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Chronicle AM: AMA Wants Protection for Pot Docs, LA Marijuana Sentencing Reformed, More (6/9/15)

Another GOP presidential contender weighs in on marijuana policy, the nation's harshest pot laws are about to get a little better, the AMA sticks up for medical marijuana, er, cannabis, doctors, and more.

Carly Fiorina says marijuana legalization is a states' rights issue. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Carly Fiorina Says Marijuana Legalization a States' Right Issue. Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina said Tuesday that while she personally opposed marijuana legalization, it should be up to the states. "I don't support legalized marijuana for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that this is a very complex chemical substance, and when we tell young people it is just like drinking a beer, we are not telling them the truth," she said. "But I think Colorado voters made a choice, I don't support their choice, but I do support their right to make that choice."

Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reforms Pass; Governor Expected to Sign. The state legislature Monday gave final approval to House Bill 149, which will make the state's draconian possession penalties somewhat less so. Gov. Bobby Jindal has signaled that he will sign the bill. For first offenders, the maximum penalty shrinks from six months to 15 days in jail; for second offenders, the penalty shrinks from a five-year felony to a six-month misdemeanor; for third-strikers, the penalty shrinks from a 20-year felony to a two-year felony. The bill also allows people charged with first-time possession to have their records expunged if they don't get busted again for pot within two years.

Oregon Legislators Have Tentative Pot Deal. Legislative negotiators have reached initial agreement on a way to move forward with implementing legalization. The deal foresees a possible 20% retail sales tax, with municipalities collecting up to 3%. The key question of whether municipalities can prohibit pot shops is being deferred to the courts or a work group charged with making recommendations for 2016. See this series of amendments for more details.

Medical Marijuana

AMA Calls for Protections for Medical Marijuana Doctors. Meeting at its annual convention in Chicago, the American Medical Association has passed a resolution called "Immunity from Federal Prosecution for Cannabis Prescribing." The resolution is "consistent with AMA policy to protect patient-physician communications about treatment options, supporting a public health approach rather than a law-enforcement focus, for individuals possessing cannabis for personal use and opposing government interference with the practice of medicine," the nation's largest doctors' group said.

Industrial Hemp

Nevada Governor Signs Hemp Research Bill. Gov. Bryan Sandoval last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 305, which will allow colleges, universities, and the state Agriculture Department to grow hemp for research purposes in a pilot program. But it doesn't allow commercial hemp production.

Law Enforcement

California School District Pays Out for Using Student as Drug Sting Bait. The Temecula Valley Unified School District will pay $200,000 to a family whose 14-year-old learning disabled son was recruited by an assistant principal to serve as bait in a drug sting. The sting took place even after the boy's mother objected. The boy's mother said the school's actions endangered her son, leading to him being labeled a snitch and to threats of physical violence against him. The sting was an effort to catch another student with marijuana.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, 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: OR Marijuana Moves, No More UMass Snitches, Suboxone Bottlenecks, More (1/15/15)

Oregon marijuana regulators are going on a listening tour while consumers get organized, a Minnesota Indian reservation ponders producing medical marijuana, UMass ends its student snitch program, and more. Let's get to it:

This opiate maintenance drug could be in wider use. (bluelight.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Liquor Control Board on Pot Policy Listening Tour. The board, which is charged with regulating marijuana as well as liquor, has set the first two stops on its statewide listening tour designed to elicit public comment on proposed rules and regulations. The first two stops will be next Thursday in Baker and Pendleton. Click on the link for event details.

NORML Forms Portland Chapter to Lobby for Marijuana Consumer Interests. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has formed a Portland, Oregon, chapter to lobby for the interests of pot smokers as the state begins drafting rules for legal marijuana there. The Portland chapter is headed by radio host and long-time marijuana activist "Radical" Russ Bellville. The group will push to ensure that pot smokers are "provided the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities as adult alcohol and tobacco consumers, whenever practical."

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Indian Tribe Okays Study on Medical Marijuana, Hemp. The tribal council for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians has approved a study what economic benefits could accrue to the tribe by allowing the production of medical marijuana and hemp. Tribal leaders weren't interested in recreational marijuana, but saw job growth and economic development opportunities in producing medical marijuana or hemp. The federal government cleared the way for Indian reservations to participate in marijuana business last month, but so far, only one tribe, the Pinole Pomos in Northern California, has announced plans to move forward.

Harm Reduction

Obstacles to Wider Use of Suboxone. The Washington Post has a nice piece on bureaucratic bottlenecks blocking the wider use of the opiate maintenance medication suboxone, which is safer than methadone. Only doctors who have been trained and approved by the DEA can prescribe it, and only to a limited number of patients. Click on the link for much more.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court Hears Deportation Case Hinging on Whether a Sock is Drug Paraphernalia. The US Supreme Court Wednesday held a hearing in the case of Moones Mellouli, a legal permanent US resident, who was ordered deported after being caught with four Adderall pills and eventually accepting a deal to plead guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia -- the sock in which the pills were hidden. His is the fourth case in which the high court has looked at deportations for minor drug offenses; in the first three, the court ruled against the government. Given the incredulous tenor of the questions from the justices, it looks like the government may lose this one, too. Click on the link for more.

UMass Amherst Will Quit Using Student Snitches. The school's chancellor has ended its program allowing campus police to use students as confidential informants. The move comes after a student used as a snitch by campus cops died of a heroin overdose. Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said using students as snitches is "fundamentally inconsistent with our core values."

Chronicle AM: Deadly Tampa Snitch Culture; Columbia, MO, SWAT Raid Hack Attack; More (12/29/14)

The Tampa Bay Tribune has an explosive expose of the police-snitch culture there, a revenge hack attack on Columbia, Missouri; Michigan's governor signs a welfare drug test bill, and more. Let's get to it:

Mephedrone is marking a mark in India, where it is legal. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Wichita Decriminalizers Say They Have Enough Signatures to Make Ballot. A group that wants to put a marijuana reform initiative on the April 7 municipal ballot in Wichita says that it now has more than enough signatures to qualify. Kansas for Change said it will hand in signatures next week. The group had tried last summer to make the ballot, but came up 36 signatures short after a high number of signatures were disqualified.

Pot on the Agenda for Maine's Legislature. At least four marijuana bills will be before legislators when they return next month. Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) will reintroduce her perennial legalization bill, the state Department of Public Safety is proposing a marijuana DUI bill, and there will be legislation seeking to expand the state's medical marijuana program.

Medical Marijuana

More Medical Marijuana Bills Coming in South Carolina. State Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), author of a successful high-CBD medical marijuana bill this year, says he will be back with three more bills next year. One would create laws for growing high-CBD, low-THC marijuana, another would clean up language in the state's hemp laws, and the third is a full-fledged medical marijuana bill.

Drug Testing

Michigan Governor Signs Welfare Drug Testing Law. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) last Friday signed a pair of bills that will mandate drug screening of adult welfare recipients and drug testing of those suspected of using drugs. The bills, House Bill 4118 and Senate Bill 275, would create a pilot program in three as yet unnamed counties. People who refuse to take a drug test would lose benefits for six months, while those who test positive would be referred to treatment -- and more drug testing. Benefits would be restored after the person passes a drug test.

Law Enforcement

Tampa Bay Times Blows the Lid Off Sleazy Informant Culture That Got a Pot Smoker Killed. Wow. The confidential informant who pointed Tampa police toward Jason Westcott, 29, who was shot and killed by a police SWAT team as it raided his home, has come clean to The Tampa Bay Times in a lengthy piece in which he admits lying to his police handlers about drug buys, telling them about drug buys that never actually occurred, expresses sorrow for the role his snitching played in Westcott's killing, and says police let him get away with his exploits because they wanted to make drug busts. Westcott was killed in May by SWAT team members who had entered his home while he was sleeping, then shot and killed him when he woke up and grabbed a weapon to fend off intruders. Westcott had sole miniscule amounts of pot to the informant on several occasions; when police raided his home, they found 0.2 grams of weed. The entire piece is worth the read -- if you can stomach it. Click on the link to do so.

Columbia, MO, Municipal Web Site Hacked Over 2010 SWAT Raid that Killed Dog. The municipal web site, gocolumbiamo.com, was offline from last Thursday night until noon Saturday after an anonymous hacker dubbing himself "Bitcoin Baron" unleashed a DDOS attack on it. The hacker posted a video of a February 2010 SWAT drug raid that terrorized a local family and resulted in the shooting death of their pet. Bitcoin Baron said he wanted to expose how SWAT teams work: "They're on a rampage and kill what they want and get away with it and know it too because they hide behind a badge/uniform," he wrote. "Yes, I am aware that it happened four years ago, but I wanted to let everyone know what the SWAT teams are like." Bitcoin Baron also took down the web site of local media outlet KOMU 8 News after it credited the DDOS attack against the city to Anonymous instead of him.

International

Mexican Priest Killed After Accusing Guerrero Drug Gang of Murder. Father Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta, kidnapped a week ago today from his seminary, was found murdered Christmas day near Ciudad Altamirano. The priest had earlier this year accused the Guerreros Unidos drug gang of kidnapping killing 43 teachers' college students earlier this year. His body was found by police searching for the missing students.

Mephedrone on the March in India. The use of the synthetic stimulant drug mephedrone is spreading in India. It first became popular among drug users in Mumbai and Bangalore, and is now gaining popularity in Indore. The drug is unregulated and not illegal in India, and is available at about one-twentieth of the cost of cocaine.

Chronicle AM: Bad Cops in CO, CT MedMJ, VA Decrim Bill, WA Drug Defelonization Bill, More (11/26/14)

We have a couple of disturbing Colorado police stories, a marijuana decrim bill will be filed in Virginia, and a drug decrim one in Washington state, Connecticut patients seek to expand the list of conditions, Florida will try again on medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

New Idaho Group Forms to Fight for Pot Law Reform. A new group has formed to push for marijuana legalization in a most pot-unfriendly place: Idaho. Although it now borders two legal marijuana states -- Oregon and Washington -- Idaho continues its last-century approach to marijuana. Now, New Approach Idaho wants to change that with a new initiative effort. It has its work cut out for it: The last time activists tried to get an initiative on the ballot there, they were only able to come up with 11,000 of the necessary 60,000 voter signatures.

Virginia Legislator Will File Decriminalization Bill in January. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) has said he will fill a bill to decriminalization the possession of small amounts for the next session of the legislature. "This is not going to legalize marijuana. It is going to make it no longer have a criminal penalty," he said. Under current law, a first possession offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Ebbin's bill would make possession a civil offense, with a maximum $100 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Doctors' Panel Hears Request to Add More Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Program's Board of Physicians heard today from patients and advocates pleading with them to expand the state's medical marijuana law to include more medical conditions. The board has received petitions seeking to add severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; sickle cell disease; Tourette's disorder; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy -- chronic pain after back surgery -- to the list of qualifying maladies. The program is accepting written submissions, petitions, and testimony from the public until December 12 and will deliberate on the issue in January. If it approves adding new conditions, that's just the first step. Click on the link for all the bureaucratic details.

Florida Advocates Announce Plans for a 2016 Initiative. United for Care, the group behind this year's medical marijuana initiative that came up just short, has announced it will try again in 2016. "We are swiftly mobilizing a new petition push to get medical marijuana" on the 2016 ballot, United for Care director Ben Pollara told supporters this week in a fund raising announcement. This year's Measure 2 won 57% of the vote, but it needed 60% because it was a constitutional amendment. It looks like the group is going to go the constitutional amendment route again, despite the higher bar it creates.

Law Enforcement

Citizen Video Captures Denver Police Beating Drug Suspect, Knocking Down Pregnant Wife; Cops Tried to Destroy Evidence. Denver resident Levi Frasier happened upon two police officers attacking a man on the ground and began recording with his tablet computer. Police were repeatedly punching the man in the head, and when his seven-month pregnant wife approached the scene, one of the officers swept her legs out from under her, dropping her to the ground. When police noticed Frasier recording the scene, they seized his tablet without his consent or a warrant and erased the video. But Frazier had software that automatically uploaded his videos to the cloud, and now he has made it available to a local TV station, which is raising many questions about the incident. Click on the link to see the video and the TV station's investigative report.

One Colorado Town's Horribly Out of Control Snitch-Driven Drug Busts. The Denver alternative weekly Westword has a lengthy investigative report on a series of drug busts in the town of Trinidad that repeatedly wrapped up innocent people based on the word of confidential informants who stood to benefit from snitching out others. Most of the cases have now been dismissed, but not without severe damage to the innocent. Local police and prosecutors seem not to care much. Click on the link to read the whole damning piece.

Sentencing

Drug Defelonization Bill to Be Filed in Washington State. State Reps. Sherry Appleton (D-Bainbridge Island) and Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) will reintroduce legislation to make drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill will be identical to House Bill 2116, which didn't pass this year. The effort is being supported by Sensible Washington.

International

Cannabis Cafe Quietly Operating in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A members-only marijuana consumption club, the High Life Social Club, has been open for business since early September. The club doesn't allow pot smoking, just vaporizing, nor does it actually sell marijuana -- it's a BYOB (bring your own buds) operation, and local police seem to be okay with it. The only requirement for membership is a payment of $5 and an ID showing you are over 18.

Chronicle AM: UMass Snitch Policy Review, Baby Bou Bou SWAT Grand Jury, More (9/30/2014)

Medical marijuana news from several states today, the Baby Bou Bou SWAT raid case is before a grand jury, UMass examines its student snitch policy, DA candidates in Houston are fighting over drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Mississippi Group Wants Legalization Initiative. A group of activists filed a petition Monday with the secretary of state's office seeking a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. This is the first step in putting a measure before the voters. The group is called Mississippi for Cannabis. We're not sure if these are the same folks, but there is a Legalize Marijuana in Mississippi Facebook page.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Supreme Court Hearing Patient's Wrongful Firing Lawsuit Today. The state Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who worked for the Dish Network until he was fired four years ago for testing positive for marijuana. Dish Network argues that even though medical marijuana is legal under state law, it is still illegal under federal law, and the firing was thus justified.

New York US Senators Ask Feds to Approve State's Request to Transport Medical Marijuana Across State Lines. US Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Charles Schumer (D) Monday sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) request for the Justice Department to allow the state to import high-CBD cannabis oil from out of state. "As members of Congress whose constituents suffer from these illnesses, we feel that the federal government ought to do what it can to help these children," the senators wrote. "Therefore, we are requesting that you provide the state of New York with a waiver that would prohibit federal prosecution for the importation of cannabidol in the rare cases where medical marijuana is imported between two states with legalized medical marijuana, and the amount is small, finite and prescription-based."

Second Annual Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Festival This Weekend. The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition is hosting the festival to celebrate the eighth year of the state's medical marijuana program. Click on the link for more details.

Wisconsin Activists Target Recalcitrant Legislators With Billboards. Sick and tired of seeing bills blocked in the state legislature, medical marijuana activists are targeting two key opponents, Republican state Sens. Mary Lazich and Leah Vukmir, in a newly unveiled billboard campaign. The billboards urge readers to call the two senators and ask them why Wisconsin patients have no access to medical marijuana.

Drug Policy

Harris County, Texas, (Houston) DA Race All About Drugs. A debate over the weekend between Republican incumbent Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson and Democratic challenger Kim Ogg was all about drugs. The candidates both suggested that they would allow some low-level marijuana possession offenders to avoid permanent criminal records, although Ogg would go further than Anderson. They also tussled over whether or not to press felony charges for trace amounts of cocaine or crack pipes, with Anderson taking the harder line. Click on the link for more flavor.

Prescription Opiates

Doctors' Group Issues Pain Reliever Guidelines, Says Not Appropriate for Many Cases. The American Academy of Neurology has released a new position paper, Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain, that says the risks of opioid pain relievers outweigh their benefits in treating chronic headaches, low back pain, and fibromyalgia. "Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction," the group concludes. The position paper calls for increased screening, monitoring, and drug testing of opioid-using pain patients, but has little to say about actually treating chronic pain.

Law Enforcement

UMass to Review Whether to Allow Students to Act as Drug Snitches. In the wake of the heroin overdose death of a student who had been arrested by campus police on drug charges, but who was allowed to become an informant for police, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst said Monday it would review the program that allows police to recruit students as snitches. Questions have been raised about whether the program gets students appropriate treatment for drug problems and whether the students' parents are notified of violations, as they are with alcohol violations.

Georgia Grand Jury Hearing Evidence on "Baby Bou Bou" SWAT Raid. A Habersham County grand jury Monday began reviewing evidence in the case of "Baby Bou Bou," the toddler who was seriously injured when a SWAT team member on a drug raid threw a flash bang grenade into his play pen. The SWAT team found neither drugs nor the individual they were seeking. The grand jury will review the evidence surrounding the drug raid and determine if criminal charges should be filed against authorities who executed it.

International

Eleven Killed in Mexico Cartel Clashes in Chihuahua. Mexican prosecutors said clashes last Friday between Sinaloa and Juarez cartel members in the town of Guachochi, Chihuahua, in the Tarahumara mountain range, left 11 people dead. No Mexican security forces were involved, they said. The isolated region, home to the Tarahumara Indians, has been the scene of repeated clashes between rival drug gangs.

Canadian Drug Reformers Rally in Ottawa. Drug reformers, health lobbyists, and the Liberal Party's health critic, Hedy Fry, gathered on Parliament Hill Tuesday to advocate for more enlightened drug policies. Current policies unfairly criminalize drug users and don't effectively treat addiction, they said. Click on the link for more detail.

This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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 -- August 12, 2014

Everybody must be at the beach, because it's pretty quiet on the drug reform front. But Philly faces a class action lawsuit over asset forfeiture, the DEA gets caught wasting taxpayer money, and there's marijuana policy action down South America way. Let's get to it:

Tax dollars go up in smoke as DEA pays an Amtrak snitch nearly a million bucks for freely available passenger information.
Marijuana Policy

Saginaw, Michigan, City Council Approves Decriminalization Vote. The city council voted last night to approve placing a decriminalization initiative before the voters in November. The council is required by state law to place qualifying citizen initiatives on the ballot, but four of the nine council members still voted against. Saginaw is one of more than a dozen Michigan towns and cities where citizen decriminalization initiatives are aiming for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Bans Medical Marijuana Patients From Being Daycare Providers. Oregon's Early Learning Council has passed a temporary rule barring child daycare owners and operators from holding medical marijuana cards. Owners and operators must now also report this information to the council. The rule doesn't apply to users of any other medicines.

Asset Forfeiture

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Philadelphia Forfeiture Practices. The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office is violating the constitution with its asset forfeiture practices, a class action lawsuit alleges. The city seizes an average of $5.8 million worth of assets a year, nearly four times the amount seized in Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, or Los Angeles County, both of which have larger populations. Lead plaintiff Christos Sourovelis sued after the city seized his home when his son was arrested for drug possession. His two co-complainants also allege their homes were seized although they committed no crimes.

Law Enforcement

DEA Paid an Amtrak Informant Nearly A Million Bucks for Freely Available Information. The DEA paid an Amtrak employee some $854,460 over two decades for providing passenger list information that the agency could have obtained for free, Amtrak reported Monday. The Amtrak inspector general says the DEA is already part of joint drug task force with Amtrak's police agency and could have obtained the information for no cost. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter Monday to DEA head Michele Leonhart saying the incident "raises some serious questions about the DEA's practices and damages its credibility to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies."

International

Brazilian Senate Has Public Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. The Senate's Human Rights Commission debated marijuana legalization at a public hearing Monday. It is one of a series of public hearings about whether to introduce a legalization bill in the legislature.

Chilean Woman Becomes First Official Latin American Medical Marijuana Patient. The Chilean Institute for Public Health has approved the use of the marijuana extract tincture Sativex for a woman suffering from breast cancer and lupus. Cecilia Heyder is most likely the first officially approved medical marijuana patient in Latin America.

Costa Rica Lawmaker Files Medical Marijuana, Hemp Bill. Lawmaker Marvin Atencio of the Citizen Action Party held a press conference in San Jose Monday to announce that he had filed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the Central American nation. The bill would create an institute within the Health Ministry to supervise it and would allow private concessions to grow marijuana -- for a hefty price tag. The bill would also legalize industrial hemp. Citizen Action controls the government, but does not have a majority, so the bill would require support from other parties to pass.

Chronicle AM -- July 16, 2014

The House okays marijuana banking, DC decriminalizes tomorrow, DC expands its medical marijuana program, Miami-Dade taxpayers pay for a particularly heinous killer drug raid, a lot of states did sentencing reforms last year, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana businesses could go to the bank under a measure passed by the House today. (Drug Policy Alliance/Sandra Yruel)
Marijuana Policy

House Votes to Let Banks Take Deposits from Marijuana Businesses. In a historic vote this afternoon, the US House has approved an amendment to the Treasury Department appropriations bill barring the agency from spending any money to punish financial institutions that provide services to marijuana businesses where it is legal. The amendment was sponsored by Reps. Heck (D-WA), Perlmutter (D-CO), Lee (D-CA) and Rohrabacher (R-CA). It passed with bipartisan support.

DC Decriminalization Law Goes Into Effect Tomorrow. As of one minute after midnight, the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will be decriminalized in the nation's capital. Jail time for pot possession will be replaced with a $25 fine. A Republican-led effort in the House to block it remains alive, but will not stop the law from taking effect -- at least for now. That effort still has to get through the Congress and overcome White House opposition, and that looks like a long-shot at this point.

Grosse Point, Michigan, Initiative to Legalize Up to an Ounce Turns in Signatures. A municipal initiative campaign to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Point turned in more than 600 signatures today. The group needs 493 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Grosse Point is one of a handful of Michigan towns with similar campaigns this year, including Berkley, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, and Pleasant Ridge.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, Initiative to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession Turns in Signatures. Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy Action (the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance) have submitted more than 7,000 signatures for an initiative that would decriminalize the possession of up to an once of marijuana. They need 5,763 to qualify for the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

DC City Council Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The city council Tuesday approved legislation to loosen restrictions on the District's medical marijuana program. The measure replaces a restrictive list of defined illnesses and conditions with a blanket authority for doctors to recommend medical marijuana for "any condition for which treatment with medical marijuana would be beneficial, as determined by the patient's physician."

Michigan Legislature Set to Vote on Medical Marijuana Improvement Measures This Week. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R) said he expects the Senate to vote this week on a pair of measures to improve the state's medical marijuana program. One would allow localities to govern their own dispensaries; the other would allow the sale of edibles and concentrates.

LA Medical Marijuana Farmers' Market Hit With Temporary Injunction. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order shutting down a medical marijuana farmers' market that drew thousands when it opened a couple of weeks ago. A hearing on a permanent injunction is set for August 6.

Thousands Sign Petition Supporting Fired University of Arizona Researcher. A petition demanding that the University of Arizona research scientist Dr. Suzanne Sisley be rehired after being fired after she won federal approval to study marijuana for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder has received more than 27,000 signatures. Sisley made no bones about blaming conservative Arizona political figures for her firing. Click on the link to read her comments.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Cops Slow to Carry Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a law allowing law enforcement officers to carry and administer the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone in March, but Ohio police are slow to get with the program. Police in Columbus said they have no plans to carry it "anytime soon," and many rural agencies are also unwilling to do it. About 17 people a week are dying from opiate overdoses in Ohio. Under the new law, the drug is also available to friends, family members, and "others who may be in a position" to assist with reversing overdoses.

Law Enforcement

Miami Agrees to Pay in Death Squad-Style Police Drug Robbery Sting Killings. Miami-Dade taxpayers will shell out $600,000 to the families of three men killed by a Miami-Dade SWAT team during a drug house robbery sting. Four men, including an informant for the police, were gunned down when they appeared on the scene of a home they had been told was stuffed with drugs for them to rob. The informant's family didn't join the settlement; it is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court. Police video of the raid shows officers firing dozens of shots into the body of a man already on the ground. It also shows the informant surrendering to police moments before they shot and killed him, too. Prosecutors suspect police officers of misconduct but were unable to develop enough evidence to charge any of them.

Almost All US Wiretaps Are for Suspected Drug Deals. A new Administrative Office of US Courts report reveals that not only did wiretaps hit an all time high last year, but that nearly 90% of them were for drug investigations. Of the 3,576 wiretaps sought by federal law enforcement agencies, 3,115 were for drug investigations.

Sentencing

Vera Institute of Justice Releases Report on 2013 State Sentencing Reforms. The report, Recalibrating Justice: A Review of 2013 State Sentencing and Corrections Trends, finds that 35 states passed at least 85 bills to reform sentencing and corrections last year. The legislation generally focused on reducing prison populations, strengthening community-based corrections, supporting reentry, and creating better research and analysis to drive policy decision-making.

International

Dutch Border Town Cannabis Café Owner Cleared of Most Charges. The owner of the Checkpoint Café in the in the town of Ternuezen near the Belgian border has been cleared of most charges against him by an Amsterdam appeals court. The café was closed in 2007 for violating government rules on soft drug sales, and the owner was found guilty of membership in a criminal organization. But the appeals court ruled that the state had not proven Checkpoint knowingly broke the rules. It was the second such decision in the past month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa, FL
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Tennessee police chief gets caught misbehaving, so does a strung out Pennsylvania deputy, and a San Diego husband and wife cop team go down for dealing. Let's get to it:

In Graysville, Tennessee, the Graysville police chief was arrested last Monday on charges he was improperly disposing of seized vehicles and dipping into seized cash. Police Chief Jason Erik Redden is accused of either taking for himself or returning to the original owner three of the vehicles, and is also being held responsible for $4,128 in missing seized cash and fees paid to the department. He is charged with seven counts of misconduct in office, two counts of theft over $1,000, and one count of theft under $500.

In Washington, Pennsylvania, a Washington County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Wednesday after he sold the opiate maintenance drug suboxone to an undercover informant. Deputy Matthew Miller, 29, became former Deputy Miller the same day when the sheriff fired him after his arrest. Miller allegedly told the informant he was strung out on heroin and was selling the pills to get money.

In San Diego, a husband and wife pair of San Diego police officers were arrested last Thursday on multiple drug charges amid an investigation into corruption in the department. Officer Bryce Charpentier is charged with possessing and transporting drugs, possessing a loaded firearm while under the influence, and conspiracy. His wife, Officer Jennifer Charpentier is charged with possessing, transporting, and selling drugs, and conspiracy. They have both been put on administrative leave.

ATF's Operation Gideon Raises Questions of Fairness, Justice, and Race [FEATURE]

Special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Part I of a series on the ATF's Operation Gideon, targeting inner city "bad guys" with drug house robbery stings

Early in May, a panel of judges from California's 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied petitions for an "en banc" hearing that would have allowed the full court to consider overturning long prison sentences for four would-be robbers seduced by an informant into believing they were about to rip-off a stash house loaded with drugs.

The stash house was fictional, those drugs never existed, and the brains behind the plot were not criminals, but federal agents.

The denial of the petition was not a unanimous decision, and it revealed deep fissures on the appeals court. Dissenting judges argued that the practice of enticing poor young men into robbing stash houses raised questions not only of fair play, but also of constitutionality. The dissenters were particularly concerned that federal agents targeted primarily minority neighborhoods filled with desperate, unemployed young men tempted by the lure of fast cash.

"The sting poses questions of whether the government intentionally targets poor minority neighborhoods, and thus, seeks to tempt their residents to commit crimes that might well result in their escape from poverty," Justice Stephen Reinhardt wrote in a blistering dissent. He also called it "a profoundly disturbing use of government power that directly imperils some of our most fundamental constitutional values."

The case involved four Phoenix men -- Cordae Black, Kemford Alexander, Angel Mahon and Terrance Timmons -- who were convicted in 2010 on charges of conspiracy to distribute more than five pounds of cocaine, as well as federal firearms charges, for a fake drug rip scheme set up by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). All four are now serving prison sentences of 13 to 15 years.

Even though federal appeals court judges have joined defense attorneys in calling the ATF drug rip schemes "outrageous conduct," they are not an anomaly, but are instead part and parcel of ATF's Operation Gideon, a nationwide program. The ATF, federal prosecutors, and the Phoenix police said a press release announcing a pilot sweep that rolled up 70 people, including Cordae Black and his crew, that Gideon "involved the deployment of some of ATF's most experienced undercover operatives to team with local agents and police investigators by conducting sting investigations involving violent home invasion crews."

According to a USA Today investigative report, as of last year, the feds had already locked up more than a thousand people who its agents had enticed into conspiracies to rob fake drug stash houses. And it's not just the AFT. The DEA often uses the fake drug rip-off schemes, as well.

US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt
The argument at the 9th Circuit in the Phoenix case centered on entrapment and whether ATF agents illegally enticed the defendants into the crime through "outrageous government conduct" beyond that allowed by entrapment doctrine.

Relying on the US Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in US v. Russell, where the court upheld such schemes if the defendant showed a predisposition to commit the offense, 9th Circuit Judges Susan Graeber and Raymond Fisher rejected claims of entrapment and outrageous conduct by the agents, and argued that the reverse sting was within legal boundaries of law enforcement tactics, which includes officers working undercover to infiltrate criminal organizations.

Fisher and Graeber said the agents' actions were reasonable when they offered the men the opportunity to make money by committing a drug robbery. The pair also held the defendants failed to show they lacked "predisposition to commit the offense."

That provoked a sharp retort from a second dissenter as well, Judge John T. Noonan.

"Today our court gives approval to the government tempting people in the population at large currently engaged in innocent activity, and leading them into the commission of a crime, which the government will then prosecute," he wrote.

It's not just the 9th Circuit. Fake drug stash operations that only target inner-cities have ignited a firestorm of controversy, including other caustic remarks from the federal bench.

"There is a strong showing of potential bias in the robbery stings," US District Court Judge Rueben Castillo wrote in an order last year. Castillo noted that since 2011, federal agents have used such stings to lock up at least 26 people in the Chicago area -- and that all of them were either black or Hispanic.

Federal officials retort that they are not engaging in selective prosecution based on race, but are going where known felons often commit violent home invasion-type drug robberies.

But defense attorneys argue that the operations target people who weren't doing anything, entice them with visions of easy wealth, set them up, and then throw the book at them.

"What the ATF is doing is basically targeting low-level criminals for high-level crimes," said attorney Tara Loveland, who is representing Cordae Black on appeal.

The case against Black and his codefendants raises serious questions about racial profiling. According to evidence introduced at the original trial -- and subsequently heard again at the re-hearing (via the appellate brief) -- ATF Agent Richard Zayas had a paid informant travel from Miami to Arizona to find "bad guys" in a "bad part of town."

That prompted Judge Reinhardt to say that Zavas' instructions obviously meant the informant should recruit people from minority communities. The targeting of the fake drug house robbery scheme was a practice "that creates the appearance of selective prosecution based on race and wealth inequality," he said.

"It is a tragedy when ATF has to drum up a crime that didn't exist," attorney Eugene Marquez, who represented Cordae Black at trial, told the Chronicle.

Chicago Operation Gideon suspect William Alexander just before his arrest (atf.gov)
Defense attorneys who represented the defendants on appeal argued that "fake drug stings initiated by ATF amount to entrapment because there were no drugs -- and none of the defendants would have agreed to participate had it not been for a paid snitch and the ATF's scheme of enticing the men to arm themselves with weapons to rip-off a large quantity of drugs that automatically brings severe mandatory prison sentences."

"Our defense was outrageous conduct and sentencing entrapment," Marquez explained.

But 9th Circuit majorities weren't listening to the defense attorneys. In a separate ruling, they reiterated their original decision denying defense counsel's motion to overturn the original convictions.

"There is no bright line dictating when laws enforcement conduct crosses the line between acceptable and outrageous," Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote for the majority. Outrageous government conduct can only occur when government agents engineer and direct a "criminal enterprise from start to finish -- or creating new crimes merely for the sake of pressing criminal charges," he argued.

Judge Reinhardt again dissented.

"In this era of mass incarceration, in which we already lock up more of our population than any other nation on earth, it is especially curious that the government feels compelled to invent fake crimes and imprison people for long periods of time for agreeing to participate in them -- people who but for the government's scheme might not have ever entered the world of major felonies," Reinhardt wrote.

If getting set up and convicted in a sting weren't bad enough, the defendants also got hit with longer sentences based on the imaginary amounts of drugs that were going to rob. Marquez explained that his client, Cordae Black, was hit a 10-year mandatory minimum because the ATF pretended the imaginary drug house had more than five kilos of cocaine in it.

But while jurists and defense attorneys grumbled, the ATF was pleased with its handiwork.

Arizona ATF agent Thomas Mangan welcomed the convictions of Black and his partners, as well as appeals court rulings upholding them. The stings had resulted in over 70 Arizona arrests, and the crew had "ample opportunity to back out, but had remained committed to carry out the robbery until they were arrested," he said in the Operation Gideon press release.

While court-approved enticement has a lengthy pedigree in this country, so does "outrageous government conduct" that can take it over the line into entrapment. A classic case is that of legendary automaker John Delorean, who was acquitted of cocaine conspiracy charges in 1984, even though prosecutors had Delorean on videotape wisecracking and saying that the cocaine stuffed inside a suitcase was "good as gold."

But Delorean's attorney was able to convince the jury that the FBI had leaned on a convicted drug smuggler, James Hoffman, to draw Delorean into a trap, complete with thinly-veiled threats if Delorean backed out of the sting.

"Without the government there would be no crime," Delorean's attorney told the jury.

Taking Down the Phoenix Crew

Putting together a fake drug robbery stings is like assembling the cast of a gritty crime drama. The Phoenix reverse sting worked against Cordae Black and his eager crew in typical take-down fashion. ATF agent Richard Zayas recruited a paid informant to frequent seedy bars and diffferent places in the "bad part" of town -- to find receptive players to rip-off a drug house. Zayas's informant met Shaver "Bullet" Simpson, a big-talking guy ready to play.

Zayas's informant duped Simpson into believing he had a friend with information on a stash house filled with drugs worth thousands of dollars. Simpson boasted he could find some tough-ass homies to do the job. Agent Zayas reminded Simpson that everyone involved with the plot must keep their mouths shut, and not talk about what goes down.

"My people straight," Simpson replied. "I hate snitchers."

Following the informant's meeting with Shaver Simpson, he introduced "Bullet" to undercover ATF Agent Richard Zayas, who fronted himself off as a disgruntled drug courier interested in having someone rob a dope house owned by Zayas's supposed cartel's connections. Zayas informed Simpson that Simpson's homeboys would need the "balls to do it because this ain't no easy lick."

Simpson then posed a question to Zayas: "My goons want to know whether they need to kill the people in the house."

Zayas responded nonchalantly that he "didn't care what they did as long as they took care of business."

Hooked like a fish, Simpson swallowed the bait, "Don't worry Daddy," he told Zavas. You got a real Jamaican (expletive), that's my family business; it's where I worked; I got this shit down to a science, man."

The beat goes on. Press conference announcing latest round of Operation Gideon busts, Stockton, CA, 2014 (atf.gov)
The trap was set. Shaver Simpson, the braggart, strangely, didn't show up for the showdown. But the work crew did. Once Cordae Black, Terrence Timmons, Kemford Alexander and Angel Mahon showed up at the designated meeting spot, the ATF agents and local police took the hapless crew down with guns drawn. A search of their vehicles produced four loaded weapons (which, according to the appellate brief, Zava insisted the crew have with them).

Despite Simpson's bravado about not being a snitch and hating such creatures, he pounced on the first opportunity to become one by testifying against his four homies. Still, at trial, Simpson accused ATF agent Richard Zayas of pressuring him to quickly find as many guys he could find to pull off the robbery.

Same Sorts of Cases, Different Results

In another Operation Gideon case, Chicago native William Alexander, a street-level crack dealer and beauty school dropout, got stung in a fake drug robbery on February 23 2011, along with his cohorts Hugh Midderhoff and David Saunders. All three were convicted of possession with intent to deliver five or more kilos of cocaine, along with firearms charges. To win a new trial, Alexander's lawyer argued on appeal that ATF's systematic strategy of sending informants into "bad parts of town" to recruit "bad people" meant that racial profiling played a vital role in Alexander's case.

His appeal brief noted that in the 17 stash house robbery stings prosecuted in the Northern Illinois Federal District since 2004, blacks were disproportionately represented. Of the 57 defendants, 42 were black, eight Hispanic, and seven white.

His appeal was denied -- because he couldn't show that the ATF and prosecutors intended racially disparate outcomes.

"To establish discriminatory intent, Alexander failed to show the decision makers in (his) case acted with discriminatory purposes -- and that the Attorney General and US Attorneys has broad discretion to enforce federal criminal laws," the appeals court held.

Antuan Dunlap and his heavily-armed posse-mates, Cedrick Hudson and Joseph Cornell Whitfield, had better luck. They were released from jail in an ATF drug house rip-off scheme when California US District Court Judge Otis Wright ruled the ATF crossed the line into entrapment.

Prosecutors had argued that Dunlap "manifested his propensity to commit robberies" by claiming to have engaged in similar activities in the past, and thus, "the defendant's words justified the reverse sting."

But in a 24-page stinging rebuke, the angry judge said the ATF engaged in "outrageous conduct" by enlisting people in "made-up crime" just so they could bust eager volunteers in drug stings. "Society does not win when the government stoops to the same level as the defendants it seeks to prosecute -- especially when the government has acted solely to achieve a conviction for a 'made-up' crime, Wright wrote. He also noted that such tactics "haven't brought down the crime rate nor taken drugs off the streets."

But the ATF and DEA fake drug rip-off schemes remain in full-swing across the nation despite the brewing controversy over tactics some defense attorneys and jurists regard with loathing. If the Justice Department will investigate whether the stings are aimed disproportionately at minority communities remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Phoenix crew sits in federal prison, while their attorneys plan an appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Next in the series: ATF's Deadly Takedown in Fake Drug Robberies.

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