Criminal Justice

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Chronicle AM -- July 15, 2014

The Obama administration comes out against congressional interference with the District of Columbia's decriminalization law, Dana Rohrabacher comes out as the first Republican congressman to support marijuana legalization, the Smarter Sentencing Act picks up more sponsors, and more. Let's get to it:

US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the first sitting Republican congressman to endorse marijuana legalization. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

White House Comes Out Against Congress Blocking DC Decriminalization Law. In a statement of administration policy on pending appropriations bills, the White House Monday came out "strongly" against a congressional move to bar the District from spending money to implement its new decriminalization law. "The Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally- passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States' rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department's enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District," the statement said.

DC City Council Passes Emergency Resolutions Condemning Congressional Interference. The council Monday approved two emergency resolutions opposing a recent effort led by US House Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) to use congressional oversight to block the District of Columbia from spending any of its locally-raised revenues to enact marijuana reform. Read more on DC marijuana politics in a feature article here later today.

Dana Rohrabacher, First Republican Congressman to Back Marijuana Legalization. California Republican US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told the Christian Science Monitor Monday that he supports legalizing marijuana and would "probably" endorse a 2016 California legalization initiative if it qualifies for the ballot. Rohrabacher is the first sitting Republican congressman to explicitly endorse legalization. About 40 congressional Democrats have expressed support for legalization.

National Press Club Newsmakers Event Next Week Centers on Marijuana Policy. The National Press Club in downtown Washington, DC, will host a news conference next Thursday on medical and recreational marijuana legalization. The news conference will feature Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, and Dr. Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization group Project SAM (Smart About Marijuana). The event is open to all credentialed journalists and National Press Club members. Click on the link for event details.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Jay Nixon (R) yesterday signed into law a bill allowing Missourians with epilepsy that cannot be treated by conventional means to use low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil. Patients will have to register for the state and have a neurologist aver that conventional treatments have not worked.

Los Angeles Moves to Shut Down Medical Marijuana Farmers' Market. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has said he will today seek a restraining order to block a Boyle Heights medical marijuana farmers' market from doing it again. The farmers' market occurred two weekends ago. It isn't clear if there are plans to do it again.

Prescription Opiates

University of Wisconsin Pain Policy Study Group Releases Two Reports. The reports are Achieving Balance in State Pain Policy: A Progress Report Card (CY 2013) and Achieving Balance in State and Federal Pain Policies: A Guide to Evaluation (CY 2013). The first report contains a grade for each state and the District of Columbia, which represents the extent that state policies can support pain management and patient care. The second report explains PPSG's evaluation method and criteria as well as its "principle of balance," which says that "efforts to prevent drug diversion and abuse are essential and should avoid interfering with healthcare practice and patient care."

Law Enforcement

Oklahoma Narcs on the Lookout for Kratom. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is worried about kratom, a Southeast Asian shrub whose leaves are mildly psychoactive and who some users claim is useful as a means of breaking opiate addictions. The OBN says it is not a "major problem" yet, but that it has received worried phone calls from a half-dozen parents. Kratom is on the DEA's list of drugs to watch, but the federal agency has made no move to ban it.

Sentencing

Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up Two More Cosponsors. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Donald Payne (D-NJ) are the latest to sign onto the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reduce some federal drug sentences by retroactively adjusting crack and powder cocaine sentences and allowing judges to sentence below mandatory minimums in some cases. The act now has 44 cosponsors -- 30 Democrats and 14 Republicans. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate.

International

Dutch Senate Wants Justice Minister to Explain What He's Doing About Illegal Marijuana Production. The Senate has summoned Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to explain what he is doing about "the backdoor problem" -- the fact that while cannabis coffee shops can sell marijuana without legal penalty, there is no legal source for the marijuana they sell. Opstelten and Home Affairs Minister Ronald Plasterk will appear before the Senate in September. Despite the pleas of numerous mayors, Opstelten has refused to allow experiments with regulated marijuana production.

Chronicle AM -- July 14, 2014

Happy Bastille Day! And speaking of which, the US Sentencing Commission is reporting heavy public response to its proposal to make some sentencing reforms retroactive. Meanwhile, marijuana remains on the move, the good burghers of New York will pay for another drug war killing, millennials loosen up on drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

A new ad from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Earns $150,000 in Excise Taxes From First Three Days of Limited Legal Marijuana Sales. Legal pot sales in Washington started last Tuesday with only a handful of shops open across the state, but by last Friday, the Washington Liquor Control Board reported that the sales had generated almost $150,000 in excise taxes alone. The excise tax is 25% imposed on producers when they sell to retailers and another 25% imposed on consumers when they buy retail. The figure doesn't include state and local sales taxes.

Colorado Recreational Marijuana Sales Declined for First Time in May. Retail pot shops sold $21 million worth of marijuana in May, down 5% from the $22 million sold in April. The combined 4/20 celebrations and High Times Cannabis Cup that same weekend may have had something to do with the high April figures. Also, tax-free medical marijuana sales remain strong and still exceeded recreational sales in April, coming in at $32 million.

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off With Innovative Bathroom Ads. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has begun its campaign to get a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot with "bathroom-themed ads, which are scheduled to appear in restrooms at more than two dozen restaurants and bars across Las Vegas throughout July and August." The ads highlight the costs of marijuana prohibition.

South Portland, Maine, Activists Hand in Signature for Municipal Legalization Referendum. Citizens for Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, today handed in 1,521 signatures to place a legalization initiative on the municipal this November. The group needs 959 valid voter signatures to qualify. Similar efforts are underway in York and Lewiston; Portland passed a similar measure last year.

Medical Marijuana

Berkeley City Council Gives Initial Approval for Free Medical Marijuana for the Poor and Homeless. The Berkeley city council last week gave initial approval for an ordinance that would require dispensaries in the city to set aside 2% of their medical marijuana to be given away free to poor and homeless residents who are patients. A second reading is set for next month.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Law Not Working. South Carolina's new law allowing for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil is stymied because no one in South Carolina is making it and federal law prohibits it being shipped across state lines. The new law does create a study committee to determine how to grow the plants and manufacture the oil in state, but it looks like that is years down the road.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Trial of Grower. Protestors gathered in Hendersonville this morning to protest the trial of a man they say is a medical marijuana grower. Todd Stimson is charged with numerous marijuana cultivation and related offenses. His trial starts this afternoon.

Drug Policy

Poll of Millennials Finds Majority for Marijuana Legalization, One in Five for Cocaine Legalization. A new Reason-Rupe survey finds that 57% of millennials support legalizing marijuana and a surprising 22% support legalizing the use of cocaine. Majorities of millennials said people should not be jailed or imprisoned for using marijuana (83%), ecstasy (68%), cocaine (63%), or heroin (61%). Click on the link above for more top lines, cross tabs, and methodological details.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Gives Up on Testing Some State Workers, But Not All. Gov. Rick Scott's (R) dream of imposing drug testing on all state workers has faded further after attorneys representing the state last month filed court documents conceding that nearly a thousand job classes are ineligible for drug testing. But Scott has yet to concede that his plan to force state workers to undergo mandatory suspicionless drug testing is unconstitutional, despite lower court rulings against him. He's vowing to go to the US Supreme Court.

Law Enforcement

New York City Pays $2 Million for Undercover Narc's Killing of Unarmed Man on His Mother's Doorstep. Shem Walker, 59, was shot and killed when he attempted to run off shady characters loitering on his mother's apartment building doorstep. The shady characters were undercover NYPD narcotics detectives. Walker punched one of the plain clothes narcs, who responded by shooting him three times and killing him. Now, the good burghers of New York will pay out $2.25 million to settle the family's lawsuit against the city. No criminal charges were filed against the officer.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Got 65,000 Letters Regarding Sentencing Retroactivity. The US Sentencing Commission reports that it had received some 65,000 letters regarding its plans to make the changes to drug sentencing guidelines that reduce many drug sentences retroactive. The Commission will hold a public meeting on the issue on Friday. Click on the link for more details and to read the letters.

International

Honduras President Blames US Drug Policy for Refugee Crisis. In an interview published today, President Juan Hernandez blamed US drug policy for creating violence in Central American countries and thus propelling a surge of migration toward the US. He said US anti-drug policies for generating prohibition-related violence first in Colombia and Mexico and now in Central America. "Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration."

Chronicle AM -- July 11, 2014

A St. Paul drug raid is raising questions about police tactics, the hemp industry wants to clarify something, Tennessee gets its first bust under a law criminalizing drug-using pregnant women (and its first threat of a legal challenge), Pennsylvania issues opiate prescribing guidelines, and more. Let's get to it:

One of the two dogs killed in a St. Paul SWAT team raid that scored a bong and a grinder. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Municipal Decriminalization Initiatives Halfway There on Signatures. Decriminalization initiative signature-gathering campaigns in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are at the halfway point in terms of signatures gathered. Two groups, Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy Action, the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, are leading the effort. The campaigns reported having half the 5,673 signatures needed in Santa Fe. They also need 11,203 signatures in Albuquerque; organizers say they are more than halfway there in the Duke City as well.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Names 16 to Medical Marijuana Task Force. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) has named the members of a state task force charged with monitoring the effectiveness of the state's new limited medical marijuana law. Included are four patients or their parents, four law enforcement entities, four substance abuse treatment providers and four health care providers. It also includes two lawmakers each from the House and Senate, as well as the commissioners of Health, Human Services and Public Safety. Click on the link for a list of members.

Hemp

Hemp Industries Association Clarifies That CBD Extracts Are Not "Hemp Oil." The trade group the Hemp Industries Association has released a statement emphasizing that cannabidiol (CBD) extracts are not "hemp oil" and warning against misbranding them as such. The CBD extracts are made from marijuana flowers for medicinal purposes, while hemp oil, produced by pressing hemp seeds, is a food item containing only tiny amounts of CBD. Click on the link to read the full statement.

Pregnancy

First Woman Arrested Under Tennessee's New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. A 26-year-old Monroe County woman has been charged with assault on her fetus for using methamphetamine shortly before she gave birth under a new law that allows prosecutors to press assault and child endangerment charges against women who use drugs. Under that law, "a woman may be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug." But neither doctors nor prosecutors have shown any harm to the woman's newborn baby.

Tennessee ACLU Seeking to Challenge New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. The ACLU of Tennessee is currently seeking plaintiffs to challenge the new law criminalizing pregnant women who use drugs. The law is the first of its kind in the country. "This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges," said Thomas Castelli, Tennessee ACLU legal director. "By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, the state is only deterring women struggling with alcohol or drug dependency from seeking the pre-natal care they need. ACLU-TN stands ready to challenge this law and encourages any woman concerned about the impact this law will have on her to contact us." Click on the link for more information.

Prescription Opiates

Pennsylvania Releases Guidelines for Prescribing Opiates. State officials and the Pennsylvania Medical Society have released new voluntary opiate prescribing guidelines as part of an effort to reduce overdose deaths. The guidelines are aimed at family practice doctors who are not pain treatment specialists. A University of Wisconsin pain policy specialist, James Cleary, said the guidelines were "very responsible," but raised concerns that opiates remain available for those who truly need them. Task force members responded that finding the proper balance was critical.

Law Enforcement

St. Paul SWAT Drug Raid Scores Bong, Grinder; Leaves Two Dogs Dead. A St. Paul, Minnesota, police SWAT team executing a no-knock search warrant at a family home burst through the front door without notice at 7:00am and promptly shot and killed the family's two pet pit bulls. "The first thing I heard was 'boom,'" said homeowner Larry Lee Arman. "Bop, bop, bop, bop, bop. Right in front of us. I was laying right there and I really thought I was being murdered," he said "I don't want to say by who. I thought it was, like, the government." Police said they thought they were entering a dangerous environment and had a right to eliminate potential threats with lethal force, but Arman said he wasn't a dangerous drug dealer, only a pot smoker. The SWAT team's haul seems to bear him out. They seized only "clothing, a glass bong, and suspected marijuana remnants in a metal grinder."

International

New York Times Takes a Look at Barcelona's Cannabis Clubs. The New York Times has a lengthy profile of Barcelona's burgeoning cannabis social club scene. It reports that the clubs, where members may buy and consume marijuana, now have 165,000 members, and that they are creating marijuana tourism. Officials are concerned.

Barcelona Police Arrest Cannabis Club Leaders. Police in Barcelona Friday arrested the president and at least three other members of the city's cannabis club federation FEDCAC. The group said it was not told why they were arrested, but other Spanish press reports said it was on money laundering charges. The bust comes as the city tries to crack down on the burgeoning clubs, which are legal under Spanish law, but have been testing the limits.

Transnational Institute Analyzes Colombia/FARC Accord on Drugs, Finds It Lacking. In a policy briefing on the Colombian peace accords, the Transnational Institute finds that FARC guerrillas are only "part of the problem" in the "complex scenario" of Colombian drug trafficking; that it effectively excludes rural settlers, indigenous and African-descent communities; that the agreement ratifies existing prohibition-based approaches to drugs; and that it ignores the ongoing progress in adopting other drug control models. Other than that…

Chronicle AM -- July 10, 2014

Forget Amazon's promised drone deliveries; the Mexican cartels have beat them to it. Also, Massachusetts cops will need to do more than just smell weed to search you or your vehicle, Arizona PTSD patients are okayed to use medical marijuana, Uruguay delays the roll-out of its legal marijuana sales, and more. Let's get to it:

Mexican cartels find a new way to bring drugs over the border. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules That Smell of Unburnt Marijuana Not Justification for Police Searches. Because Massachusetts has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, police cannot use the odor of raw marijuana to justify searches of vehicles or persons, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled Wednesday. The ruling came in a pair of decisions: Commonwealth v. Obermeyer and Commonwealth v. Craan. The court had already ruled that the odor of smoked marijuana was not sufficient cause for a search; now it has included the odor of unburnt marijuana as well.

Missouri Marijuana Lifer in Campaign for Clemency. Sixty-one-year-old Jeff Mizanskey is now in his 21st year of a life-without-parole sentence for non-violent marijuana charges. He wants out, and a campaign to free him as generated nearly half a million signatures on a petition to Gov. Jay Nixon (R). But that hasn't been enough so far. Now, he is asking supporters to write Nixon a letter. Mizanskey has been helped in his campaign by the energetic folks at Show-Me Cannabis, the Missouri-based marijuana reform group.

Montana Initiative to Overturn Medical Marijuana, Block Marijuana Reforms Won't Make Ballot. An initiative that sought to change state law so that no Schedule I drug can be "legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana" isn't going to qualify for the ballot, it's proponent conceded Wednesday. Petitioners only managed to gather 12% of the signatures needed to qualify. But Billings car dealer Steve Zabawa isn't giving up; he says he will ask the legislature to pass a referendum next year to put the measure on the 2016 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Terminally Ill Iowa Cancer Patient Convicted of Growing Own Medicine. A state court jury in Davenport that never heard Benton Mackenzie's medical marijuana defense has convicted the terminally ill cancer patient on four felony drug charges related to growing marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of his disease. The 48-year-old angiosarcoma sufferer now faces a possible mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence, although prosecutors could seek probation.

Arizona Okays Medical Marijuana for PTSD. The Department of Health Services announced Wednesday that it is authorizing the use of marijuana for patients suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Its use is not approved for treatment of the condition itself, but only for palliative care of PTSD symptoms.

New Mexico US Attorney Says He Won't Prosecute Medical Marijuana Patients Busted at Border Checkpoints, But Feds Will Still Take Their Medicine. New Mexico US Attorney Damon Martinez has assured New Mexico politicians that he will not prosecute patients caught with medical marijuana at US Customs and Border Patrol checkpoints. Martinez made the vow in a letter Monday to Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Mesilla Park), who had sought assurances. But Customs and Border Patrol officers would still seize the medicine, he warned.

International

Uruguay Delays Marijuana Sales until Next Year. President Jose Mujica said Wednesday that legal marijuana sales are being pushed back to next year because of "practical difficulties" in implementing the new law, and he took a jab at legalization in the US as he did so. "If we want to do this sloppily, it is not hard to do that. That's what the United States is doing," the president said. "But if we want to get this right... we are going to have to do it slowly. We are not just going to say, 'hands off and let the market take care of it,' because if the market is in charge, it is going to seek to sell the greatest possible amount," he said.

DEA Says Mexican Cartels Using Drones to Deliver Drugs Across the Border. The DEA says Mexican drug cartels are using drones to transport drugs and have been doing so since at least 2011. The agency reported that at least 150 drone flights carrying drugs crossed the border in 2012, and that the cartels have recently intensified efforts to recruit skilled workers to manufacture and operate them.

USAID Allots $60 Million for Alternative Development as Part of Fight Against Coca. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has earmarked $60 million to support farmers planting cocoa and coffee instead of coca. The funds will go to alternative development programs and reforestation projects.

European Union Court Rules Synthetic Cannabinoids Not Medicine. The European Court of Justice ruled today that herbal mixtures containing syntheric cannabinoids aren't medicinal products under European law. The court was responding to a request for clarification from Germany's federal court, which is currently considering two cases involving such products.

The 2014 National Drug Control Strategy: Baby Steps in the Right Direction [FEATURE]

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released its 2014 National Drug Control Strategy Wednesday. While in general, it is remarkable for its similarities to drug control strategies going back more than a decade, it does include some signals suggesting that the Obama administration is ready for a shift in emphasis in the drug war -- from a criminal justice approach to a more public health-oriented approach.

But even that rhetorical positioning is somewhat undercut by the strategy's continuing commitment to the criminalization of drug users and the people who supply them, as well as particular policy prescriptions, such as its support for expansion of drug courts -- the use of the criminal justice system to enforce therapeutic health goals like abstinence from drug use, as opposed to measures that don't involve criminal justice intervention.

The 2014 strategy also continues the roughly 3:2 funding ratio between law enforcement and treatment and prevention spending that has marked federal anti-drug spending since at least the Clinton administration in the 1990s. And it does so somewhat deceptively.

"In support of this Strategy," ONDCP wrote in a press release, "the President has requested $25.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2015. Federal funding for public health programs that address substance use has increased every year, and the portion of the Nation's drug budget spent on drug treatment and prevention efforts -- 43% -- has grown to its highest level in over 12 years. The $10.9 billion request for treatment and prevention is now nearly 20% higher than the $9.2 billion requested for Federally-funded domestic drug law enforcement and incarceration."

What the press release doesn't mention when claiming that treatment and prevention spending now exceeds spending on law enforcement is that it did not include figures for drug interdiction and international spending on the law enforcement side of the ledger. The White House's proposed federal drug budget for 2015, however, shows that those drug prohibition-enforcement costs add up to another $5.4 billion, or $14.6 billion for enforcing drug prohibition versus $10.9 billion for treatment and prevention.

The strategy does, however, provide a sharper focus than in the past on reducing the harms associated with drug use, such as overdoses and the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. It calls for greater access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone and supports needle exchange and state laws that provide limited immunity from prosecution for people suffering overdoses and the people who seek help for them -- the so-called 911 Good Samaritan laws. The strategy also sets a five-year goal for reducing overdose deaths, something drug reform advocates had been seeking.

The strategy also acknowledges the need to reduce mandatory minimum drug sentencing and recognizes that the US has the world's largest prison population, but in absolute terms and per capita. And, implicitly acknowledging that Americans increasingly see the war on drugs as a failed policy, the 2014 strategy has adjusted its rhetoric to emphasize public health over the drug war.

Acting ONDCP head or "drug czar" Michael Botticelli (ONDCP)
But, despite polls now consistently showing majority support for marijuana legalization, and despite the reality of legal marijuana in two states, with two more and the District of Columbia likely to embrace it later this year, the 2014 strategy appears not only wedded to marijuana prohibition, but even disturbed that Americans now think pot is safer than booze.

That puts ONDCP at odds not only with the American public, but with the president. In an interview published in January by the New Yorker, Obama said marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer."

Noting that about three-quarters of a million people are arrested on marijuana charges each year, and nearly nine out of ten of those for simple possession, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) pronounced itself unimpressed with the new national drug strategy.

The drug czar's office is still tone deaf when it comes to marijuana policy. It appears to be addicted to marijuana prohibition. Why stay the course when the current policy has utterly failed to accomplish its goals?" asked MPP communications director Mason Tvert.

"The strategy even goes so far as to lament the public's growing recognition that marijuana is not as harmful as we were once led to believe. President Obama finally acknowledged the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, yet his administration is going to maintain a policy of punishing adults who make the safer choice," Tvert continued. "Most Americans think marijuana should be made legal, and even the Justice Department has acknowledged that regulating marijuana could be a better approach than prohibition. Legalizing and regulating marijuana is not a panacea, but it is sound policy."

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), with a wider policy remit than MPP, had a nuanced response to the release of the drug strategy. It was critical of some aspects of the strategy, but had kind words for others.

"The administration says drug use is a health issue but then advocates for policies that put people in the criminal justice system," said Bill Piper, DPA national affairs director. "Until the drug czar says it is time to stop arresting people for drug use, he is not treating drug use as a health issue no matter what he says. I know of no other health issue in which people are thrown in jail if they don't get better."

Still, said Piper, the drug czar's office deserves some credit for addressing serious issues associated with drug use under prohibition.

"Director Botticelli should be applauded for taking strong steps to reduce drug overdose fatalities and the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases," he said. "His leadership on these issues, and his work overall to reduce the stigma associated with substance misuse, are encouraging."

But when it comes to marijuana policy, DPA found itself pretty much on the same page as MPP.

"The Administration continues to keep its head in the sand when it comes to marijuana law reform," said Piper. "Hundreds of thousands of Americans are being arrested each year for nothing more than possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Once arrested they can be discriminated against in employment and housing for life. The administration can't ignore the destructive impact of mass arrests forever."

Washington, DC
United States

Florida Man Killed in SWAT Raid Over Small-Time Marijuana Sales

A Tampa, Florida, man was shot and killed by members of a SWAT team executing a search warrant over small-time marijuana sales on May 27. Jason Westcott, 29, becomes the 25th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

[Editor's Note: This case illustrates why we call on readers to let us know if they come across a report of a drug war-related death. Although we run Google searches to find such incidents, this one didn't pop up on the radar until the Tampa Bay Times ran a thorough investigative piece -- a rarity with such incidents -- on it this week. Absent that report, we would have missed it. So, please, feel free to send your tips and links our way.]

According to the Tampa Bay Times article, a Tampa Police SWAT team executing a warrant for marijuana sales knocked on the door of the home shared by Westcott and his roommate on the evening of the 27th, but both men were sleeping. When no one answered, police entered through the unlocked front door.

The roommate, who was sleeping on a couch, was taken into custody without incident, but Westcott, who had been sleeping in a bedroom, picked up a weapon upon hearing the intruders and moved toward the bathroom, from where he could see his surveillance monitor. Upon encountering Westcott in the hallway between the bedroom and the bathroom, two SWAT officers opened fire, shooting him five times with a semiautomatic shotgun and a handgun.

Police claim Westcott pointed his weapon at them. He never fired it. Instead, hit once in the arm and twice in the side, he collapsed on the bathroom floor. He received medical attention from a SWAT medic on scene, then was transported to a local hospital, where he died.

Ironically, the only previous contact Westcott had had with Tampa police was several months earlier, when he contacted them to say he was worried that a man who had been at his house planned to rob him and had threatened to kill him. According to people close to Westcott, investigating officers told him: "If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill." Tampa police now deny they ever said anything like that.

The Times investigative piece also looked into the police drug investigation that precipitated the fatal raid. They found that despite police statements that they began looking at Westcott because of complaints from neighbors, the investigation actually began when a snitch reported that he was selling marijuana.

Over a period of months, that same snitch made several small marijuana purchases from Westcott, in amounts ranging from $20 to $60. The grand total of marijuana purchased by the snitch was less than $200. When the raid actually went down, police found a grand total of 0.2 grams of weed.

Westcott's roommate said the pair were habitual pot smokers, but that they never kept more than 12 grams in the house at a time to avoid felony charges. And he said that the pair engaged in a bit of social dealing, nothing more.

"We would just sell a blunt here and there to our friends or whatever. It was no crazy thing," he said. "There weren't people coming in and out of our house every day," he said. "It wasn't paying any bills. We were still broke... going to work every day."

Police initially said an undercover officer had made the drug buys, but later admitted it was the snitch who had done so. The roommate said if police had made the buys themselves, they would have realized that they were not facing violent drug traffickers, and Westcott might still be alive.

"Nobody can believe that this happened to Jason. They can't understand how this could happen to Jason," said Westcott's mother, Patti Silliman of New Port Richey. "No one can figure this out."

But the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office has already determined that the two police officers who shot at Westcott -- Cpl. Eric Wasierski and Officer Edwin Perez -- were justified in the use of deadly force. And Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor defended both the drug investigation and actions of the officers involved.

"Mr. Westcott lost his life because he aimed a loaded firearm at police officers. You can take the entire marijuana issue out of the picture," Castor said. "If there's an indication that there is armed trafficking going on -- someone selling narcotics while they are armed or have the ability to use a firearm -- then the tactical response team will do the initial entry."

The Tampa Bay Times investigative report is worth reading in its entirety. One could only wish that every drug war death got the same treatment. If that were the case, we might end up with a lot less of them.

Tampa, FL
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We present a trio of law enforcement miscreants, including a Houston deputy who was ripping off dealers and selling their wares, a North Carolina cop with a pill problem, and a Baltimore schools cop who was flipping rocks on the side. Let's get to it:

In Houston, a Harris County sheriff's deputy was arrested Monday just after selling cocaine, marijuana, Loricet, and Soma to an undercover officer. Deputy Christopher Ellis, 34, is charged with two counts of felony possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver. He went down after investigators received information that he was stealing drugs from dealers while on duty, then reselling them for a profit. At last report, he was in the Harris County Jail trying to raise $120,000 bail.

In New Bern, North Carolina, a former New Bern police officer pleaded guilty Monday to stealing drug evidence from defendants and from the department evidence room. Frances Sutton admitted taking drugs on at least four occasions. Officials say it was for her personal use. It's not clear what formal charge she pleaded to, but she will serve between one and two years in prison. Because of her tampering with evidence, nine cases involving six drug defendants had to be dismissed.

In Baltimore, a Baltimore city schools police officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to dabbling in crack cocaine trafficking. Napoleon McLain Jr., 31, admitted buying several ounces of coke between December 2012 and August 2013 and selling the drug to at least four other people, including, unfortunately for him, a snitch. He copped to one count of conspiring to distribute and possess cocaine base. He's looking at up to 40 years in prison when sentenced in October.

Chronicle AM -- July 8, 2014

There are now two states where marijuana can be legally sold to adults, Marc Emery's time in America's drug war gulag comes to an end, two senators file the REDEEM Act for ex-offenders, there may be magic in those mushrooms, and more. Let's get to it:

Marc Emery is about to leave the land of the living dead and rejoin his wife, Jodi, back home in Canada. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Retail Marijuana Sales Began This Morning. The first legal recreational marijuana sales in Washington occurred shortly after 8:00am today, when a visitor from Kansas bought two grams of pot for $26.50 at Top Shelf Cannabis in Bellingham. The state has authorized up to 344 retail marijuana outlets, but only a handful are open today, and there are worries about legal marijuana shortages as well. Stay tuned as Washington treads down the path of pot legalization.

Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery Gets Out of US Prison Tomorrow. The five-year legal martyrdom of Canadian marijuana legalization gadfly Marc Emery is about to come to an end. Emery will leave federal prison tomorrow after serving a sentence for selling marijuana seeds to customers in the US. He won't get back home to Canada immediately; there is some red tape involved that will keep him in the US for several more weeks, but we fully expect Emery to take up where he left off in terms of relentless activism -- once he has had a chance to reunite with his stalwart wife, Jodi.

New York Fairness and Equity Act Seeks to End Marijuana Arrests, Fix Loopholes in State Law. Elected officials, community groups, and activists will rally Wednesday at New York City Hall to announce the introduction of the Fairness and Equity Act. The bill is designed to end mass, racially-biased marijuana possession arrests by fixing the state's decriminalization law to eliminate the difference between private and public possession, creating a process for those arrested under the current law to clear their records, and reducing the harms of collateral consequences of pot possession arrests. The bill is not yet available on the state legislative web site. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

San Jose Collectives, Dispensaries Fight Looming Shut-Downs With Referendum Effort, Thursday Protest. The city of San Jose has recently passed an ordinance that will result in the forced closure of more than 70 collectives and dispensaries, and the industry is fighting back. There is a petition drive underway to stop the city from shuttering the businesses, and there will be a rally throughout Thursday afternoon at city hall. Stay tuned.

San Diego Sheriff's Office Returns Marijuana to Raided Dispensary. Sheriff's office officials have handed back 20 pounds of marijuana, as well as grow equipment, seized in a raid last year from the SoCal Pure Collective in North County. The legal case against the collective was dropped in April, and a judge ordered all the confiscated goods returned. But collective operator Laura Sharp still fumes over the raid itself, a paramilitarized exercise of police power aimed at patients and providers. "I don't think that we needed to have assault rifles held to our heads. I think we could have been served paperwork," she said.

Psychedelics

Study Finds Magic Mushrooms Open Strange Brain State, Could Unlock Permanent Shifts in Perspective. A study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping has found that psychedelic mushroom compounds may be opening brain states usually experienced only in dreams and suggests that their use may have permanent positive effects on the brain. This could open the door for more research on the use of psychedelics as a treatment for disorders such as depression and anxiety. Click the study link for more details.

Reentry and Rehabilitation

Senate Odd Couple Introduce REDEEM Act to Assist Ex-Cons with Re-Entry. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul will today introduce the REDEEM Act, which aims to assist formerly incarcerated people with reentering society in a productive manner. The bill would, among other things, help seal conviction records and eliminate barriers to reentry, employment, and public assistance. The bill is not yet up on the congressional web site.

International

Applicants Sought for Two-Week London Fellowship on West Africa Drug Policy Reform. The Open Society Foundation is seeking applicants for a West African fellowship on drug policy reform. The two-week program is set to take place in London in October, 2014, and will be hosted by the drug policy organization, Release. Those interested in the program are encouraged to apply by visiting the link here for more details. You have until July 31 to apply.

Conference on Marijuana Regulation in London Later This Month. A Cannabis Conference will be held July 23 at the House of Lords in London. It is supported and sponsored by Baroness Meacher, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Reform Policy. Click on the link for more details.

Dominican Prime Minister Wants Review of Marijuana Laws. Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told a press conference Tuesday that the time has come to review the country's marijuana laws. "We believe the time has come for us to look at the laws relating to marijuana, for example someone with a very small quantity of marijuana, we will send him to prison, and the question is, if a man has five grams of marijuana should this person be sent to prison for that small amount and that person would have a criminal record for the rest of his life," Skerrit said. His remarks come as CARICOM convenes a commission to study marijuana law reform in the region.

Chronicle AM -- July 7, 2014

This fall's drug policy initiative picture is beginning to clear up, with DC and Oregon seemingly on the way to voting on marijuana legalization in November, the first retailer sales licenses for marijuana in Washington state were issued today, with the signature of Gov. Cuomo, New York becomes the 23rd medical marijuana state, and more. Let's get to it:

Handing in signatures to DC election officials this morning. (DrugPolicy.org)
Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Backers Turn in More Than Twice the Signatures Needed. Supporters of the DC Cannabis Campaign initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana turned in more than 58,000 signatures this morning. They only need 25,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative does not seek to tax and regulate marijuana commerce because DC law precludes that, leaving it up to elected officials. A tax and regulate bill is before the DC city council.

Oregon Legalization Initiative Backers Turn in Close to Twice the Signatures Needed. The New Approach Oregon legalization initiative campaign turned in 145,000 signatures Thursday to put their measure on the November ballot. They only need 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, so this is looking very much, but not quite, like a done deal. Stay tuned.

Arkansas Marijuana Initiatives Come Up Short. Neither marijuana legalization nor medical marijuana will be on the ballot this fall. Campaigners for two separate marijuana reform initiatives came up short on signatures for both. Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the folks behind the medical marijuana initiative, say they will be back in 2016.

Washington State Liquor Control Board Issues First Marijuana Retailer Licenses. The first marijuana retail licenses were issued today, with the first retailers expected to be open for business tomorrow as Washington joins Colorado among the legal marijuana commerce states. Click on the link above for a list of the 24 approved licensees.

Massachusetts Poll Has Voters Evenly Split on Support for Legalization. A new Boston Globe poll has support for legalizing marijuana at 48%, with 47% opposed, and 5% undecided. Click on the poll link for more demographic info and top lines.

Denver Cops Raid Marijuana Social Club. Denver Police last week raided Maryjane's Social Club, a private pot-smoking club operating in a grey area under state law. Police handcuffed smokers and charged them with smoking in public, seized drug paraphernalia, and ticketed the club owner for violating the state's no-smoking-inside laws. Club owners argue that since neither marijuana nor food and beverages are sold at the clubs -- patrons bring their own -- they should be permissible.

Medical Marijuana

Governor Signs Compassionate Use Act, Making New York 23rd Medical Marijuana State. In an official signing ceremony today, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law the Compassionate Use Act. New York thus becomes the 23rd medical marijuana state, even though its law is among the most restrictive and includes a ban on smoking (but not vaping or eating) it.

New Synthetic Drugs

Louisiana Bans Two More New Synthetics. The state Department of Health and Hospitals has banned two synthetic drugs, FUB-AMB AMB (methyl (1-(4-fluorobenzyl)-1 H-indazole-3-carbonyl) valinate) and 5-flouro-AMB ((S)- methyl 2- (1- (5- fluoropentyl)- 1H- indazole- 3- carboxamido)- 3- methylbutanoate). The two drugs are marketed as fake marijuana under the names Train Wreck 2 and Kali Berry 2. The ban came last Thursday via an emergency rule.

Drug Testing

Tennessee Welfare Drug Test Law Goes into Effect. As of July 1, people applying for welfare will have to answer three questions on a form about potential drug use. Those who answer any of the questions positively will have to submit to drug testing. Positive test results will result in a postponement of benefits until the applicant has completed a treatment or recovery program and been re-tested. The ACLU of Tennessee says it is considering a legal challenge to the law.

Harm Reduction

Missouri Governor Signs Bill Allowing First Responders to Carry Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Jay Nixon (R) last Thursday signed into law House Bill 2040, which will allow first responders to carry and administer the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. The new law goes into effect August 28.

North Carolina Drug Users Have Prevented 100 Fatal Overdoses with Naloxone. Last week, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported that the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone distributed to drug users, their friends, and families has prevented its 100th fatal drug overdose. The distribution is the result of the passage of 911 Good Samaritan/Naloxone Access law in April 2013.

Law Enforcement

Maryland Cops No Longer Have to Report Racial Profiling, SWAT Statistics. Laws requiring state law enforcement agencies to collect and report racial data on traffic stops and to provide the state with information about SWAT deployments have expired. The legislature failed to act to renew them, but some legislators are vowing to make it their first order of business next session. Both laws were passed because of perceived abuses by law enforcement.

International

Colombia's First Needle Exchange Programs are Open. Needle exchange programs in five Colombian cities got underway last week, with health professionals handing out clean syringes to drug users in Armenia, Bogota, Cali, Cucuta, and Medellin. The Health Ministry has allocated 100,000 clean syringes for the program, which will also collect and destroy dirty needles.

Austrian Justice Minister Says No to Marijuana Legalization. Responding to a proposal from the Tyrolean Social Democratic Party (SPO) to legalize marijuana, Austrian Justice Minister Wolgang Brandstetter just says no. "Legalization is not an issue, even in the summer," Brandstetter said. "It's all about prevention, too, in my view, we must reduce the consumption of addictive substances - including soft drugs such as cannabis," he added. Recent polls show only about one-third of Austrians favor legalization.

Caricom Commission to Study Marijuana Reform. The Community of Caribbean Nations (Caricom) last week created a commission to study how the region should respond to demands for medical marijuana, decriminalization, and other marijuana reforms. The commission will report before Caricom's next summit, set for February 2016. An earlier Caricom report found that allowing medical marijuana could boost the regional economy.

Ireland to Allow Medical Marijuana. The CEO of Ireland's Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) said today the Department of Health was drafting legislation to allow medical marijuana to be made available to patients. Pat O'Mahony said that medical marijuana would be available by prescription and sold at pharmacies.

Denver Man Shot, Killed in Undercover Drug Operation

A Denver man was shot and killed during an undercover drug investigation last Wednesday afternoon. Joseph Valverde, 32, becomes the 24th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Denver Post, citing Denver Police Chief Robert White, Valverde was shot and killed in the parking lot of Overland Pond Park. White said that when uniformed Denver police officers arrived to arrest Valverde, he pulled a gun. An officer then opened fire, striking Valverde.

White said Valverde threatened officers, but did not fire his weapon. He was pronounced dead later at a local hospital.

Denver 9 News, which first named the victim, reported that Valverde was shot by a SWAT team member, that police sources said the bust involved "a significant amount of cocaine" and that "law enforcement believed the suspect was very violent and dangerous."

In a separate story, Denver 9 News reported that Valverde had prior convictions for drug possession, assault, weapons charges, and criminal mischief.

Denver, CO
United States

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