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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.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's a veritable cornucopia of corrupt cops this week. Major corruption scandals wind down in the Chicago suburbs and the Rio Grande Valley, LA deputies get popped planting guns in a dispensary, a Philly narc sleeps with his snitch and whispers DEA secrets in her ear, and more. Let's get to it:

In Reading, Pennsylvania, a Reading police officer was arrested last Wednesday on charges he stole at least $16,500 seized from drug suspects as evidence. Officer Jodi Royer, 47, He is charged with theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, tampering with evidence and unlawful use of a computer and related counts. He came under suspicion in March when his supervisor discovered cash missing from the evidence property room in the basement of City Hall. Investigators said Royer stole the money to support his gambling habit. Royer was transferred to the evidence department in April 2011. The Berks County District Attorney's audited the evidence and allege Royer tampered with evidence in six cases, stealing $14,484 in four cases and returning $2,214 from two other cases but with bills of the wrong denomination, including some that were not in circulation at the time of the original case.

In Los Angeles, two former LA County sheriff's deputies were arrested last Thursday on charges they planted guns in a medical marijuana dispensary and used the planted weapons as the basis to falsely arrest two men. Julio Cesar Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, were charged with one felony count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice and altering evidence as a peace officer. The two officers allegedly turned off the electricity and a security camera system inside the dispensary as they planted guns. They then wrote a report saying they spotted a drug deal involving a person with a gun and claimed to have followed him into the dispensary. But surveillance video from the dispensary was "inconsistent" with their report. They pair of crooked cops are looking at up to seven years each.

In Houston, Texas, a former Houston police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he provided security and cover for drug dealers. Marcos Carrion, 36, is charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. The case allegedly involves cocaine shipped between 2013 and April 2014. Carrion resigned from the department in February 2014. He's now out on $5,000 bond.

In Warsaw, Indiana, a Warsaw police officer was arrested last Friday on charges she was peddling pain pills after she was caught on video selling oxycodone to an undercover officer. Officer Lacy Ward is charged with conspiracy to deliver Schedule II controlled substances and interfering with an investigation.

In Columbus, Ohio, a former Columbus police officer was sentenced last Friday to 57 months in federal prison for protecting a suspected heroin dealer. Stevie Billups, 57, blamed his misbehavior on a raging gambling habit. He pleaded guilty in November to attempted distribution of heroin. He also had been charged with carrying a gun during a drug-trafficking crime and money laundering after he hooked up with the drug dealer last summer at the Hollywood Casino Columbus. Those charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia narcotics officer was sentenced Monday to a year in prison for lying about his relationship with a confidential informant. Robertito Fontan, 42, was romantically involved with his snitch and tipped her off that the DEA was investigating her former boyfriend. He then lied to FBI investigators who were looking into the leak. He was convicted in January of making false statements.

In Wheaton, Illinois, a former Schaumberg police detective was sentenced Tuesday to 26 years in prison for seizing drugs from dealers and reselling them. Matthew Hudak had pleaded guilty to unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, official misconduct, burglary, and armed violence for his role in a trio of crooked narcs in the Schaumberg Police Department. One of Hudak's buddies is now doing 24 years; another still faces trial. The three officers allegedly took part in an elaborate plan for at least six months that involved withholding drugs taken during arrests, then reselling them through a street dealer, prosecutors said. The drugs included marijuana and cocaine. Prosecutors also claimed the trio stole $20,000 from a storage locker belonging to a drug dealer, prosecutors said. They went down after an informant approached another local police department to report the officers had contacted him about selling drugs for them.

In Bryan, Texas, a former Madisonville police sergeant was sentenced Tuesday to five years probation for having drugs planted in his ex-wife's vehicle during a 2011 custody dispute. Jeffrey Covington had been convicted last week on retaliation charges after drug possession and official oppression charges were dropped. Covington had an informant plant meth in Laura Covington's vehicle and arranged for her to be pulled over and arrested on drug charges, but those charges were later dropped.

In McAllen, Texas, four former Hidalgo County law enforcement officers were sentenced Tuesday to prison terms ranging from eight years to nearly 12 years for using their positions with a local drug task force to sell drugs and provide protection to drug traffickers, before recessing to continue the others Wednesday morning. Members of the department's Panama Unit also stole money and drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy. Sometimes, members of the unit initiated the thefts themselves, while other times they were hired to do them. Mission police officer Jonathan Trevino, son of the then-Hidalgo County sheriff, decided which jobs they took and how the proceeds were divided. In some instances members coerced their way into homes wearing body armor and carrying their guns, looking for drugs. In other cases -- which turned out to be an undercover federal operation -- members escorted cocaine loads moving through the area. Former Deputy Jorge Garza got 10 years, former deputies Fernando Guerra Sr. and his son got eight years each, and former Deputy Gerardo Mendoza-Duran got eight years, while former Deputy Claudio Mata got 12 years. Nine more are set to be sentenced later this week.

Chronicle AM -- March 6, 2014

Oregon's medical marijuana dispensary regulation bill has gone back to the Senate with compromise language allowing only temporary local bans, a GOP US Senate candidate there says legalize it, Chuck Schumer fights heroin, Canada's Tories look to be going soft on pot law enforcement, and more. Let's get to it:

Canadian Justice Minister Peter Mackay hints that something much like marijuana decriminalization is coming. (petermackay.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Legalization Debate Draws Hundreds. A week after the Alaska marijuana legalization initiative was officially certified for the ballot, hundreds of people streamed into the Wendy Williamson Auditorium at the University of Alaska in Anchorage for a debate on marijuana policy. In an opening speech, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance called the war on drugs "a rat hole of waste" and that marijuana prohibition was "grounded in bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance." Then a panel of five people, including Nadelmann, as well as an anti-legalization Project Sam representative, went at it. Click on the title link for more.

Another Missouri Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander approved a marijuana legalization initiative for signature gathering Wednesday. This is not one of the initiatives filed by Show-Me Cannabis, which had a bakers' dozen of similarly-worded initiatives approved earlier this year, but has decided to wait until 2016 for its effort. The initiative has a May 4 deadline for handing in petitions, and must obtain signatures from registered voters equal to 8% of the total votes cast in the 2012 governor's election from six of the state's eight congressional districts.

Maryland Sheriffs Rally Against Legalization. Local sheriffs attended a rally in Annapolis to voice opposition to proposed legislation to decriminalize marijuana in Maryland Wednesday. Sheriffs from the Eastern Shore and local police chiefs attended a rally sponsored by the Maryland Sheriff's Association and its supporters. The sheriffs are taking a stand against legalizing marijuana in Maryland, as lawmakers ponder a legalization bill.

Oregon GOP US Senate Candidate Endorses Legalization. Portland attorney Tim Crawley, who is seeking the Republican US Senate nomination, favors marijuana legalization. In a press release this week, he said he had "long been concerned with the tremendous waste of money and human potential the criminalization of marijuana has involved." In a subsequent interview, Crawley said he would support a legalization initiative in Oregon and if elected to the Senate, he would support removing marijuana from the controlled substances list.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon House Passes Dispensary Regulation Bill With Only Temporary Local Bans. The statewide dispensary legalization and regulation bill, Senate Bill 1531, passed out of the House on Wednesday with a provision allowing localities to ban dispensaries, but only for a year while they develop regulations for them. The Senate has already passed a version without the temporary ban language, but is expected to accept this compromise language.

Florida CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances with House Committee Vote. A bill that would allow the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Wednesday. House Bill 843 now heads for the House Judiciary Committee.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced. A bill to allow patients with specified diseases and conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation to use and grow their own medicine or purchase it at dispensaries has been introduced. House Bill 4879, filed by Minority Leader Rep. J. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia, has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Heroin

Schumer Wants New York Heroin Database. US Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called Wednesday for a standardized heroin database to fight crime and addiction related to the drug's use. "Data and information sharing drives solutions, and we're seriously lacking in that department," said Schumer. "All we know for sure is heroin is ravaging families across New York state." He called on the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to help set up a statewide "Drugstat" database to track heroin use patterns, hospitalizations, and overdoses, which he said could help police combat the drug.

Law Enforcement

California Informants Sue San Luis Obispo Over Rogue Narc. A civil lawsuit recently filed in federal court against the city and county of San Luis Obispo by two former confidential informants of disgraced narcotics detective Cory Pierce charges that Pierce allegedly forced the female informant to have sex with him. Pierce is currently serving a prison term for corruption. According to prosecutors in his federal trial, both informants aided Pierce in acquiring cash, oxycodone and heroin, and now allege that they were forced into indentured servitude, including being kept addicted to drugs and engaging in dangerous and illegal activities. According to prosecutors, Pierce used the informants to set up drug buys with local dealers, then later robbed them. The federal lawsuit alleges that Pierce used his position as a detective to force the woman into engaging in sex with him, including an act of oral copulation, and on another occasion, forced sexual intercourse. Click on the link for more sleazy details.

International

Canada's Tories Hint at Move Toward Ticketing Marijuana Possession Offenders. Conservative Justice Minister Peter Mackay said Wednesday that the government is seriously considering looser marijuana laws that would allow police to ticket anyone caught with small amounts of pot instead of laying charges, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday. "We're not talking about decriminalization or legalization," MacKay said prior to the weekly Conservative caucus meeting on Parliament Hill. "The Criminal Code would still be available to police, but we would look at options that would... allow police to ticket those types of offenses." Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has called for legalization.

Vancouver Police Say They Won't Bother with Busting Dispensaries. All but a handful of medical marijuana dispensaries are supposed to be illegal after Canada's new medical marijuana law comes into effect April 1, but Vancouver police said Wednesday they are not going to bother them unless there are signs they are selling to people without a medical marijuana permit. "I don't think for now there is any plan to change the current drug policy that is in place to fit specifically with these changes," said Constable Brian Montague. "We don't have plans for massive raids on April 2nd."

(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.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Two cops go down for providing info to drug dealers, a DARE officer who ripped off the program gets a slap on the wrist, a Philly narc entangled with a snitch gets entangled with lies, and another prison guard gets popped. Let's get to it:

In Denver, a former Glendale police officer was arrested last Thursday on federal charges he used law enforcement computers to check license plates for an alleged cocaine dealer. Scott Black, 39, is charged with unauthorized use of a computer and lying to FBI agents, as well as conspiracy to gain unauthorized access to a computer database and using a communications facility to help drug trafficking. He's looking at up to 29 years in prison.

In Honolulu, a Halawa Correctional Facility guard was arrested Sunday on charges he smuggled methamphetamine into the prison. Mark Damas, 45, was arrested at the prison in Oahu, then transferred to Honolulu where he faces one count of conspiracy to distribute and possessing with the intent to distribute five grams or more of meth. He's the second guard this month to get busted for smuggling meth into the prison. Guard James "Kimo" Sanders III pleaded not guilty on January 13 to charges related to smuggling meth into the prison and bribery.

In Monticello, Kentucky, a former Monticello police officer was arrested Tuesday on charges he gave details about an ongoing investigation to a drug dealer. Allen Braden allegedly gave the dealer information including the home addresses, vehicles, and family members of drug agents investigating him. In return, Braden got $100 a week. He is charged with bribery of a public servant and theft by unlawful taking, the latter charge for not returning his official weapon when he was fired. He is out on bond.

In Troy, Ohio, a former Troy DARE officer was sentenced Monday to 60 days in jail and five years probation for stealing more than $13,000 intended for the DARE program. Kirt Wright, 41, had pleaded guilty to felony theft in office in December. Wright admitted misusing a credit card issued for the DARE program between January 2008 and May 2013. He was a 14-year-veteran of the department.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia narcotics officer was convicted last Friday of lying to federal investigators about his romantic relationship with a snitch. Robertito Fontan had recruited the woman as a snitch, then got involved with her in 2003. He was accused of tipping her off in 2007 that the DEA was investigating her former boyfriend, a reputed drug dealer. He was convicted of lying to FBI agents investigating possible leaks at DEA.

Chronicle AM -- January 7, 2014

Another poll shows solid majority support for marijuana legalization, Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears to be within reach of qualifying for the ballot (if the state Supreme Court doesn't block it), Sweden's justice minister falls for a pot deaths hoax, and a UN official has a grim warning on Afghanistan. And more. Let's get to it:

Letting New Hampshire legislators know... (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

CNN Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55% Nationwide. A new CNN/ORC International poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide, up 12 points in two years. The poll also shows a dramatic decline in the number of people who think using marijuana is immoral.

Rally Called as New Hampshire House Votes on Marijuana Legalization Tomorrow. Supporters of House Bill 492, the marijuana legalization bill, are rallying tomorrow morning at the state house as the House prepares to vote on it. Click on the link for more details.

Galesburg, Illinois, Semi-Decriminalization Ordinance Passes. The Galesburg city council Monday night approved an ordinance that gives police the option of ticketing instead of arresting people caught with less than 2.5 grams of marijuana. The city had 68 pot possession arrests last year, costing about $1,100 each to process through the courts.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Backers Closing in on One Million Signature Mark. It's starting to look like the People United for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative may qualify for the ballot. Organizers need just over 683,000 valid signatures by February 1 and now say they will hit the million-signature mark by next week. If organizers succeed in coming up with enough valid signatures, they still have to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the initiative's ballot title and summary meet legal requirements. It has been challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

New York Governor to Establish Medical Marijuana Program by Executive Action. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will announce at his State of the State address tomorrow that he will use his executive powers to implement a limited medical marijuana program.

Drug Testing

Sisters Sue Chicago Housing Authority over Drug Testing Policies. A pair of sisters who live in a mixed-income development owned by the Chicago Housing Authority have filed suit in federal court over the CHA's policy of requiring suspicionless drug testing of residents. DeAnn and Jessica Steubenfield filed the suit in the fall. It is at least the second lawsuit filed against the CHA over the practice; the ACLU of Illinois filed its own lawsuit earlier. The two cases will get a joint hearing in May. CHA is the only housing authority in the country to require suspicionless drug testing.

Law Enforcement

Washington State Drug Task Force Pays $375,000 in Snitch's Murder. Four law enforcement agencies that make up Washington's Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force have agreed to pay the parents of a murdered snitch $375,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that the cops failed to protect the man after using him to arrest a heroin dealer. Jeremy McLean, 26, agreed to snitch in a bid to avoid charges of his own, and was killed by one of the people he ratted out. The killer is now doing life in prison.

International

Afghanistan Could Become "Fragmented Criminal State," UN Drug Expert Warns. Afghanistan's booming narcotics trade risks splintering the country into a "fragmented criminal state" if the government and its western allies do not step up efforts to tackle opium production, a senior UN official has warned. Opium farming hit a record high this year, and Jean-Luc Lemahieu, outgoing head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's Afghanistan office, said production would likely continue to soar before it falls. "If we are not careful, then Afghanistan has a real risk of becoming a fragmented criminal state," he said.

Uruguay Could Become Medical Marijuana Research Hub. Uruguayan presidential spokesman Diego Canepa told the Associated Press Monday that foreign laboratories have told the government they want to set up labs there to study the potential medicinal uses of marijuana. "Uruguay will become a hub for biotechnology," he said. One report said that Canada is discussing the possibility of importing Uruguayan weed for its medical marijuana program.

Swedish Justice Minister Bites on Colorado Marijuana Overdose Hoax. Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask is facing ridicule for posting on her Facebook page a spoof article that claimed 37 people died of marijuana overdoses the day Colorado legalized the weed. She accompanied her post with comments about her zero-tolerance views on drugs. "Stupid and sad," she wrote above the hoax article. "My first bill in the youth wing was called Outfight the Drugs! In this matter I haven't changed opinion at all." After criticism emerged in social media, her press minister tried to explain that she knew the article was fake and was trying to criticize its publisher for joking about a serious matter.

Kyrgyzstan Addiction Doctor, Politician Says Legalize Marijuana. Addiction specialist and former Kyrgyz presidential candidate Jenishbek Nazaraliev is calling for marijuana to be legalized to reduce drug addiction, fight street crime, and increase tax revenues. He is calling on the government to create a pilot program for legal production near Lake Issyk-Kul, where two-thirds of families are already growing marijuana for the black market. But Kyrgyzstan's State Drug Control Service disagrees.

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