Court Rulings

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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.

Chronicle AM -- July 10, 2014

Forget Amazon's promised drone deliveries; the Mexican cartels have beat them to it. Also, Massachusetts cops will need to do more than just smell weed to search you or your vehicle, Arizona PTSD patients are okayed to use medical marijuana, Uruguay delays the roll-out of its legal marijuana sales, and more. Let's get to it:

Mexican cartels find a new way to bring drugs over the border. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules That Smell of Unburnt Marijuana Not Justification for Police Searches. Because Massachusetts has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, police cannot use the odor of raw marijuana to justify searches of vehicles or persons, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled Wednesday. The ruling came in a pair of decisions: Commonwealth v. Obermeyer and Commonwealth v. Craan. The court had already ruled that the odor of smoked marijuana was not sufficient cause for a search; now it has included the odor of unburnt marijuana as well.

Missouri Marijuana Lifer in Campaign for Clemency. Sixty-one-year-old Jeff Mizanskey is now in his 21st year of a life-without-parole sentence for non-violent marijuana charges. He wants out, and a campaign to free him as generated nearly half a million signatures on a petition to Gov. Jay Nixon (R). But that hasn't been enough so far. Now, he is asking supporters to write Nixon a letter. Mizanskey has been helped in his campaign by the energetic folks at Show-Me Cannabis, the Missouri-based marijuana reform group.

Montana Initiative to Overturn Medical Marijuana, Block Marijuana Reforms Won't Make Ballot. An initiative that sought to change state law so that no Schedule I drug can be "legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana" isn't going to qualify for the ballot, it's proponent conceded Wednesday. Petitioners only managed to gather 12% of the signatures needed to qualify. But Billings car dealer Steve Zabawa isn't giving up; he says he will ask the legislature to pass a referendum next year to put the measure on the 2016 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Terminally Ill Iowa Cancer Patient Convicted of Growing Own Medicine. A state court jury in Davenport that never heard Benton Mackenzie's medical marijuana defense has convicted the terminally ill cancer patient on four felony drug charges related to growing marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of his disease. The 48-year-old angiosarcoma sufferer now faces a possible mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence, although prosecutors could seek probation.

Arizona Okays Medical Marijuana for PTSD. The Department of Health Services announced Wednesday that it is authorizing the use of marijuana for patients suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Its use is not approved for treatment of the condition itself, but only for palliative care of PTSD symptoms.

New Mexico US Attorney Says He Won't Prosecute Medical Marijuana Patients Busted at Border Checkpoints, But Feds Will Still Take Their Medicine. New Mexico US Attorney Damon Martinez has assured New Mexico politicians that he will not prosecute patients caught with medical marijuana at US Customs and Border Patrol checkpoints. Martinez made the vow in a letter Monday to Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Mesilla Park), who had sought assurances. But Customs and Border Patrol officers would still seize the medicine, he warned.

International

Uruguay Delays Marijuana Sales until Next Year. President Jose Mujica said Wednesday that legal marijuana sales are being pushed back to next year because of "practical difficulties" in implementing the new law, and he took a jab at legalization in the US as he did so. "If we want to do this sloppily, it is not hard to do that. That's what the United States is doing," the president said. "But if we want to get this right... we are going to have to do it slowly. We are not just going to say, 'hands off and let the market take care of it,' because if the market is in charge, it is going to seek to sell the greatest possible amount," he said.

DEA Says Mexican Cartels Using Drones to Deliver Drugs Across the Border. The DEA says Mexican drug cartels are using drones to transport drugs and have been doing so since at least 2011. The agency reported that at least 150 drone flights carrying drugs crossed the border in 2012, and that the cartels have recently intensified efforts to recruit skilled workers to manufacture and operate them.

USAID Allots $60 Million for Alternative Development as Part of Fight Against Coca. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has earmarked $60 million to support farmers planting cocoa and coffee instead of coca. The funds will go to alternative development programs and reforestation projects.

European Union Court Rules Synthetic Cannabinoids Not Medicine. The European Court of Justice ruled today that herbal mixtures containing syntheric cannabinoids aren't medicinal products under European law. The court was responding to a request for clarification from Germany's federal court, which is currently considering two cases involving such products.

Cops Need Warrants to Search Cell Phones, Supreme Court Rules

In an unusual unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court Wednesday ruled that police in almost all cases must obtain a search warrant before searching cell phones or other mobile devices. The ruling brings the huge amounts of data Americans store on cellphones, smartphones, and other mobile devices under the umbrella of constitutional privacy protections.

The decision came in two cases, one involving a drug bust and the other a weapons charge. The two cases were consolidated in the court's opinion in Riley v. California.

In ruling in favor of Americans' privacy, the high court rejected law enforcement arguments that cell phone searches did not require a warrant under an exception that allows police to search the contents of arrested people's pockets to ensure that they are not armed or do not destroy evidence. While that may be convenient for law enforcement, the court held, constitutional rights trump convenience.

The court was clearly aware that modern hand-held devices contain both the quality and quantity of information deserving protection as much as that afforded to people's personal property and effects in their homes.

"Modern cellphones aren't a technological convenience," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the unanimous opinion "With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life,'" he wrote.

As for law enforcement concerns that the court's ruling would prove an obstacle to some police investigations, Roberts had a pithy retort: "Privacy comes at a cost," he wrote.

And if police have reason to believe such devices may contain relevant evidence, they have recourse, Roberts wrote.

"Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cellphone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple -- get a warrant."

Of course, that means police must convince a magistrate they have probable cause to seek a search warrant.

The American Civil Liberties Union liked what it saw in the decision.

"By recognizing that the digital revolution has transformed our expectations of privacy, today's decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans," said ACLU legal director Steven R. Shapiro in a Wednesday statement. "We have entered a new world but, as the court today recognized, our old values still apply and limit the government's ability to rummage through the intimate details of our private lives."

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Congressional Democrats who voted wrong on medical marijuana catch some flak, California continues to struggle with regulating medical marijuana, while other states struggle to get bills passed. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana advocacy group began airing TV ads targeting Democrats who voted against ending DEA interference in medical marijuana states. The group Americans for Safe Access is now running TV ads criticizing Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and other Democrats as "out of touch" for voting against a measure to bar the DEA from interfering in medical marijuana states. Wasserman Schultz was one of only 18 Democrats who voted against it while 170 Democrats voted for it.

Arizona

Last Thursday, a state court judge ordered the state to allow medical marijuana for PTSD. A state court judge has ruled that "a preponderance of evidence shows medical marijuana provides palliative benefit to those suffering from PTSD" and given the state Health Department until July 9 to accept his decision or appeal it. The department has denied all previous petitions seeking to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions.

California

Last Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors voted to ban all medical marijuana cultivation. The county had previously allowed cooperatives or individuals to grow up to 99 plants. The board rejected a chance to simply ban collective grows, but chose instead to ban all grows. This is just the initial vote.

Last Wednesday, the city of Riverside sued to block a medical marijuana ballot measure. The city has sued to block an initiative that would legalize and regulate a small number of dispensaries less than a month after organizers qualified it for the 2015 ballot. The initiative "goes beyond the legislative powers of the electorate" and is illegal because it would force the city to violate state and federal laws, including the federal Controlled Substances Act, the city argues.

On Tuesday, the San Jose city council approved tough restrictions on dispensaries and cultivation sites. The council's vote limits dispensaries to a handful of industrial areas making up less than 1% of the city. It also forces dispensaries to grow all their medicine in the county, limit their store hours, and bars them from selling edibles resembling candy. Medical marijuana backers say they have already collected enough signatures to put their own dispensary regulations on the ballot. It ain't over in San Jose.

Also on Tuesday, Sacramento County supervisors introduced an ordinance allowing limited indoor cultivation. Residents of unincorporated areas of the county would be able to grow up to nine plants indoors. Two months ago, the board backed a ban on all outdoor cultivation. The indoor cultivation ordinance comes up for a vote next week.

Also on Tuesday, Santa Cruz County supervisors okayed asking voters to approve a dispensary tax in November. The measure would allow dispensaries to be taxed at up to 10% of their gross sales. The county estimates it would raise about $900,000 a year, to be used to enforce marijuana dispensary and cultivation regulations.

District of Columbia

Last Thursday, the Department of Health added new qualifying conditions for patients. They are seizure disorders, Lou Gehrig's Disease, decompensated cirrhosis, cachexia or wasting syndrome, and Alzheimer's. Hospice patients will also be allowed to use marijuana. Previously, the DC program had been restricted to people suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and muscle spasticity.

Florida

On Wednesday, new polls showed strong support for medical marijuana among Florida voters. With medical marijuana on the ballot in November, a new poll shows 70% of likely voters support the constitutional amendment. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. Another poll released this week has support at 66%. "Florida's medical marijuana amendment that will be on the ballot this fall continues to appear headed for easy passage," Public Policy Polling, which did the second poll, wrote in an analysis.

Also on Wednesday, conservative billionaire Sheldon Adelson kicked in $2.5 million to defeat the initiative. Billionaire casino magnate and major Republican political donor Sheldon Adelson has donated $2.5 million to the campaign to defeat the Florida medical marijuana initiative. A newly-formed group backed by Adelson, the Drug Free Florida Committee, was started by long-time GOP fundraiser Mel Sembler and his wife Betty. It has raised $2.7 million so far and its top donors have been primarily Republicans.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, the DEA was reportedly giving dispensary docs an ultimatum: quit the dispensaries or lose your license. The Boston Globe reported that DEA agents have been visiting Massachusetts doctors involved with medical marijuana dispensaries and telling them the DEA will jerk the licenses to prescribe drugs if they don't cut ties with the dispensaries. And it's working. At least two doctors have severed ties, while one gave up his DEA license, saying as a semi-retired surgeon, he didn't need it to do his job. The Globe reports this will likely slow the opening of some long-awaited dispensaries.

Nevada

On Monday, Clark County commissioners approved 18 dispensary licenses. There will soon be 18 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in unincorporated parts of Clark County, the home of Las Vegas. Nevada approved medical marijuana in 2000, but only approved dispensaries last year.

New York

On Tuesday, a key GOP senator said he will not allow a vote on medical marijuana. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco (R) said today he would not allow a vote on the Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D). "The Savino bill will not come out of my committee, the Finance Committee," he said. "You don't have any kind of reasonable research on the effects. You have people coming in here every day trying to ban e-cigarettes and use of tobacco in other ways." He said he and other Senate Republicans may be open to legislation that would not allow marijuana to be smoked. The session ends next Thursday.

North Carolina

On Saturday, Todd Stimson began a "March Against Fear" to generate support for medical marijuana. He is leading the 259-mile "March Against Fear" from Asheville to Raleigh to help bring attention to a pending medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1161. The bill was filed last month and is now languishing in the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the title link to join up or get more info.

Pennsylvania

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill got a committee hearing and stays alive. Following a hearing on Senate Bill 1182, committee members said they had been assured the bill would get a vote in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, but it will be then up to Senate leaders to decide if they will allow a floor vote. If it gets and wins a floor vote, the House would still have to pass it, or pass its own version.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

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.

Chronicle AM -- May 29, 2014

Minnesota becomes the 22nd medical marijuana state, the California Senate passes a medical marijuana regulation bill and a bill equalizing crack and powder cocaine offenses, a new study reports on who current heroin users are, there are a series of votes set for today to rein in the DEA, a Canadian court allows heroin-assisted treatment trials to move forward, and more. Let's get to it:

Cocaine is cocaine, whether rock or powder, and the California Senate has voted to treat it like that. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Support for Legalization at 42%. A Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll released today has support for marijuana legalization at 42%, with 52% opposed. The poll conducted by the Glengariff Group of Chicago surveyed 600 voters. It has a margin of error of +/ -4%. "There is a sharp difference in attitudes on marijuana legalization among voters under and over the age of 40," said pollster Richard Czuba. "And while Democratic voters support legalization of marijuana, independents and Republican voters strongly oppose legalization." Click the link for more demographic details.

Washington, DC, Initiative is Sweating the Signature-Gathering. Organizers of the DC initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana -- but not the legalization and regulation of marijuana sales -- are "a little nervous" about the progress of their signature-gathering campaign. They have until July 7 to collect 22,373 valid voter signatures. They had collected some 19,000 raw signatures by Monday, but of the 16,734 that have been processed, only 5,360 have been found to be valid.

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington) today introduced a decriminalization bill, House Bill 371. It would make possession of up to an ounce a civil offense with a maximum $100 fine for people 21 and over. Currently, possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) today signed into law the medical marijuana bill approved earlier this month by the legislature. It allows for eight distribution centers across the state to by supplied by two medical marijuana manufacturers. The bill does not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana; but it can be vaped or eaten. Some medical marijuana groups are calling the law "overly restrictive."

California Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. The state Senate yesterday approved Senate Bill 1262, sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Anaheim). It is supported by cities and law enforcement, and would impose tighter controls on dispensaries, cultivation, and recommending. A competing bill, Assembly Bill 1894, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) was expected to be voted on today. If both pass their respective houses, look for a compromise.

Drug Policy

Congress Set to Vote Today on Four Amendments to Reign in DEA. Congress is set to vote today on at least four amendments aimed at reigning in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). One would prohibit DEA from interfering in states that allow medical marijuana; another would prohibit it from blocking hemp seed imports in states that have approved hemp research; a third would prohibit it from undermining state laws that allow for hemp cultivation; and a fourth would reject a proposed $35 million increase in the DEA's FY 2015 budget.

Heroin

Today's Heroin Users Are Mainly Young, White and Not in the Big City, New Study Finds. A new research article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that, unlike the heroin boom of the 1960s, most heroin users today are young white men whose opiate habits overwhelmingly started with prescription pain pills. "Our data show that the demographic composition of heroin users entering treatment has shifted over the last 50 years such that heroin use has changed from an inner-city, minority-centered problem to one that has a more widespread geographical distribution, involving primarily white men and women in their late 20s living outside of large urban areas," the authors concluded.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Prosecutor "Sending a Message" Charges Five Teens With Murder in Teen Girl's Overdose Death. Washington County Attorney Pete Orput has charged five local teenagers with murder in the January death of a 17-year-old girl who died after taking a new synthetic hallucinogen. "We think there's a moral obligation to keep kids free of drugs," said Orput. "We're sending a message that suppliers will be held fully to account." Those charged include a 19-year-old, an 18-year-old, and three 17-year-olds. Orput said the three minors will be charged as adults. The 19-year-old is accused of being the dealer; the others bought some of the drug and shared it among themselves and the dead girl.

Customs to Curtail Searches of General Aviation Aircraft Not Crossing Borders. After loud complaints from private pilots that their domestic flights were being searched for drugs by Customs agents, the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) has announced it will curtail the searches. An official told National Public Radio yesterday that "his agency has heard pilots' grievances and the program is being altered so as not to needlessly affront law-abiding pilots." The Airline Operators and Pilots Association has been raising a stink about the issue for the past year, saying it has received more than 50 reports from members who recounted their encounters with law enforcement at airports.

Georgia SWAT Team Throws Flash-Bang Grenade, Burns Toddler in Drug Raid. A 2-year-old child was burned when members of the Habersham County Special Response Team deployed a "distraction device" as they executed a drug search warrant early yesterday morning. The raid came a day after a snitch made a drug buy at the home and reported no children present. The raiders got themselves a no-knock warrant and breached the door of the home. "What had happened was there was a playpen -- a Pack N Play -- that was pushed up against the door, and when they breached the door it wouldn't open up because of the Pack N Play," Sheriff Joey Terrell said. "It was just wide enough to toss the flash bang in, then they had to physically push it [Pack N Play] on out of the way to get in. That's when the team medics saw the child, stopped at the child, took the child out and began first aid. "The door that we entered was the door that we bought dope out of -- that's why entered at that door," Terrell said. "Our team went by the book. Given the same scenario, we'll do the same thing again. I stand behind what our team did," he maintained. He blames the target of the warrant. Read the whole story at the link.

Sentencing

California Senate Approves Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. The state Senate Wednesday approved a bill that would equalize the penalties for crack and powder cocaine sales and make it easier to get probation for either. The measure is Senate Bill 1010, introduced by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). It now goes to the Assembly.

International

Peru Names Former Defense Minister as New Drug Czar. President Ollanta Humala has named former Defense Minister Luis Otorala as the new head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency, DEVIDA. He replaces Carman Masias. Otarola said that while eradication of coca crops will continue, greater emphasis will be placed on economic alternatives for farmers. Hardline critics said the move and the new emphasis "showed a weakening in the resolve of the government" to confront the drug trade. Peru is once again the world's leading coca and cocaine producer.

Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced in Philippines. Rep. Rodolfo Albano III has filed a medical marijuana bill in the Philippine legislature. House Bill 4477, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Bill, is intended "to provide accessible, affordable, safe medical cannabis to qualifying patients."

British Columbia Supreme Court Grants Injunction for Heroin Treatment Study to Continue. Canada's BC Supreme Court today granted an injunction for an exemption from federal drug laws for participants in the SALOME study (The Study to Assess Long-term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness). The injunction will allow doctors in the study to continue prescribing heroin to patients for whom other treatment options have been ineffective.

Medical Marijuana Update

California battles over dispensaries and cultivation rules continue, medical marijuana bills move in Illinois, Minnesota, New York, and South Carolina, and more. Let's get to it:

California

Last Friday, a Shasta County official filed a lawsuit to block an initiative that seeks to take changes in the county's medical marijuana program to voters in the fall. County Counsel Rubin Cruise Jr. filed a complaint against petitioner Tamara Kelly saying part of her proposal violated state law because it called for a tax that only county commissioners can impose. The initiative would have medical marijuana growers pay the county a tax on donations they receive from patients and would also create basic regulations for marijuana gardens on properties smaller than five acres and a hearing system to help resolve disputes with growers.

Last Saturday, Riverside County certified an initiative to rescind the city of Riverside's ban on dispensaries. Campaigners handed in enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, but the vote apparently won't take place until June 2015.

On Monday, the Senate Public Safety Committee approved a bill that would require police to return medical marijuana to users if charges are dropped or they are acquitted. Senate Bill 1193, sponsored by Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

On Tuesday, Lake County medical marijuana supporters handed in signatures for an initiative that would revise the county's cultivation policies. The Medical Marijuana Control Act would allow four marijuana plants per parcel on properties of under an acre, limit collective gardens to 48 plants on rural properties of five acres or more, require fully fenced and locked garden areas, create a medical marijuana enforcement division in the Community Development Department and establish a medical marijuana enforcement officer position. It needs 2,115 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot; proponents handed in more than 3,000 raw signatures.

Also on Tuesday, the San Jose city council punted on its dispensary ordinance. The council delayed voting on its controversial measure until next week. The decision to postpone the vote came after hours of heated and emotional testimony on all sides of the issue.

Illinois

On Wednesday, the House approved medical marijuana for seizures. The House approved Senate Bill 2636, which expands the state's medical marijuana law to include both adults and minors suffering from seizure disorders. The measure has already passed the Senate and now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn (D).

Massachusetts

Last Wednesday, a state senator filed a budget amendment seeking to tax medical marijuana sales. State Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) added an amendment to the Senate budget released last week that would impose a 6.25% sales tax on medical marijuana. He said he wanted it done quickly before there is any organized opposition. Health care goods and services and prescription drugs are generally exempted from the sales tax under state law. But Joyce said at least 10 other medical marijuana states impose sales taxes on it, including neighboring Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine.

On Wednesday, the budget debate got underway, with patients objecting to any sales tax on medical marijuana. "To tax sick and suffering patients is just wrong," said Matthew Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance. "By their very nature, medical marijuana patients tend to be lower income people because that's the nature of serious and chronic illness."

Minnesota

Last Thursday, lawmakers compromised on a medical marijuana bill that doesn't allow smoking. Minnesotans will get a medical marijuana bill, but they won't be able to smoke their medicine. They can only use it in the form of liquids, pills, or oils, and they can vape, but not smoke it. Both houses had passed bills last week, with the House version being more restrictive. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) said Thursday he will sign the compromise measure. That would make Minnesota the 22nd medical marijuana state.

Last Friday, both houses gave the medical marijuana bill final approval.

New Mexico

On Monday, the state Court of Appeals upheld insurance coverage for medical marijuana. The state Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that an injured worker can be reimbursed for medical marijuana purchases by his former employer and the company's insurer. The appeals court upheld an earlier workmen's compensation decision in favor of the worker. The case is Vialpando v. Ben's Automotive Service and Redwood Fire & Casualty. Attorneys familiar with the case said they knew of no similar rulings in other medical marijuana states.

New York

Last Thursday, a Republican senator filed a no smoking medical marijuana bill. State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana, but bar "delivery through smoking." The bill is Senate Bill 7509.

On Tuesday, the Senate Health Committee approved the Compassionate Use Act. The committee narrowly approved Senate Bill 4406, the Compassionate Care Act. Similar bills have been approved by the Assembly in recent years, but this marks the first time the Senate has taken up the issue. If allowed to the Senate floor for a vote, the bill is expected to pass, but first it must get through the Senate Finance Committee.

Oregon

Last Thursday, a circuit court judge ruled that the state's medical marijuana law is unenforceable because it conflicts with federal law. The ruling came in a case involving the right of the city of Medford to revoke the business license of a dispensary. Expect the decision to be appealed.

Rhode Island

Last Wednesday, the Health Department admitted it was falling behind on patient applications. The state Health Department is eight weeks backlogged in handling patient medical marijuana applications. Patients aren't happy. They're supposed to be automatically approved after 15 days, but the department says it is understaffed and overwhelmed, and it didn't anticipate the volume of applications.

South Carolina

Last Wednesday, the Senate Medical Affairs Committee approved a limited CBD medical marijuana bill. House Bill 4803 would allow the use of high-CBD marijuana extracts for patients suffering severe epilepsy. It has already passed the House.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM -- May 21, 2014

Marijuana, marijuana, marijuana. Sometimes it seems like it's sucking all of the air out of the room in drug policy. But there are a lot of other things going on, too. Plus, Michele Leonhart finds a friend, Dana Rohrabacher talks legalization, and Virginia cops are raking in the asset forfeiture cash. Let's get to it:

A marijuana user and his dog. One of a series of photos normalizing marijuana use by Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance
Marijuana Policy

FBI Ponders Loosening Marijuana Hiring Policies Because Too Many Hackers are Stoners. FBI Director James Comey said Monday the organization may have to modify its no-tolerance policy for hiring people who have smoked marijuana because many of the people it wants to hire as programmers and hackers like to smoke pot. "I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview," Comey said. He added that the FBI was "grappling right now" with how to amend its hiring policies, which currently exclude anyone who has smoked in the past three years. [Update: Not gonna happen. Comey said Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that he is "absolute dead set against using marijuana" and "I did not say I was going to change that ban." His remarks came in response to a question from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) who was worried about his Monday comments.]

Truven Health Survey Has Support for Legalization at 43% Nationwide. A national survey of attitudes toward marijuana conducted by Truven Health has support for legalization at 43% nationwide, with support for medical marijuana at 78%. Click on the link for more demographic details.

Tennessee Poll Has Three Out of Four Supporting Some Form of Marijuana Access. The latest Vanderbilt Poll has 76% supporting some form of access to marijuana, with just more than one in five (22%) of respondents saying it should not be legal, period. Just under a third (32%) said it should be legal for personal use, while another 44% said it should be legal for medical use.

New Mexico Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Talk Pot Policy. Marijuana policy is on the agenda in New Mexico, and it's splitting the Democratic gubernatorial candidates. Two candidates -- Alan Webber and Howie Morales -- support legalization and regulation, Lawrence Rael said it should be up to the voters, Linda Lopez wants to "wait and study," while Gary King opposes legalization, but says he supports reduced penalties for personal possession. Click on the link for more details.

Maine Local Legalization Initiatives About to Start Signature-Gathering. Advocates of marijuana legalization got a local ordinance approved in Portland six months ago. Now, they're back and about to start signature-gathering in three more Maine cities: Lewiston, South Portland, and York. The campaign will get underway "in the coming weeks," supporters said.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois House Approves Medical Marijuana for Seizures. The House voted today to approve Senate Bill 2636, which expands the state's medical marijuana law to include both adults and minors suffering from seizure disorders. The measure has already passed the Senate and now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn (D).

Massachusetts Patients Object to Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana. The state Senate today began debating a state budget, and medical marijuana patients are objecting loudly to amendments proposed by Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) that would impose the state's 6.25% general sales tax on medical marijuana products. "To tax sick and suffering patients is just wrong," said Matthew Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance. "By their very nature, medical marijuana patients tend to be lower income people because that's the nature of serious and chronic illness."

New Mexico Appeals Court Upholds Insurance Coverage for Medical Marijuana. The state Court of Appeals Monday ruled unanimously that an injured worker can be reimbursed for medical marijuana purchases by his former employer and the company's insurer. The appeals court upheld an earlier workmen's compensation decision in favor of the worker. The case is Vialpando v. Ben's Automotive Service and Redwood Fire & Casualty. Attorneys familiar with the case said they knew of no similar rulings in other medical marijuana states.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. In a historic move, a state Senate committee actually heard a medical marijuana bill -- and then voted to approve it. The Senate Health Committee gave the okay to Senate Bill 4406, the Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island). Medical marijuana bills have passed the state Assembly repeatedly in recent years, only to die of inaction in the Senate. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee, which must approve it before it can go to a floor vote.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill to allow epilepsy patients to use high-CBD marijuana extracts was approved by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee Tuesday. House Bill 4803 has already passed the House and should get a final floor vote next week.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia Cops Scored $57 Million in Seized Assets Since 2007. Virginia law enforcement agencies have raked in more than $57 million in asset forfeitures in the last six years, according to a lengthy analysis by The Virginian-Pilot. Under the state's asset forfeiture laws, the cops get to keep 90% of what they seize. In its 2010 report Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Forfeiture, the Institute of Justice gave Virginia a grade of "D-" for both its lax asset forfeiture laws and the ease with which they can be circumvented by law enforcement.

Drug Policy

Embattled DEA Head Has a Friend in Virginia Rep. Frank Wolfe. Rep. Frank Wolfe (R-VA) is sticking up for embattled DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. She was recently scolded and brought into line on sentencing policy by her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Wolfe took umbrage at that. He called the Obama administration "Nixonian" for trying to get Leonhart back on the reservation. "Having served in the Nixon Administration, I am well aware of how the political leadership of an administration can try to politicize the civil service, including law enforcement," Wolfe wrote in a letter to the Justice Department. "This article [Ed: a Huffington Post piece on Leonhart's comeuppance] suggests a similar 'Nixonian' effort to pressure a career law enforcement leader into changing her congressional testimony and public comments to fit the narrative of the administration. I am deeply concerned and hope you will correct the record if the information reported was inaccurate."

Legalization Gets Discussed at House Committee Hearing. A House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on US-Mexican affairs turned briefly into a discussion of the pros and cons of drug legalization Tuesday. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asked State Department officials whether it wouldn't be better to weaken drug cartels by legalizing drugs than to spend billions trying fruitlessly to suppress them. But William Brownfield, assistant secretary for State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement ("drugs and thugs"), demurred, saying he couldn't recommend a policy that would increase the availability of currently illegal drugs. Rohrabacher responded by saying he had seen no evidence that legalization would increase the number of drug users.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy Sets National Conference for September in DC. Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) will hold its national conference and lobby day in Washington, DC, on September 26-29. Click on the link for all the details.

Drug Testing

O.pen VAPE Feels the Heat, Backs Off on Drug Testing. The Denver-based marijuana vaporizer company O.pen VAPE took a lot of heat earlier this month when it announced an invasive drug testing policy aimed at "dangerous drug" users. Now, the company has switched gears and has announced it will instead use computer-assisted impairment testing. Celeb Stoner has more details, click on the link to read all about it.

(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 -- May 16, 2014

The DEA is in the hot seat, it looks like Minnesota will be the next medical marijuana state (but they won't be able to smoke it), California could actually get around to regulating its dispensary system, California voters will vote on whether to drug test doctors (!), the Russians are snarking about Afghanistan, and more. Let's get to it:

DEA administrator Michele Leonhart may be approaching her "sell by" date, and so may the agency she heads. (doj.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Grand Jury Investigating Northern California County's "Pay to Plead Down" Program for Marijuana Defendants. Critics of the Mendocino County program that offers pot defendants a chance to cop a plea to a lesser charge in exchange for "sizeable restitution payments" call it the "Mendo shakedown." Under the program, defendants agree to pay $50 for each plant seized and $500 per pound, typically in exchange for a misdemeanor plea. It has generated $3.7 million in payments to local law enforcement agencies, and supporters say it is a way to reduce the logjam of marijuana cases, not subject local growers to harsh sentences, and compensate police for their marijuana enforcement work. Now, a federal grand jury is looking into it. The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat has a lengthy report; click on the link.

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bills Poised for Movement. Two bills seeking to bring some order to California's Wild West medical marijuana industry are set to move in coming days. Assembly Bill 1894, filed by Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) could get a floor vote in the Assembly before month's end, which it must do to stay alive. In the Senate, a similar -- but not a companion -- bill will go the Appropriations Committee on Monday. Senate Bill 1262, filed by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), also must pass out of its chamber of origin by the end of the month or it dies, too.

Minnesota Will Get Medical Marijuana, But Not Buds. Under a compromise reached by lawmakers Thursday, Minnesotans will get a medical marijuana bill, but they won't be able to smoke their medicine. They can only use it in the form of liquids, pills, or oils, and they can vape, but not smoke it. Both houses had passed bills last week, with the House version being more restrictive. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) said Thursday he will sign the compromise measure. That would make Minnesota the 22nd medical marijuana state.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill to Get Senate Committee Vote Tuesday. The long-stalled effort to pass a medical marijuana bill in the Empire State could take a big step forward Tuesday. That's when the Senate Health Committee will take up Senate Bill 4406. The Health Committee is only the first stop in the Senate, though; it must then pass the Senate Finance Committee before going to a Senate floor vote.

New York Republican Files No Smoking Medical Marijuana Bill. State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana, but bar "delivery through smoking." The bill is Senate Bill 7509, and it could signal a possible compromise that Senate Republicans could get behind.

Oregon Circuit Court Judge Rules State Medical Marijuana Law Conflicts With Federal Law; Is Unenforceable. In a case involving the right of the city of Medford to revoke the business license of a dispensary, a Jackson County circuit court judge has ruled that the state's Oregon Medical Marijuana Act is "unenforceable" because it conflicts with federal law. Expect the decision to be appealed.

Drug Policy

DEA Head Chastened After Being Taken to the Woodshed Over Sentencing Remarks. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart's lack of support for Obama administration mandatory minimum sentencing reforms at a congressional hearing last month got her a good talking to from her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, The Huffington Post reports. She's been off the reservation on other issues as well, especially around the administration's relatively enlightened approach to marijuana policy, and just this week, her agency has been messing with Kentucky's effort to do legal hemp research. But it was her refusal to endorse changes in mandatory minimums that got her sent to the boss's office. Now, the DEA says Leonhart "supports the Attorney General's sentencing reform initiative."

Drug Policy Expert Mark Kleiman Says It May Be Time to Do Away With DEA. In the same Huffington Post piece cited above, drug policy expert and current advisor to the state of Washington on marijuana legalization implementation Mark Kleiman said that while, in the past, he opposed dissolving the DEA and splitting its function, he is changing his tune. "Any DEA administrator feels an organizational imperative to support the existing drug laws and sentencing structure, even when doing so means opposing the purposes of the attorney general and the president, as we see currently," Kleiman said. "So I'd be inclined to reconsider my former opposition to merging the DEA" and perhaps the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, into the FBI. "That would allow the combined agency to turn the skills and aggression of today's DEA agents against gun traffickers, cigarette smugglers, and purveyors of political violence."

Drug Policy Alliance Calls for DEA Head to Resign. The Drug Policy Alliance has had enough of DEA head Michele Leonhart. Today, Bill Piper, the group's head of national affairs, called on her to resign. "For months Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele Leonhart has openly rebuked the drug policy reform policies of Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama with one embarrassing statement after another," he wrote. "Now she is picking a fight with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Y) and other members of Congress over hemp. Meanwhile the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General has launched an investigation into multiple scandals plaguing the agency. It is clear that Leonhart lacks the ability to lead and should resign. Activists are using the Twitter hashtag #FireLeonhart." There's much more at the link.

Drug Testing

California Initiative to Drug and Alcohol Test Doctors Qualifies for November Ballot. An initiative that would require drug and alcohol testing of doctors and the reporting of a positive result to the state medical board has qualified for the November ballot. The Secretary of State's office announced yesterday that the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act of 2014 would also require that doctors be suspended pending investigation of a positive test and that the board take disciplinary action if the doctor was impaired while on duty. The measure also requires doctors to report other doctors they suspect of drug or alcohol impairment and requires health care practitioners to consult the state's prescription drug database before prescribing certain controlled substances.

Law Enforcement

No Drugs Found in Raid Where Texas SWAT Officer Was Killed. Oops. The pre-dawn, no-knock home invasion drug raid that ended up with one Killeen SWAT officer shot dead and three more wounded didn't find any drugs. Killeen Police Detective Charles Dinwiddie died trying to execute a search warrant after an informant said he had spotted "bags of cocaine" at the residence, but all the raiders came up with was a glass pipe. Dinwiddie is the second Texas law enforcement officer to die in a pre-dawn, no-knock drug raid in the past five months. A grand jury refused to indict the shooter in the first case. Stay tuned to see what happens in this one.

International

Russians Call for Single International Drug Office to Deal With Afghan Heroin. Viktor Ivanov, Russia's chief anti-drug official, said Thursday that all of the various international efforts to stifle the Afghan drug trade should be merged into a single, internationally-supervised office. "We suggest the creation of an international headquarters or an office for combating the planetary center of drug production in Afghanistan. The goal of the HQ would be to consolidate the currently separate anti-narcotic programs in Afghanistan and to create an effective, internationally-supervised mechanism to eradicate drug production," Ivanov said. He also implicitly criticized the US and the West for letting opium cultivation get out of control while NATO forces occupied the country. The effort had been "a fiasco," he said. Ivanov is among the Russian officials sanctioned by Washington in response to the Ukraine crisis.

Lebanese Cannabis Farmers Benefiting from Syrian Conflict. Lebanese security forces are too busy dealing with the Syrian civil war raging on the country's border to pay much attention to a reviving cannabis industry in the Bekaa Valley, The Financial Times reports. Lebanese security forces quit raiding the Bekaa's pot farms two years ago, fearful of creating more unrest, and last year the crop brought in an estimated profit of $175 million to $200 million. "You couldn't make this kind of money growing gold," one farmer laughed. While some Lebanese politicians, including Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, have called for legalizing the crop, the farmers don't agree. The profits are too good, they said.

Four Mexican Soldiers Killed in Apparent Cartel Attack in Jalisco. Four soldiers were killed in the western state of Jalisco earlier this week when the military truck they were riding in was attacked in Guachinango, about 80 miles from the state capital of Guadalajara. The attackers crashed a pick-up truck into the army vehicle, setting it ablaze, then opened fire. Investigators suspect the attack was staged by the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which is in a turf war with the Knights Templars cartel in neighboring Michoacan. There are accusations that New Generation has allied itself with some of the vigilantes fighting the Knights Templar.

Saudi Arabia to Drug Test All Public Employees. Newly recruited teachers are first in line, but all public employees of the Saudi state are going to be drug tested, according to local media reports. The move is intended to "counter the increasing abuse of narcotics in the country's public service," the reports said.

Chronicle AM -- May 12, 2014

Elderly senators grumble about new-fangled rules allowing legal marijuana businesses to use the financial system, there are more legalization polls, an Oklahoma US Senate candidate is talking marijuana reform, there is medical marijuana initiative news, Minnesota passes asset forfeiture reform and the governor signs it, and more. Let's get to it:

Oklahoma state Sen. Constance Johnson (D) is running for the US Senate and talking marijuana reform. (oksenate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Feinstein, Grassley Try to Thwart Normalized Marijuana Banking. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) aren't happy with the Obama administration's efforts to find a way to let marijuana businesses in states where it is legal have access to the financial system. They sent a letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) complaining about the guidance it was offering banks "on providing financial services for drug traffickers," in Grassley's words. FinCen responded here, but that wasn't good enough for the crusty drug warriors. Now, Grassley has responded to the response, maintaining that "unless federal law is changed, selling marijuana, laundering marijuana proceeds, and aiding and abetting those activities all remain illegal" and that "FinCEN's guidance to financial institutions is absolutely contrary to the mission of the agency." Click on the title link to read the rest.

Connecticut Poll Has 52% for Legalization. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday has support for marijuana legalization at 52% among Connecticut voters, who also said overwhelmingly that alcohol was a bigger health problem than pot. A whopping 80% of voters under 30 supported legalization. Voters also supported having medical marijuana dispensaries in their towns by a margin of more than two-to-one. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2012.

New Mexico Poll Has Only 40% for Legalization, But… an Albuquerque Journal flash poll had support for marijuana legalization at 40%, with 47% opposed. The poll only asked only if marijuana should be legalized, however, without specifying what legalization might look like. A poll done last year for the Drug Policy Alliance got 53% support for legalization when it asked whether marijuana should be legalized for adults so that it could be taxed and regulated, like alcohol, with restrictions on where it could be bought and consumed.

Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenues Top $20 Million So Far This Year. The state Department of Revenue released figures last Thursday showing that revenues from adult and medical marijuana taxes, licenses, and fees were at nearly $22 million for the first three months of the year. The state reported that March adult marijuana sales hit $19 million, up $5 million over February, while medical marijuana sales were about $34 million.

Push Underway to Decriminalize Toledo. A petition drive is underway for a municipal initiative to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession in the Northwest Ohio city. The initiative is sponsored by the Toledo NORML chapter, which says it has already collected 2,800 signatures. It needs 3,800 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Oklahoma's Leading Democratic US Senate Candidate Pushes Marijuana Law Reform. State Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City), the leading candidate for the state's Democratic Party US Senate nomination, is the author of repeated failed medical marijuana bills in the state legislature and is currently working to get a legalization initiative on the November ballot. A Democrat winning a Senate seat in Oklahoma is a long shot, but Johnson says she hopes marijuana will drive voters to the polls. "This whole issue, to me, is not about smoking marijuana. It's about criminalizing it. That's where these young people stand to be hurt the most. They get that," said Johnson. "Unless we change who's voting, things will stay the same," she said. "It's time to send a message -- not only to the policymakers... but to the people -- that we can change this." You can do that by putting marijuana on the ballot, she said.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Says He Will Sign House Bill. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) sent a letter Friday to lawmakers saying he could sign the medical marijuana bill passed by the House. Senate File 2470 was filed by Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) after her earlier, full-fledged medical marijuana bill, House File 1818 was blocked by law enforcement and the governor. A stronger bill, Senate File 1641, has passed the Senate, but Dayton didn't say he could sign that one. Now, the Senate must accept the House version or try to reach a compromise in conference committee.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign in Midst of Signature-Gathering. The Ohio Rights Group is leading a signature-gathering campaign to put a medical marijuana (and hemp) initiative on the November ballot. They need to collect 385,000 valid voter signatures by July 5. They had 50,000 signatures on March 1 and haven't reported any more recent figures, but the campaign has been ramping up this month.

Arkansas Attorney General Again Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Language. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has once again rejected the proposed wording for a medical marijuana initiative from Arkansans for Medical Cannabis. This is about the sixth time he has rejected proposals from the group. Meanwhile, another initiative, this one from Arkansans for Compassionate Care, is in the signature-gathering phase. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act needs some 65,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) signed into law Senate File 874, which forces authorities to actually convict someone of a criminal offense or get a guilty plea before seizing his property. The bill also forces the government to prove the property was the instrument or proceeds of crime. Previously, it had been up to the victim of the seizure to prove it was not connected to crimes.

Drug Testing

Federal Judge Rejects City of Key West Prospective Employee Drug Testing. A US district court judge has ruled that Key West's policy of drug-testing prospective employees is illegal. The ACLU of Florida had brought suit on behalf of a woman who was offered a job as the city's recycling coordinator, but had the job offer rescinded after she refused a drug test. The city failed to demonstrate "a special need or important government interest which justifies the policy's Fourth Amendment intrusion," Judge James Lawrence King held. And while the city argued that the tests should be allowed because job applicants were forewarned, King wasn't buying it. The law doesn't allow a government entity "to violate a person's rights under the Fourth Amendment so long as prior notice of the impending violation is given," he ruled.

International

Heroin Maintenance Coming to Norway? The Norwegian city of Bergen has proposed undertaking a program of heroin maintenance, or heroin-assisted treatment (HAT). Norway has long been skeptical of opioid maintenance therapies, allowing the use of methadone only in 1998. Dr. Ola Josendal, director of addiction medicine at Haukeland University Hospital proposed HAT clinical trials in December, but the national health minister rejected them. Now, however, the Labor Party, the largest bloc in parliament, is in favor, so it could happen. Stay tuned.

Bermuda Cannabis Reform Collaborative Says Decriminalize It. A panel tasked with examining Bermuda's marijuana laws issued its report last Friday, and it calling for the decriminalization of small-time pot possession, allowing people to grow a small number of plants, and allowing the medical use of the plant on the island. Marijuana prohibition is not working, the report said.

Mexico's Plan to Demobilize Anti-Cartel Vigilantes Hits Snags. Anti-cartel vigilantes in the state of Michoacan were supposed to begin laying down their arms and integrating into a new rural police force Saturday, but The Washington Post reports that the process isn't exactly going smoothly. The vigilante groups formed more than a year ago with an apparent wink and nod from the government and managed to drive the Knights Templar cartel out of parts of the state, but now, the government fears they may get out of control. Click the link for a full report.

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