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Chronicle AM: NE Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, New England Pot Politics, Mexico Marijuana Reforms, More... 4/25/16

Marijuana policy is keeping state houses busy in New England, Nebraska becomes the 10th state to end civil asset forfeiture, Maine's Tea Party governor vetoes a Naloxone bill, Mexico's president expands marijuana reforms, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DC Marijuana Activists Meet Today With White House. Two members of the DC Cannabis Campaign (DCMJ) were set to meet with Obama administration officials at the White House today. DCMJ head Adam Eidinger said he had been requesting a "Bud Summit" with Obama's leading drug advisors for years, but had no response until his group demonstrated in front of the White House on April 2. "This is an opportunity for the White House to meet with serious and committed cannabis activists and hear our case for why it's in President Obama's best interest to work with the attorney general to fully remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act," DCMJ co-founder Nikolas Schiller said in a statement.

Connecticut Legalization Bill Dies. There will be no marijuana legalization in Connecticut this year. Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven), sponsor of the legalization bill, withdrew it last Wednesday after first attempting to add it as an amendment to a related bill. The bill had been declared dead earlier in the session, and Candelaria's move last week was a last ditch effort to keep it alive.

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana was approved by the Senate last week. A similar measure was approved by the legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). This year's bill lowers the decrim limit from 15 grams to 10 grams, making it a bit more palatable to the governor. A spokesman for Rauner said he was "encouraged" that legislators heard his concerns and would be monitoring the bill's progress. The bill now goes to the House.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Dies. The Senate voted last week to kill House Bill 1631, which would have decriminalized the possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana. This is the seventh time the House has approved decriminalization, only to see it shot down by the Senate. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has not decriminalized small time pot possession. This year, the legislation ran up against concern over heroin and prescription opioid abuse. "We are in a war, and the last thing we need is to tell our citizens it is OK to use a little marijuana or any other illegal substance," said Sen. Gary Daniels (R-Milford).

Rhode Island Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. A new Brown University Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy poll has two-thirds (67%) supporting medical marijuana and a solid majority (55%) in favor of marijuana legalization. This as a legalization bill has been stalled this year. "I know public officials are being very thoughtful and careful on this issue," pollster James Morone said. "But it's hard to see in the long run how legalization won't happen because there is so much strong support among young people. But I would emphasize 'in the long run.' I think anytime you have voters under 44 years old supporting something by 72 percent, it's just a question of time," he added. "Like same-sex marriage around the country, it's being driven by the demographics around the country. It's the exact same dynamic."

Vermont Legalization Bill Amended. The state's legalization bill, Senate Bill 241, faces an uncertain fate after the House Ways and Means Committee approved it, but only after amending it to allow residents to grow and possess small amounts of pot, but not to allow regulated sales. Another House committee had rejected legalization, and a third House committee now has it under consideration. If the House manages to pass some version of the bill, it will have to be reconciled with the version passed earlier by the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Appropriations Committee Votes to Prevent DEA from Undermining State Medical Marijuana Laws. The committee voted last week 21-8 to approve an amendment offered by Senator Mikulski (D-MD) to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference by the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration. After decades of inactivity on marijuana reform, Congress has moved at lightning pace to advance marijuana reform in recent years. Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend marijuana. The Committee approved similar amendments last year as well as an amendment to allow state-legalized marijuana businesses to access banks and other financial services. The Mikulski amendment is expected to pass the full Senate as well as the House. Similar amendments were passed by Congress last year and the year before.

DEA Approves Colorado-Funded Study on Marijuana and PTSD. The DEA gave the go-ahead for the ground-breaking study last week. It's the first time the agency has given permission to use raw marijuana in a controlled clinical trial for PTSD. Enrollment in the study could begin as early as next month. The study is one of nine funded by historic grants from the Colorado Health Department, which are in turn funded by medical and legal marijuana fees and tax revenues.

Connecticut House Approves Medical Marijuana for Kids. The House voted overwhelmingly last week to expand the state's four-year-old medical marijuana program to include children. The bill also includes a provision to create a Board of Physicians to review requests for new ailments to be added the list of qualifying conditions, which currently lists 17 diseases or syndromes. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Nebraska Latest State to Institute to Abolish Civil Asset Forfeiture. Last week, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) signed into law LB 1106, which eliminates civil forfeiture in the Cornhusker State. The bill had passed the legislature a week earlier on a vote of 38-6. Nebraska becomes the 10th state to eliminate civil asset forfeiture. Now, if Nebraska cops want to seize cash and property, they must first obtain a criminal conviction. The bill also imposes some limits on state law enforcement participation in the federal "equitable sharing" program, under which police can end run state laws directing where seized assets go by turning the busts over to the feds, who in turn give back 80% of the value of seized goods to the arresting agency.

Harm Reduction

Maine Governor Vetoes Bill Seeking to Increase Access to Life-saving Overdose Antidote Naloxone. Gov. Paul LePage last week vetoed the bill last week, arguing that "naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose." Every state in the nation, with the exception of five, have either passed or are in the process of passing naloxone access legislation, and thirty states currently allow for sales of the overdose antidote without a prescription. The bill, LD 1547, could still be revived, though. On Friday, the legislature will take up all bills vetoed by Le Page, including LD 1547. Two-thirds votes in both the House and the Senate would be needed to override the veto.

International

Mexican President to Push Broader Marijuana Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana. President Enrique Pena Nieto used his speech before the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs last week to call for decriminalizing up to an ounce of marijuana and legalizing the medicinal use of the plant. Currently, only up to five grams is decriminalized. "We Mexicans know all too well the range and the defects of prohibitionist and punitive policies, and of the so-called war on drugs that has prevailed for 40 years," Pena Nieto said. "Our country has suffered, as few have, the ill effects of organized crime tied to drug trafficking. Fortunately, a new consensus is gradually emerging worldwide in favor of reforming drug policies," he said. "A growing number of countries are strenuously combating criminals, but instead of criminalizing consumers, they offer them alternatives and opportunities."

Beyond UNGASS: Looking Toward 2019 [FEATURE]

The United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is set for UN Headquarters in Manhattan next week, and civil society and some European and Latin American countries are hoping to make limited progress in moving toward more evidence- and public health-based drug policies. But, knowing the glacial pace of change at the UN and well aware of how little of substance is likely to emerge from the UNGASS, some eyes are already turning to the post-UNGASS international arena.

UNGASS is coming... and then what? (Creative Commons)
Hopes for more forward movement at the UNGASS, always tentative and facing opposition from global drug war hardliners such as Russia, China, and Singapore, were effectively dashed at the run-up meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting last month in Vienna, whose outcome document was described as "quite awful" by leading Canadian drug policy expert Donald MacPherson.

The outcomes document includes some minor progressive movement, but does not challenge the trio of treaties that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, while its embrace of "flexibility" emboldens regressive, repressive measures (the death penalty for drug offenses, forced "treatment," criminalization of drug users) in hard line countries, despite being helpful for progressive reforms around the edges of the treaties' prohibition.

MacPherson was one of a handful of international drug policy experts and elected officials who took part in a teleconference last week organized by StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter), a US-based group that has been deeply involved in civil society organizing around the UNGASS. He wasn't the only one looking beyond 2016.

Mexican Senator Laura Angelica Rojas Hernández, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Organizations, called this year's UNGASS poses "a step" toward examining the objectives of the 2009 Political Declaration and Action Plan on drugs, which will be reviewed in 2019. While the CND outcomes document had good language around the need for embracing multiple approaches, such as public health, human rights, gender, and prevention, it also includes serious shortcomings, she said.

Mexican Senator Laura Angelica Rojas Hernandez (pan.senado.gob.mx)
"There is a lack of recognition of the relative efficacy of demand reduction and harm reduction policies and the absence of an acknowledgement of the high costs that the prohibitionist and punitive approaches have generated," the senator said.

Mexican senators know all too well the high costs of drug prohibition. For the past decade, the country has been battered by brutal prohibition-related violence that has left at least 100,000 dead, tens of thousands more "disappeared," a legacy of human rights abuses by soldiers and police fighting the cartels, and the legitimacy of the state severely weakened.

"The international community should continue to work toward the establishment of indicators that could help measure the impact of drug policies on people's lives and their rights," Rojas said, suggesting this could still happen at the UNGASS.

But she was also looking down the road.

"Something that should be placed on the table in 2019 is a thorough review of the three conventions on drug control that acknowledges the highly detrimental effects of the current approaches," she said. "And we should be more honest about the so-called flexibility of implementation offered by these treaties and acknowledge that there should be a wider range of action for countries to define their own drug policies, taking into consideration their national and cultural context."

Canadian drug policy expert Donald MacPherson (cssdp.org)
Both Rojas and Canada's MacPherson called for some sort of expert mechanism to guide policymakers eyeing the 2019 meeting.

"Organizations and even some governments are beginning to call for a mechanism post-UNGASS to get real with the modernizing of the treaties," MacPherson said, reflecting frustration with the UNGASS process and prospects. "It's really important that UN member states speak strongly for the need for that mechanism, whether it's an expert committee or some other sort of group. And it needs to happen now -- the next three years are critical coming up to 2019. We really do need to have that process in place to [counter] the kind of intransigence of other countries that use the consensus-based model to hold progress ransom."

"The international community should examine the possibility of establishing an analysis mechanism as a working group of experts, for example, with a mandate to formulate recommendations aimed at the modernization of the international system of drugs for the 2019 review process," Rojas added. "And from a longer-term perspective, we need to see the creation of a special office within the UN Human Rights Council, to follow up and monitor the respect of human rights in the context of the enforcement of the drug policies."

The UNGASS hasn't even gotten here yet, and interested observers are already looking past it. Welcome to politics at the United Nations where most things happen at a snail's pace. The global drug prohibition consensus may be crumbling, but it is crumbling very slowly at the level of international conventions and institutions. The work continues.

[A follow-up story on prospects for marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico will highlight remarks during the teleconference by Canadian Member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Aram Barra of Mexico United Against Crime, and StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden.]

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Detroit's dope squad scandal continues to fester, a Louisiana head narc gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and more. Let's get to it:

In Houma, Louisiana, the head of the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office narcotics division resigned Monday, just days before he faces a federal court hearing. Major Darryl Stewart is accused of stealing more than $1,000 in federal money between April 2011 and December 2012. The money was for an underage youth drinking prevention program. Stewart appears in federal court on those charges Friday.

three Detroit police officers were indicted Wednesday on federal charges they conspired to bust drug dealers, steal their stashes, and even sell the stolen drugs themselves. Lt. David Hansberry, Officer Bryan Watson and Officer Arthur Leavells are part of a larger group of 11 Detroit Police Narcotics Unit officers named in civil cases alleging similar misconduct. These indictments supersede April 2015 indictments and add more charges. The federal government says the men surveilled big drug deals, then struck, "using their police authority to extort drugs, money and personal property." Hansberry faces 18 felony charges, Watson faces 16, and Leavells faces two, even though he's already copped to conspiracy to distribute drugs and is looking at a four-year mandatory minimum.

In Easton, Pennsylvania, a former East Stroudsburg University police officer pleaded guilty last Thursday to what are essentially "doctor shopping" charges. Matthew Bill, 42, had faced more than a dozen felony charges for obtaining hundreds of prescription pain pills by visiting at least 19 doctors. He copped to three counts of procurement of a controlled substance by fraud and was sentenced to three years' probation. 

Chronicle AM: GOP Govs Seek Fed Permission to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients, MedMJ Moves, More... (4/14/16)

Republican governors seek federal permission to drug test food stamp recipients, a Tennessee marijuana reform bill dies, a pair of New York medical marijuana improvement bills advance, so does the long-awaited Pennsylvania medical marijuana bill, and more.

Medical marijuana is keeping statehouses busy. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Tennessee Decriminalization Referendum Bill Dies. A bill that would have let state voters weigh-in on whether the state should decriminalize pot possession is dead. The bill, which would have authorized a non-binding referendum, was killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Fix Bills Advance. The Assembly Health Committee Monday approved two bills aimed at improving the state's medical marijuana system. The bills, authored by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the committee and one of the architects of the state's medical marijuana law, would double the number of companies allowed to grow and distribute medical marijuana from four to eight and would end the requirement that they be vertically integrated. The bills now head for an Assembly floor vote.

Ohio Legislature Crafts Medical Marijuana Plan. Faced with two separate medical marijuana initiative campaigns, legislators are working to craft their own medical marijuana proposal.  The bill, which is set to be announced this week, would create a medical marijuana commission to create rules within a year to regulate medical marijuana in the state. Patients with a doctor's recommendation could access raw marijuana, edibles, patches, and oils, but would not be allowed to grow their own.

Pennsylvania Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. For the second time in less than a year, the Senate has approved Senate Bill 3, which would create a medical marijuana system in the state. The House sat on the bill for months after original Senate passage, then approved an amended version of the bill. The Senate then passed that bill, but only after amending the amendments to bring it make closer to the version originally passed by the Senate. Now, it's up to the House to agree to those changes and send the bill to Gov. Tom Wolf (D).

Utah Patient Advocates Give Up on 2016 Initiative. A group calling itself Truce that had called for a medical marijuana initiative this year after the legislature killed medical marijuana bills earlier this year has given up on 2016. The group says it would have had an extremely difficult time of gathering the 102,000 valid voter signatures required to get on the ballot. The group says it is now concentrating on getting a good bill through the legislature next year.

Asset Forfeiture

Poll: Nearly Nine Out of 10 Mississippians Want to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A poll from the Mississippi Center for Public Policy has 88% opposed to allowing police to seize and permanently forfeit property taken from people not convicted of a crime. The poll comes as House Bill 1410, which would have increased asset forfeiture transparency, was passed by the House, but gutted by the Senate, which turned it into a study bill. The House is asking for a conference committee to hash out the differences.

Drug Testing

A Dozen GOP Governors Ask Congress to Let Them Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients. The governors have sent a letter to Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), head of the House Agriculture Committee , which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—food stamps), urging him to change federal law to allow states to test program recipients. In a statement accompanying the governors' letter, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker characterized the drug testing proposal as a "common-sense reform" that will make it easier "for recipients with substance abuse to move from government dependence to true independence," but in the states that have actually done welfare drug testing, less than 1% of recipients have tested positive for drugs.

International

Poll: Iceland Far From Supporting Marijuana Legalization. Fewer than 25% of Icelanders support legalizing marijuana, according to a new MMR poll. Some 76.8% said they opposed legalization. The good news is that opposition figure is declining; five years ago, 87.3% were opposed. Older age groups were the least likely to support legalization, while young people were most likely to.

Highway Drug Dog Searches: Two Diverging Trends in the Case Law [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Last year, in one of the Roberts' court's rare decisions not siding with law enforcement, the US Supreme Court ruled that police could not detain people pulled over for traffic violations in order to await the arrival of a drug-sniffing police dog. Once the traffic violation was dealt with, motorists were free to go, the court held.

"Absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures," wrote Justice Ruth Ginsberg for the court's 6-3 majority in Rodriguez v. United States.

That case was a necessary antidote for police practices that evolved after the Supreme Court's decision in Illinois v. Caballes a decade earlier. In that case, the high court held the use of drug dogs during a traffic stop did not violate Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unwarranted searches and seizures because, in the court's rather involved reasoning, people carrying drugs have no expectation of privacy. Unlike the use of infra-red cameras to peer inside homes, which the court disallowed in an earlier case, the use of drug dogs would only reveal drugs, not other intimate details of one's life, so that was okay.

What came after Caballes was repeated reports of people being stopped for alleged traffic infractions on the highway, then forced to wait on the side of the road in a sort of legal limbo ("Am I under arrest?" "No." "Am I free to go?" "No.") for the arrival of a drug dog to conduct a search of their vehicles. Then, when the drug dog would "alert" to the presence of drugs, police had probable cause to search the vehicle, find the drugs, and arrest and charge the driver.

What also came after Caballes was people being arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for drug offenses after being detained for lengthy periods. Asserting that their rights had been infringed by the lengthy detentions, some of them appealed, arguing that the evidence against them should be suppressed because it was unconstitutionally obtained.

The situation festered until the Rodriguez decision was announced. Police would no longer have a free hand to hold people against their will while awaiting the drug dog's arrival. That should have reined in the cops, but it hasn't exactly worked out that way. Instead, two distinct lines of post-Rodriguez drug dog jurisprudence have emerged, one seeking to uphold and strengthen it, but the seeking to find work-arounds for drug-hunting police and their canine helpers.

Representative of Rodriguez's positive impact was last month's Kentucky Supreme Court decision in Davis v. Kentucky. In that case, an officer pulled over Thomas J. Davis for crossing the center line, administered field sobriety tests that Davis passed, then asked for Davis's consent to search the vehicle. Davis refused to consent to a vehicle search, at which point the officer had his drug dog sniff the exterior of the car, despite Davis's protests. The dog alerted, the car was searched, and police found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

At trial, Davis moved to have the evidence suppressed as fruits of an unlawful search, but he lost at the trial level and reached an agreement to plead guilty while preserving his right to appeal the ruling on the motion. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the conviction and sent the case back to the trial court.

"As recently clarified by the United States Supreme Court in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), a police officer may not extend a traffic stop beyond its original purpose for the sole purpose of conducting a sniff search -- not even for a de minimus period of time," the state high court concluded. "Under Rodriguez, any nonconsensual extension of the detention beyond the time taken to verify Appellant's sobriety, unless accompanied by additional grounds to believe other criminal activity was afoot, was unconstitutional… With no articulable suspicion to authorize an extended detention to search for drugs, [the officer] prolonged the seizure and conducted the search in violation of Rodriguez and Appellant's Fourth Amendment protections."

"While Davis isn't perfectly clear, it strongly suggests that the use of drug dog without reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed offends the reasonableness clause of the Fourth Amendment, said John Wesley Hall, a Little Rock criminal defense attorney, former head of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL), and author of Search and Seizure, 5th Ed.

Keith Stroup, the founder and currently counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), liked what he saw in Davis, too.

"This is a great decision," Stroup said. "It will help a lot of drivers, but it doesn't totally write drug dogs out. With no articulable suspicion to authorize an extended detention to search for drugs, the police are out of luck."

Police erred in this case, Stroup said, but not in the sense that the court meant.

"The mistake the cops made is that they didn't lie and claim they smelled marijuana," he said. "They will learn very quickly that the first thing to say is 'I smell marijuana.' Then they can at least do a search of the passenger compartment."

Still, Stroup pronounced himself pleasantly surprised at the ruling.

"In some states, the Supreme Court is very law enforcement-oriented and willing to give police the benefit of the doubt. That this came out of Kentucky is promising," he said.

The Kentucky case shows how the courts are applying Rodriguez to protect the rights of motorists, but other post-Rodriguez cases are heading in a different direction. As Hall notes on his Fourth Amendment blog linked to above, various US district and appellate courts are bending over backwards to find ways to allow drug dog searches to continue without any reasonable suspicion a crime is being committed.

"Dog sniff by second officer while first officer wrote ticket didn't extend stop," he wrote describing a case> out of the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Dog sniff during the normal computer checks are valid," is how he characterized another case in federal district court in Georgia.

"GA holds that a dog sniff of a car before dispatch confirms ID is valid because it didn't extend the traffic stop," he wrote about another Georgia case.

The upshot of these and similar cases is that they provide an opening for police to get their drug dog searches in simply by delaying what should be routine, quickly accomplished, procedures, such as verifying license, registration, and outstanding criminal warrants. "I severely disagree with that case law," said Hall. "It just offends every sense of justice and privacy. It makes a car a target without any reasonable suspicion whatsoever, and it essentially rewards the cop with the drug dog in his car."

And he scoffs at the reported delays in those routine procedures. "The cops deliberately delay the response," he said. "As fast as these computers are, if it takes more than 60 seconds, it's complete bullshit. Or they call in the drivers' license number and it takes forever for the call to come back, so the cop can sit there and chat with you and try to find excuses to come up with reasonable suspicion.

Clearly, Rodriguez hasn't settled the issue. While law enforcement is now somewhat constrained in the use of drug-sniffing dogs on the highway, police -- and friendly courts -- are working assiduously to find ways to continue to use them. Ironically, the current state of the law could result in not fewer but more drug dogs on the highway, because under some of these rulings, the police officer who has a dog with him can get away with a quick sniff, while the officer who has to call and wait for one to arrive would be out of luck.

And that means the litigation likely isn't over. "The Supreme Court is going to have to take this up one of these days," said Hall. "This whole idea of pulling people over with dogs smacks of Nazi Germany."

Chronicle AM: VT Legalization Bill Hits Bump, MedMJ Bills Killed in NE, SC, More... (4/8/16)

A Vermont House committee has changed the tax and regulate marijuana legalization bill into a two-plant cultivation decriminalization bill, medical marijuana bills get snuffed in Nebraska and South Carolina, interest in asset forfeiture reform continues, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DEA to Review Marijuana Classification. The DEA will decide whether to reclassify marijuana "in the first half of 2016," the agency said in a letter to US senators. The agency was responding to a 2015 letter from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and seven other Democratic senators, who urged the federal government to make it easier to study marijuana 's medical benefits. Marijuana is currently placed in Schedule I, along with heroin and LSD, as a drug with a high abuse potential and no medical uses.

California Report Calls for Strict Rules on Growers, Drivers. The Public Policy Institute of California has released a report calling for tight regulatory oversight of legal marijuana cultivation, sales, and distribution as well as highlighting the need to ensure that drivers are not impaired. "California should err on the side of more restrictive regulation," said report co-author Patrick Murphy. But California NORML disagrees, saying that "restrictive regulations will only divert business to California's robust unregulated gray market."

Maine Court Rules in Favor of Legalization Initiative on Signatures Issue. A Kennebec County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the state may have improperly invalidated thousands of petition signatures because it rejected petitions without actually reviewing all of them. The secretary of state's office must now review all the disputed petitions and place the measure on the November ballot if it finds enough signatures were gathered. The state had invalidated more than 17,000 voter signatures because it said the notary's signatures on the petitions didn't match the signature it had on file. That was enough to disqualify the initiative.

Vermont House Committee Changes Legalization Bill to Cultivation Decrim Bill. The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday dramatically rewrote Senate Bill 241, turning the tax and regulate legalization bill into one that would only decriminalize the cultivation of up to two marijuana plants. Committee Chair Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Moretown) said it became clear that she didn't have the votes to pass the Senate version. If the new House version passes, it would have to be reconciled with the Senate version. The Senate legalization bill had no provision for home cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Killed. The bill, LB 643, failed Tuesday night when it was filibustered on the second round of consideration and sponsor Sen. Tommy Garrett (D-Bellevue) fell three votes short of ending the filibuster.

South Carolina Senate Committee Kills Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Medical Affairs Committee voted 7-4 Thursday to kill Senate Bill 672, the Medical Marijuana Program Act. "This is a bad idea. It's a pathway to recreational usage," said Sen. Mike Fair (R-Greenville).

Asset Forfeiture

Alaska House Committee Rewrites Asset Forfeiture Bill. The House Judiciary Committee has approved a stripped-down civil asset forfeiture bill. The originally broad-ranging bill has now been reduced to only abolishing non-criminal forfeitures, and now heads to the House Finance Committee. The Judiciary Committee said it will work on a broader reform bill for the next session, but wanted to get something passed this year.

Delaware Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture Filed. A bipartisan group of legislators Wednesday filed a bill to end civil asset forfeiture in the state. "In America, the government should not be able to take your property unless they can prove you did something wrong," Sen. Colin Bonini, (R-Dover) said at a news conference.

Nebraska Asset Forfeiture Bill Stays Alive. A bill to restrict property seizures from people not convicted of a crime has won second-round approval after lawmakers amended it to address law enforcement concerns. The amendments will allow state law enforcement agencies to continue to participate in the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing program, which allows local police to end-run state laws that direct seized funds into the general fund or other specified funds. Under the federal program, the feds keep 20% and the local agency gets 80%. The bill is LB 1106.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Oklahoma sheriff and his deputy went a bit too far with asset forfeiture efforts, a Louisiana sheriff and his narcs went a bit too far in mistreating prisoners, and more. Let's get to it:

In Abingdon, Virginia, a Washington County jail guard was arrested March 22 on charges he was smuggling drugs into the jail. Guard Justin Andrew Brown, 22, went down after officials were tipped that a guard was smuggling contraband. Brown now faces charges of intent to distribute an imitation controlled substance, conspiracy to distribute a Schedule II drugs, and attempt to deliver drugs to a jail. He was jailed at the same place he worked until he made bail days later.

In Berkeley Township, New Jersey, an Ocean County juvenile justice officer was arrested last Tuesday as she allegedly prepared to make a heroin sale in parking lot near an elementary school. Erica Kotelnicki, 35, is charged with heroin distribution. A search of her home yielded more heroin, cocaine, scales, and cash. She has been suspended without pay.

In Columbus, Indiana, a former Columbus police narcotics supervisor was arrested last Wednesday on charges he stole drugs from the evidence room. Jeremy Coomes, 38, supervised the Columbus Police Narcotics Unit until October 2015, when an audit turned up various discrepancies, including missing drugs. An Indiana State Police investigation pointed to Coomes, who they said took drugs and sometimes replaced them with different items. He faces a number of charges, including possession of methamphetamine, possession of cocaine, theft, and official misconduct.

In Wagoner, Oklahoma, the Wagoner County sheriff and a deputy were arrested last Thursday over their efforts to use civil asset forfeiture to take $10,000 from a motorist. Sheriff Bob Colbert and Deputy Jeffrey Gragg claimed they were going by the book in seizing what they claimed were drug proceeds, but a grand jury disagreed, indicting them on conspiracy, bribery, and extortion charges. Colbert and Gragg pulled over a driver and his passenger, then arrested them for "possession of drug proceeds" when they declared they owned the cash. The driver then asked what he could do to stay out of jail and Gragg told him that the only way he was "going to go home was to disclaim his ownership in the $10,000." The sheriff and his deputy then released the pair and deleted records of their arrests. The money was placed in the sheriff's asset forfeiture fund.

In Edcouch, Texas, a former Edcouch police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he took cocaine from a March 2013 drug seizure. Vicente Salinas allegedly switched out four of 15 bundles of cocaine that had been turned over to the Hidalgo County Task force. No word on what the official charges are.

In New Orleans, a ninth Iberia Parish sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty last Thursday in a growing investigation into the sheriff's office. Deputy Jeremy Hatley pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights and making false statements in a case that centers around the repeated beating of inmates by deputies, including six former department narcotics agents. The deputies who copped pleas are expected to testify against Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal and Lt. Gerald Savoy, who had initial court appearances last week.

In Leesburg, Virginia,a former Loudon County sheriff's deputy was found guilty last Thursday of stealing $229,000 from the department's asset forfeiture program. Frank Pearson, 45, was found to have been sticking his hand in the cookie jar for more than a decade, even though he bizarrely claimed to have no memory of doing so. He's looking at up to 10 years in prison.

In Miami, a former Miami Police officer was sentenced last Friday to nearly four years in state prison for taking money for offering protection during drug deals. Jose Maldonaldo Dick, a seven-year veteran of the force, had been charged with two counts of armed cocaine trafficking, which is punishable by up to life in prison, but copped to a single count of providing protection for a drug dealer and being paid to do so. Dick has already spent 18 months behind bars awaiting trial.

Chronicle AM: NYPD Targets Addicts for Felony Dealing Busts, DC Cannabis Club Ban, More... (4/5/16)

Bernie talks pot in Wisconsin, Pittsburgh is a mayor's signature away from pot decriminalization, the DC city council votes to ban social consumption, NYPD narcs are targeting street addicts for felony trafficking busts, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Talks Marijuana Legalization in Final Wisconsin Speech. Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders sought to win votes in Wisconsin Sunday night by not only hitting his standard themes of economic inequity, but also emphasizing his progressive marijuana and drug policy approach, including removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. "Today, under the Federal Controlled Substance Act, marijuana is listed as a schedule one drug alongside of heroin," said Sanders. "Now we can argue when scientists do the pluses and minuses of marijuana, but everyone knows marijuana is not a killer drug like heroin." The Vermont senator also addressed racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement: "(Criminalization of marijuana) becomes a racial issue as well, because it turns out that blacks and whites smoke marijuana at equal levels," Sanders said. "Blacks are four times more likely to get arrested for marijuana than are whites."

Pittsburgh Council Approves Decriminalization. The city council voted 8-1 Tuesday to make small-time marijuana possession a summary offense rather than the misdemeanor mandated by state law. Mayor Bill Peduto now has 10 days to sign the ordinance. Possession of small amounts will now be punishable by a $25 fine, with a $100 fine for smoking in public.

DC Council Votes to Ban Marijuana Social Clubs. The council voted 7-6 Tuesday to uphold a ban on marijuana consumption outside of private homes, making the ban permanent. The move is a reversal from the council's earlier position, which was to enact a temporary ban and set up a task force to study the issue.

Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Reform Groups Call for Hearings on CARERS Act. The Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access, and the National Cannabis Industry Association have all issued calls for the US Senate to take up the CARERS Act (Senate Bill 683), which would protect state-legal medical marijuana activities from federal interference. The bill, filed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) has been stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than a year. Committee Chair Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) has refused so far to let it move.

Oklahoma CBD Bill Advances. Last year, the legislature approved a bill allowing children with epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oils, and now it is moving to allow adults to use it as well. A Senate committee approved House Bill 2835, which would remove the age restriction. The measure has already passed the House and awaits a Senate floor vote.

Law Enforcement

NYPD Is Busting Low-Level Addicts for Small-Time Drug Sales, But Ignoring Dealers. The NYPD is using undercover narcotics officers to seek out drug addicts, ask them for help in scoring drugs, give them money to make the buy, and then arresting them on felony drug trafficking charges. The narcs didn't even bother to go after the dealers the small-time addicts were scoring from, the New York Times reports. Last year, nearly 5,000 people were charged with dealing small quantities of heroin or cocaine.

International

Europe Spends $27 Billion a Year on Illicit Drugs, Monitoring Agency Says. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said in a report Tuesday that EU citizens shell out about $27 billion for illicit drugs each year."Illicit drug production and trafficking remains one of the largest and most innovative criminal markets in Europe," Europol director Rob Wainwright said in a statement.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Virginia Cop Gunned Down Last Week Was Doing a Drug War Training Exercise

The Virginia State Trooper shot and killed at the Greyhound Bus Station in Richmond, Virginia, last week died while on a drug war training exercise aimed at patrons of the transportation hub.

Trooper Chad Dermyer, 37, was gunned down by James Brown III, an Illinois man with a lengthy criminal record, who in turn was shot and killed by Dermyer's colleagues. Two women were wounded in the gunfire, neither with life-threatening injuries.

The two fatalities come as a shock, but hardly a surprise. According to Drug War Chronicle, which has been tallying deaths directly related to domestic drug law enforcement activities since 2011, the killings bring this year's total to eleven. Over the past five years, drug war deaths have occurred at a pace of roughly one a week, and this year so far is about on track.

Of those 50 or so drug war deaths each year, only a handful have been police officers. But Dermyer is the second law enforcement officer to be killed upholding drug prohibition in a 10-day period: An Indiana deputy was killed March 22 in a misbegotten midnight drug raid over a single syringe.

In Richmond last Thursday, as Fox 10 TV reported:

State Police were at that station for a training exercise on how to intercept drugs at bus terminals, which are often critical transfer points for narcotics. Dermyer had just been training for his new position around 2:40 when he was shot by a man he approached as part of that training, according to State Police.

"The male subject pulled out a handgun and shot Chad multiple times," Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. W. Steven Flaherty said. "The male subject continued firing his weapon, as two state police troopers opened fire."

The Washington Post added a bit more detail:

[State Police Superintendent W. Steven] Flaherty said Dermyer and other troopers were at the station to train for what is called a counterterrorism and criminal interdiction unit. The unit is assigned to public transit areas and highways to identify and question people deemed suspicious. It is a way of intercepting drugs and guns.

Dermyer, wearing a dark blue uniform that resembles fatigues, had started to question the man when the assailant pulled out a gun and shot the trooper, police said. Dermyer was not wearing a protective vest.

Flaherty said the conversation lasted about 30 seconds. He said he did not know what drew Dermyer's attention to the man. Two other troopers returned fire, police said. Flaherty said the squad's training assignment was: " 'If you see some suspicious behavior, go over and engage and have a conversation.' That was what was taking place here."

While it may have been a "training exercise," what police were doing was surveilling and accosting real people in real life. And it got very real indeed when Dermyer stopped Brown, who was armed and who had an extensive criminal record, with arrests on counts ranging from the petty -- "failure to obey police, resisting a corrections officer, numerous drug charges" -- to the ugly -- "aggravated battery of a pregnant woman" -- to the quite serious -- "murder, intent to kill, aggravated battery with a firearm, felony possession of a weapon." (It's not clear which of those arrests actually resulted in convictions and on what charges.)

According to his aunt, who helped raise him and with whom he stayed until she kicked him out in December, Brown really didn't like cops. The aunt, Edith Brown of suburban Chicago, told WTVR News Brown had been to prison and had had enough.

"He said he would never go back to prison again," she said. "He would fight it out with them. He had a lot of anger about the police in the past," she said. "He pretty much thought he wanted to be infamous... in terms of having a showdown. He always praised those people who got into shootouts with police."

It's difficult to tease out the role of drug prohibition in the incident where Dermyer's and Brown's lives intersected -- and ended. It's embedded in an intricate tapestry of race and class, crime and criminalization, permanent paranoia and militarized policing. But the war on drugs is one of the threads, and now, two more people are dead.

Richmond, VA
United States

Chronicle AM: NE Pot Politics, DEA Drug Plane Scandal, FL Forfeiture Reform Signed, More.... (4/1/16)

Marijuana politics is hopping in New England, decrim goes into effect in Tampa, the DEA gets raked for wasting tens of millions on an anti-drug plane that never flew, Florida's governor signs an asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Another $86 million down the drain, thanks to the DEA and it's flightless anti-drug plane.
Marijuana Policy

Maine Marijuana DUID Bill Killed. The House voted unanimously and without debate Thursday to kill LD 1628, which would have set a standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood to prove a driver was impaired on marijuana. The smack down of the bill came after concerns were raised that there wasn't science to support the limit. The effort is now dead at least until next year.

Connecticut Hearing on Marijuana Legalization Set for Next Week. State Reps. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) and Toni Walker (D-New Haven) are hosting an information hearing on legalization next week. Candelaria is the lead sponsor of a legalization bill, House Bill 5209. The session is set for next Tuesday afternoon at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Vermont House Hears Testimony on Legalization Bill. More than 50 people testified about Senate Bill 241 at a hearing at the statehouse Thursday night. The marijuana legalization bill has already passed the Senate and has the support of Gov. Peter Shumlin (D). The first House committee vote on the bill is expected next week. If the bill passes, Vermont will be the first state to have legalized marijuana through the legislative process.

Vermont Libertarian Party Calls for Legalization Bill to Include Home Cultivation. The party says "the absence of a home growing provision will limit the bill's chances to decrease the black market" and that "legalization of marijuana is NOT all about tax revenue." The party also says that legal home cultivation "will allow Vermonters to develop their cannabis cultivation skills to support an artisan cannabis industry." The legalization bill originally contained a provision for allowing up gardens of up to 100 square feet per household, but that was stripped out after powerful politicos objected.

Decrim Goes Into Effect in Tampa, Volusia County. Marijuana decriminalization ordinances approved by governing bodies in Tampa and Volusia County, Florida, earlier this year are now in effect. In Tampa, people caught with 20 grams or less will face only a $75 ticket; in Volusia County, it's 20 grams and a $100 fine.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Rick Scott (R) Friday signed into law a bill designed to reform civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill, Senate Bill 1044, had been approved unanimously by both houses. It will require the seizing agency to make a "probable cause" determination that there is "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" that the seized goods were used in a crime.

Tennessee House Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill. The House unanimously approved House Bill 2176, which will require annual reporting on law enforcement agency property seizures. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure in coming day.

Law Enforcement

DEA Spent $86 Million for Anti-Drug Plane It Never Used. The DEA procured the plane seven years ago to fly surveillance and counter-narcotics missions in Afghanistan and spent $86 million to upgrade it with surveillance capabilities -- four times the initial estimated cost -- but the plane has never left the ground and will likely never fly in Asia, the Justice Department's inspector general said in a scathing report. "Our findings raise serious questions as to whether the DEA was able to meet the operational needs for which its presence was requested in Afghanistan," the review said. The plane could be ready to fly next year, but the DEA pulled out of Afghanistan last year.

Sentencing

Petitioners Urge Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to Allow Vote on Sentencing Bill. Sentencing refom activists handed in more than 30,000 petitions to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Tuesday demanding that he allow the Senate to vote on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (Senate Bill 2123). The bill would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses and give judges greater discretion to sentence below the guidelines.

International

IDPC Reviews What Was and Wasn't Gained at the CND. The International Drug Policy Consortium last year elaborated five main "asks" it was seeking at the looming UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, and now, in the wake of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting in Vienna last month, produced a sort of scoresheet on the progress made. It's a worthy read.

Drug War Issues

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