2014 Drug War Killings

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Florida Man Killed in Drug Bust Gun Battle

A Belle Isle, Florida, man died Wednesday during a gun battle with undercover deputies trying to seize a package from his home. Giles Harrison Carter, 29, becomes the 26th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WOFL Fox 35 Orlando, citing police sources, undercover Orange County sheriff's deputies belonging to the department's narcotics unit were attempting to intercept a package from a home when Carter opened fire, then retreated inside his house. Deputies said he barricaded himself inside and continued to exchange gunfire with them.

"During the shooting, the deputies had some conversation with him [Carter]. They were identified," said Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings during a news conference held on Wednesday afternoon. "He [Carter] had a handgun. At that point, the gun was pointed directly at them, is what I'm being told at this time. They fired at him, he retreated into the home and came back and fired another volley of rounds at the deputies."

Sheriff Demings did not say whether the undercover deputies "were identified" as such by Carter before that point.

An Orange County SWAT team was called in to rescue the deputies, who were "pinned down by the gun fire." After a brief conversation between Carter and the SWAT team, the team entered the home and reported finding him dead.

It's not clear whether Carter was shot by police or died at his own hand. Nor is it clear whether he was the intended recipient of the package or what was actually in it.

Carter, an Army veteran, had been arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia last Friday. But other than that, he had no criminal record, his attorney in that case said.

"Mr. Carter is fairly new to the area, and he had previously been in the US military. He told me he was a veteran, and we were approaching the State Attorney's Office about avoiding prosecution completely and looking into a pre-trial diversion program to keep his record clean, so that he could obtain and maintain security clearances with the federal government," said attorney John Gihon. "Mr. Carter, he was a smart guy. He was intelligent and educated, and it really came across in the short time that I knew him. To find out now that he's dead; that's really a shock to me."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) will conduct the deputy involved shooting investigation and the Orange County Sheriff's Office Professional Standards section will conduct an administrative review.

Belle Isle, FL
United States

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

Denver Man Shot, Killed in Undercover Drug Operation

A Denver man was shot and killed during an undercover drug investigation last Wednesday afternoon. Joseph Valverde, 32, becomes the 24th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Denver Post, citing Denver Police Chief Robert White, Valverde was shot and killed in the parking lot of Overland Pond Park. White said that when uniformed Denver police officers arrived to arrest Valverde, he pulled a gun. An officer then opened fire, striking Valverde.

White said Valverde threatened officers, but did not fire his weapon. He was pronounced dead later at a local hospital.

Denver 9 News, which first named the victim, reported that Valverde was shot by a SWAT team member, that police sources said the bust involved "a significant amount of cocaine" and that "law enforcement believed the suspect was very violent and dangerous."

In a separate story, Denver 9 News reported that Valverde had prior convictions for drug possession, assault, weapons charges, and criminal mischief.

Denver, CO
United States

Two More Drug War Deaths

A Texas man who drowned fleeing narcotics officers and a Florida man shot and killed during an attempted drug arrest are the latest to die in the drug war at home this year. The two men become the 22nd and 23rd persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In Texas, according to the Houston Chronicle, citing police reports, an as yet unidentified man drowned June 21 after jumping into an east Harris County bayou to avoid arrest in a drug investigation. His body was pulled from the bayou the same day.

Police had spotted the man and a woman near the Shady Glen Motel, which they described as "a hotbed of narcotics trafficking and prostitution," and began interrogating the man when he took off running. Deputies hit with a Taser, but he got up again, jumped into the bayou, then swam to its center and dived under the surface of the water. He didn't reappear until deputies found his body.

A search of his vehicle found methamphetamines, marijuana, and weapons.

In Florida, according to the Tampa Bay Times, citing police sources, a Pasco County narcotics detective shot and killed Jerry Dwight Brown, 41, in Zephyr Hills Tuesday afternoon. The narc had gone to a local business to arrest Brown on charges of selling prescription drugs, and "a confrontation erupted and Brown was shot." No one else was injured. There were no other details.

Police said Brown had a criminal history that included armed robbery and grand theft.

Utah SWAT Team Kills Drug Fugitive in Standoff

A man wanted on drug and other arrest warrants who barricaded himself inside a West Haven auto body shop was shot and killed Wednesday afternoon when he allegedly pointed a weapon at SWAT officers after a standoff lasting several hours. Kristopher Chase Simmons, 35, becomes the 21st person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, citing police sources, Ogden police detectives attempting to arrest Simmons on "several drug-related and evading police felony warrants" located him at the auto body shop, but he and a woman with him fled into the shop, and he barricaded himself in a car.

What later happened to the woman is unclear (see below).

SWAT officers were called to the scene and hours of negotiations ensued, but when negotiations proved fruitless, SWAT officers entered the building.

"Simmons pointed a gun at the officers and two of them returned fire, wounding Simmons," Sgt. Lane Findlay of the Weber County Sheriff's Office wrote in a press statement Wednesday night.

But one commenter on a Standard-Examiner story about the incident and Simmons' criminal history had a decidedly different take on what went down:

"My friend is the 'mystery girl' the cops speak of that they could not locate or didn't know if she was real. She was real and she was inside hiding during the stand off and saw everything," wrote the commenter, who identified herself as Mona Little. "SIMMONS DID NOT HAVE A GUN. SIMMONS HAD BARRICADED HIMSELF INSIDE A CAR IN THE SHOP AND HAD A BLANKET OVER HIM. THE COPS SHOT HIM POINT BLANK IN THE CHEST AS HE WAS BEGGING THEM NOT TO! AFTER HE WAS MURDERED THE POLICE SET UP THE STAGE WITH 11 REHEARSALS, REFUSING TO LET THE CSI IN UNTILL THEY PRACTICED WHAT THEY WERE GOING TO CLAIM HAPPENED AND GOT ALL THEIR DUCKS IN A ROW, EVEN RE-ARRANGING THE CRIME SCENE TO WORK IN THEIR FAVOR!!! THIS IS MURDER BUT WHO WILL POLICE THE POLICE? THIS IS THE TRUTH."

Sgt. Findlay told the Standard-Examiner yesterday that a detective had indeed seen a woman, who police believed was an associate of Simmons, make her way into the building while others were being evacuated, but that there had been no sign of her since.

"It's not certain where she went," he said. "She could possibly have slipped out."

Police don't know who she is and she could be difficult to identify, he said. "I know there are detectives working on it."

West Haven , UT
United States

Smuggler Shooting Immediately Tests Border Patrol's New Force Policy

Last Friday, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske announced new policies designed to reduce the use of deadly force by Border Patrol agents. Hours later, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed marijuana smuggler Luis Arambula, 31, as he fled on foot through an Arizona golf course. Arambula becomes the 20th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

The killing is bound to put CBP's new use of deadly force policies to the test. According to the CBP's new handbook, the use of deadly force is authorized only when there is imminent danger of death or serious injury to the agent or someone else. Deadly force is not to be used "solely to prevent the escape of a fleeing subject," but can only be justified when the person "has inflicted or threatened to inflict serious physical injury or death" and the person's escape poses an imminent threat of serious injury or death to the agent or others.

But that doesn't appear to be the case with Luis Arambula. Border Patrol Agent Daniel Marquez shot him nine times as he ran through a golf course after his vehicle got stuck as he fled from agents. Agents had tried to pull him over on Interstate 19, but he didn't stop, instead getting off the highway, onto an access road and then a surface street into the golf course.

Two agents chased him on foot for a quarter mile, then Marquez opened fire. Agents claimed that Arambula made "punching out" motions with his arms, as if he were aiming a gun at that in a two-handed stance, but Pima County sheriff's deputies investigating the incident said Arambula was unarmed.

The Pima County Sheriff's Office is investigating the killing. We shall see how CBP handles this first challenge to its new deadly force policy.

Tampa SWAT Team Kills Armed Man in Marijuana Grow House Raid

A Tampa, Florida, police SWAT team attempting to carry out a drug search warrant shot and killed a man they said pointed a gun at them Tuesday night. Jason Joseph Westcott, 29, becomes the 19th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to Bay News 9, citing police sources, the residence had been under surveillance after undercover officers bought "narcotics" there on several occasions since March. A SWAT team was used in the raid because police knew Westcott had guns in the home.

The Bay News 9 story used anodyne language to describe the raid, saying only that police "entered" the residence. It is not clear from the reporting whether this was a no-knock raid or how the police entered the residence.

Police said one man in the front of the house surrendered when the SWAT team entered, but that Westcott, who was found armed in a back room, pointed his gun and officers and was then shot.

Although police repeatedly referred to "narcotics," the only "narcotic" Westcott was accused of selling was marijuana. Police found a hydroponic marijuana grow in his home.

Westcott had no prior criminal record except for one incident of driving without a license.

Tampa, FL
United States

One Dead As Car Carrying Marijuana Crashes During Police Pursuit

One man is dead and another hospitalized after the car they were in flipped and crashed during a high-speed police pursuit outside the East Texas town of Bullard Saturday night. Christopher Blake Lucas, 26, becomes the 18th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to KLTV News, citing Texas Department of Public Safety officials, a state trooper tried to pull the vehicle over for "a routine traffic stop" when it took off on a paved rural road. Officers later spotted the car on another paved rural road, and threw down spike strips.

The spike strips popped three of the car's tires, but it kept going, then failed to negotiate a turn and flipped. Lucas, the driver, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The officials said four pounds of marijuana were found in the car. The injured passenger will be charged with possession of marijuana and evading arrest once he is released from the hospital, DPS said Monday.

[Editor's Note: This one is a judgment call for inclusion in our list. Although police said it was "a routine traffic stop," there are several reasons to consider it a drug war death. First, "routine traffic stops" are often pretexts for drug law enforcement efforts. Second, even "routine traffic stops" can quickly turn into drug law enforcement efforts. Third, and mainly it is probably safe to presume this guy was running because he had four pounds of pot in his vehicle, not because he didn't want to get a speeding ticket.]

Bullard, TX
United States

South Florida Man Dies 11 Days after Being Shot in SWAT Drug Raid

A Hallandale, Florida, man has died less than two weeks after being shot during a SWAT team drug raid at his home. Howard Bowe, 34, becomes the 17th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Hallandale Police Department SWAT team arrived at Bowe's home in the pre-dawn hours of May 8 to serve a search warrant related to suspected drug distribution at the duplex where he lived. Details of what exactly went down are unclear, but both Bowe and his pit bull were shot. The 13-year-old dog died at the scene. Howe died at a local hospital Tuesday evening.

"It appears the officers from the SWAT team felt threatened," Maj. Thomas Honan, a spokesman for the agency, said on the day of the shooting. He said the elderly dog broke free from its chain and charged the officers.

Bowe's friends and family members want to know what really happened.

"Everyone's still in shock," said Mike Ashley, a friend of Bowe's since school days. "I feel like there's a lot of unanswered questions."

Bowe's sister Corneece, who lives in the other half of the duplex told the Sun-Sentinel earlier that her brother had a car wash business and lawn mowing service and had never been violent. She had been awakened the morning of the raid by the sound of police gunfire, she said.

"They came in the back door," Corneesa Bowe said. "Why shoot an unarmed person?"

Neighbor Fred Webb told the newspaper Bowe was "an honest man who worked every day" at his business, a mobile car wash. A trailer for the car wash was parked next to the duplex. "I can't understand it," Webb said. "I hope he's all right."

Police have not said whether they recovered any drugs or weapons.

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.

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