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This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Lead us not into temptation with seized cash, nearby evidence rooms, and the perks of police powers, amen. A few law enforcement officers haven't been reciting the prayer. Let's get to it:

In Austin, Texas, the state attorney general's office is reviewing the use of asset forfeiture funds by the Brooks County Sheriff. An audit of $562,000 in asset forfeiture spending by Sheriff Balde Lozano found that he spent $394,000 to purchase 18 cars without county approval for reasons that had nothing to do with law enforcement and that he charged more than $88,000 in restaurant dinners, department and electronics store purchases, and at hotels and gas stations. He spent $3,000 at Cavender's Boot City alone. Lozano has not yet been charged with any crime, but the investigation comes only eight months after former Brooks County DA Joe Frank Garza was sentenced to prison for skimming at least $1.2 million from the fund for himself and his former staff members.

In Bridgeton, New Jersey, a Williamstown police officer was arrested last Wednesday on steroid-peddling charges, including a count of intending to deal drugs near a local school. Officer Robert Smith, 31, went down after local police received information he was involved in narcotics. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled dangerous substance with the intent to distribute, and distribution of a controlled dangerous substance in a school zone. At last report, he was being held in the Salem County jail on $75,000 cash bail. He has been suspended without pay and faces dismissal if found guilty.

In Alexandria, Louisiana, a former supervisor of the Rapides Parish drug task force was indicted last Thursday on a slew of drug and malfeasance charges. Michael LaCourt had originally been arrested in Augusts, but a parish grand jury issued a superseding indictment charging him with distribution of methamphetamine and conspiracy to distribute meth. He is also charged with having sex multiple times with a woman who was under the supervision of the Division of Probation and Parole. He faces four malfeasance charges, three of them for his misbehavior with the woman and one for falsely telling Crimestoppers that a certain person had provided information in a case, allowing that person to collect reward money. Bond was set at $150,000. LaCour had headed Metro Narcotics from 2008 until his August 2011 arrest. He went down after "three female offenders" complained about him.

In Carlsbad, California, a Carlsbad vice and narcotics detective was arrested last Thursday after he was caught stealing drugs from the evidence room "by various police employees." Det. Michael Koch, 44, an 18-year veteran of the department, was arrested within hours of the incident and posted $25,000 bail last Friday. The department declined to comment on the type or quantity of drug is accused of taking.

In Tucson, Arizona, a Border Patrol agent and an Arizona prison guard were arrested last Thursday on charges they had conspired to smuggle drugs into the US. Border Agent Ivhan Herrera-Chiang and corrections officer Michael Lopez are charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. Herrera-Chiang had been part of the Border Patrol's Smuggling Interdiction Group since March 2011, but was actually acting as a middle man between Mexican drug traffickers and Lopez. He is accused of monitoring Border Patrol radio and agent locations and notifying Lopez where the smuggling effort should occur. Both men are reported to have made at least partial confessions.

In Savannah, Georgia, a former Savannah-Chatham police officer pleaded guilty last Friday to extorting drugs and a cell phone while working off-duty at a night club while in uniform. Floyd Sawyer, 45, went down after DEA agents informed the FBI they had received reports that Sawyer and another Savannah police officer, Sgt. Kevin Frazier, were shaking down dealers at the club and taking their drugs and other possessions. FBI agents set up a sting, sending an undercover agent into the club posing as a dealer. Sawyer and Frazier shook down the agent, taking Oyxcontin pills and a cell phone from him. The pills ended up going to a local small-time dealer and the phone ended up with one of Sawyer's relatives. Sawyer pleaded guilty to extortion, but denied using force or intimidation, leaving the judge in the case to warn that he may not accept the plea bargain.

In Palm Beach, Florida, the commander of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office SWAT team has been placed on administrative leave, the office announced Tuesday. Lt. Daniel Burrows, a 17-year-veteran of the department was placed on leave January 3 amid allegations of misuse of prescription pain medication and possibly being under the influence of drugs while on duty.

Two More US Drug War Deaths This Week

Two men were shot and killed in separate incidents by police enforcing drug laws this week. California resident Angel Molina and Little Rock, Arkansas resident Angelo Clark become the 3rd and 4th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Police told local media in Shafter, California, that Shafter police went to a residence during a drug investigation Monday night and when they arrived, they encountered two people in the driveway. Police said they were searching the two men when they found a gun on Molina, 37. Police said Molina then tried to grab the gun, and Officer Joseph Hayes shot him in the chest.

He was taken to the Kern Medical Center, but died less than an hour later. The district attorney's office is investigating the incident. Officer Hayes is on administrative leave.

In Little Rock, police told local media a SWAT team was serving a pre-dawn search warrant at an alleged drug house when they were confronted by Clark, who they said was holding an AK-47 directed at officers. He was shot by police and died at the scene.

Police said they had been investigating the residence since early December and undercover narcotics detectives had bought crack cocaine from Clark, 31, who lived there. But there was no mention of crack being seized at the home. Instead police reported finding a small marijuana growing operation, pot plants, scales and other drug paraphernalia, a loaded AK-47 clip, and a .40 caliber hand gun.

The unnamed SWAT officer who pulled the trigger is now on administrative leave. The Little Rock Police Department is conducting separate detective division and internal affairs investigations.

The Top Ten Domestic US Drug Policy Stories of 2011 [FEATURE]

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We can put 2011 to bed now, but not before looking back one last time at the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was a year of rising hopes and crushing defeats, of gaining incremental victories and fending off old, failed policies. And it was a year in which the collapse of the prohibitionist consensus grew ever more pronounced. Let's look at some of the big stories:

Progress on Marijuana Legalization

Last year saw considerable progress in the fight for marijuana legalization, beginning in January, when Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) got President Obama to say that legalization (in general) is "an entirely legitimate topic for debate," and that while he does not favor it, he does believe in "a public health-oriented approach" to illicit drugs. Before the LEAP intervention, which was made via a YouTube contest, legalization was "not in the president's vocabulary." While we're glad the president learned a new word, we would be more impressed if his actions matched his words. Later in the year, in response to "We the People" internet petitions, the Obama White House clarified that, yes, it still opposes marijuana legalization.

In June, Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) made history by introducing the first ever bill in Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition, H.R. 2306. It hasn't been scheduled for a hearing or otherwise advanced in the legislative process, but it has garnered 20 cosponsors so far. Sadly, its lead sponsors are both retiring after this term.

Throughout the year, there were indications that marijuana legalization is on the cusp of winning majority support among the electorate. An August Angus Reid poll had support at 55%, while an October Gallup poll had it at 50%, the first time support legalization has gone that high since Gallup started polling the issue. A November CBS News poll was the downside outlier, showing support at only 40%, down slightly from earlier CBS polls. But both the Angus Reid and the Gallup polls disagreed with CBS, showing support for legalization trending steadily upward in recent years.

Legalization is also polling reasonably -- if not comfortably -- well in Colorado and Washington, the two states almost certain to vote on initiatives in November. In December, Public Policy Polling had legalization leading 49% to 40% in Colorado, but that was down slightly from an August poll by the same group that had legalization leading 51% to 38%.

In Washington, a similar situation prevails. A January KING5/SurveyUSA poll had 56% saying legalization would be a good idea and 54% saying they supported marijuana being sold at state-run liquor stores (similar to what the I-502 initiative proposes), while a July Elway poll had 54% either definitely supporting legalization or inclined to support it. But by September, the Strategies 360 Washington Voter Survey had public opinion evenly split, with 46% supporting pot legalization and 46% opposed.

The polling numbers in Colorado and Washington demonstrate that victory at the polls in November is in reach, but that it will be a tough fight and is by no means a sure thing. "Stoners Against Proposition 19"-style opposition in both states isn't going to help matters, either.

Oh, and Connecticut became the 14th decriminalization state.

Medical Marijuana Advances…

In May, Delaware became the 16th state to enact a medical marijuana law. Under the law, patients with qualifying conditions can legally possess up to six ounces of marijuana, but they cannot grow their own. Instead, they must purchase it from a state-licensed compassion center. That law will go into effect this year.

Meanwhile, New Jersey and Washington, DC, continue their achingly slow progress toward actually implementing existing medical marijuana laws. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) finally got out of the way and okayed plans for up to six dispensaries, but early efforts to set them up are running into NIMBY-style opposition. In DC, a medical marijuana program approved by voters in 1998 (!) but thwarted by Congress until 2009 is nearly at the stage of selecting dispensary operators. One of these months or years, patients in New Jersey and DC may actually get their medicine.

And late in the year, after the federal government rejected a nine-year-old petition seeking to reschedule marijuana, the governors of Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington formally asked the Obama administration to reschedule it so that states could regulate its medical use without fear of federal interference. As the year came to an end, Colorado joined in the request for rescheduling.

…But the Empire Strikes Back

Last year saw the Obama administration recalibrate its posture toward medical marijuana, and not for the better. Throughout the year, US Attorneys across the country sent ominous signals that states attempting to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries could face problems, including letters to state governors not quite stating that state employees involved in regulation of the medical marijuana industry could face prosecution. That intimidated public officials who were willing to be intimidated, leading, for example, to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) delaying his state's medical marijuana program, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) to kill plans for dispensaries there, and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) to veto key parts of a bill there that would have regulated dispensaries.

Then the feds hit hard at Montana, raiding dispensaries and growers there, even as the state law was under attack by conservative Republican legislators. Now, Montana medical marijuana providers are heading to federal prison, and the state law has been restricted. What was once a booming industry in Montana has been significantly stifled.

There have also been raids directed at providers in Colorado, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington, but California has been the primary target of federal attention in the latter half of the year. Since a joint offensive by federal prosecutors in the state got underway in October, with threat letters being sent to numerous dispensaries and their landlords, a great chill has settled over the land. Dispensary numbers are dropping by the day, the number of lost jobs number in the thousands, and the amount of tax revenues lost to local jurisdictions and the state is in the millions. That's not to mention the patients who are losing safe access to their medicine.

It's unclear whether the impetus for the crackdown originated in the Dept. of Justice headquarters in Washington or with individual US Attorneys in the states. Advocates hope it will stay limited mainly to states that are not effectively regulating the industry, and a coalition in California has filed a ballot initiative for 2012 that would do just that. Either way there is plenty of pain ahead, for patients and for providers who took the president's and attorney general's earlier words on the subject at face value.

Synthetic Panic

Last year, Congress and state and local governments across the land set their sights on new synthetic drugs, especially synthetic cannabinoids ("fake marijuana") and a number of methcathinone derivatives ("bath salts") marketed for their stimulating effects similar to amphetamines or cocaine. Confronted with these new substances, politicians resorted to reflex prohibitionism, banning them as fast as they could.

Some 40 states and countless cities and counties have imposed bans on fake weed or bath salts or both, most of them acting this year.

At the federal level, the DEA enacted emergency bans on fake weed -- after first being temporarily blocked by retailers -- and then bath salts until Congress could act. It did so at the end of the year, passing the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011. The bill makes both sets of substances Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, which will pose substantial impediments to researching them. Under the bill, prison sentences of up to 20 years could be imposed for the distribution of even small quantities of the new synthetics.

But the prohibitionists have a problem: Synthetic drug makers are responding to the bans by bringing new, slightly different formulations of their products to market. Prosecutors are finding their cases evaporating when the find the drugs seized are not the ones already criminalized, and retailers are eager to continue to profit from the sales of the new drugs. As always, the drug law enforcers are playing catch-up and the new drug-producing chemists are way ahead of them.

The Drug War on Autopilot: Arrests Hold Steady, But Prisoners Decline Slightly

overcrowded Mule Creek State Prison, CA
Last year saw more evidence that drug law enforcement has hit a plateau, as 2010 drug arrests held steady, but the number of prisoners and people under correctional supervision declined slightly.

More than 1.6 million people were arrested for drug offenses in the US in 2010, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report 2010, and more than half of them were for marijuana. That's a drug arrest every 19 seconds, 24 hours a day, every day last year. The numbers suggest that despite "no more war on drugs" rhetoric emanating from Washington, the drug war juggernaut is rolling along on cruise control.

Overall, 1,638,846 were arrested on drug charges in 2010, up very slightly from the 1,633,582 arrested in 2009. But while the number of drug arrests appears to be stabilizing, they are stabilizing at historically high levels. Overall drug arrests are up 8.3% from a decade ago.

Marijuana arrests last year stood at 853,838, down very slightly from 2009's 858,408. But for the second year in a row, pot busts accounted for more arrests than  all other drugs combined, constituting 52% of all drug arrests in 2010. Nearly eight million people have been arrested on pot charges since 2000.

The vast majority (88%) off marijuana arrests were for simple possession, with more than three-quarters of a million (750,591) busted in small-time arrests. Another 103,247 people were charged with sale or manufacture, a category that includes everything from massive marijuana smuggling operations to persons growing a single plant in their bedroom closets.

An analysis of the Uniform Crime Report data by the University of Maryland's Center for Substance Abuse Research added further substance to the notion that drug enforcement is flattening. The center found that the arrest rate for drug violations has decreased for the last four years, but still remains more than twice as high as rates in the early 1980s. The all-time peak was in 2006.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that for the first time since 1972, the US prison population in 2010 had fallen from the previous year and that for the second year in a row, the number of people under the supervision of adult correctional authorities had also declined.

In its report Prisoners in 2010, BJS reported that the overall US prison population at the end of 2010 was 1,605,127, a decrease of 9,228 prisoners or 0.6% from year end 2009. The number of state prisoners declined by 0.8% (10,881 prisoners), while the number of federal prisoners increased by 0.8% (1.653 prisoners). Drug offenders accounted for 18% of state prison populations in 2009, the last year for which that data is available. That's down from 22% in 2001. Violent offenders made up 53% of the state prison population, property offenders accounted for 19%, and public order or other offenders accounted for 9%.

In the federal prison population, drug offenders made up a whopping 51% of all prisoners, with public order offenders (mainly weapons and immigration violations) accounting for an additional 35%. Only about 10% of federal prisoners were doing time for violent offenses. Overall, somewhere between 350,000 and 400,000 people were doing prison time for drug offenses last year.

Similarly, in its report Correctional Population in the US 2010, BJS reported that the number of people under adult correctional supervision declined 1.3% last year, the second consecutive year of declines. The last two years are the only years to see this figure decline since 1980.

At the end of 2010, about 7.1 million people, or one in 33 adults, were either in prison or on probation or parole. About 1.4 million were in state prisons, 200,000 in federal prison, and 700,000 in jail, for a total imprisoned population of about 2.3 million. Nearly 4.9 million people were on probation or parole.

America's experiment with mass incarceration may have peaked, exhausted by its huge costs, but change is coming very slowly, and we are still the world's unchallenged leader in imprisoning our own citizens.

Federal Crack Prisoners Start Coming Home

Hundreds of federal crack cocaine prisoners began walking out prison in November, the first beneficiaries of a US Sentencing Commission decision to apply retroactive sentencing reductions to people already serving time on federal crack charges. As many as 1,800 federal crack prisoners were eligible for immediate release and up to 12,000 crack prisoners will be eligible for sentence reductions that will shorten their stays behind bars.

The releases come after Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in August 2010, which shrank the much criticized disparity between mandatory minimum sentences for crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. After Congress acted, the Sentencing Commission then moved to make those changes retroactive, resulting in the early releases beginning in November.

Despite the joyous reunions taking place across the country, the drug war juggernaut keeps on rolling, and there is much work remaining to be done. Not all prisoners who are eligible for sentence reductions are guaranteed to receive one, and retroactivity won't do anything to help people still beneath their mandatory minimum sentences. A bill with bipartisan support in Congress, H.R. 2316, the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act, would make Fair Sentencing Act changes to mandatory minimum sentences retroactive as well, so that crack offenders left behind by the act as is would gain its benefits.

And the Fair Sentencing Act itself, while an absolute advance from the 100:1 disparity embodied in the crack laws, still retains a scientifically unsupportable 18:1 disparity. For justice to obtain, legislation needs to advance that treats cocaine as cocaine, no matter the form it takes.

But even those sorts of reforms are reforms at the back end, after someone has already been investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced. Radical reform that will cut the air supply to the drug war incarceration complex requires changes on the front end.

Also in November, the US Supreme Court announced that it will decide whether the Fair Sentencing Act should be applied to those who were convicted, but not sentenced, before it came into effect -- the so-called "pipeline" cases. The decision to take up the issue came after lower courts split on the issue. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue in June.

Drug Testing the Needy

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With state budgets strained by years of recession and slow recovery, lawmakers across the country are turning their sights on the poor and the needy. In at least 12 states, bills have been introduced that would require people seeking welfare or unemployment benefits to undergo drug testing and risk losing those benefits if they test positive. Some Republicans in the US Congress want to do the same thing. In a thirteenth state, Michigan, the state health department is leading the charge.

The race to drug test the needy appears to be based largely on anecdotal and apocryphal evidence. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Hailey (R), to take one example, cited reports that a nuclear installation there couldn't fill vacancies because half the applicants failed drug tests, but had to retract that statement because it was nowhere near to being true. In Florida, where welfare drug testing was briefly underway before being halted by a legal challenge, 96% of applicants passed drug tests, while in an Indiana unemployment drug testing program, only 2% failed.

While such legislation appeals to conservative values, it is having a tough time getting passed in most places, partly because of fears that such laws will be found unconstitutional. The federal courts have historically been reluctant to approve involuntary drug testing, allowing it only for certain law enforcement or public safety-related occupations and for some high school students. When Michigan tried to implement a welfare drug testing program more than a decade ago, a federal appeals court ruled that such a program violated welfare recipients' right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

That ruling has served to restrain many lawmakers, but not Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and the Florida legislature. Scott issued an executive order to drug test state employees, but had to put that on hold in the face of threatened legal challenges. The state legislature passed and Scott signed a bill requiring welfare applicants and recipients to undergo drug testing or lose their benefits.

But the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute filed suit in federal court to block that law on the grounds it violated the Fourth Amendment. In October, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction preventing the state from implementing it. A final decision from that court and decisions about whether it will be appealed are eagerly awaited.

Marking 40 Years of Failed Drug War

Drug War 40th anniversary demo, San Francisco
June 17 marked forty years since President Richard Nixon, citing drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1," declared a "war on drugs." A trillion dollars and millions of ruined lives later, a political consensus is emerging that the war on drugs is a counterproductive failure. The Drug Policy Alliance led advocates all across the country in marking the auspicious date with a day of action to raise awareness about the catastrophic failure of drug prohibition and to call for an exit strategy from the failed war on drugs. More than 50 events on the anniversary generated hundreds of local and national stories.

In dozens of cities across the land, activists, drug war victims, and just plain folks gathered to commemorate the day of infamy and call for an end to that failed policy. Messages varied from city to city -- in California, demonstrators focused on prison spending during the budget crisis; in New Orleans, the emphasis was on racial injustice and harsh sentencing -- but the central overarching theme of the day, "No More Drug War!" was heard from sea to shining sea and all the way to Hawaii.

The crowds didn't compare to those who gather for massive marijuana legalization protests and festivals -- or protestivals -- such as the Seattle Hempfest, the Freedom Rally on Boston Commons, or the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, or even the crowds that gather for straightforward pot protests, such as 420 Day or the Global Marijuana March, but that's because the issues are tougher. People have to break a bit more profoundly with drug war orthodoxy to embrace completely ending the war on drugs than they do to support "soft" marijuana. That relatively small groups did so in cities across the land is just the beginning.

Congress Reinstates the Federal Ban on Funding Needle Exchanges

Two years ago, after years of advocacy by public health and harm reduction advocates, the longstanding ban on federal funding for needle exchanges was repealed. Last month, the ban was restored as the Senate took the final votes to approve the 2012 federal omnibus spending bill.

It was a Democratic-controlled House and Senate that rescinded the ban two years ago, and it was House Republicans who were responsible for reinstating it this year. Three separate appropriations bills contained language banning the use of federal funds, and House negotiators managed to get two of them into the omnibus bill passed Saturday.

A Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill including the ban on domestic use of federal funds for needle exchanges and a State Department bill including a ban on funding for needle exchange access in international programs both made it into the omnibus bill.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, American Public Health Association, and numerous other scientific bodies have found that syringe exchange programs are highly effective at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Eight federal reports have found that increasing access to sterile syringes saves lives without increasing drug use.

Needle exchange supporters said restoring the ban will result in thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C or other infectious diseases next year alone.

US Drug War Deaths

As far as we know, nobody has ever tried to count the number of people killed in the US because of the war on drugs. We took a crack at it last year, counting only those deaths directly attributable to drug law enforcement activities. The toll was 54, including three law enforcement officers.

Most of those killed were shot by police, many of them while in possession of firearms (some in their own homes) and some of them while shooting at police. Some were shot in vehicles after police said they tried to run them down (why is it they never were merely trying to get away?). But not all died at the hands of police -- several died of drug overdoses from eating drugs while trying to evade arrest, several more died from choking on bags of drugs they swallowed, one man drowned after jumping into a river to avoid a pot bust, and another died after stepping in front of a speeding semi-trailer while being busted for meth.

People were killed in "routine traffic stops," SWAT-style raids, and undercover operations. Hardly any of those cases made more than a blip in local media, the two exceptions being the case of Jose Guerena, an Iraq war vet gunned down by an Arizona SWAT team as he responded to his wife's cry of intruders in his own home, and the case of Eurie Stamps Sr., a 68-year-old Massachusetts man accidentally shot and killed by a SWAT team member executing a warrant for small-time crack sales.

Our criteria were highly restrictive and absolutely undercount the number of people who are killed by our drug laws. They don't include, for instance, people who overdosed unnecessarily because they didn't know what they were taking or medical marijuana patients who die after being refused organ transplants. Nor do they include cases where people embittered by the drug laws go out in a blaze of glory that wasn't directly drug law-related or cases, like the four men killed last year by Miami SWAT officers during an undercover operation directed at drug house robbers.

The toll of 54 dead, then, is an absolute minimum figure, but it's a start. We will keep track again this year, and look for a report on last year's numbers in the coming weeks.

In Conclusion...

Last year had its ups and downs, its victories and defeats, but leaves drug reformers and their allies better placed than ever before to whack away at drug prohibition. This year, it looks like voters in Colorado and Washington will have a chance to legalize marijuana, and who know what else the new year will bring. At the least, we can look forward to the continuing erosion of last century's prohibitionist consensus.


 

Medical Marijuana Update

So much is going on in the world of medical marijuana that we cannot adequately cover it all through news briefs and the occasional feature article. The news briefs and feature articles will, of course, continue, but we now include a weekly medical marijuana update at least noting all those stories we are unable to cover more comprehensively. Here's the second one:

National

Last Friday, responding to questioning from Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated the Justice Department's support for its 2009 Ogden memo, which said the use and sale of medical marijuana in states where it is legal should be a low priority for federal prosecutors.

"What we said in the memo we still intend, which is that given the limited resources that we have, and if there are states that have medical marijuana provisions... if in fact people are not using the policy decision that we have made to use marijuana in a way that's not consistent with the state statute, we will not use our limited resources in that way," Holder said. "Where a state has taken a position, has passed a law and people are acting in conformity with the law -- not abusing the law -- that would not be a priority with the limited resources of our Justice Department," Holder said.

Arizona

Last Friday, a former nurse fired from Verde Valley Community Hospice because she is a medical marijuana user filed a lawsuit seeking damages in Maricopa County Superior Court. Arizona's medical marijuana law contains an anti-discrimination provision that says an employer may not make decisions on hiring, firing or discipline based on the person's status as a registered medical marijuana patient. The law even says that a positive drug test for marijuana from someone who is a registered user cannot be used against that employee unless the person either used, possessed or was impaired at the worksite. This case will be the first test of that law.

On Monday, a US district court judge harshly criticized the state's medical marijuana lawsuit, saying Arizona had to pick a side in the conflict over state and federal law. Judge Susan Bolton did not dismiss the case, saying she would issue a ruling later, but she told state attorneys she would throw it out unless the state decides whether or not to support its own law. Gov. Jan Brewer (R) filed the lawsuit in May, stalling the state's medical marijuana dispensary permit process.

On Wednesday, responding to the court's criticism, Gov. Brewer decided the state will argue that federal law preempts the state medical marijuana law and ask Judge Bolton to rule the state cannot regulate and permit medical marijuana dispensaries.

California

On December 7, the Live Oak City Council voted to ban residents from growing their own medical marijuana. The council cited "an unbearable stench and fear of violence." A final vote on the ban is set for next week, and the ban would take effect 30 days after that, on January 20.

On December 8, the La Puente City Council voted to order one dispensary shut down and gave another until February to show that it has not recouped costs of opening. The city banned medical marijuana dispensaries last year, but allowed some to continue operating temporarily during an amortization period while they attempt to recoup their investment costs.

On December 8, a Pomona police SWAT team raided the Natural Remedies dispensary. Police had a search warrant. A Rialto man was arrested on suspicion of possession of marijuana for sale. Police seized a pound of weed, cash, and weapons.

Last Friday, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana announced it would close its doors as of this weekend. MAMM, the state's oldest dispensary, had been targeted by federal prosecutors. Another Marin County collective, Medi-Cone, shut down last week because of scrutiny by federal authorities.

On Tuesday, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted an ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated parts of the county and narrowly passed a second law hours later regulating pot growth for county residents. The cultivation ordinance bans growing inside residences, but allows it in detached accessory structures and sets limits for outdoor growing regardless of how many patients live at a residence.

On Tuesday, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to support the idea of lifting federal marijuana prohibition for states that have marijuana laws in place. "Inconsistencies in local, state and federal law create challenges within our public safety system network and criminal justice system. There are a record number of ballot initiatives in the coming election cycle calling for the legalization of marijuana. Mendocino County supports the regulation, legalization, and taxation of marijuana," the supervisors said.

On Tuesday, the Lake County Board of Supervisors voted to close all dispensaries in the county's jurisdiction. The board had approved an ordinance allowing up to five dispensaries in August, but that ordinance was overturned after advocates began a referendum petition to undo it. Supervisors then voted to rescind the ordinance, making dispensaries illegal in the county. The 10 dispensaries in the county will have 30 days to shut down.

On Tuesday, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors approved a temporary moratorium on new dispensaries. The board cited uncertainty about whether local governments can regulate dispensaries in the wake of the Pack vs. Long Beach case, in which the court held that federal law preempted Long Beach's right to regulate marijuana. The moratorium will not affect the county's three existing dispensaries.

On Tuesday, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to authorize its attorneys to sue any dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county unless they close immediately. The county has banned dispensaries from operating in unincorporated areas of the county since 2006. Nonetheless, county officials estimate that at least 36 dispensaries are open in violation of the ban.

Colorado

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) will not join fellow governors Lincoln Chafee (I) of Rhode Island, Christine Gregoire (D) of Washington, and Peter Shumlin (D) of Vermont in petitioning the federal government to reschedule marijuana, but the state of Colorado will independently seek rescheduling. Colorado's medical marijuana law requires the Colorado Department of Revenue to make the same request of the feds by no later than January 2012. State officials said that will be done.

The number of registered medical marijuana patients has declined dramatically from its peak of more than 128,000 in June. As of the end of October, the state's registry showed only 88,000 patients. It's unclear what the decline means. Some patients could be dropping out temporarily because registration costs will drop next year, but the state has at least 4,200 applications on hold because of problems with doctors' signatures, and 30,000 applications were in the system as of the end of last month.

Michigan

Last Friday, state and local police raided three medical marijuana dispensaries in Tuscola, Sanilac and St. Clair counties Friday for alleged involvement in the the illegal trafficking of marijuana. They included the Blue Water Compassion Center and a private residence in Kimball Township, as well as Blue Water Compassion Centers in Denmark Township in Tuscola County and Worth Township in Sanilac County. Police confiscated marijuana and marijuana-laced tinctures, topical oils, capsules, and medicated edibles. Patient files, money and toys donated to Toys for Tots also were taken, but no arrests were made. The three centers are owned by Jim and Debra Amsdill. Combined, the centers have about 26 staff and roughly 3,500 members.

New Jersey

Last Friday, the state Agriculture Development Committee ruled that medical marijuana may be grown and processed on preserved farms. Preserved farms are areas designated only for agricultural usage. The committee's move came after residents of Upper Freehold implored it not to recognize medical marijuana as an agricultural crop allowed on preserved farmland. They also criticized the process that allowed a federally outlawed drug to be grown and distributed here in the first place. The Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center has expressed interest in at least five properties in Upper Freehold as sites for growing medical marijuana, and some of them are preserved farms.

Sheriff Will Pay You $100 to Wear a Wire and Ask People to Sell You Drugs

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Stupid silver-bullet strategies to win the war on drugs are as common as the reckless zealots who dream them up, but rarely does one find an example so deeply absurd and irresponsible as this.

Sheriff Price believes there are still many dealers on the streets. He is now asking for the public's help to catch them.

"Basically what we need from the public to help combat this, is we need some informants. Without community involvement, there is no way we can combat these drugs. We have to have community involvement," said Sheriff Price.

The sheriff will pay people up to $100 to tell him who is dealing drugs and then possibly help with undercover work.

"If you know someone that sells drugs and you feel like you can put a stop to it by wearing a wire, at least come in. It doesn't cost you anything to come in and talk to us and we'll explain the process to you," said Sheriff Price.  [WKYT.com]

It’s fun and easy! Just use common sense. If someone tries to blow your head off, duck. If they set your house on fire, stop, drop and roll. After all, if teams of highly-trained, heavily-armed narco-cops can pull off these kinds of operations, what's your excuse? Certainly, you aren't afraid of a few ill-tempered drug dealers.

"Don't let people scare you. A lot of people are afraid they will get burnt out or beat up. I've done this for 25 years and got nobody hurt yet," said Sheriff Price.

Really, one can scarcely find words to describe the sickening irony of police suddenly claiming that drug enforcement is so safe a civilian could do it. 

Frightened police officers routinely panic and unload their weapons on innocent people and pets when entering the homes of drug suspects. When that happens, we're reminded by them that this work is dangerous, that drug dealers are bloodthirsty killers, and that it's necessary we arm our police to the teeth and forgive any fatal errors they may make with their machine guns, because failing to do so could result police being shot at or bitten by dogs when they smash down people's doors looking for drugs.

Meanwhile, police want to pay random people $100 each to approach these same deadly criminals with no training or protective gear? The whole thing just makes a mockery of everything police ever said about the dangers of drug enforcement, and yet it does so for the purpose of persuading naive people to do something that really is incredibly risky. Drug informants are routinely identified and targeted for harassment and even death. The murder of Rachel Hoffman, who was arrested for marijuana and agreed to wear a wire, is a well-known example, but Google finds many more

The whole idea is just idiotic on its face, and in ways that I would have thought obvious. The drug war isn't some action comedy on afternoon cable, and when you start screwing around with slippery BS like this, anything and everything could go horribly wrong. The fact that the war on drugs creates a temptation to enforce the law this way is a good example of why we'd be better off without it.

US Reps, CA AG Chide Feds on Medical Marijuana

The unhappy reaction to the renewed federal offensive against medical marijuana growers and distributors continues to spread, with several members of Congress and California's attorney general among the latest to voice their displeasure.

Since the Sacramento press conference last month where California's four US Attorneys announced a crackdown on the medical marijuana using heavy-handed raids on businesses in exemplary compliance with state and local laws and a wave of letters to dispensary landlords threaten property seizure or even criminal prosecution if they don't throw out their medical marijuana tenants, reaction among medical marijuana supporters, including elected officials, has been growing.

On Friday, nine members of Congress, led by Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), sent a letter to President Obama expressing "concern with the recent activity by the Department of Justice against legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries in California that are operating legally under state law." The other congressional signers were Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Pete Stark (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Bob Filner (D-CA).

Citing "aggressive SWAT-style federal raids in at least seven states," as well as threats directed at landlords and elected officials, the solons told the president such actions "directly interfere with California's 15-year-old medical cannabis law by eliminating safe access to medication for the state's thousands of medical marijuana patients."

The nine US representatives called on the president to reschedule marijuana as either a Schedule II or Schedule III drug with recognized medicinal uses, either by administrative action or by supporting legislation to achieve that end. A bill that would do just that, H.R. 1983, the States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, has already been filed, they helpfully pointed out.

A week before the congressional letter, California Attorney General Kamala Harris added her voice to the choir of the concerned. "Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill," she noted in a statement.

"While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California," the state's highest elected law enforcement officer said. "I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice’s stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on ‘significant traffickers of illegal drugs.'"

In mid-October, state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), stalwart friends of marijuana law reform, were among the first to speak out against the federal crackdown, followed shortly by fellow San Franciscan state Sen. Leland Yee (D).

"Medical marijuana dispensaries are helping our economy, creating jobs, and most importantly, providing a necessary service for suffering patients," Lee said in a statement. "There are real issues and real problems that the US Attorney's Office should be focused on rather than using their limited resources to prosecute legitimate businesses or newspapers. Shutting down state-authorized dispensaries will cost California billions of dollars and unfairly harm thousands of lives."

In the face of widespread criticism, the US Attorneys have attempted to insulate their boss from the political heat, with a spokesperson making pains to tell the Huffington Post they had coordinated only with the Justice Department, not the Obama administration. But it is ultimately President Obama who is in charge, and who will pay whatever political price is to be paid.

DEA Raids California, Colorado Medical Marijuana Operations

Putting some law enforcement muscle behind this month's words of warning from federal prosecutors that a new crackdown on medical marijuana distribution was getting underway, DEA agents late last week raided a model regulated medical marijuana grow in Northern California, a medical marijuana dispensary in Southern California, and a medical marijuana grow in Colorado.

"The California marijuana industry is not about providing medicine to the sick," claimed Laura Duffy, the San Diego-based US Attorney at the October 8 Sacramento press conference. "It's a pervasive, for-profit industry that violates federal law."

But the operation raided Thursday, Northstone Organics in Mendocino County, has been touted as a model medical marijuana grow. It holds a Mendocino County sheriff's permit to grow the 99 pot plants seized and destroyed by the feds, pays an estimated $8,500 annually in fees to remain compliant, and has even had sheriff's deputies testify favorably about it in a state court case where Northstone drivers delivering medicine to patients were arrested in Sonoma County.

Northstone Organics founder and owner Matt Cohen told the Ukiah Daily News Friday that heavily-armed agents raided his home and property early Thursday morning, destroying plants and hauling off evidence, but not charging him with a crime.

"They destroyed our home and eradicated everything," Cohen said. "They came in, guns blazing. They calmed down and were pleasant at the end, but they came in with machine guns."

Cohen said the smash and grab raiders included six DEA agents, a state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement agent, and a Mendocino County sheriff's deputy, "who didn't know what he was walking into here."

Northstone is a strict cooperative, growing the plants it distributes to members in the area, as well as in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is fully compliant with California's medical marijuana laws.

"If we're not legal, nobody's legal," Cohen said. "We actually are a legitimate not-for-profit corporation. We worked with the county to get where we are, and there are illegal growers all around us. We fell under what the US Justice Department said was the threshold for prosecution."

The message the feds are sending? "Go back underground, I guess; make our community a less safe place to be," Cohen said.

The Northstone Organics raid was "shameful and despicable," said Dale Gieringer of Cal NORML, which reported the raid as it was still going on Thursday morning. "The DEA is doing nothing but encouraging lawlessness and disobedience to the law, said Gieringer."This is a victory for the Mexican cartels."

A day earlier and several hundred miles to the south, DEA agents and Pomona police raided the Green Cross USA dispensary, seizing marijuana, marijuana edibles, and records. But unlike the Northstone Organics raid, the raid on Green Cross appears to have been instigated by local authorities, who called in the feds to help.

Pomona Police Capt. Paul Capraro told the Daily Bulletin that the dispensary owner and landlord had received threat letters from the US Attorney's office. The letters said "if they didn't close down they would be subject to criminal prosecution, civil prosecution, and property seizure," he said.

Pomona banned dispensaries with a March 2008 ordinance, and had cited the dispensary in March for operating without a business permit. The owner, Jeffrey Maul, was convicted of operating without a business license, but is appealing that conviction.

The joint city-DEA action sends a message to other dispensaries in Pomona, Capraro said. "Our message is simple, that dispensaries are not lawful businesses in Pomona."

But it's not just a local case, said DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen. "We seized contraband, but also gathered evidence for the ongoing investigation," she said, adding that arrests could be forthcoming and that the city and the DEA had worked together for months on the case.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, what originated as a local law enforcement raid against a medical marijuana grower who contracted to grow as part of a larger grow at Cherry Top Farms in Denver morphed during the day into a joint local-state-federal raid replete with carloads of DEA agents and US Attorney representatives.

"We are 100% compliant" with state medical marijuana laws, a Cherry Top Farms manager told Westword after the raid. "But when the feds walk in, they can do whatever the hell they want." Local police had issues with the contract grower who was the original target of the raid, the manager said. "They came to take care of him, but when they got here, they were unable to turn a blind eye, and they did a lot of damage," he complained.

When the first officers showed up late Thursday morning, "it was the Denver Police Department, and then it was the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. Then there were the feds. When they got here, they decided they needed a search warrant for us, too," the manager explained. "They lined us all up and questioned us and took our phones and [state mandated ID] badges. Then they gave some of the option to leave, after they handed over their IDs. But a few of chose to stay, and we were forced to wait in a two-parking space area, probably 10 feet by 10 feet, from 11:00am to 11:00pm. They did let us go to the bathroom, but you definitely had to ask permission to take a piss."

The raiders cleaned out Cherry Top, the manager said. "They took all of our live plants, all of our medicine, all of our extracts, and all of our baked goods," plus at least one more thing. "We have these cute t-shirts, little tank-top titty shirts, and one of the female officers put one on and was dancing around. I said to one of the agents at the door, 'I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but that doesn't seem to be very professional.' And he said, 'It's been a long day. We're just trying to have some fun.'"

The t-shirt has vanished, the manager said. "It's not here. She took it."

After last week's threats from prosecutors in Sacramento, it now appears that the feds are backing up those threats with actions. The medical marijuana wars are heating up again.

Victims of Deadly Tucson SWAT Raid Begin Legal Action

The attorney for the family of Jose Guerena, the ex-Marine gunned down in his own home as a Pima County SWAT team burst in, has filed a notice of claim. Such a legal maneuver lays the groundwork for a damage-seeking lawsuit.

Jose Guerena survived tours of duty in Iran and Afghanistan, but not his encounter with a Tucson, AZ SWAT team.
Earlier reports said that the lawsuit will seek $20 million in damages from the Pima County Sheriff's Office, several Pima County municipalities, and the SWAT team members. It will claim that the SWAT team used excessive force and was negligent in the raid.

Guerena, who shared the home with his wife and young son, died after SWAT team members fired 71 rounds at him as they burst through his door and confronted him in his underwear in a hallway holding a weapon. The fatal May 5 raid was part of a series of raids that day in what police said was the investigation of a drug rip-off gang.

But no drugs, cash, or illegal items were found at Guerena's home, and, to date, no one has been arrested for anything in relation to that investigation or those raids. The officers involved in the raid have already been exonerated of any wrongdoing by local officials.

On Friday, Guerena family attorney Chris Scileppi told Fox 11 News that a newly released sheriff's department video showing Vanessa Guerena being pulled from the house and 4-year-old Joel Guerena running to safety after his father had been shot demonstrated just how horrific Guerena's death at the hands of police had been.

"They just give a snapshot of the horror that his wife his small child went through as they crawled past their dying husband and dying father," said Scileppi.

Two days earlier, Scileppi filed the 15-page claim outlining what it calls reckless actions by the SWAT team.  "They were negligent and grossly negligent in how they performed this the execution of this warrant in killing Mr. Guerena," said Scileppi. The $20 million figure would "accommodate the children's loss of their father," he said. "No amount of money can replace Mr. Guerena to his wife, to his children, to his family."

The two sides have 60 days from last week to reach an agreement on the claim, or a lawsuit will be filed. Comments from Mike Storie, an attorney for Pima County SWAT team suggest, that agreement is unlikely and this matter will end up in the courts.

The $20 million figure was "obscene," he told Fox 11. "I would be absolutely shocked if anybody settles this case and did not fight it vigorously and if asked, I would say it would be a ridiculous result," said Storie. "I think a dollar is excessive. Any type of settlement for any type of award would be unwarranted in this case."

Jose Guerena was the 25th person to be killed this year in domestic law enforcement operations. This year's toll of drug war killings is currently at 32.

Tucson, AZ
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We've got sticky-fingered SWAT cops, we've got perverted probation officers, we've got smack-slinging uniformed police officers, we've got strung out, pill-stealing cops, and, of course, we've got crooked jail guards. Let's get to it:

Drug prohibition's filthy lucre tempts law enforcement (image via wikimedia.org}
In Waycross, Georgia, a Ware County prison guard was arrested last Friday after he set off a metal detector upon arriving at work and was found carrying contraband cell phones and marijuana. Theodis Martin, 25, is charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of more than an ounce of marijuana, bringing prohibited articles to the prison without the warden's permission, possession of prohibited items inside the guard line and trading with inmates without the consent of the warden. Although he was fired from his job the same night, he is still at the Ware County Jail.

In Kansas City, Kansas, three Kansas City Police SWAT team members pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges they stole cash and other property from homes while serving search warrants, including one that was part of a federal sting operation. Officers Jeffrey Bell, Darryl Forrest, and Dusting Stillings are accused of stealing video game equipment during searches at several homes last year. Complaints from residents led to the sting, which led to additional charges the crooked trio stole video game equipment, other electronics, and $640 in cash in that incident. Bell and Forrest were charged with conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights and theft. Sillings was charged with conspiracy against rights and theft. They each face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted on the conspiracy charge. The other two charges carry a maximum one-year prison term and a $100,000 fine.

In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer was indicted Tuesday along with four other people on drug and gun charges. Officer Daniel Redd and the others were charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin. According to court documents, the other drug ringleader obtained heroin from Africa and distributed it to Redd and others. Redd is also accused of distributing heroin to others, including incidents that took place in the Northwest District Police Station parking lot while Redd was in uniform. He is also charged with carrying a firearm while engaged in drug trafficking, which carries a mandatory minimum five-year federal prison sentence.

In Provo, Utah, a former Provo police officer was sentenced last Friday to probation for stealing prescription medications from a home where he had previously responded to a call. Tony Brewer, 33, was arrested after a Provo family said he went to their home to investigate a 911 call, then returned several times and stole Lortab pills. A family surveillance camera caught him in the act. Brewer's attorney said he got hooked on pain pills after a police training injury. He has since undergone drug treatment. He was charged possession of a controlled substance and theft, but the theft charge was dropped as part of the plea deal. He has to do six months of probation and pay a $623 fine.

In Portland, Oregon, a former federal probation officer was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for sexually abusing five women under his supervision between April 2005 and June 2009. Mark John Walker, 52, had pleaded guilty in April to charges he violated the civil rights of his victims by sexually abusing them. As part of his plea agreement, he admitted forcing one woman to have sex with him and fondling four other women. Several of the women were drug defendants on probation.

SWAT Reporting Bill Filed In Michigan

A bill that would impose reporting requirements on law enforcement SWAT teams has been introduced in the Michigan House. The bill, House Bill 4857, would require those specialized paramilitary units to file a report when they forcibly enter a home, discharge a weapon, or injure or kill a suspect.

At least one Michigan legislator wants to know how often SWAT teams are deployed. (image via wikimedia.org)
The sponsor, Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) told the instate Livingston Daily he introduced the bill in part because of concerns stemming from a May 2010 Detroit police SWAT raid in which police shot and killed 7-year-old Aiyanna Jones. He said he was most concerned about the lack of information from SWAT teams, which use automatic weapons and grenades, as well as kicking down doors.

"These are areas where a little transparency wouldn't hurt," McMillin said. "I think it will raise some awareness of where reporters and other interested citizens may have additional questions. These are not your typical traffic stops," he added.

As introduced, the bill would apply to SWAT teams within the Michigan State Police, county sheriff's departments, and municipal police departments. That formulation is leading some law enforcement officials to say that it would not apply to interagency drug task forces, such as the LAWNET task force that raided the Marshall Alternatives medical marijuana dispensary in Fowlerville earlier this year.

Livingston County Sheriff Bob Bezotte, who presides over LAWNET, said the reporting bill wouldn't apply to task force actions and attacked the measure as a "political" effort to deal with isolated instances.

"We've got enough laws -- so from that aspect, I disagree with what he wants to do," he said "The state can't come down and tell me how to run my department," Bezotte added. "What they end up doing is causing more problems than we originally had," he added.

Drug units deserve special consideration, Bezotte added. "It's not to try to get away with anything. I think if you've worked with a drug unit, you would understand you don't want anyone knowing who you are, especially if you're doing undercover buys," he added. "I would side with the drug units on that one in terms of secrecy."

But that interpretation didn't fly with attorney Denise Pollicella, who represents Marshall Alternatives. "It absolutely would apply to LAWNET," she said."I know, personally, of three different occasions and three different raids where they did not list all of the property and cash that they took on their inventory," Pollicella added.

The bill was a necessary "accountability measure," she said. "I think that if the public actually realized how prevalent these raids are, and how unnecessary the extreme force is and how traumatizing it is for the victims, there would be significantly more outrage," she said.

McMillin said he wasn't sure whether multiagency drug task force SWAT teams would be covered by the bill as written. He said the bill could become more agency-specific as it moves through the legislative process. It is currently in the House Judiciary Committee, with a hearing set for July 27.

The only other state to impose reporting requirements on SWAT teams is Maryland. That law passed only after a Prince Georges County SWAT team made the mistake of practicing its usual tactics on the mayor or Berwyn Heights, who was both innocent of any wrongdoing and in a position to be able to right the wrong inflicted on him.

MI
United States

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