of the way the poll question was asked -- it asked if voters were "certain" to vote for or against the measure. An even split among undecideds would result in passage of the initiative. This is a decline from an August SurveyUSA poll, which had the measure at 51%, but the questions were worded slightly differently in the two polls. Click on the links for more poll details.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia Judge Dismisses 59 Drug Cases Involving Dirty Narc. The cases involved former narcotics officer Jeffrey Walker, who has been convicted of plotting to rob drug dealers. That brings to 160 the number of cases involving Walker that have been vacated since he was indicted in May 2013. Another 58 cases remain open. Walker is now cooperating in a broader probe of the narcotics unit, where six officers were charged in July with robbing, beating, and kidnapping drug suspects.

International

Colombia Reveals Details on Drug Policy Treaty Provisions With FARC. Colombia Reports has an in-depth look at the drug provisions in the work-in-progress peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the leftist rebels of the FARC. A preliminary agreement was released Wednesday in the face of criticism over the lack of transparency in the process. The two sides have agreed on national-level programs to conduct consensual illicit crop substitution, address drug use through a public health approach, and beef up law enforcement to combat criminal groups involved in drug trafficking. Click on the link for much more.

Mexican Congressman Assassinated By Drug Cartel. Prosecutors in the state of Jalisco are saying they believe Dip. Gabriel Gomez Michel, who was abducted from a highway on the outskirts of Guadalajara on Monday, was most likely killed by a drug cartel. The bodies of Gomez and his driver were found in his burned out vehicle on Tuesday and positively identified on Wednesday. Prosecutors are pointing the finger at the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, a relatively new entrant in the cartel wars.

Mexico Arrests Eight Soldiers in Apparent Execution of Drug Gang Suspects. Seven soldiers and their commander have been arrested over the killing of 22 suspected drug gang members in a June 30 incident in the village of San Pedro Limon in Mexico state. The army had said the victims died in a fire fight with soldiers, but witnesses said they were killed in cold blood, and further suspicions were raised by the one-sided nature of the conflict. Only one soldier was slightly injured. Witnesses said only one person died in an initial confrontation; the rest were killed after surrendering. The army said they were members of La Familia Michoacana.

Canada First Annual National Drug Reform Rally Set for Tuesday. The first Annual National Rally for Canadian Drug Policy Reform will take place September 30 in Ottawa. A day earlier, proponents will meet with members of parliament to discuss evidence-based drug policy reforms. The rally is sponsored by the Canadian Drug Reform Network, the Canadian Harm Reduction Coalition, and Canada NORML, among others. Click on the link for more information.

Did Miami Police Wrongfully Execute Four, Including Their Informant? [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Part II of his series on ATF Fake Drug Stings Across America.

During the 1980s, Miami was a rich, glittering, southern city, awash in cocaine, and all sorts of other illegal drugs. The drug scene was so heavy and dangerous, its real-life drama inspired the popular Miami Vice TV series and the classic movie Scarface, as well as the more recent Cocaine Cowboy, an award-winning documentary based on the city's cocaine trafficking scene.

Today, Miami is no longer in the spotlight, but the drug business is still booming. And now there's a new twist: Law enforcement has made the dangerous world of the illicit drug trade even more dangerous by creating schemes to deceive would-be players into robbing drug trafficking stash houses that don't exist, setting up confrontations between robbers and police or robbers and homeowners over crimes cooked up by law enforcement itself.

The "fake robbery sting" is the brainchild of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), and the pro-active tactic has proven wildly popular, with state and local law enforcement agencies across the country engaging in the stings, particularly in the inner cities. In Miami, the results have included the mass killings of suspects by police SWAT teams under highly questionable circumstances.

A 2011 "fake robbery sting" that left four people dead -- including a police informant -- gunned down by a Miami-Dade SWAT team, has brought the program into harsh relief. Tricked by an informant into believing the residence was loaded with marijuana and large amounts of cash, the four men showed up armed and wearing ski masks.

SWAT officers shot and killed all four of them, including informant Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, 39, an ex-con who helped police set up the sting. Also killed by police were Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., age 52, Jorge Lemus, 39, and Antonio Andrew, 36.

A fifth suspect Gonzalez-Valdez Jr., the son of Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., was the only survivor. Police arrested him at the scene in the getaway vehicle, an Cadillac Escalade located outside the targeted residence. Gonzalez- Valdez Jr. later pled guilty to a litany of brutal home invasion robberies and got 27 years in federal prison.

The dead informant, Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia (Dade County)
Prosecutors investigated the killings, but got little cooperation from the SWAT team. Of the 11 officers involved in the mass killing, only four -- one from each fatal scene -- agreed to give statements to investigators, and only as long as no prosecutors were present. The other seven officers refused to give statements.

Prosecutors decided not to prosecute any of the police involved, making it clear as they did that they were frustrated by their inability to bring charges and that they believed serious police misconduct was involved. Especially damning to police was the State Attorney's Office (SAO) memorandum on the resolution of the case. The SAO report found one killing justified, but barely minced words about the rest of the lethal operation and police cooperation with investigators:

"Due to a number of unusual, counter-intuitive, suspicious and/or disturbing factors present in the other three shootings, we cannot state definitively that those shootings were legally justified. Nevertheless, because we do not have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to disprove the version of events given by the three officers and are thus compelled to accept their testimony as truthful [bolding and italics in original],… there is insufficient evidence to prove an unlawful killing of Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, Antonio Andrew, or Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. by any of the other 10 officers involved in the events of June 30, 2011."

That claim of legal compulsion drew a scoffing rebuke from Jeanne Baker, an attorney for the ACLU of Florida. "There's no rule of law that says that the prosecutors when evaluating a case are compelled to accept as truthful the testimony of the subject of the investigation," she told Miami NBC 6 News.

The SAO report further accused the officers of lying to investigators, moving dead bodies, and possibly planting evidence. The shootings were so disturbing that the State Attorneys went so far as to say "the officers weren't necessarily innocent."

The prosecutors' outrage was palpable, but what really lit up the city was the release by NBC 6 News of a video tape from a police helicopter's infrared camera that showed a replay of the men shot multiple times, although it appeared the men had not fired a shot at the officers and actually had surrendered.

Confronted with the now public video evidence, Miami police officials went on the offensive, expressing resentment that NBC Channel 6 got access to the secret police helicopter surveillance video. Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson asked the State Attorney's Office to investigate how the video tape showing the shootings fell into the hands of reporters.

A police spokesman said the informant, Rosendo Betancourt, defied officers' orders not to go onto the property, and that the officers, hidden in the dark, said it appeared the would-be robbers were trying to reach for weapons.

But consider the case of Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. The one weapon -- fully loaded -- that was allegedly his was located a few yards from where his body was found. Police had shot him 40 times as cowered against a tree in the fetal position. Police did not explain how Gonzalez-Valdez was threatening them with a weapon yards away from him.

Police officials also complained about the release of information in a State Attorney's Office report revealing that Betancourt, had been wearing a well-disguised audio wrist watch to record conversations. Betancourt could be seen wearing the watch during a surveillance video recorded earlier on June 30, 2011, the day of the killings.

Betancourt had been given code words to signal to police that he was their informant, and the audio surveillance from his watch would have showed whether or not he did so. But the audio wrist watch somehow went missing.

"That would've been a critical piece of evidence," said Jose Arrojo, a Chief Assistant at the State's Attorney Office.

Although police managed to thwart any attempt to prosecute them, the taxpayers of Miami-Dade have not been so fortunate. In July, the city agreed to pay $600,000 to the families of three of the men to settle a deadly force lawsuit. Betancourt's family didn't settle, and their lawsuit against the city remains pending.

The Redland sting -- named after the neighborhood where it went down -- remains one of the bloodiest episodes in a city that has seen its share of questionable police killings. And it raises serious questions about police misconduct and impunity.

"Are there questions marks? Of course. There are too many questions marks," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle admitted in an interview with Miami's NBC Channel 6.

Fernandez-Rundle said it was reasonable to conclude that based on the evidence that the officers acted with negligence and may have violated proper police procedures by shooting the men, particularly when an analysis of audio recording of the shooting proved "definitely" that six of the officers did not hear a gunshot from one of the dead men, nor did anyone find a rifle belonging to any of the men, as reported by an officer who said Jorge Lemus had a rifle.

Fernandez-Rundle also cited as another factor in her decision not to file charges a Florida appeals court decision that, she said, held "that any violation of police procedures and training is not admissible as evidence in criminal cases."

"The cops violated his civil rights," Jesse Dean-Kluger, an attorney involved in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Antonio Andrew, told the Miami New Times in 2012. Dean-Kluger argued the cops led the men into a scheme to expect an armed confrontation with drug dealers.

Deadly Operation: An Informant Comes Forward

So where did everything began in the first place? While most people snitch to avoid going to prison or for the easy money, police said Betancourt walked into a Miami-Dade robbery detail in June 2011 out of a sense of moral duty. He told a harrowing tale about being "sick and tired" of extreme violence inflicted on victims by a group of brutal home-invasion robbers.

Betancourt said the violence carried out by the men he knew personally included savage beatings, the cutting of one man's scrotum, using a hammer to pound the toes and fingers of the victims, cutting off fingers, and issuing threats to cut off childrens' fingers to force parents to reveal hidden valuables and money.

Police investigators questioned Betancourt as to how he knew so much about the crimes, Betancourt explained the men regularly sold him the stolen goods that were taken during the robberies. He identified Roger Gonzalez Valdez Sr., Jorge Lemus, Antoinio Lewis and Gonzalo-Valdez Jr. -- as the men responsible for the violent robberies Miami-Dade cops were already investigating.

Police developed a scheme to Betancourt as an informant to lure the men into a plot to rob a drug dealer's marijuana stash house in Redland, a suburb of Miami.

Attorney Matthew Leto is representing the Betancourt-Garcia family. (hlhlawfirm.com)
Between 8:00pm and 8:30pm on June 30, 2011, the men arrived at the "fake drug house" located at 18930-216th Street SW in Redland. Once the men agreed on an entry plan, they cut through a fence to reach the house -- and as they trudged closer; suddenly, police snipers, hidden among the shadows, armed with Colt M4 Commando assault rifles, stormed out from different directions in the dark to pursue the men who, now aware they'd been set up, scattered throughout the property. It is unclear if the officers commanded the men to "halt," but officers fired upon each suspect.

The first suspect killed, an armed Jorge Lemus, was shot to death while crouching down behind a vehicle. Informant Rosendo Betancourt died next in a hail of bullets. An overhead police helicopter infrared camera captured Betancourt surrendering to police with his hands up in the air. Next, police ordered Betancourt to lie on the ground, and crawl towards the officers. Betancourt complied.

The SAO report stated Sergeant Manuel Malgor then ordered Betancourt to turn over, and at this point, according to Malgor, this is when the informant got blasted 23 times -- just as it appeared to Malgor that Betancourt reached for his gun. Indeed a weapon was found in Betancourt's waistband but the lawyers representing Betancourt's family suspected the police planted the gun.

They had other questions, too. Why didn't Betancourt utter the code word assigned by police: "I'm heading to Disney World -- or help!" And what happened to the missing audio watch that Betancourt was wearing to record conversations between himself, the police and the robbers, a watch that could be clearly seen that he was wearing during the "real time" surveillance -- only a few hours before he was killed.

Aerial video footage did not actually capture Sgt. Malgor and fellow officers shooting Betancourt, thus, the prosecutors said, they "could not disprove the Sergeant's story," but they seriously questioned why the officer did not handcuff Betancourt as he laid on his stomach.

"The police let him down," a family member lamented.

Antonio Andrew was shot a dozen times while lying on the ground. Again, the officers claimed Andrew reached for a gun, although State prosecutors determined the officers gave contradictory orders.

For example, one officer hollered at Andrew, "Don't move your hands, and let me see your hands underneath your waistband." When Andrew obeyed the second command, an officer said Andrew made a quick movement towards his waist area. And this is when officers fired a dozen shots, killing Andrew instantly.

When a NBC Channel 6 reporter asked Assistant State Attorney Don Horn how someone can make a simultaneous move for his waistband -- when an officer said Andrew's hands were already in his waistband, Horn replied in disgust, "I don't know. It made no sense to me."

Even more disturbing, Horn wasn't able to question the officer (why) he gave obvious conflicting commands or ask the officer any other question because the officers, as mentioned earlier, would only speak to investigators if no prosecutor was present.

Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. either dropped or discarded his gun as he tried to flee the scene. Police eventually found Gonzalez cowering at the base of a tree. The officer seen on the released video behind the tree with Gonzalez's "back" to him said in his statement that Gonzalez made a quick move into his waistband, a move that allegedly forced the officers to open fire, striking Gonzalez 40 times out of 50 shots fired.

But prosecutors question whether the officer had a good view of Gonzalez near the tree, as the officer claimed. "Our repeated reviews of the video caused us to question whether the officer... was even in a position to see what he saw," the attorneys wrote.

State prosecutors also said the evidence showed that officers moved Gonzalez-Valdez's body after they shot him dead. Here's why prosecutors suspected this: a black hand-held police radio was found in Gonzalez's hand.

"We have a system of justice that require apprehension, prosecution, conviction and sentencing," said attorney Justin Leto of Miami, who handled the wrongful death lawsuit for Jorge Lemus and Antoinio Andrew. "I don't see any evidence indicating these people needed to be shot on sight," Leto said.

Justin Leto's brother Matthew is representing the Betancourt family in its pending federal lawsuit.

"The police did not take care of Mr. Betancourt like they promised," said Matthew Leto.

That lawsuit appears to be the end of the story. Four men are dead -- gunned down by police in an operation more reminiscent of an elite military anti-terror raid than of what we traditionally think of as civilian law enforcement -- and there is no legal accountability. Impunity is something we criticize in heavy-handed Latin American or Middle Eastern governments, but perhaps we need to look in the mirror.

Miami, FL
United States

Chronicle AM: Holder Ponders Rescheduling, CT MedMJ Dispensaries Open, Honduras Prez Slams Drug War; More (9/25/14)

Holder will resign, but has some parting words on rescheduling, Rahm Emmanuel supports pot decrim, but legalization is a step too far, Connecticut dispensaries are now open for business, and more. Let's get to it:

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Holder to Resign, Says We Should Consider Rescheduling Marijuana. As he announces his resignation, Attorney General Holder has signaled that he thinks it may be time to reschedule marijuana. "It's certainly a question we need to ask ourselves, whether or not marijuana is as serious a drug as heroin, especially given what we've seen recently with regard to heroin -- the progression of people, from using opioids to heroin use, the spread and the destruction that heroin has perpetrated all around our country," Holder told Yahoo global news anchor Katie Couric. "And to see how, by contrast, what the impact is of marijuana use. Now it can be destructive, if used in certain ways, but the question of whether or not they should be in the same category is something that we need to ask ourselves -- and use science as the basis for making that determination."

Chicago Mayor Emanuel Just Says No to Legalization. Just a day after he called for marijuana decriminalization and the defelonization of drug possession, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said marijuana legalization is a step too far. He was responding to remarks from potential challenger Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union, who suggested legalization was "another source of revenue we ought to look at."

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Dispensaries Now Open for Business. The state's first licensed grower sent its first shipment this week to dispensaries, which promptly began selling it to qualified patients. All six dispensaries in the state should be open this week.

SurveyUSA Poll Has Florida Initiative at 53%, Needs 60% to Win. The latest SurveyUSA poll has the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative with 53% of the vote, but since the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. That's a slight drop from the last SurveyUSA poll, which had support at 56%. Importantly, while only 53% said they would vote for it, only 31% said they would vote against and 15% were undecided. If the undecideds split evenly, the initiative will squeak out a victory.

More Than 350 People Applied for Illinois Medical Marijuana Business Permits. State officials said Wednesday that more than 350 people had applied to legally grow or provide medical marijuana by the Monday afternoon deadline. Some 158 people applied as potential cultivation centers, while 211 applied to operate dispensaries. The state will grant 21 grow center permits and 60 dispensary permits by year's end, with the first legally obtainable medical marijuana available by spring 2015.

Pennsylvania Senate Passes Restrictive Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Wednesday approved Senate Bill 1182, after amending it to remove the ability to vaporize the plant and removing a large number of qualifying medical conditions. The bill now goes to the House.

Drug Testing

Federal Appeals Court to Hear Arguments on Florida Welfare Drug Testing Law. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals has set a hearing date of November 20 for Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) welfare drug testing law. The state lost last December in US circuit court, with the trial judge ruling that "there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied." The state is appealing.

International

Honduras President Uses UN Speech to Rail Against Drug War. In a speech to the UN General Assembly Wednesday, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez lambasted international drug policies "based on waging a ceaseless war on all fronts without regard to the costs." He urged creation of a "multinational force" to fight drug cartels "just like the one that this morning, President Obama asked for to confront radical fundamentalists. Today, we talk about what is happening in other regions to children, young people, families displaced by war, violence and radical extremists," he said. "But little is said about the situation of thousands of families in the northern triangle of Central America."

California Defelonization Initiative Appears Poised for Victory [FEATURE]

While the nation focuses on marijuana legalization initiatives in Alaska, the District of Columbia, and Oregon, a California initiative that would turn drug possession felonies into misdemeanors is quietly heading for a likely victory at the polls in November.

Proposition 47, the smartly named Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, is sponsored by two prominent California law enforcement figures, former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne and current San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, and the campaign is being led by Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools. It has lined up an impressive array of supporters, ranging from crime victims' groups to the Catholic Church and racial and social justice organizations.

The initiative would attempt to address the state's chronic over-incarceration problems by moving six low-level, nonviolent crimes from felony/wobblers to misdemeanors. A "wobbler" is an offense that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. Among the included offenses is simple drug possession. (The others include shoplifting under $950, check forgery under $950, and petty theft or receipt of stolen property under $950.)

About 10,000 people are arrested on drug possession felonies each year in the state.

Passage of Prop 47 would also help the state get closer to meeting a looming deadline from the federal courts to shrink its prison population. A new study by the California Budget Project finds that Prop 47 would move in that direction by reducing the number of people sentenced to prison and by allowing those already serving time for such offenses to petition for resentencing in county jails.

In addition to reducing prison overcrowding, Prop 47 aims to reduce felony caseloads in the court system, thus freeing up criminal justice resources for more serious and violent crime. According to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office, if the initiative passes, there would be "state and county criminal justice savings potentially in the high hundreds of millions of dollars annually."

Savings from a successful Prop 47 would be dedicated to investment in mental health and drug treatment (65%), K-12 school programs for at-risk youth (25%), and trauma recovery services for crime victims (10%). The impact could be substantial.

San Francisco's DA is a Prop 47 proponent. (wikimedia.org)
"This initiative is very important for California," said Anthony Thigpen, president of California Calls, an alliance of 31 community-based organizations across the state. "We need new safety priorities that stop wasting resources on over-incarceration and invest in treatment and prevention. It's better for state and local budgets, better for public safety and better for the health of all of our communities."

While mainly flying under the radar, Prop 47 has still managed to pick up popular support. A California Field Poll in June and July had the initiative winning with 57% of the vote. And just this week, the campaign got even better news. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released Tuesday had support for the initiative at 62%, with only 25% opposed.

It has also picked up financial support. According to the California secretary of state's office, Prop 47 campaign committees have taken in more than $3.4 million in donations (including more than $1.2 million from the Open Society Policy Center, $600,000 from the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, and several six-figure donations from individuals). And while the campaign has spent more than $2 million so far, it still has about $1.2 million in the bank right now, and will continue to fund raise to finance last-minute advertising.

If that is even necessary. Prop 47 has picked up organized opposition, in the form of the Californians Against Prop 47 campaign finance committee, but the committee, representing groups including the California Police Chiefs Association, the California Peace Officers Association, and the California Correctional Supervisors Association, has so far raised only $42,000. That doesn't buy a lot of TV ad time.

Opponents charge that Prop 47 would "release dangerous inmates," "tie judges' hands," and is "completely unnecessary" because the state's ongoing "realignment" is already shifting prisoners from the state to the county level. But the initiative's proponents rebut those charges, arguing that it "keeps dangerous criminals locked up," "prioritizes serious and violent crime," and "provides new funding for crime prevention and education."

California State Prison, Solano, and example of the state's voracious prison-industrial complex (cdcr.ca.gov)
"The reason I support this measure is simple: The more addiction and mental health services we provide to communities hardest hit by crime, the less likely another mom will find herself in my shoes. Having to tell your children that their daddy was shot and they will never see him again is something I wouldn't wish on anyone," said Dionne Wilson of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

The group is a key part of the campaign and serves as a counterpoint to other crime survivors groups that oppose the initiative, such as Crime Victims United. That group has joined forces with law enforcement and the state district attorneys association to oppose Prop 47.

"When three out of four people go back to prison within three years -- and it's been that way for 30 years -- it's obvious that we need a new plan," Wilson continued. "This measure will save a ton of money that would be wasted on incarcerating nonviolent people for nonviolent crimes, which will then be reinvested into trauma care for victims, mental health services and drug treatment. I think that's what a sound public safety strategy looks like."

Prop 47 is also a response to the lack of action on the issue in Sacramento, or, more precisely, action thwarted in Sacramento. Last year, a defelonization bill sponsored by Sen. Jay Leno (D-San Francisco) passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

"Unable to get meaningful sentencing reform through Sacramento, this initiative is a tremendous opportunity to make responsible and significant fixes to our broken criminal justice system by allowing simple drug possession and other non-violent petty crimes to be treated appropriately as misdemeanors, avoiding the lifelong collateral consequences that go along with felony records and the unsustainable court and incarceration costs that accompany mass felonization in California," explained Lynne Lyman, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Prop 47 looks well-positioned to emerge victorious in November. But we're six weeks out now, and this is when initiative campaigns tend to heat up. The opposition is going to do its best to scare Californians into voting no, but it doesn't -- yet -- have enough money to make much of a media splash. At this point, it looks like California is on the verge of taking another big step toward addressing its chronic incarceration crisis.

CA
United States

Chronicle AM: MPP Files for 2016 in CA, Addiction Group Calls for FDA Head's Head, More (9/24/14)

MPP begins laying the groundwork for a 2016 legalization initiative in California, a new report examines the impact of pot law reforms, Pennsylvania Senate votes on medical marijuana today, anti-addiction activists target the FDA, and more. Let's get to it:

Chart from the CJCJ's report on the impact of marijuana law reforms.
Marijuana Policy

MPP Files Campaign Committee for 2016 California Initiative. And so it begins. The Marijuana Policy Project today filed with the California secretary of state to create a campaign committee to support a 2016 marijuana legalization ballot initiative. The group says the committee will be part of a broad coalition working to legalize marijuana in the nation's most populous state. That coalition will be working on an initiative draft in the coming months.

CJCJ Report Examines Impact of Marijuana Law Reforms, Supports Legalization Over Decriminalization. In a report released today, the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines the impact of pot law reforms in states that have either decriminalized or legalized the herb and calls legalization the best policy choice. The report is Reforming Marijuana Laws: Which Approach Best Reduces the Harms of Criminalization? A Five-State Analysis.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Headed for Senate Vote Today. The bill, which was amended yesterday in the Appropriations Committee to ban the use of vaporizers and to greatly narrow the list of allowed conditions for using medical marijuana, is set for a Senate floor vote today.

Heroin and Opiates

Pennsylvania Report Says Heroin Cheaper Than Beer. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania (an agency of the state legislature) has issued a report on opiate addiction in the Keystone State that finds that heroin is cheaper than beer and is sold through sophisticated retail networks. The report, Heroin: Combating this Growing Epidemic in Pennsylvania, recommends a variety of legislative actions, including passage of bills creating a statewide prescription drug database, "Good Samaritan" laws, and making the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone more available.

Anti-Addiction Activists Call on FDA Head to Resign. A group calling itself FED UP: A Coalition to End the Opioid Epidemic today released a letter calling for the resignation of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg because of "the FDA's continued approval of new, dangerous, high-dose opioid analgesics that are fueling high rates of addiction and overdose deaths." The group takes issue with the FDA's approval last year of the new opioid pain reliever Zohydro, but it also criticized the agency for approving new drugs that are actually designed to be harder to misuse, such as Targiniq, which combines oxycodone with naloxone. FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson defended Dr. Hamburg, saying she had to balance concerns about abuse and public safety with those about adequate access to pain medications. "Preventing prescription opioid abuse and ensuring that patients have access to appropriate treatments for pain are both top public health priorities for the FDA," Jefferson said in a statement.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Initiative Has Healthy Lead in New Poll. A poll released yesterday by the Public Policy Institute of California has the state's defelonization initiative, Proposition 47, winning with support at 62%. The initiative would turn drug possession felonies and some other low-level nonviolent offenses into misdemeanors.

International

Bermuda Activist Sues Premier Over Medical Marijuana. Attorney Alan Gordon has sued Premier Michael Dunkley as part of his campaign to ease access to medical marijuana on the island. Gordon accuses the government of creating a double standard by not arresting him for openly cultivating medical marijuana while prosecuting atheists and Rastafarians for the same offense.

Serbian Health Minister Supports Medical Marijuana. Serbian Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar has said marijuana provides "good results in medicine" and announced he will open a public debate on the issue. "The ministry would not prevent the introduction in medicine of anything that gives results for treatment, including marijuana. There are results showing that cannabis gives good results in medicine. We do not want to make decisions for one day, though. We want to meet people with all the details," he said.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Three more cops with apparent pill problems, and one of them was slinging weed on the side, too. Just another week on the corrupt cops front. Let's get to it:

In Alpine, New Jersey, news came last Wednesday that a Palisades Interstate Parkway police officer had been arrested for possession of cocaine and heroin. Officer Lee Frazzano was actually arrested in July, but the department did not announce the arrest until now. Frazzano went down after the department got word that he was "involved in illegal narcotics" and that the investigation was ongoing. He's scheduled for a court hearing today.

In Richmond, Illinois, a former Richmond and Hebron police officer was arrested last Thursday on new drug charges in addition to ones he was arrested for in July. Ryszard Kopacz, 30, was fired just days after he began working for the Richmond Police after he was accused of soliciting prescription drugs from citizens while in uniform and then failing to show up for work the next day. He was also accused of burglarizing the Hebron Police Department and possession of stolen weapons. Now, he is also accused of selling marijuana while on the job as a Hebron cop. His new charges are delivery of cannabis while acting in official capacity and unlawful acquisition of a controlled substance.

In Trenton, Georgia, a former Trenton police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he snuck into the evidence room and walked out with oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other prescription pills. Shawn Dewey Chapa was indicted on one count of violation of oath as a police officer and four counts of theft. He's looking at up to 15 years in state prison.

Chronicle AM: Rahm Says Defelonize, Mex Prez Says Don't Legalize, Florida MedMJ Poll, More (9/23/14)

Thar's gold in them thar marijuana legalization laws, Seattle's prosecutor throws out pot possession tickets, Massachusetts medical marijuana advocates chastise the slow-moving state government, Rahm Emanuel wants to defelonize drug possession, and more. Let's get to it:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls for the defelonization of drug possession. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Marijuana Sales in DC Could Net Nearly $9 Million in Tax Revenues. A report from NerdWallet estimates that the District of Columbia could net nearly $9 million a year from taxes on the sales of marijuana -- if taxation and regulation is approved in the District. The DC marijuana initiative, Measure 71, does not include provisions for taxation and regulation because DC law precludes it from doing so, but a tax and regulate legalization bill is already before the city council. The NerdWallet report also includes marijuana tax revenue projections for all 50 states.

DC Council Advances Effort to Seal Marijuana Possession Records. The DC Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety voted unanimously last week to approve B20-467, a bill that would allow people to file motions to seal records for offenses that have since been legalized or decriminalized. DC decriminalized marijuana possession earlier this year and could legalize it in November if Measure 71 passes, which means many DC residents would be able to take advantage of the law if it passes.

Seattle Prosecutor Will Drop All Pot Possession Charges. City Attorney Pete Holmes said Monday will dismiss about a hundred pot possession tickets issued by the Seattle Police Department in the first half of this year -- because most of them were written by a single police officer who disagrees with the state's marijuana legalization law. That officer, Randy Jokela, has been temporarily reassigned.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Advocates Press State Leaders on Slow Implementation. Patients and advocates rallied Monday at the state house to put pressure on the Department of Health to speed up access to medical marijuana under the state's nearly two-year-old law. The rally was sponsored by the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, whose leader, Matthew Allen, told reporters that Gov. Deval Patrick (D) had not lived up to his responsibility to implement the will of the voters.

Florida Campaign Internal Poll Has Initiative at 69%. The United for Care campaign, the people behind the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative, released an internal poll Monday that showed support for the initiative at 69%. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. The internal poll release came after several recent polls showed the initiative hovering at the edge of defeat.

Harm Reduction

Drug Czar to Open Next Month's National Harm Reduction Conference. Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the White House's Office on National Drug Control Policy, better known as the drug czar's office, will provide the opening remarks for the 10th National Harm Reduction Conference set for Baltimore a month from now. Click on the title link or the conference link to learn more.

Sentencing

Chicago Mayor Calls for Statewide Defelonization of Drug Possession Offenses. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) today proposed before a General Assembly panel in Chicago that possession of up to a gram of any controlled substance be treated as a misdemeanor, not a felony, as is currently the case. Emanuel also proposed decriminalizing marijuana possession statewide. "It doesn't make sense that one arrest for a very small amount of a controlled substance can lead to a lifetime of struggles," Emanuel said. "It is time to put our sentencing policies in line with our values, reduce penalties for nonviolent, misdemeanor drug offenses so we don't put people in prison who need drug treatment."

International

Mexican President Opposes Marijuana Legalization. In an interview with Bloomberg News, President Enrique Pena Nieto said he opposes legalizing marijuana because that would be "opening the door to a large intrusion of drugs that is very damaging to the population." But he added that he was open to discussion on the issue. "I'm in agreement that we need to have a large debate in the hemisphere about the policies for this area, whether it's to tolerate or to legalize or to simply take a hemispherical definition," Pena Nieto said.

Peru Dynamiting Cocaine Plane Landing Strips, To No Avail. The Peruvian armed forces have been dynamiting clandestine airstrips in the world's number one coca growing region, the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM). But even though soldiers "cratered" 54 airstrips, Peru's counternarcotics chief, Gen. Vicente Romero, said that they were quickly repaired, with traffickers paying villagers up to $100 each to fill in the holes. Sometimes, he said, they get fixed overnight.

Iran Hangs 13 on Drug Charges. Iran has executed 13 people for drug crimes in the past week, including eight hanged in Shahab Prison in Kerman on September 18 and five, including two Pakistani women, hanged in Central Prison in Zahedan. Along with China and Saudi Arabia, Iran is one of the world's most prolific drug war executioners.

Chronicle AM: Joe McNamara Passes, Rand Paul Speech, OAS Drug Resolution, More (9/22/14)

Oregon's Measure 91 picks up a nice endorsement, a marijuana legalization vote in York, Maine, is snuffed out, decrim advances in the US Virgin Islands, Rand Paul tells the GOP to reach out on drug policy, Joe McNamara dies, the OAS passes a drug policy resolution, and more. Let's get to it:

Joseph McNamara in his days as San Jose Police Chief. (SJPD)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legalization Initiative Endorsed By Former US Attorney. Former Oregon US Attorney Kris Olson today endorsed Measure 91, the Oregon marijuana legalization initiative. "I enforced our marijuana laws, and they don't work," she said. "Filling our courts and jails has failed to reduce marijuana use, and drug cartels are pocketing all the profits." Olson was US Attorney for Oregon from 1994 to 2001. Meanwhile, the Oregon State Sheriff's Association has made a $100,000 donation to the No on 91 campaign.

York, Maine, Effort to Get Marijuana Vote on Ballot Thwarted. A state court judge last Friday rejected an effort to put a local marijuana possession legalization on the ballot in York. York County Superior Court Judge Paul Fritzsche sided with town councilmen, who had rejected two citizen petitions seeking the vote. Fritzsche ruled that York cannot regulate marijuana because it is governed by state and federal law. Two other Maine towns, Lewiston and South Portland, will vote in November. The state's largest city, Portland, approved a similar initiative last year.

US Virgin Islands Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana was approved by the Virgin Islands Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Public Safety, and Justice last Thursday. The measure is Bill 30-0018. It would make possession of an ounce or less of weed a civil offense punishable by a fine of between $100 and $200, with the possible forfeiture of the contraband.

Medical Marijuana

Today is Deadline Day for Illinois Medical Marijuana Business Applicants. People who want to operate medical marijuana businesses have until 3 pm CDT to hand in their applications to state agencies. The Illinois Medical Marijuana Pilot Program has more information.

Drug Policy

Rand Paul Calls on Republicans to Embrace Drug Reform, Other Non-Traditional GOP Planks. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) used a speech Saturday to the California GOP convention to call on the party to reach beyond its base by embracing issues such as drug reform, privacy in personal communications, voting rights, and an anti-interventionist foreign policy. Republicans need to "show compassion for people," especially young black and brown people disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. "If you look at surveys, it's not that they're using drugs more than your kids are using drugs, it's because they're getting caught because they live in an urban environment with more patrols, they have less good attorneys, they don't have the resources, and some of the laws are still frankly wrong," he said.

Law Enforcement

Pentagon Surplus Arms Program Let Military Weapons Go to Police Forces That Abused Civil Rights. The Pentagon's program to distribute surplus military equipment to US civilian police forces allows even agencies that have been censured by the Justice Department for civil rights violations to receive lethal weaponry. The Defense and Justice Departments have apparently not been coordinating on the program, the Associated Press reports.

Obituaries

Drug Reforming Police Chief Joe McNamara Dies at 79. One of the earliest law enforcement voices for drug reform is no longer with us. Former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara died last Friday at his home in Monterey, California. He is credited with bringing progressive reforms to the San Jose Police Department in the 1970s. After retiring as police chief in 1992, he went to work at the Hoover Institution, where he continued and sharpened his criticism of the war on drugs. "He was the police chief who became the most deeply involved in the drug policy reform movement," said Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who had worked with McNamara on issues for the past 25 years. "He was convinced the drug war was a total disaster and he needed to speak out about that."

International

OAS Issues Resolution on Drug Policy. At its 46th Special Session in Guatemala City last Friday, the Organization of American States passed a resolution calling for states to "regularly review the drug policies adopted, ensure that they are comprehensive and focused on the well-being of the individual, in order to address their national challenges and assess their impact and effectiveness." The resolution also called on states to develop drug policies "that prevent social costs or contribute to their reduction; and, when appropriate, reviewing traditional approaches and considering the development of new approaches, based on scientific evidence and knowledge." And it calls for states to develop comprehensive approaches that examine "the structural causes, triggers, and the multiple factors that contribute to violence and crime" with a view to taking them into account when drafting the 2016-2020 Hemispheric Plan of Action on Drugs. Click on the link to read the OAS press release.

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Poll, NM Pot Poll, Molly Fry Petition, EU Sides with Bolivia on Coca, More (9/19/14)

A pair of marijuana polls have good news for DC, but not so good for New Mexico, there's a move on to get Dr. Molly Fry out of federal prison, Ohio employers are pushing drug testing for students, the EU sides with Bolivia -- not the US -- on that country's coca policy, and more. Let's get to it:

Dr. Molly Fry's supporters have started a petition drive seeking a pardon for the medical marijuana practitioner. (change.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has DC Initiative at 65%. A new Washington Post/NBC News/Marist poll has the DC marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative Measure 71 winning easily with the support of nearly two-thirds of likely voters. That's the highest number ever polled for an actual legalization initiative. Click on the poll link for more information.

New Poll Has Legalization Coming Up Short in New Mexico. An Albuquerque Journal poll suggests it may be a good thing New Mexicans aren't voting on legalization this year. The poll asked whether respondents supported legalizing marijuana for adults with a tax and regulation scheme similar to Colorado. Only 44% were in favor, with 50% opposed. Click on the title link for more information.

Medical Marijuana

Change.org Petition to Free Dr. Mollie Fry. California medical marijuana advocate Dr. Mollie Fry is sitting in federal prison for providing the drug to sick patients. Supporters have organized a Change.org petition seeking a pardon for her. As of this writing, there are only 27 signatures. You can add yours by clicking on the title link.

Drug Testing

Ohio Industry Groups Urge Schools to Drug Test Vocational Education Students. The Mahoning Valley Manufacturer's Coalition and the Youngstown/Warren Chamber of Commerce have sent a letter to schools in Columbiana, Mahoning, and Trumbull counties urging them to drug test students who enroll in vocational training programs. While somewhere between 20% and 30% of school districts nationwide subject some students to drug testing, this is the first time we've heard of employers directly lobbying schools to do so.

International

European Union Agrees With Morales, Not Obama, on Bolivia's Coca Policy. The Obama administration this week certified that Bolivia had "failed demonstrably" to live up to US drug policy mandates, but the European Union has joined Bolivian President Evo Morales in strongly disagreeing. "In my opinion, the work we have achieved has been successful, the results as well are visible in the successful and sustained reduction of the coca production in the country, and successes as well related with the prohibition," said Timothy Torlot, head of an EU delegation in Bolivia. "My experience here, working with the Bolivians, is one of a government that seriously executes its work, that has proved its results, no need to talk with the US government about that," he added.

Non-Binding Referendum on Marijuana in Mexican State of Jalisco. The state of Jalisco, home to Guadalajara, the country's second largest city, has begun voting on a non-binding referendum on marijuana policy. The referendum asks whether medical marijuana should be legalized and whether personal possession limits should be increased. Voting takes place through Sunday. So far, medical marijuana is winning approval, but increasing possession limits is not. After the referendum, PRD legislator Enrique Velazquez will present a bill in the state congress.

Luxembourg Justice Minister Says It Is Time to Rethink Drug Policy, But Rules Out Marijuana Legalization. Justice Minister Felix Braz told the newspaper Luxemburger Wort that the country needs to rethink its drug policy, saying that criminalization and repression have not had the desired results. Braz pointed to increasing drug problems in the country. "I am convinced that we cannot help these people only through criminal justice measures," the Justice Minister said. "The fact that drug consumption increases steadily, leads us to the conclusion that we need to rethink our drugs policy. With an open spirit, we need to search for alternative solutions to get the problem under control," he added. But Braz also said that the coalition government of which he is a member is not going to legalize marijuana. Marijuana is effectively decriminalized in Luxembourg.

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