Methamphetamine

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California Cops Gun Down Unarmed Meth Dealer

Undercover police in Sunnyvale, California, shot and killed an unarmed alleged methamphetamine dealer last Wednesday afternoon. Juan Ruelas, 34, becomes the 27th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to NBC Bay Area News, citing police spokesmen, Ruelas was being investigated by the Santa Clara County Specialized Crimes Action Team (SCAT) and members of a DEA drug task force, whose undercover officers had purchased meth from him several times over the past month. Police set up another buy Wednesday afternoon at a Hobee's restaurant in Sunnyvale, and an undercover officer had just purchased a pound of meth from him when the shooting occurred.

Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Captain Dave Pitts said that after the deal went down, Ruelas suddenly threatened the officer and said he had a gun. Then, Pitts said, Ruelas "made a movement that led the officer to believe he was reaching for a gun." No fewer than six officers on the scene then opened on fire on Ruelas, mortally wounding him. He died later the same day in a local hospital.

No gun was found.

In an earlier NBC Bay Area News report, a manager at the Motel 6 next door to the restaurant provided a different account. He told reporters that it looked like a driver had been pulled over for a traffic violation. The manager, John Carroll, said officers were shouting at a person in the vehicle to get out of the car. When that person began to comply, police gunfire broke out, he said.

Ruelas' family wants to know what happened, members told ABC News 7. "Our question was, you know, 'Was he armed?'" said Ruelas' sister, Maria Bunker. "And he just told my brother, 'no, we never found a weapon.'"

Bunker also questioned the police narrative of events. "The pictures that we see all over the media, they show his truck being boxed in," Bunker said. "He had a stroke recently so it's like, he wasn't going to run from them."

Police spokesman Pitts said the shooters were five Santa Clara police detectives and a sheriff's detective. The shooting is being investigated by Sunnyvale public safety investigators, who will forward their findings to the county district attorney's office for review.

Sunnyvale, CA
United States

Iowa Federal Judge Criticizes Harsh Methamphetamine Sentences

A Sioux City-based US district court judge has criticized harsh tough methamphetamine sentencing guidelines, writing in a recent opinion that he considers them "fundamentally flawed," not based on empirical evidence, and too harsh for low-level offenders.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/judge-mark-bennett.jpg
Judge Mark Bennett (iand.uscourts.gov)
US District Judge Mark Bennett of the Northern District of Iowa cut the sentence of a convicted Sioux City methamphetamine dealer from nearly 16 years to just more than six years, saying in his 44-page ruling that he has a "fundamental policy disagreement" with the meth portion of the federal sentencing guidelines.

"The methamphetamine guidelines are fundamentally flawed because they fail to consider additional factors beyond quantity," Bennett wrote in his Friday ruling in US v. Willie Hayes. "The system is too severe in the indiscriminate way it treats offenders… Since the methamphetamine guidelines are fundamentally flawed, I find that they fail to promote the purposes of sentencing" outlined in federal law.

Bennett has been a long-time critic of federal mandatory minimum sentencing, and in his ruling, he argued that meth sentencing guidelines seemed more based on politics than science and lacked the depth of other portions of the guidelines. Meth dealers are getting much harsher sentences than people convicted of selling heroin or cocaine, he noted.

Iowa defense attorneys consulted by the Des Moines Register said Bennett's ruling was "a very big deal."

"It is a very big deal, and it's also something that's been coming for awhile," said Des Moines defense attorney Angela Campbell. "And he's right. The guidelines are so high, you can have a runner or a very low-level pseudoephedrine (purchaser) who gets life very easily… If you're buying pseudoephedrine for a large-scale drug operation, you don't get hit just on what you buy, you’re responsible for the same thing as the entire conspiracy."

"He's not a lone voice in the wilderness," said Iowa defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown, who added that defense lawyers need to cite Bennett's opinion in meth cases. "It's an argument that defense lawyers in both the Northern and Southern districts of Iowa need to make," Brown said. "It's malpractice not to."

At least two other federal judges, Joseph Bataillon in Nebraska and John Gleeson in New York have issued similar criticisms of meth guidelines. Bennett's ruling drew on their reasoning.

Bennett, for his part, said reducing meth guideline sentences by a third was "a good starting point and a reasonable way to express my policy disagreement." But, he added, he "will reserve the ability to adjust the figure upwards and downwards as I weigh" other "important factors the guidelines do not contemplate."

Prosecutors could appeal Bennett's ruling in the Yates case. If they do, that could open the door to a decision by the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, which in turn could open the door to a US Supreme Court review of sentencing procedure in the world of now-advisory guidelines, or even of the fairness of meth sentences.

Sioux City, IA
United States

China, Southeast Asia Vow More Better Drug War

At a meeting in Myanmar Thursday, China and five Southeast Asian nations vowed to redouble their efforts and boost cooperation in an effort to get a grip on illegal drug use and trafficking, which they called "a significant threat" to the region.

opium poppy (UNODC)
China was joined by Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam), along with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), for the Ministerial Meeting of the Signatory Countries to the 1993 Memorandum of Understanding on Drug Control in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region.

"Consumption and production of narcotic drugs continues to grow rapidly within the region and worldwide, constituting a significant threat to the East Asian region," according to a joint statement adopted at the meeting.

The countries and the UNODC pledged to heighten cross-border cooperation, examine alternative development programs, and share experiences in drug treatment, prevention, and public awareness.

"This agreement marks the continued commitment of the six MOU countries in supporting drug control in the region, and the celebration of 20 years of partnership and collaboration," said Myanmar representative Home Affairs Minister Lt. Gen. Ko Ko at the signing ceremony. "The MOU Member States re-affirm our commitment and assure the international community of our efforts to eliminate the drug problem in our region."

Southeast Asia has been a hotbed of methamphetamine production in recent years, and Myanmar is now the world's second largest producer of opium -- although its production is only about one-tenth that of world leader Afghanistan.

"Major challenges persist," said John Sandage, UNODC director of treaty affairs. "The resurgence of opium poppy cultivation, the dramatic spread of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), the influx of drugs new to the region and increased levels of addiction. UNODC looks forward to working with the MOU states to implement plans that help us better understand the threat and challenges, build technical capacity and lead to greater cooperation across borders and among agencies."

Nay Pyi Taw
Myanmar

Sinaloa Cartel Dominates Meth Trade, Report Finds

Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel dominates the methamphetamine trade in the Asia-Pacific-Mexico-US area, controlling 80% of the market, according to a Mexican security report released this week.

"El Chapo" Guzman makes billions off drug prohibition.
The report, "Methamphetamine Traffic: Asia-Mexico-United States," by researcher Jose Luis León, was presented as part of the 2012 Security and Defense Atlas of Mexico (both are in Spanish), which was released this week. It estimates the Sinaloa Cartel's take from meth sales at about $3 billion a year.

The Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico's most powerful, is headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, one of the world's wealthiest criminals, as well as Mexico's most wanted fugitive. Guzman has eluded capture since escaping from a Mexican prison in 2001. The US Treasury Department considers Guzman the most powerful drug trafficker in the world.

The Sinaloa Cartel has been a leading actor in the prohibition-related violence that has plagued Mexico, especially since former President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in December 2006. At least 70,000 have been killed in the violence, much of which pits the Sinaloa Cartel against national-level competitors such as the Zetas, as well as against regionally-based rivals.

"The Sinaloa cartel is an authentic global enterprise since both their markets and products exhibit a high degree of diversification," León said in his report.

In addition to methamphetamine, the Sinaloa Cartel traffics cocaine, marijuana, and opiates throughout North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. It also purchases precursor chemicals from China, India, and Thailand, which in uses in drug production laboratories hidden away in the cartel's Western Mexican heartland.

Mexico City
Mexico

Colombia Set to Decriminalize Ecstasy, Meth

Colombian Minister for Justice and Law Ruth Stella Correa said last Wednesday that the government will propose decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of synthetic drugs, such as ecstasy and methamphetamine, according to local press accounts. She added that a drug policy advisory commission would revise the country's drug law and present the proposal to congress.

Ecstasy tablets (wikimedia.org)
Correa's remarks came as she announced the formation of the advisory commission.

Currently in Colombia, people are not prosecuted for the possession of small amounts of marijuana and cocaine. She said the proposal would extend that protection to users of synthetic drugs like methamphetamine and ecstasy.

"The proposal aims to standardize the amount of drugs already permitted, while also allowing an equivalent quantity of synthetic drugs," she said. "We have to accept that Colombia is a consumer country -- this is also our reality -- and being a consumer country, we can't just throw drug users in jail, but we must look after them. I don't see the risk in establishing a personal use amount of synthetic drugs, since we are only trying to clarify things to achieve treatment for addicts and users, not to send them to prison."

Colombian constitutional court rulings have established a right to possess personal use amounts of drugs, but the government has not established what those personal use amounts of synthetic drugs are. The advisory commission will do that. The government of President Santos has also embarked on a more than rhetorical shift toward a public health approach to drug use, and Correa emphasized that in her remarks.

"We are convinced that drug policy should be designed with a holistic approach, involving families, the education system, the public health specialists, development practitioners and community leaders," she said.

Not everyone agrees with the move. Former President Alvaro Uribe, who tried repeatedly to undo those Colombian court rulings legalizing drug possession, came out swiftly against including the synthetics.

"With this personal use amount, what they are doing is validating the actions of the dealers and not taking them to prison, nor are they taking the addicts to the hospital," he complained. Decriminalizing the synthetics would only "further enslave the youth and drug more assassins to kill more people," he claimed.

Bogota
Colombia

Oregon Methamphetamine Defendant Killed After Ramming Patrol Car

A convicted meth offender facing new charges was shot and killed by Oregon deputies late Saturday after he tried to escape in his pick-up truck and rammed a patrol car. Walter Phillips, 46, of Cave Junction becomes the 27th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Phillips had been convicted of methamphetamine possession in 2011 and was set to appear in court May 7 on new meth and marijuana trafficking charges. He also had an outstanding warrant for driving without a license.

According to the Josephine County Sheriff's Office, deputies attempted to pull over Phillips' truck Saturday night in Cave Junction, but he sped off when deputies turned on their lights. He then pulled off the highway and skidded to a stop before shifting into reverse and hitting the patrol car.

The two officers, Deputy Robert Baker and Reserve Deputy Mike Holguin, then opened fire "to try to stop him," the office said.

Phillips was airlifted to a hospital in Medford, where he was pronounced dead. The deputies did not require medical attention.

The sheriff's office has not released details on any evidence found in the pick-up truck or provided any motive for why Phillips fled.

His death is being investigated by the Oregon State Police, with assistance from Grants Pass Public Safety detectives, Josephine County Sheriff's Office, and the Josephine County District Attorney's Office.

Cave Junction, OR
United States

Two More Drug War Deaths

Two more people died last week in drug-related law enforcement actions, one in Colorado and one in Kentucky. The two men, an as yet unnamed Denver man and 46-year-old Brice Horne of Harned, Kentucky, become the 20th and 21st persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In the Colorado case, police told the Denver Post that a 35-year-old man was pulled over in an April 1traffic stop and then struggled with police before collapsing and dying.

He died after a "brief use of force" that was "very minor," Denver Police spokeswoman Raquel Lopez said. Force was used after the man became combative and tried to assault the officer, she said. He was then handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car, and shortly thereafter showed signs of "what appeared to be medical distress," she added.

The Office of the Medical Examiner reported that the man had "a large quantity of suspected narcotic" in his stomach.

"It appears one or more of the balloons burst or opened, releasing the content into the victim's system," Denver police said in a statement.

Denver police and the Denver District Attorney's Office are investigating.

In the Kentucky case, Kentucky State Police told media a Breckenridge County sheriff's deputy and a state police Drug Enforcement Special Investigations Task Force officer went to a Frankfort apartment last Tuesday morning to bust a methamphetamine lab.

Horne fled from the apartment and fled inside a nearby mobile home. The deputy didn't enter the mobile home, but the state agent did. Shots were fired and Horne was killed.

On Wednesday, police said the shooter was state police Detective Scott McMichael. They also said Horne confronted McMichael, threatened to kill himself, and fired his weapon before McMichael shot and killed him.

McMichael is on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Colorado Drug Sentencing Reform Bill Introduced

A bill that would drop some drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors was introduced Tuesday in the Colorado Senate. Sponsors said the intent was to reduce prison populations and ensure that addicted drug users get treatment instead of long prison sentences.

It costs $32,000 a year to jail drug offenders at the Colorado State Prison II in Canon City. (cpr.org)
The measure, Senate Bill 163, would make the possession of less than four grams of most controlled substances a misdemeanor. It is currently a Class VI felony, the least serious felony level. Possession of more than four grams would drop from a Class IV felony to a Class VI felony.

Methamphetamine gets slightly stiffer treatment. In the case of meth, possession of less than two grams would drop from a Class VI felony to a misdemeanor, while possession of more than two grams would drop from Class IV to Class VI.

Sen. Shawn Mitchell (R-District 23), one of the bill's cosponsors, has spoken publicly about his younger brother's struggles with meth and said he wants a more reasonable approach to drug use. His bill would require that any savings from reduced prison populations be used to fund drug treatment.

"The war on drugs has made government more powerful, citizens less free, and hasn't helped users or addicts," Mitchell said. "I want to push a smarter effort against drugs. I want to stop piling people into prisons and stop branding people with a felony for a personal weakness."

The bill has bipartisan support in the legislature, but is opposed by prosecutors.

Tom Raynes, head of the Colorado District Attorneys' Council, told legislators that most first-time drug offenders already get deferred sentences that can be dismissed if they meet certain conditions, such as completing drug treatment programs. He said he is concerned the bill would remove an incentive for people to complete treatment.

"Kind of what keeps people in the program is concerns over getting a felony conviction," he said.

But the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, which supports the bill, reported that in the 16 months ending in November 2011, 310 people convicted of drug possession were sentenced to prison, accounting for 60% of all drug offenders sent to prison. Each one of them costs the state $32,000 a year to imprison.

"I think that as state budgets have struggled, under that there's been more energy put into asking ourselves what works to promote public safety," said Christie Donner, executive director of the coalition.

Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia already have laws making simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Similar legislation was introduced in California last month.

SB 163 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it awaits a hearing.

Denver, CO
United States

Fresno Cops Kill Armed Man Fleeing Meth Bust

Undercover Fresno, California, narcotic officers shot and killed a man in nearby Sanger Thursday after he first displayed a weapon, then attempted to run away in a drug bust gone bad. Noel Torres, 22, becomes the 16th person to be killed in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Citing police sources, KSEE 24 TV News reported that the Fresno Police Major Narcotics Unit had arranged for an undercover informant to buy two pounds of methamphetamine from a man in a shopping center parking lot, and things went south once the deal went down.

The man had arrived in a vehicle with two other men, but pulled a gun as undercover officers moved in to make the arrest.

"Once the transaction was complete, undercover officers converged in an attempt to detain the three suspects, when one of the suspects produced a firearm in his hand," said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.

Dyer said the officers yelled at the man to drop his weapon, but he didn't and instead tried to flee on foot. He was shot by two officers as he ran and died shortly after at a nearby hospital. Three officers fired their weapons and are now on paid administrative leave while the investigation is underway.

The shooting is being investigated by the Fresno County Sheriff's Department, but comments by Sheriff Margaret Mims to KFSN TV News suggest it will be little more than a formality.

"In this case, the suspect made a bad choice," said Sheriff Mims. "He got out of the vehicle, he was in fact armed and the officers feared for their own safety and took action."

It is unclear whether the dead man was trying to rip off the drug-buying informant, thought he was about to get ripped-off himself as men in plain clothes moved in, or was trying to avoid being arrested.

The shooting took place in front of a crowded McDonald's restaurant. Investigators are interviewing some 80 potential witnesses. Alina Silva was one.

"We saw cops running and shooting and everybody was ducked down and then next thing you know, they shot a guy over there," she told KSEE TV 24 News.

Sanger, CA
United States

Anti-Meth Prescription Pseudoephedrine Bills Defeated

State level bills that would have required a prescription for popular over-the-counter (OTC) cold relief medications in a bid to make home methamphetamine cooking more difficult have run into roadblocks in several states this year. This week, prescription-only bills were killed in Oklahoma and withdrawn in Kentucky, and unhappy police and prosecutors are blaming the OTC industry.

The bills in Oklahoma were House Bill 2375 and a companion measure in the Senate, while the bill in Kentucky is Senate Bill 50. They are aimed at "shake and bake" meth labs, which use small amounts of pseudoephedrine and other easily obtained products to produce small amounts of meth, typically a two-liter soft drink bottle.

"Shake and bake" meth cooks are being blamed for an increase in the number of meth labs reported in the last few years. According to an Associated Press report this week, the number of labs reported was up 8.3% in 2011 over 2010.

The OTC industry group the Consumer Healthcare Products Association has indeed lobbied mightily and spent heavily to defeat the bills, which would require prescriptions for such popular OTC medications as Sudafed, Claritin-D, Advil Cold & Sinus, which include pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the popular meth-manufacturing recipe. It isn't apologizing for its actions.

"We believe that requiring a prescription for these medicines containing pseudoephedrine will not solve this problem, but will only place new costs and access restrictions on law abiding Oklahomans who rely on these medicines for relief," association spokeswoman Elizabeth Funderburk told the Associated Press, "We have a shared goal in making sure these medicines do not end up in the hands of criminals, but we believe law abiding citizens should not be forced to bear the burden of a prescription mandate."

"The scare tactics used by the pharmaceutical companies have clearly worked," said Greg Mashburn, one of several district attorneys who urged Oklahoma lawmakers to approve the bill. "Shame on the pharmaceutical companies for knowing they're profiting off meth and pouring tons of money into this effort so they can continue to profit off of it."

But it wasn't just the cold medication trade association opposing the Oklahoma bills. State and local medical, pharmacist, and grocer groups also opposed the bills.

"You're making people come to the doctor for an office visit and pay a co-pay just to get a cold medicine," said Dr. Michael Cooper, a family practitioner in Claremore. "I already have patients who won't come to the office when they're sick because they can't afford the co-pay. We're going to clog the system and make things worse," he told the AP.

Now, it looks like in both Kentucky and Oklahoma, legislators will instead turn to bills requiring a real-time electronic tracking system for pseudoephedrine sales. In Oklahoma, such compromise legislation is underway, while in Kentucky, Sen. Tom Jensen (R), sponsor of SB 50, said he is working on compromise legislation, too.

"We've probably reached some consensus on where we want to go," Jensen told the Lexington Courier-Journal Thursday, but declined to discuss specifics of the compromise.

Similar bills are being considered in Alabama, Indiana, and West Virginia. Two states, first Oregon and then Mississippi, have already enacted pseudoephredrine prescriptions laws.

Oregon in particular has touted the success of its prescription law, but a study released this week by the Cascade Policy Institute scoffs at that claim. The report's findings are evidenced by its title, Making Cold Medicine RX Only Did Not Reduce Meth Use.

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