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Video Killed the Drug Conviction: Chicago Narcs Busted Lying Through Their Teeth [FEATURE]

Part 10 of an occasional series on police and prosecutorial misconduct by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com.

It was just another marijuana bust by Chicago's crack dope squad and should have resulted in an easy conviction, but thanks to a forgotten camera, things didn't exactly work out the way the cops planned. Now, the pot dealer is free, he has a bunch of cash in pocket, and it's the cops who are facing justice.

It went down on June 6, 2013, when three Chicago Police narcotics officer and a pair of suburban Glenview police officers pulled over Joseph Sperling on the pretext that he had failed to properly use his turn signal, then claimed Sperling told them there were drugs in his vehicle. The cops said they found marijuana in plain view and arrested Sperling on marijuana possession and distribution charges. Business as usual, so far.

But when it came time to go to court the following March, things went south for the cops. Prosecutors had been questioning Chicago PD narcotics officer William Pruente, who said in sworn testimony that when police pulled over Sperling they immediately smelled marijuana and ordered him to exit the vehicle and stand at the rear of the car.

Then, defense attorney Steven Goldman asked the veteran narc if Sperling was handcuffed after he got out of the car.

"No, he was not handcuffed," Pruente replied. "He was not under arrest at that time."

Chicago narcotic officers Sergeant James Padar and Vince Morgan and Glenview Police officers James Horn and Sergeant Theresa Urbanowski backed up Pruente's story.

Then, as Urbanowski was testifying, defense attorney Goldman dropped a bombshell. He interrupted the testimony to inform Judge Catherine Haberkorn that he needed to offer a videotape into evidence.

In a moment of courtroom drama like something out of "Law and Order," Goldman revealed that the video came from Urbanowski's police cruiser and that it flatly contradicted the sworn testimony of the police officers. The police had been lying to the court and to the judge and the video would prove it, Goldman said.

As Goldman patiently took Urbanowski back over the events she'd testified about, he played the recording and asked her to describe the difference between her original testimony and what was happening on the tape.

The footage contradicted the testimony of the police officers. Pruente had testified that Sperling had not been arrested or handcuffed until the cops had found the dope in plain view, but the video showed Pruente walking up to Sperling's car, reaching in the open window, unlocking the door, pulling Sperling out, handcuffing him, and placing him in the back seat of a patrol car. Only then did the officers move to search the car.

The video clearly showed the officers spending minutes thoroughly searching Sperling's car before finding weed and a small amount of psychedelic mushrooms in a black duffel bag.

As defense attorney Goldman noted during questioning, if the drugs had really been in plain view on the front seat of the vehicle, the officers had no need or reason to search it because they already had the drugs.

The brazen distance between the officers' testimony and what the video revealed infuriated Judge Haberkorn, who immediately granted Goldman's motion to suppress the evidence because the video showed police had neither probable cause to arrest Sperling nor a warrant to search his vehicle.

"This is very outrageous conduct," Haberkorn said from the bench. "All the officers lied on the stand today. All their testimony is a lie. There is strong evidence it was a conspiracy to lie in this case, for everyone to come up with the same lie."

Haberkorn then dismissed the criminal charges against Sperling.

"If this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone," said Sperling, then 23, during a press conference with reporters after the release of his videotaped arrest. "I just happen to be one of the lucky few that had a video that proved the officers were wrong."

The Cook County criminal justice system may have been done with Sperling, but he wasn't done with it. Shortly after the charges were dismissed, he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging illegal search and seizure against the Chicago and Glenview police departments. And he won. The two cities involved settled the suit, paying Sperling $195,000 for his troubles.

Others who have been similarly victimized could do the same. Under the US Code Section 1983, citizens are allowed to sue police in federal court as a result of an illegal search and arrest if the officer acted with malice "under color of law."

In Sperling's case, attorney John Loevy argued in the lawsuit that there was insufficient legal justification for officers to stop and arrest Sperling and search his vehicle, which was done without probable cause. Those illegal actions violated Sperling's civil rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth amendments, as prescribed under Section 18 US Code 242. The argument was strong enough to force the cities to settle.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez (twitter.com)
Former Houston Police homicide and narcotic gang investigator Rick Moreno told Drug War Chronicle the officers lied to protect an informant when they could simply have gone by the book and done their bust right.

"Once those officers had all the information about this guy having dope in his car they needed a warrant," Moreno explained.

But the narcs plotted a scheme disguised as a routine traffic stop to avoid having to obtain one.

"What they've done in this case was a 'wall off' technique." Moreno said, referring to a strategy most narcotic officers use to put a wall between the officer and the information provided by a snitch. And if everything goes as planned, the officer gets the dope without a warrant, they got the dope dealer and the snitch is protected."

"The biggest casualty in the war on drugs is the truth," said Chicago civil attorney Jon Loevy, who represented Sperling in his civil rights lawsuit.

"The ends justify the means," said criminal defense attorney Goldman, explaining the attitudes that drove the cops to lie on the stand. "So because they get the bad guy off the street or the drugs out of their hands, everybody's happy."

Well, not everybody, not when the lies are so blatant they cannot be ignored. The Cook County criminal justice system wasn't done with the cops caught lying on the witness stand. Sgt. Urbanowski's camera had caught them red-handed, and four of them were indicted by a Cook County grand jury on perjury, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct charges in June 2015. They all face up to five years in prison on each count. The three Chicago police officers were immediately suspended, and the Glenview police officer was later fired. Their trials got underway this week.

"The foundation of our criminal justice system rests on the concept of truthful testimony," said Cook County States' Attorney Anita Alvarez in a press statement announcing the indictments. "We expect it from our witnesses and we demand it from our police officers."

The criminal charges filed against the officers made headlines across the state and constituted another black mark against the much criticized Chicago Police Department. But the buzz around the courthouse was not just over the charges, but whether they would lead to the dismissal of other drug cases in which the charged cops were involved.

Calls to the Cook County prosecutor's office regarding whether the four indicted officers would be investigated for perjury or illegal tactics in previous drug cases have not been returned.

While Sperling won $195,000 in damages from his illegal search and seizure lawsuit, legal experts say such victories are rare. Defendants usually don't pursue such suits due to lack of funds, and if a case involving a bad search is dismissed, most defendants are just relieved the case is over and they no longer face charges, said Penn State University law professor David Rudovsky, a leading civil rights and criminal defense attorney and author of The Law of Arrest, Search, and Seizure.

Penn State law professor David Rudovsky (law.penn.edu)
Rudovsky told Drug War Chronicle there is also another reason such lawsuits are rare.

"Why would a jury award money for damages to a criminal already proven to have committed a crime?" he asked rhetorically.

Police perjury is nothing new -- the practice has even generated its own nickname, "testilying" -- but the Sperling case has renewed debate over why law enforcers resort to breaking the law.

"Police perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace," wrote former San Francisco police commissioner Peter Keane in a much-cited article on the topic.

"I've heard some police officers say in a social setting, 'If [the defendant] is going to lie to beat the case, why can't I lie too?" Cook County Public Defender, and former prosecutor Abishi Cunningham Jr. related.

"When police lie to make a case on someone they are saying the criminal justice system doesn't work... so I'm going to do it my way," Houston civil and criminal attorney Annie Briscoe told the Chronicle.

Briscoe recalled a drug case involving police illegal search where police recovered a sizeable amount of drugs from a client of hers. Houston police claimed he resembled a fugitive they were looking for. With her client facing up to life in prison, Briscoe convinced the trial judge to throw out the charge because of illegal search and seizure through the simple expedient of showing the judge a photo of the fugitive, who looked nothing like her client.

While the judge called Briscoe's client "one lucky guy," Briscoe had a slightly different take.

"The law should be enforceable by way of truth," she said.

Police are also incentivized by the war on drugs to cut corners so they can reap monetary rewards, whether through asset forfeiture or by earning federal anti-drug grants through aggressive enforcement actions. And each bust makes their numbers look better.

As NYPD Officer Adil Polanco once revealed through a surfeit of honesty, "Our primary job is not to assist anybody, our primary job is to get those numbers and come back with them. You have to write somebody, arrest somebody, even if the crime is not committed, the number is there."

Yes, there are numerous reasons cops lie. But none of them justify the lying, or the corrosive effect such behavior has on public trust and respect for law enforcement. These Chicago police officers are about to find out just how seriously the system takes such dishonesty, especially when it is so blatant the system can't pretend it doesn't see it.

Chicago, IL
United States

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."

Chronicle AM: Open Letter to UN Head Urges Global Drug Policy Changes, PA to Become 24th MedMJ State, More... (4/15/16)

Global celebrities and political figures call for change at the UN, Maine's pot legalization initiative remains alive, Pennsylvania is now set to become the 24th medical marijuana state, and more.

Medical marijuana is coming to Pennsylvania. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Won't Appeal Judge's Ruling to Recount Invalidated Signatures. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Wednesday he won't appeal a judge's ruling that overturned his decision to invalidate a marijuana legalization initiative. This doesn't mean that the initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is now qualified for the ballot, but it does mean that state officials will have to review thousands of signatures in threw out last month, including some 17,000 invalidated because they came from a notary whose signature on petition sheets supposedly didn't match his signature on file. If those signatures are found to be valid, the initiative qualifies. It handed in 99,000 and only needs 61,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot.

Top Massachusetts Politicians Form Anti-Legalization Committee. Governor Charlie Baker (R), Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D), Speaker Robert DeLeo (D), and a number of other political figures and health care professionals have formed a bipartisan committee, A Campaign For A Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, to oppose the marijuana legalization initiative there. "I’ve met far too many families in Boston and elsewhere where kids have lost their way in school and been shut out of success in the workplace due to addiction and abuse of marijuana," Mayor Walsh said in a release. "Where marijuana is legal, young people are more likely to use it and a vote against legalizing the commercial marijuana industry is a vote to protect our kids and communities."

NORML Endorses Michigan Legalization Initiative. "The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is pleased to announce our endorsement of the MI Legalize initiative to regulate the adult use, production and retail sale of marijuana in Michigan. MI Legalize, also known as the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, has collected more than 270,000 signatures in its effort to legalize marijuana via the petitioning process. The grass-roots effort has been collecting signatures from registered voters since June, 2015, and represents the best opportunity to enact a regulatory system in Michigan, a state where it is highly unlikely the state legislature will take any similar action."

Champaign/Urbana to Vote on Legalization Advisory Referendum. The Illinois cities will vote on the advisory measure in the November election. The advisory question will ask voters "Should the state of Illinois legalize and regulate the sale and use of marijuana in a similar fashion to the state of Colorado?"

Medical Marijuana

Senate Committee Approves Veterans Access to Medical Marijuana. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bipartisan amendment Thursday, 20 to 10, allowing Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. The vote is the second time the U.S. Senate has advanced this issue. The amendment did not make the final appropriations bill last year after narrowly losing in the House.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. After months of delay in the House, Senate Bill 3 has finally been approved by the legislature and is headed for the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who supports it. The Keystone State is now set to become the 24th medical marijuana state.

Harm Reduction

Hawaii House Approves Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. The House has approved a bill to increase access to overdose reversal drugs such as naloxone (Narcan) and provide immunity to those who administer them. The measure is Senate Bill 2392, which has already passed the Senate and now heads for the governor's desk.

International

Open Letter to UN Head Calls for Shift in Global Drug Policy. Over a thousand people, including financier Warren Buffett, US Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), rock star Sting, and the former presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Switzerland, among others, have signed an open letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon saying the drug war has failed and calling for a shift in global drug policy away from criminalization and force and toward health  and human rights. The letter comes ahead of next week's UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs.  

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.

Chronicle AM: VT Pot Bill Hits Wall in House, Brit Poll Has Near Majority for Pot Legalization, More... (4/11/16)

Ted Cruz takes a states' rights line on marijuana policy, a Vermont House committee has amended the pot legalization bill beyond recognition, a counterculture icon dies, a new poll has plurality support for marijuana legalization in Great Britain, and more. 

Welsh counterculture icon Howard Marks, "Mr. Nice," has died.
Marijuana Policy

In Colorado, Ted Cruz Says He Would Leave State's Pot Law Alone. The Republican presidential contender told the Denver Post ahead of last Saturday's GOP caucus that as president, he would not interfere with Colorado's marijuana legalization even though he personally opposes legalization. "I think on the question of marijuana legalization, we should leave it to the states," he said. "If it were me personally, voting on it in the state of Texas, I would vote against it. The people of Colorado have made a different decision. I respect that decision." Cruz won the Colorado caucus.  

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize pot. The initiative would legalize the use, possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana, but will have to go back to the drawing board to come up with language that is not ambiguous. Any initiative in Arkansas this year will need 85,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Vermont Legalization Bill Hits Wall in House. The fate of the legalization bill, Senate Bill 241, is at best uncertain after the House Judiciary Committee first refused to pass even a watered-down version of it last Friday, then amended it to delete legalization and expand funding for anti-drug campaigns, provide police with more drugged driving resources, and ban potential dangerous methods of concentrating the drug. While the Judiciary's version of the bill bears little resemblance to the version passed by the Senate, it does leave the door open for Senate supporters to re-insert the deleted language if the amended version passes the House. But it is not at all clear that a majority of House members would vote for that.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced. State Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) has filed House Bill 1112, which would expand the scope of medical marijuana in the state. The state passed a restrictive medical marijuana bill last, but there has been little progress made on producing medical marijuana in the state. James' s bill would allow for the commercial production of medical marijuana and allow patients to petition state agencies to expand qualifying conditions for use of the medicine. The bill also seeks to ease the regulatory burden on marijuana by cutting state agencies out of some of the regulatory process.

Ohio Attorney Generals Okays 2nd Medical Marijuana Initiative. Attorney General Mike DeWine has certified the petition summary for a medical marijuana and industrial hemp initiative from Legalize Ohio 2016. Now, the initiative goes to the Ohio Ballot Board to determine whether it is one issue or two. Another initiative, backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, has already been approved for signature gathering. Initiatives will need 305,000 valid voter signatures by early July to qualify for the November ballot.

International

Poll: Plurality of Britons Support Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from The Independent has support for legalization at 47%, with 39% opposed. The poll asked whether respondents supported a plan for licensing the sale of marijuana through shops that has been adopted by the Liberal Democrats.

No More Mr. Nice. Welsh counterculture icon Howard Marks, widely known as "Mr. Nice," has died of stomach cancer at age 70. Marks smuggled marijuana in the 1970s and 1980s before being arrested and imprisoned in the United States. His 1996 memoir, "Mr. Nice," brought him to broader public attention, and he continued to campaign for marijuana legalization until his death. 

Guatemala Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Deputy Alvaro Velasquez has introduced a bill that would legalize and regulate the use, possession, cultivation, distribution, and commercialization of marijuana. The bill would legalize the weed for people 18 and over and regulation would be in the hands of the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance.  Velasquez is a member of the National Convergence Front, whose presidential candidate, TV comedian Jimmy Morales, won the 2015 election.

 (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.)

 

 

 

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.)

Chronicle AM: Senate "Sham" Legalization Hearing, Legalizers Rally in Ann Arbor & DC, More... (4/4/16)

Marijuana legalization activists rallied in Ann Arbor and DC over the weekend, pot-related hearings take place in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and the US Senate tomorrow, the California Assembly will take up supervised injection sites tomorrow, British pot arrests are down dramatically, and more.

Could supervised injection sites be coming to California? Stay tuned. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Legalization Foes to Hold Hearing Tomorrow. US Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will hold a hearing in the Caucus on International Narcotics Control titled "Is the Justice Department Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization." The only witnesses are foes of marijuana legalization, making it a "sham hearing" in the eyes of the Drug Policy Alliance. "These hearings are a one-sided sham with the deck stacked with witnesses who have a track record of vehemently opposing marijuana legalization," said DPA deputy director of national affairs,Michael Collins. "An honest evaluation of marijuana legalization would include the undeniable benefits of legalization like the massive drop in marijuana arrests, the billions in taxes, and the transition from an underground market to a regulated one. A more even-handed hearing would also address the destructive harms of marijuana prohibition."

On Eve of Hearing, Connecticut Governor Reiterates Opposition to Legalization. With a legislative informational hearing on legalizing marijuana set for Tuesday, Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) made clear Monday that he remains opposed to the move. "I'm not a believer in it," he said. "I've done all the things I thought were necessary," referring to supporting the state's medical marijuana program and signing a decriminalization bill. "I think when you legalize marijuana, you're encouraging marijuana, and that's not the place I want to go."

DC Pot Activists Fire Up in Front of White House. Led by the DC Cannabis Campaign, hundreds of legalization supporters gathered in front of the White House Saturday afternoon to urge President Obama to reschedule marijuana. The event was held on 4/2 instead of 4/20 because "Obama has been a big zero" when it comes to leading the country out of pot prohibition, the activists said. At 4:20pm, people lit up in a civil disobedience action, but no arrests were forthcoming, although some citations were issued.

Thousands Attend Annual Hash Bash in Ann Arbor. Pot lovers and legalizers gathered by the thousands on the University of Michigan's central campus Diag in the Midwest's largest annual celebration of cannabis culture. This was the 45th annual Hash Bash, and stoner icon Tommy Chong addressed the crowd, along with lesser luminaries. Activists were also out collecting signatures for a proposed statewide marijuana legalization initiative. Three people were arrested for marijuana possession.

Rhode Island Hearing on Marijuana Regulation and Policy Tuesday. State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin will host a forum on marijuana policy Tuesday at Brown University. Speakers include representatives from the city of Denver, the Washington state attorney general's office, and the Washington Institute on Public Policy, as well as Massachusetts state Sen. Jason Lewis (D), who chairs that state's Special Senate Committee on Marijuana.

Harm Reduction

California Assembly Hearing on Supervised Injection Sites Set for Tomorrow. The Assembly Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing on Assembly Bill 2495, which would allow localities to establish supervised drug consumption services and let drug users consume controlled substances there under public health supervision. The bill is sponsored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton).

International

British Marijuana Arrests Down By Nearly Half Since 2010. Arrests are down 46%, warnings fell by 48%, and charges filed declined by 33% between 2010 and 2015, according to official data from police forces. Some forces admitted no longer targeting pot smokers, saying their officers had been "freed up" for "more important work."

Indian Opium Addicts Block Highway to Protest New Ban on Poppy Husk. Hundreds of people addicted to "doda post," as dried opium husk is known in the area, blocked a highway in Rajasthan to protest a ban on the trade that went into effect April 1. Police managed to clear the road, but demonstrations against the ban continued. One local doda user attempted to commit suicide, and his father, Himatram, said he and his son had been using doda for years. "This government banned doda while supplying liquor publicly," he said. "It is not justified." Doda users said authorities had begun "de-addiction" drives, but were supplying them with medications that were useless.

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.

Chronicle AM: More Obama Commutations, SC Town Pays Big for Killing Teen in Pot Bust, More... (3/30/16)

The president has commuted sentences for another 61 federal drug offenders, Maine legalizers are fighting to get their signatures validated and their initiative on the ballot, a South Carolina town pays out big for the death of a local teen in a small-time pot bust, and more.

Zach Hammond's family has settled a lawsuit over his death in a small-time pot sting operation gone bad. (Hammond family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Senate Approves Marijuana DUID Bill. The Senate voted 19-14 Wednesday to pass LD 1628, which establishes a blood level for THC over which the driver is presumed to be impaired. The bill sets the limit at 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, the same as the states of Colorado and Washington. The bill now goes to the House.

Maine Legalization Campaign Gets Hearing On Invalidated Signatures. At a court hearing Wednesday, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol fought to get more than 17,000 invalidated signatures reinstated. The campaign accused Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap of using an "unconstitutionally vague" interpretation of election laws to invalidate the signatures -- all of which were notarized by the same person. Dunlap said the notary's signature didn't match his on-file signature. By invalidating the 17,000 signatures, Dunlap ensured that the initiative campaign would not qualify for the November ballot. The court has until April 11 to render a decision.

Oregon Governor Signs Marijuana Edibles Bill. Gov. Kate Brown Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 1511, which allows people 21 and over to purchase edibles and extracts at dispensaries. The bill also allows recreational pot stores to sell medical marijuana tax-free to registered patients.

Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Patients Protest Proposed Medical Marijuana Tax. Protestors gathered at the State House Tuesday to just say no to Gov. Gina Raimondo's (D) plan to impose a tax on patient and caregiver growers. "We have pain, we have cancer, taxing us is not the answer," they chanted. Under her plan, caregivers would have to pay $350 per plant and patients who grow their own would have to pay $150. The protest took place just before the House Finance Committee took up the proposal.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Full Transcript of President Obama's Atlanta Remarks on Heroin and Pain Pills. The White House has released the full transcript of the discussion panel in which President Obama took part Tuesday as part of the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta. Click the title link for the transcripts.

Law Enforcement

Family of Zach Hammond Settles Police Killing Lawsuit. The South Carolina teenager was shot and killed by police last summer as he sat in his pick-up truck. The teenage girl who was his passenger was the target of an attempted bust over the sale of a bag of weed, and police shot Hammond as he attempted to pull away from the scene. His family has settled the lawsuit for $2.1 million. State investigators last year concluded that the killing was justified, but the city has just paid up.

Sentencing

Obama Pardons More Drug Offenders. President Obama today granted clemency to 61 more federal drug offenders, more than a third of whom were serving life sentences. That brings to 248 the number of sentences commuted by Obama, more than the six previous presidents combined. He was also set to meet today with people whose sentences had been commuted by previous presidents to discuss their experiences with reentry and how the process can be strengthened. On Thursday, he will hold a Life After Clemency briefing at 2:00pm EDT, which can be viewed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

Chronicle AM: Michiganders Say Legalize, Kansas MedMj Mom Sues Over Son's Removal, More... (3/28/16)

Popular sentiment favors marijuana legalization in Michigan, Denver activists plan an initiative to approve cannabis social clubs, Florida's CBD cannabis oil law gets expanded, and more.

Shona Banda is suing the state of Kansas, local police, and a local school district over her son's removal from her home.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Majority Support for Legalization. A new SurveyUSA poll commissioned by Michigan marijuana activists finds support for legalization at 54%. The poll comes as activists there struggle to get legalization initiatives on the ballot.

Denver Activists Renew Push for Cannabis Clubs. Activists with Responsible Use Denver submitted ballot language last Friday for an initiative to allow for private marijuana social clubs and to allow for public pot use at special events with a permit. The move comes a year after backers of a similar measure dropped it in favor of working with city officials to craft a policy. The initiative will need 5,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot; the group says it is aiming at 10,000 raw signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Governor Signs CBD Expansion Bills Into Law. Gov. Rick Scott (R) has signed into law House Bill 307 and House Bill 1313, which expands the state's CBC cannabis oil law and fixing some problems related to that law which resulted in patients not getting their medicine because of challenges setting up the industry.

Kansas Medical Marijuana Mom Sues Over Son's Removal. Activist Shona Bana last Thursday filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last Thursday over the state's questioning and removal of her 11-year-old son after he spoke up in school about her using and possessing marijuana. She is claiming the state deprived her of her civil rights by not allowing her to use medical marijuana to treat her Crohn's Disease and that local police and school officials improperly questioned her son.

MPP-Backed Ohio Initiative Cleared for Circulation. The initiative from Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, which is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, has been cleared for circulation. Attorney General Mike DeWine last Friday approved the summary language. At least two other proposed medical marijuana initiative have been rejected by DeWine, as was an earlier version of this one.

Heroin

Pennsylvania Coroner Now Classifying Heroin Overdoses as "Homicides." Lycoming County Coroner Charles Kiessling has started listing accidental fatal heroin overdoses as homicides. "If you are selling heroin to someone and they die, isn't that homicide?" he asked. "If you are dealing drugs, you are a murderer." Most coroners in the state list heroin overdose deaths as "accidental," not "homicide."

Drug Testing

West Virginia Imposes Drug Testing on High School Students in Tech Ed Courses. All high school students in third and fourth year career technical education courses will be required to submit to drug tests beginning next school year. It's part of the Department of Education's Simulated Workplace program. It's unclear whether the drug testing complies with Supreme Court rulings that limit mandatory, suspicionless drug testing to select groups of students, but would appear to be ripe for a legal challenge.

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