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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.

Chronicle AM -- May 28, 2014

Look out 2016, here comes Nevada! Also, a US congressman rips into NYPD over marijuana arrests, a New York medical marijuana bill passes the Assembly, Dallas pays out big time for police misbehavior, former DEA head Asa Hutchinson wants more drug war for Arkansas, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol yesterday commenced its campaign to put a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. Two Nevada politicians who are members of the campaign, Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and former Republican Senate Caucus executive director Joe Brezny, were the first to sign the petitions. Canvassers need to come up with 101,000 valid voter signatures by November. If that happens, the measure goes to the legislature. If the legislature declines to act or rejects the measure, it goes to the voters in November 2016.

Oak Park, Michigan, Activists Sue Over Decriminalization Initiative Delay. The Safer Oak Park Coalition has filed a lawsuit against city officials charging that they are delaying efforts to put a decriminalization initiative before the voters. The Coalition handed in more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot on April 27, but city officials said it was too late to have a ballot measure ready for the August primary election. Unless the lawsuit prevails, Oak Park residents will have to wait until November to vote on the issue.

New York City US Congressman Rips NYPD Over High Marijuana Arrest Numbers. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, called on the NYPD yesterday to quit arresting so many people for minor pot possession. More than 28,000 were arrested last year -- 86% of them black or brown -- even though Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D) called the mass arrests and the racial disparity in them "unjust and wrong." The rate of arrests so far this year has dropped by 9%, but that's still 7,000 pot busts in the city this year alone, and the numbers were heading up at quarter's end. Arrests topped 50,000 in 2011, before NYPD was instructed to quit violating the spirit of the state's decriminalization by arresting people for "open possession" after intimidating them into emptying their pockets.

Washington State Parolees Can Smoke Marijuana. The Washington Department of Corrections says it will stop testing the state's 14,000 parolees for THC because marijuana is now legal in the state. "We don't want to hold them to that level, when, as a citizen, you wouldn't be held to that level either," a department spokesperson explained. The department isn't endorsing marijuana use, she added, "We are simply aligning with state law."

Medical Marijuana

New York Assembly Passes Comprehensive Medical Marijuana Bill. The Assembly Tuesday approved Assembly Bill 6357, a comprehensive medical marijuana bill, by a margin of 91-34. This is the fifth time the Assembly has passed a medical marijuana bill, only to see them die in the Senate. This year, a bill is moving in the upper chamber, and a key committee head has signaled if he may be willing to let it come to a vote -- if the Senate leadership agrees.

North Carolina Lawmaker Files Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. She said she would, and now she has. Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret County) Tuesday filed a bill to allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for people suffering "intractable seizures." The measure is House Bill 1220.

Drug Policy

Former DEA Head Asa Hutchinson Vows More Drug War if Elected Arkansas Governor; Democratic Foe Says He's Tough on Crime, Too. Former DEA head Asa Hutchinson, running as a Republican for the Arkansas governor's seat, Tuesday unveiled a plan to address drugs and crime that includes $1 million a year in additional funding for the state's parole system, $300,000 a year for reentry programs for ex-convicts, and more, as yet unspecified, money for the State Police, more drug courts, more drug task forces, and maybe even a new prison. He also hinted that he might want to "re-tweak" a 2011 sentencing reform bill to give prosecutors "more flexibility" in prosecuting property and drug crimes. Hutchinson's Democratic opponent, former US Rep. Mike Ross, also "has a strong record of being tough on crime and supporting our law enforcement community," his campaign retorted Tuesday.

Law Enforcement

City of Dallas Keeps Paying Out for Police Misbehavior. Last week, the Dallas city council approved a $105,000 settlement to a man beaten unconscious by police during a fruitless drug raid. It's just business as usual in Dallas, where the pay-out was just the latest in a series of series of high-profile, six-figure lawsuits against the Dallas PD in recent years, including at least one other drug-related case. The city council approved the most recent settlement without debate.

International

Australia's New South Wales Greens Launch Medical Marijuana Bill. The NSW Greens Tuesday launched their campaign to pass a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. The bill, the Drug Legislation Amendment (Use of Cannabis for Medical Purposes) Bill 2014 would allow people suffering from terminal illnesses to possess up to 15 grams of marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. The bill is in line with the recommendations of a cross-party Upper House inquiry into the issue last year.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The Dallas city council pays out for another brutal drug raid, and a Florida narc can't keep his crack straight. Let's get to it:

In Dallas, the Dallas city council approved a $105,000 settlement last Wednesday for a man beaten unconscious during a Dallas police drug raid in 2010. Danny Cantu said police threw a flash-bang grenade in his home, broke down his doors, and violently assaulted him. Police said they used a no-knock search warrant and aggressive tactics because they thought he was a major drug dealer, but all they found was a sawed off shotgun and a tenth of a gram of cocaine. Cantu was never charged with a crime, and the council approved the payment without debate. It is just the latest in a string of high-profile, six-figure lawsuits against the department in recent years.

In Palm Beach, Florida, a Palm Beach sheriff's department narcotics detective was arrested last Tuesday for lying about crack cocaine buys in a search warrant. Detective Joaquin Fonseca is accused of saying he bought the crack at a house he raided, but video surveillance showed that his efforts to buy crack there were actually rebuffed. Dash cam video from Fonseca's car showed that he bought crack from a different dealer and used that as evidence for the search warrant. And when he was booked into the jail, he was found to be carrying more crack cocaine. He is charged with official misconduct, cocaine possession, and making false statements.

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.

Texas Officer Shot Leading SWAT Drug Raid Dies

A Killeen police officer died Sunday, two days after being shot during a pre-dawn SWAT drug raid. Detective Charles "Chuck" Dinwiddie becomes the 16th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to KDHN News, members of the Killeen Police Department SWAT team had begun breaking through a window as they served a drug search warrant at 5:30 a.m Friday, when someone inside opened fire on the intruders, wounding four officers.

Dinwiddie was shot in the face and spent two days in critical condition before dying of his wounds Sunday afternoon.

The three other officers wounded all survived. Police said two of them were saved by their protective gear, while the third was shot in the thigh.

Police identified the shooter as apartment resident Marvin Louis Guy, 49. He faces three counts of attempted murder. Authorities are likely to try to upgrade one of those to capital murder.

But in the last case of a Texas police officer killed breaking into someone's home in a SWAT drug raid, the grand jury refused to indict the shooter for the death. That was just four months ago.

Killeen, TX
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 8, 2014

Another poll has marijuana legalization at the tipping point, a Colorado bill to form credit co-ops for pot businesses passes, an Illinois bill to let kids with epilepsy use medical marijuana is moving, a New York naloxone bill passes, Pittsburgh needle exchanges get some breathing room, and more. Let's get to it:

Pittsburgh needle exchanges get some breathing room. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Fairleigh Dickinson Poll Has 50% Support for Legalization. A new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University has support for marijuana legalization at 50% nationwide. By a ratio of 2-to-1, Democrats (63%) favor legalization more than Republicans (32%), with independents (58%) more closely aligned with Democrats. Young people also are far more supportive of legalization, with 65% of the millennial generation and over half of Gen Xers (56%) in favor, compared with fewer than half (48%) of baby boomers and around a third (36%) of the World War II generation. "Democrats see getting high as a lifestyle choice, whereas Republicans are more likely to understand it through the prism of morality and social deviance," political science professor and poll director Krista Jenkins told the Associated Press. "However, the age differences we're seeing suggest that legal [marijuana] smoking in the future is more a question of 'when' rather than 'if.'"

Colorado Legislature Passes Marijuana Credit Co-op Bill. Legislation to create a state-backed credit co-op to provide banking services to Colorado's all-cash marijuana industry is on its way to the governor's desk. House Bill 1398, after a battle over whether or not to allow hemp businesses to take part, passed the full House on a 33-31 final vote after lawmakers there ended a standoff between various factions and the Capitol's two chambers by signing off on Senate changes to the bill, including allowing the inclusion of hemp businesses.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Bill to Allow Children With Epilepsy to Use Medical Marijuana Wins Committee Vote. A measure that would allow children with epilepsy to use medical marijuana is moving. The House Rules Committee approved Senate Bill 2636 Wednesday on a 15-0 vote. The legislation would add epilepsy to the list of treatable diseases in the state's medical cannabis pilot program. It would also allow children with epilepsy to use medical cannabis. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads for a House floor vote.

Drugged Driving

Michigan Drugged Driving Bills to Drop Roadside Saliva Tests. A provision pending in a pair of bills in the Michigan legislature that would let police give roadside saliva tests to drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs will be removed from the legislation today, according to a cosponsor of the bill. Critics including researchers said the tests are inaccurate and could lead to inappropriate arrests of medical marijuana patients. Republican state Rep. Mike Callton said he plans to introduce an amendment removing the saliva testing provision at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday. The bills are House Bill 5384 and House Bill 5385.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Tries Again to Drug Test All Welfare Recipients. Gov. Rick Scott (R) is at it again. Weeks after the Supreme Court refused to hear his argument for why all state employees should have to pee in cups, Scott has filed a new brief in appellate court asking to re-argue his right to drug-test all welfare recipients in Florida. The plan was originally halted by court order in October 2011 while the ACLU challenged it, and the US District Court threw out the rule in December 2013 based on the arguments of a Navy veteran who said it violated his right against unreasonable search and seizure. But now Scott is back in appeals court, arguing in the new brief that there is a "demonstrated problem with drug use" among welfare recipients. Except there isn't: More than 4,000 people were tested while the program was in place, and a grand total of 108 failed. That's less than 3%.

Prescription Opioids

Massachusetts Medical Society Warns Don't Forget Pain Patients in Battle Against Prescription Drug Abuse. Policymakers "need to balance the needs of legitimate patients with pain, against the dangers to the public of opiates being in circulation," the Massachusetts Medical Society said in a statement delivered to the state's Senate Special Committee on Drug Abuse and Treatment Options Tuesday. "It is critical that we not forget the needs of our patients in pain to comprehensive medical care that effectively helps them to have the best quality of life that their disease or diagnosis will allow," the doctors' group emphasized.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Mass Drug Sweeps Continue. Authorities are conducting a narcotics blitz and warrant sweep Thursday afternoon on the city's west side as part of the eighth and latest high-profile police raid. They're part of an ongoing police offensive called Operation Restore Order. In March, two crime-ridden neighborhoods were flooded as part of Operation Restore Order March Madness, which targeted problematic areas in the Ninth and Sixth precincts, on the city's east and west sides, respectively. The first Operation Restore Order raid came in November, when officers flooded the high-crime Colony Arms Apartments on Jefferson. Since then, there have been raids of the Martin Luther King Apartments, a 1.2 square-mile area of the west side known for heavy drug dealing, and warrant sweeps in the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Ninth Precincts. It's not clear yet whether order has actually been restored.

Harm Reduction

New York Bill to Expand Overdose Reversal Drug Access to Friends, Family Members Passes Legislature. State lawmakers have passed a bill expanding access to the drug naloxone (Narcan), which can reverse an overdose of opioids such as heroin and morphine. Assembly Bill 8637 would allow health care professionals and pharmacies to distribute Narcan, without a prescription, to at-risk people and those who know them. It was unclear late Wednesday whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo intends to sign the bill into law.

Pittsburgh Needle Exchanges Get Some Breathing Room. The Allegheny County Board of Health unanimously passed a motion that will lift location restrictions for needle exchange programs within the city of Pittsburgh. The previous regulation banned needle exchanges within 1,500 feet of schools, daycare centers and drug treatment centers. But that proved far too restrictive for the densely populated city of Pittsburgh, where needle exchanges would have few places to operate. The motion passed today would lift that restriction, though city council would still have to approve new needle exchange locations. The location restriction remains the same in the rest of the county.

International

US Will Cut Off Anti-Drug Assistance to Ecuador. The United States will end decades of anti-drug trafficking assistance to Ecuador this month, pulling its staff from the INL office in the South American nation, a top official said Wednesday. "I am quite prepared to acknowledge right now the INL section, which has been in Ecuador now for more than 30 years, is also going to close up shop," Ambassador William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), told a congressional hearing. Brownfield said the move was a reflection of the level of cooperation the United States has right now from Ecuador.

South Australian Politicians Compete to See Who Can Be Toughest on Drugs. It seems so last century, but "tough on drugs" is the stance of the day in South Australia. Opposition politicians are seeking a three-strikes policy under which repeat drug offenders would not be offered diversion to counseling, while state Attorney General John Rau is renewing his own push to crack down on serious drug offenders, including measures to strip them of their assets regardless of whether they were proceeds of crime. Legislation is pending.

Chief Minister Says Isle of Man Should Consider Marijuana Decriminalization. The Chief Minister of the Isle of Man has said the island should consider decriminalizing cannabis. Allan Bell's comments followed a presentation on the island given by former Westminster drug policy advisor David Nutt, whom the Labor government fired after he criticized its move to increase penalties. Bell praised Nutt's "fresh perspective," saying "there is a consensus developing internationally now that the old-style war on drugs has failed miserably and there needs to be a new approach." Bell cited marijuana legalization in the US and Uruguay as examples of nations taking a positive approach to drug policy.

Chronicle AM -- May 7, 2014

A reform rollback in New Zealand, a hearing on DC decrim in Congress tomorrow, a medical marijuana trial becomes a travesty, the DEA makes another change-nothing drug bust, and more. Let's get to it:

New synthetic drugs are going back to the black market after New Zealand rolls back its effort to regulate them. (wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

ACLU DC Branch Will Testify on District Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Tomorrow. The American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital will testify before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, Subcommittee on Government Operations about the District of Columbia's marijuana decriminalization bill tomorrow. The legislation would remove the criminal penalties under District of Columbia law for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana within the District. The bill passed the DC council overwhelmingly and was signed by Mayor Vincent Gray. It cannot become law until Congress and the president have had 60 days to review it. The Subcommittee on Government Operations called the hearing to discuss the enforcement in the District of local and federal marijuana laws. The ACLU will testify that nothing in the bill would prevent federal law enforcement officers from enforcing federal law throughout the District.

Colorado Legislature Approves Bills on Hashish, Edibles. House Bill 1361, which limits hash sales, and House Bill 1366, which further regulates edibles, both passed the Senate Wednesday, the last day of the session. Under current law, consumers can purchase up to an ounce of hash at a time, but that will be reduced by some as yet unspecified amount. The edibles bill would ban manufacturers from making edibles that "a reasonable consumer would confuse with a trademarked food product" (goodbye, Reefers Cups) or that are "primarily marketed to children." Both bills await the governor's signature.

MPP Releases Report on Collateral Consequences of Marijuana Convictions in New Hampshire. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has just released a new report, Marked for Life, that shows how the lifelong stigma associated with a marijuana conviction can derail dreams by making it difficult to obtain jobs, an education, and even housing. The moves two weeks after the state Senate refused to consider a marijuana reform bill, but the session isn't over yet, and MPP and its allies say they are not giving up for the year.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Judge Denies Medical Marijuana Defense to Family Accused of Growing Medical Marijuana. A federal judge won't allow a family of a medical marijuana patients from Washington state to defend themselves against drug trafficking charges by arguing their pot plants were for medical purposes. US District Judge Fred Van Sickle of the Eastern District of Washington on Tuesday rejected the planned medical marijuana defense of Larry Harvey, 70, his wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, and three others facing trial next week, saying they could not argue that growing marijuana was for medical purposes and legal under Washington state law. "The intent of the defendants is not relevant to the issues," Van Sickle said. "There's this concept of reliance on state law and the like. That's not relevant either." Because the federal government considers marijuana illegal, federal courts generally don't allow evidence that the drug may have been used for medical purposes, even when medical marijuana is legal under a state's law, as it is in Washington. The Harveys, their son, Rolland Gregg, 33; Gregg's wife Michelle, 35; and family friend Jason Zucker, 38, sought to describe their doctor-recommended medical marijuana cultivation at their upcoming trial on federal drug charges.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Gains First Republican Sponsor. Sen. Joseph Robach (R-Rochester) added his name this week to the Compassionate Care Act, joining 17 other Democratic senators who have cosponsored the measure. The bill's primary sponsor is Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat. Republican Senate leaders have held up the bill. Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos said Tuesday there was a "good possibility" some sort of bill would be approved this session, but that he would only support a limited CBD bill.

Minnesota Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Tuesday approved Senate File 1641, which would allow for up to 55 dispensaries statewide and allow patients suffering from a list of approved medical conditions to use the plant -- but not to smoke it. A companion measure in the House is even more restrictive. It could be up for debate as early as Friday.

Law Enforcement

Courts, Legislators Moving to Curb Police Access to Prescription Drug Databases. For years, police across the country have had easy access to databases of prescriptions for controlled substances used by individuals they suspect of committing a crime. Not anymore. Some courts and legislators are now starting to restrict the data, amid concerns by privacy advocates and defense lawyers who say warrantless searches of these databases violate privacy rights, The Wall Street Journal reports. In February, a federal court in Oregon ruled for the first time that federal agents need a warrant to search that state's prescription-drug database. Last year, Rhode Island raised the barrier of entry to its database, and legislators in Florida and Pennsylvania are considering new limits on law-enforcement access to the records in those states.

DEA in Nationwide Raids on Synthetic Drugs, Sellers. The Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday broadened its national crackdown on synthetic drug manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers as federal agents served hundreds of search and arrest warrants in at least 25 states. Agents served warrants at homes, warehouses and smoke shops beginning early morning. The largest single operation was a statewide effort in Alabama. Agents also were active in Florida and New Mexico, among other states. Wednesday's crackdown was focused strictly on US targets and involved 66 DEA cases, seven investigations led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents and several others led by Customs and Border Protection that focused on express consignment shipments. Last year, the DEA and Customs and Border Protection wrapped up a 7-month investigation that ended in 150 arrests and the seizure of about a ton of drugs. And now it's rinse and repeat.

Sentencing Reform

Harry Reid Says Sentencing Reform Debate Could Hit Senate Floor Soon. CQ Roll Call (behind a pay wall; no link, sorry) reported Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was asked whether he intended to bring Sen. Richard Durbin's (D-IL) sentencing reform bill, Senate Bill 1410, to the floor for debate soon. "The answer is yes," Reid said, adding that he has been consulting with Durbin about it. The bill would slash mandatory minimums for some drug crimes and give judges more discretion to impose sentences beneath federal guidelines.

International

New Zealand Reverses Course on Regulating Synthetic Drugs. In a disappointing about-face, New Zealand reversed course on allowing some synthetic drugs to be legally sold after a rising public clamor about them. A law change effective Thursday will ban the sale and possession of all synthetic drugs. That ends the sale of 36 substances, many of which had been designed to mimic marijuana. Five other substances were banned earlier this year. The country last year gained international attention after enacting a novel new law that allowed those synthetic drugs thought to be low-risk to be sold while waiting for pharmaceutical-style testing. The law still allows manufacturers to sell the drugs if they can prove them low-risk after rigorous testing. But health officials have yet to develop testing protocols. And manufacturers may find the hurdles insurmountable after lawmakers on Wednesday also banned the use of animals in testing the products.

Tunisia Activists Urge Reform of Harsh Marijuana Laws.Tunisia's tough law on cannabis use, laying down jail terms of at least one year, is "destroying lives" and overcrowding prisons, according to a group of activists urging reform. Since the law was passed more than 20 years ago, "tens of thousands of Tunisians have been convicted," the group said in an open letter to the government. "But the number of people sentenced and the number of users continue to grow, proving that this law is not a deterrent. It has failed," said the group, named Al Sajin 52 (or Prisoner 52) as the law is called. Health ministry director general Nabil Ben Salah said the health and justice ministries are trying to "humanize" the marijuana law, but that decriminalization is not an option.

Drug War Violence Flares in Northeast Mexico. Federal security forces killed five gunmen in separate shootouts in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, just across the border from McAllen, Texas, Monday. Army troops, meanwhile, detained 15 suspected criminals in different operations across the state. The Gulf and Zetas drug cartels have been fighting for control of Tamaulipas and smuggling routes into the United States for years, and now Gulf cartel factions are also fighting among themselves. The violence has spiked in recent weeks, but federal officials have not taken any additional measures to deal with the situation in the border state.

Chronicle AM -- April 14, 2014

Maryland decriminalizes and becomes a medical marijuana state, a Tennessee hemp bill awaits the governor's signature, a Kentucky omnibus heroin bill appears dead for the session, a campaign is underway to free a Missouri marijuana lifer, and more. Let's get to it:

billboard for Missouri marijuana lifer Jeff Mizanskey
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Governor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Gov. Martin O'Malley today signed into law Senate Bill 364, making Maryland the 18th decriminalization state. The new law makes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $250 for a second offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Third-time offenders and individuals under 21 years of age will be required to undergo a clinical assessment for substance abuse disorder and a drug education program. The measure will officially go into effect on October 1.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) today signed into law House Bill 881, making Maryland the 21st state with a full-fledged medical marijuana law. The bill allows Maryland residents suffering from qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. Possession limits and regulations governing cultivation and dispensary facilities will be determined by a state-sanctioned commission prior to implementation. The measure will officially go into effect on June 1.

Kentucky Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) last Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 124, which will allow the limited use of CBD cannabis oil. Physicians at state research hospitals will be able to recommend use of the drug.

Colorado Bill Would Add PTSD to List of Qualifying Medical Conditions. Even though marijuana is legal in Colorado, one lawmaker, Rep. Jonathan Signer (D-Longmont) has introduced a bill, House Bill 1364, to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the state medical marijuana program's list of qualifying conditions. Because PTSD affects many veterans, who receive federal benefits, Singer said it's important to provide them with the ability to qualify under the state's medical marijuana law.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Again. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has again rejected the popular name and ballot title for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. These are the same folks that put the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act on the ballot in 2012, but this year, another group, Arkansans for Responsible Medicine has claimed that initiative title. The 2014 Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act is now in the signature-gathering phase.

Vermont Lawmakers Advance Dispensary Bill, But Reject Adding PTSD to List of Qualifying Conditions. A bill that would create dispensaries in Vermont has passed out of the House Human Services Committee, but the committee rejected an effort to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions. The measure is Senate Bill 247. It has already passed the Senate.

Hemp

Tennessee Hemp Bills Awaits Governor's Signature. Senate Bill 2495 and House Bill 2445, which would reclassify and regulate industrial hemp, have passed the legislature and await the signature of Gov. Bill Haslam (R). The bills would allow Tennessee farmers to grow hemp for research and development purposes. Earlier this year Congress approved language in a federal farm bill that would allow the cultivation of industrial hemp in the agricultural pilot programs in states that have already passed hemp measures.

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Appears Dead. A bill that responded to heroin use and sales in the Bluegrass State through a combination of increased treatment, overdose prevention, and harsher criminal penalties will not pass this session, a key legislator said. "There's basically no time left to pass it," Sen. Jared Carpenter (R-Berea), cosponsor of Senate Bill 5, said Friday. It had passed the state Senate, but got stalled in the Judiciary Committee in the Democrat-controlled House. The session ends tomorrow.

Law Enforcement

DEA in Illinois Spying on Indoor Garden Stores. The DEA in Illinois has investigated and raided at least two people after watching them make purchases at a legal local gardening center. Both had shopped at Midwest Hydroganics in Crest Hill. One, Angela Kirking, said she and her pet terrier woke to find four flak-jacketed DEA agents and five Shorewood cops in the bedroom of her Ranchwood Drive home at 5:00am on Oct. 11. At least one of the agents held her at gunpoint before 9 grams were allegedly found. A second person, a man from Channahon, was raided and charged with growing marijuana after shopping at Midwest Hydroganics. In both cases, the DEA took interest after it spotted them shopping at the store. Federal investigators then rooted through garbage and compared utility bills to get search warrants. Kirking's attorney said he is challenging the warrants and that he has heard of more cases linked to DEA spying on a legal business since the story broke.

A Quarter Million Immigrants Have Been Deported For Non-Violent Drug Crimes, Report Finds. The report, an analysis of federal immigration data conducted by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, details how roughly 40,000 people have been deported for drug law violations every year since 2008. That means that nearly 250,000 -- one-quarter of a million -- people were deported for nonviolent drug offenses in just the past six years. A nonviolent drug offense was the cause of deportation for more than one in ten (11%) people deported in 2013 for any reason -- and nearly one in five (19%) of those who were deported because of a criminal conviction. The report reveals that simple marijuana possession was the fourth most common cause of deportation for any crime, and the most common cause of deportation for crimes involving drugs. On average, more than 6,600 people were deported in each of the last two years just for personal marijuana possession, and overall, nearly 20,000 people were deported last year for simple possession of any drug or drug paraphernalia.

Florida Bill to Raise Drug Possession Thresholds Passes House. The House has passed a bill increasing the weight threshold for trafficking in oxycodone and hydrocodone in a move to ease what have been called overly harsh sentencing guidelines. Senate Bill 360 moves the current threshold of four grams of either drug to seven grams of oxycodone and 14 grams of hydrocodone.

Sentencing

Campaign On to Free Missouri Marijuana Lifer. The ongoing campaign to win the release of Jeff Mizansky, the only man in Missouri serving a life-without-parole sentence for a nonviolent marijuana charge, are continuing this month with help from Show-Me Cannabis and Change.org. Show-Me Cannabis has bought billboard space on I-70 near Kansas City (and near Sedalia, where Mizanskey was arrested) to bring attention to his case, and a Change.org petition calling for his release now has more than 360,000 signatures. Mizansky has three convictions, all for marijuana. Campaigners will hold a press conference at the state capitol on April 28.

International

New WOLA Report on Colombia's Peace Prospects Released. As negotiations between the leftist FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government continue, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has released a new report, Ending 50 Years of Conflict in Colombia, that analyzes the prospects for a peace accord and the challenges that will follow. Click on the title link to read the report.

The Corruption Files: Camden's Dirty Cops [FEATURE]

Special to Drug War Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com. Part 9 of his continuing series on Prosecutorial Misconduct and Police Corruption in Drug Cases Across America.

Camden, New Jersey. Tough times in a tough town. (wikimedia.org/adam jones)
A Day in the Life in Camden

August 2, 2008 was a typical summer day in Camden, New Jersey, a gritty, impoverished, mostly black community across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. A bright sun beamed down on the sweltering city as Joel Barnes, 26, prepared to attend a family barbecue at his grandmother's house -- a regular event for the Barnes family, where they relaxed and reminisced about days gone by. He had hurried over to a friend's house to get his help situating the barbecue pit and sprucing up Barnes's grandmother's back yard before the festivities.

But as he arrived at his friend's house, Barnes encountered heavily-armed Camden police officers rushing into the house with guns drawn shouting "Police! Police! Police!" and demanding "Where's the drugs?" Barnes and the other occupants of the house were herded into the kitchen, where Officer Robert Bayard handcuffed him. Bayard pulled a cell phone, cash and keys from Barnes's pocket. They found no drugs or contraband on him, so he figured he would be released once everything was settled.

It didn't work out that way.

[Editor's Note: All quotes from Camden residents come from The Philadelphia Inquirer unless otherwise specified.]

Another Camden cop, Officer Antonio Figueroa, led Barnes out of the house and threw him into a van, then left. When Figueroa returned to the van, he again demanded of Barnes "Where's the shit at?"

"I don't know if there's drugs in that house. I don't live here," an increasingly scared and nervous Barnes replied, explaining that he was only there to ask his friend for help with the barbecue pit. Barnes said in a nervous tone voice.

Figueroa then showed Barnes a bag containing PCP-laced marijuana and made him an ominous offer: "Tell us where the shit's at, and we'll make this disappear," Figueroa said, echoing the famous line in Training Day when the crooked cop played by Denzel Washington asks a suspect in a similar situation, "Do you want to go home… or go to jail?"

With Barnes continuing his denials, Officer Figueroa grew angry, telling him "The drugs in the bag carried more serious charges than any drugs that might be found in the house." Figueroa then told Barnes he could get a lesser prison sentence if just told police where in his friend's house the drugs were.

"I don't know nothing about drugs in the house," Barnes responded, pleading to be let go.

Officers Figueroa and Bayard continued to tag-team the young man, with Bayard repeatedly demanding "Where's the shit?" and Figueroa waving the mysteriously appearing bag of dope and telling Barnes "This is yours!"

"That bag's not mine," a desperate Barnes repeatedly protested.

Then, Officer Figueroa again returned to the van, yelling, "We found the shit! You're going to jail!"

Figueroa charged Barnes with possession of drugs with intent to deliver, and added on a drug-free zone enhancement charge. Despite bitterly protesting his innocence, Barnes was looking at up to life in prison if he went to trial. Figuring that a jury was more likely to believe a veteran police officer than a young black man from Camden, he agreed to a plea bargain.

On February 23, 2009, he copped to one count of drug possession within a school zone. Two months later, he began serving a five-year prison sentence.

"I felt helpless and didn't know what to do," Barnes said, recalling the experience. "I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, but all I knew was that the officers had the power and I had none."

"Joel told his lawyer he was innocent, and he didn't believe him; he told his mother he was innocent, and she didn't believe him. That must have been devastating, but the scope of the police misconduct was so dramatic that it was hard for an outsider to believe that police would do anything so outrageous," Alexander Shalom, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union told the Chronicle.

But Barnes was innocent. And he was not the only one to fall victim to what would eventually be exposed as a massive police corruption scandal in Camden.

There is unintended irony in Camden County's police recruitment campaign. (camdencountypd.org)
Taking Down the Platoon Squad

While Barnes -- and nearly 200 other innocent victims -- went off to prison thanks to the efforts of Bayard, Figueroa and their team, known as the Platoon Squad, other people victimized by the crooked cops were filing complaints. After repeated, persistent complaints of police dirty dealing, including ones from the Camden Public Defender's Office, Camden Police Internal Affairs and the FBI opened an investigation.

That investigation revealed a wide-ranging police corruption scheme that would have made the crooked cops in Training Day blush. In that film, Denzel Washington was a low-down dirty cop who framed the innocent and stole drug money. In Camden, he would have been just one of the boys.

The investigation resulted in the indictment of five members of the Platoon Squad on a variety of civil rights violation charges involving perjury and drug-planting conspiracies, as well as stealing money from suspects during illegal searches and making false arrests. The FBI even uncovered information that the brazen officers used illegal drugs and money stolen from suspected drug dealers and never reported to pay street snitches and prostitutes for information.

Platoon Squad Sergeant Supervisor Dan Morris pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deprive defendants of their civil rights and got eight months in federal prison; Officer Kevin Perry copped to the same charge and got 20 months, while Officer Jason "Fat Face" Stetser got 46 months on the same charge.

Only officers Bayard and Figueroa went to trial. To the shock of prosecutors and defendants alike, Bayard managed to beat the rap despite fellow officers testifying that he knowingly participated in the drug planting scheme. But Figueroa was found guilty and sent to prison for 10 years, the toughest sentence for any of the Platoon Squad.

Joel Barnes and ACLU attorney Alex Shalom discuss his case. (ACLU-NJ/Amanda Brown)
Payback Time

Criminal convictions for the Platoon Squad were just part one of the fallout. Part two came as the ACLU filed a federal class action civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the wrongfully convicted Camden residents.

"If any action by a police officer shocks the conscience, it is the planting of evidence on an innocent person in order to arrest him," the ACLU noted. "The police officers' actions violated the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits civil rights violations, and through their own actions or the lack of policies and supervision the Camden police officers conspired to plant drugs and falsely arrested the defendants for planted drugs and further provided the prosecutors with faulty evidence."

In January 2013, just as the criminal cases against the Platoon Squad were winding down, the city of Camden settled. The city agreed to pay out $3.5 million to be split between the 88 drug defendants who had joined the class action lawsuit. Joel Barnes was one of them. The innocent men served a combined total of 109 years in prison prior to being released.

The city of Camden also eventually settled a separate state civil rights lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of 11 people who were framed by the same rogue cops, but whose cases were dropped. That was another $390,000 in taxpayer money gone. In that case, Camden had to sue its own insurer, which had refused to pay the historic settlement.

ACLU attorney Shalom told the Chronicle the drug planting scheme was the worst and most brazen he had seen in many years.

"We often hear about it, but we were shocked it was so provable in this case," he said.

Shalom noted that even though many of the innocent defendants had had private counsel, they still pleaded guilty to false charges.

"A lot of things account for those decisions, not the least of which is that drug sentencing laws are so harsh that if they hadn't pleaded guilty they were facing insanely long sentences," he explained.

Rogue Cops in the Hood

The Platoon Squad considered Camden's Waterfront neighborhood, where most of the illegal arrests went down, as their fiefdom, where the only rules that mattered were their rules. "Drug dealers live here, but we run it," they reportedly told residents.

"Fat Face" Stetser admitted to the FBI in 2008 that he and three other officers arrested two people on suspicion of drug trafficking and planted drugs on them. This in a warrantless search of a residence where Stetser and his buddies falsely claimed the "suspect" they targeted had fled the scene and discarded the drugs as he tried to escape. That didn't happen. Stetser also admitted planting additional drugs on people found with small amounts of dope so they could be charged with more serious crimes.

Similarly, Sergeant Morris confessed to conducting a warrantless search where he stole cash and drugs, splitting the cash with Stetser.

Likewise, although Officer Bayard was found not guilty at trial, evidence showed that he wrote a report accusing Ron Mills, 46, of throwing a bag of drugs on the ground and eluding police after a foot chase. Bayard's report proved false because Mills weighed over 300 pounds and always walked slowly with a cane.

Another victim of false arrest was Anthony Darrell Clark, who was arrested on drug charges. Described as "slow" and emotionally disturbed, Clark was eventually released back to the care of his mother after the scandal broke.

"I always thought he was framed," Vera Clark told The Inquirer.

Benjamin Davis was another. He served his full 30 months before coming home. He said he pleaded guilty rather than fighting for justice because he didn't think he would be believed.

"With my priors I had no chance of beating it," he said.

Beaten down Waterfront residents had known for years they were being hassled by dirty cops, but never believed they could do anything about it. Seeing the Platoon Squad get what was coming to it was sweet.

"These were the dirtiest cops I've ever seen," said area resident Kevin Smith.

And Joel Barnes? He was languishing in prison when his mother read in the newspaper about the indictments against the Platoon Squad. He retrieved his court file and confirmed that the cops who had jacked him up were among the indicted. He sought succor from the court and from the Public Defender's office, but got nowhere. It was only when the ACLU stepped up with its lawsuit, that Barnes saw belated justice. He walked out of prison on June 8, 2010, after spending more than a year behind bars on false charges.

Meanwhile, of the Platoon Squad, only Figueroa remains in prison, and he has appealed his conviction. The others have gone on to start new lives, hopefully in positions where they will not be empowered to subvert the law and destroy the lives of others.

Police corruption not only shatters the lives of the falsely accused and convicted, it destroys respect for the law and the people who enforce it. In the case of Camden, the war on drugs provided both the pretext and the opportunity for bad cops to tarnish not only the reputation of their police force and their city, but also to cruelly wreck the lives of innocents.

Camden, NJ
United States

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