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September's Drug War Death Toll Includes Black Teen Armed Only With "Finger Gun"

Four more people died in the drug war last month, including two men shot and killed by police, one armed only with a stapler and the other armed only with a finger. A police officer and another man also died in the drug war, not from gunfire, but from misadventure.

According the Drug War Chronicle, which has been tallying narrowly-defined drug war deaths for the past five years, the September deaths bring this year's toll to 46. The Chronicle only counts deaths directly linked to drug law enforcement activities—not, for example, drug gang shoot-outs or overdose deaths.

Keith Harrison McLeod, a black, 19-year-old Baltimore County resident died September 23 after being shot by a police officer who said he made a "finger gun" gesture at him.

According to Baltimore County Police, the killing happened after  a pharmacist in suburban Reistertown called police to report that McLeod had tried to use a fake prescription to purchase an opiated cough syrup (promethazine and codeine), popularly known as "purple drank" among its recreational users.

When the cops showed up, McLeod took off running, but then stopped and got into a "confrontation" with a pursuing officer. Police said, and have video surveillance footage to back them up, that McLeod then moved his hand from behind him and pointed his finger at them like a gun: "[The man reached] around to the small of his back and abruptly whipped his hand around and pointed it toward the officer, as if with a weapon."

The white police officer, identified only as Officer Earomirski, then shoots McLeod, who fell to the ground, but continued "reaching into his waistband as if for a weapon," and Officer Earomirski then shoots him twice more. He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at Northwest Hospital. No actual weapon was recovered.

Keith McLeod, who was unarmed, is dead, Officer Earomirski is on administrative leave, and "police authorities are investigating."

Dominic Fuller, 34, a Haines City, Florida, man was killed by Polk County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) SWAT officers as he pointed a stapler at them two days earlier. It was the end of a wild manhunt.

According to the PSCO,  deputies had been called on a report of drug dealing and a suspicious vehicle in Auburndale and encountered Fuller, who was wanted in a neighborhood shooting a week earlier. Fuller took off on foot, and deputies on the scene discovered his car was stolen and contained a handgun.

As police searched for him, Fuller desperately sought transport away from the area, entering a parked camper with a woman inside and demanding she give him a ride, then entering the house where the camper was parked and demanding a ride or a bicycle from that woman. He left when neither would comply. Numerous witnesses said they saw Fuller running through the area, trying car and residential door handles, with one witness saying they heard him yelling "I have a gun!"

He got into one home, only to be spotted by Deputy Carlos Valle, who saw him standing in the doorway, "showing only his left hand and concealing his right hand behind his back."Fuller refused commands to surrender, went back into the house, and slammed the door, then tried to escape out a side window, but retreated back into the house when another deputy shined his rifle-mounted flashlight on him.

He then opened the front door, ignoring commands to show his hands and to surrender. When Fuller saw another deputy, Gabriel Reveron, hidden near the doorway, he turned toward the deputy and raised his right hand, displaying a black and chrome object. Reveron, "in fear for his life," fired five shots at Fuller, who staggered back inside slammed the door.

The PCSO SWAT team then spent two hours trying to establish contact with Fuller before entering the residence and finding him dead of gunshot wound to the chest. No gun was recovered, but a black and chrome stapler was found near his body.

Fuller, who was out on bond on meth and paraphernalia charges and had a lengthy criminal record including assault, weapons, and various drug charges.

Deputy Reveron is on administrative leave.

Sgt. Eric Meier of the Crawford Police in upstate New York died September 17, not from a criminal's bullet, but from an apparent heart attack as he traipsed through fields and woods while investigating a report of a marijuana grow. Meier, 51, "suffered a medical emergency" in mid-afternoon and died later that afternoon at the Orange Regional Medical Center.

Zachary McDaniels of Richland County, South Carolina, died on September 6, choking to death on a bag of marijuana during a traffic stop. According to the Richland County Sheriff's Office, McDaniels was one of two men who stole a car at local shopping mall and fled on foot when deputies pulled them over. McDaniels was caught, and police said after he was caught, he started having trouble breathing. EMS workers were called to the scene and found a baggie in his airway, but were unable to remove it. He went into cardiac arrest and suffered brain injury and died after his family took him off life support. The autopsy showed he had swallowed four other baggies of weed before the fifth one got stuck.  

Chronicle AM: Late Uncertainty on CA Initiatives, FL Heroin Deaths at Record High, More (10/2/15)

There are signs of dissension around the ReformCA legalization initiative, Oklahoma medical marijuana supporters are searching for signatures, a federal bill to require police to report lethal force incidents is introduced, and more.

Heroin killed a record number of people in Florida last year, but more died of prescription drug overdoses. (NJ State Police)
Marijuana Policy

Last Minute Uncertainties for California's ReformCA Initiative. There are signs the unified front behind the pending ReformCA legalization initiative isn't as unified as was thought. The LA Weekly is reporting that one of its key backers, the Drug Policy Alliance, might go its own way. "We want to have a plan B option that's ready to go in case [another] initiative doesn't represent and uphold the values and principles," said Lynne Lyman, the DPA's California director. "We're most concerned about a case where it doesn't move forward." DPA, NORML, and the Marijuana Policy Project had been listed on the ReformCA website as supporters; now they're not. MPP has confirmed that it asked for its name to be removed. But Dale Gieringer, a spokesman for ReformCA, downplayed the situation. "It's not that chaotic. It will all be clear in a few days. It's about last-minute negotiation."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Signature Gathering Goes Forward. The Green the Vote medical marijuana initiative campaign was doing signature gathering in Ardmore Thursday. The group has 90 days to gather 130,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Florida Heroin Deaths at All-Time High. Heroin was detected in 447 fatalities last year, according to state medical examiners. That's more than double the 199 people who died with heroin in their bodies in 2013. Fentanyl was also surging; there were 538 deaths of people who had the powerful prescription opioid in their systems, nearly double the 292 from the previous year. While heroin deaths were at record levels, more than twice as many (978) people died with oxycodone in their systems. There were 8,587 fatal drug overdoses reported in Florida last year; many of them included multiple substances.

Drug Policy

New Hampshire GOP Lawmakers Want Online Drug Dealer Registry. Three GOP lawmakers have presented slightly different bills that would create an online drug dealer registry similar to sex offender registries, but advocacy groups said such a move is unfair and unnecessary. "It's a stupid, gratuitous and entirely unnecessary proposal," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. ''It reminds me of the sort of foolish rhetoric and foolish laws that flowed from back at the height of the drug war." Click on the title link for more detail.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Requiring Police to Report Use of Lethal Force Filed. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) Thursday filed S. 2112, "a bill to require law enforcement agencies to report the use of lethal force, and for other purposes."

Chronicle AM: Senate Has Deal on Sentencing Reform, OR Legal Pot Sales Begin Today, More (10/1/15)

Oregon dispensaries can now sell marijuana to all comers (21 and over) starting today, a bipartisan group of senators announce a deal on major sentencing reform, Albuquerque's mayor vetoes decrim again, heroin policy on the campaign trail is featured, and more.

now on sale to adults in Oregon (wikimedia/Mangokeylime)
Marijuana Policy

Family Physicians Say Marijuana Should Be Decriminalized, Rescheduled. Meeting in Denver, the American Academy of Family Physicians has passed two resolutions on marijuana policy. The first originally called for legalization, but was watered down to decriminalization, while the second calls on the DEA to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. Click on the link for details on the debate.

California Marijuana Arrests Decline to Lowest Level Since 1966. Data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report shows that pot arrests in the state are at the lowest in nearly 50 years. Some 19,711 people were arrested on marijuana charges last year, down slightly from 20,346 in 2013. Arrests have nose-dived since the state decriminalized possession in 2008. But some things apparently never change: Blacks were arrested for marijuana offenses at a rate more than twice their percentage of the state's population.

Legal Recreational Marijuana Sales Are Now Underway in Oregon. Medical marijuana dispensaries across the state began selling pot to anyone with an ID showing he is 21 or over today. State officials moved to allow dispensaries to start selling recreational marijuana early in order to allow Oregonians to have a place to legally purchase it until adult use shops open next year. Not all dispensaries are participating; about 200 of the 345 in the state are.

Albuquerque Mayor Vetoes Decriminalization (Again). Mayor Richard Berry has vetoed a decriminalization ordinance passed by the city council. He vetoed a similar measure last year. In a veto statement, he said he had a "hard time signing legislation that preempts state and federal law." Except that it doesn't. Decriminalization has majority support in the city and Bernalillo County, but the mayor doesn't appear to be listening.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Heroin As a Campaign Issue. This USA Today story looks primarily at the attention Hillary Clinton is paying to heroin and opiate addiction in New England and the role of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) in advising her on drug policy, but also mentions Carly Fiorina and Bernie Sanders. Jeb Bush has also been talking about addiction this week.


Senators Reach Deal on Sentencing Reform Package. A bipartisan group of senators announced a historic deal on criminal justice reform Thursday, rounding out a negotiation process that has lasted almost five months. The bill, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release, among other things. Look for a Chronicle feature story on this in coming days.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays 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

A criminal gang of Puerto Rican cops gets indicted, prison guards run wild all over the country, and more cops get in trouble for stealing dope and cash. Let's get to it:

In Shamokin, Pennsylvania, a state prison guard was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly smuggling cell phones and marijuana into the prison. Damond Lamar Johnson is charged with possession of a controlled substance and contraband, conspiracy, and criminal use of a telecommunications device. He went down after he was found with marijuana during a pre-shift search and later confessed to other instances of smuggling pot and cell phones into the joint.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a Jackson police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he was aiding some local drug dealers by pulling over their rivals and seizing their cash during illegal stops. Officer Bryan Jones went down after a tip from the community. He's been charged with extortion. He's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In Atlanta, a former Georgia prison guard was indicted last Thursday on charges related to the use of cell phones to facilitate drug trafficking and other crimes behind bars. Anekra Artina Williams, 20, a guard at Valdosta State Prison, was charged with extortion and distributing methamphetamine and extortion. She is one of a dozen people rounded up in the federal bust, including current and former inmates and a prison cafeteria worker.

In San Juan, Puerto Rico, 10 police officers were indicted last Friday for allegedly participating in a criminal organization run out of the police department. They are accused of using their positions to make money through selling drugs, robbery, extortion, and manipulating court records. The officers are Shylene López-García aka "Plinia"; Ángel Hernández-Nieves, aka "Doble"; Xavier Jiménez-Martínez, aka "Negro"; Alvin Montes-Cintrón, aka "Vinillo"; Ramón Muñiz-Robledo, aka "Marmota"; Guillermo Santos-Castro, aka "Caco Biftec"; Luis Flores-Ortiz, aka "Piquito"; José Neris-Serrano; Manuel Grego-López; and David Centeno-Faría, aka "David Bisbal." They are charged with conspiracy to violate the RICO Act, as well as extortion, drug trafficking, civil rights violations, and making false statements.

In State College, Pennsylvania, a former State College police officer was sentenced last Friday to 23 months in jail for stealing drugs from the evidence room. Thomas Dann, 56, stole cocaine and prescription medications while serving as the evidence room custodian, and originally faced dozens of counts. He pleaded guilty to four counts of felony acquisition of a controlled substance by fraud for stealing three pounds of cocaine, as well as dozens of prescription opioids.

In Baltimore, a former jail guard was sentenced last Friday to six years in prison for his role in a Baltimore jail racketeering conspiracy. Travis Paylor, 27, is one of 40 people convicted in the wide-ranging prison corruption case involving the Black Guerrilla Family and got the longest sentence because he continued to engage in illegal activity even after he was charged. He was convicted of smuggling contraband, including drugs, into the prison.

In Los Angeles, a former LAPD officer pleaded no contest Tuesday to offering to sell drugs to an undercover officer last year. Randolph Agard pleaded guilty to two counts of possession for drugs for sale, and was sentenced to 480 hours of community service and three years' probation. Agard had responded to an online ad seeking drugs placed by police. When he arrived at a meeting place, he was arrested by LAPD narcs, who found 20 hydrocodone tablets in his pocket and 35 more in his car.

Medical Marijuana Update

Last week's reservation raid in California reverberates, dispensaries move a step closer in Maryland, a medical marijuana bill advances in South Carolina, and more.


Last Friday, the Pinoleville Pomo Nation responded to a raid on its collective grow operation. The tribe said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman "overstepped his authority, violated tribal sovereignty, and acted outside of his legal jurisdiction" in the raid last Tuesday, in which deputies "seized and destroyed property that belonged to the tribe's cannabis collective." Allman argued that the operation was illegal because it was for profit, but the tribe says it will "seek all legal remedies against the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office" for damages from the raid.


Last Thursday, the attorney general's office clarified that counties cannot ban dispensaries. Faced with an effort by Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh to ban medical marijuana facilities in the county, the office of the attorney general issued a non-binding legal opinion saying that while state law allows counties to decide where such facilities may locate, it does not allow them to ban them.

On Monday, the state began taking applications for medical marijuana businesses. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is accepting applications for state licenses for growers, processors, and dispensaries. The commission will issue 15 licenses for growers, up to 92 for dispensaries, and an unlimited number for processors. The deadline for applications is November 6, and dispensaries could be stocked and open by next fall. Click on the commission link for more details.


Last Friday, lawmakers and regulators got an earful from patients at a hearing. The task force overseeing the state's medical marijuana program heard from patients and providers at a hearing last Friday, with complaints about high prices and logistical problems getting lots of attention. Click on the link for more details.

South Carolina

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana bill won a Senate panel vote. A Senate Medical Affairs Subcommittee today approved Senate Bill 672 a full-fledged medical marijuana bill. The vote was unanimous. The bill will head to the full committee early next year. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year.


Beginning Thursday, some dispensaries will start selling to non-medical users. More than half of the state's 345 medical marijuana dispensaries have told the Health Authority they plan to sell recreational marijuana starting Thursday, October 1. Recreational marijuana has been legal in the state since July 1, but recreational pot shops won't be open until next year, so the state is allowing dispensaries to fill the void.

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

Despite Legalization and Decrim, Marijuana Arrests Spiked Last Year [FEATURE]

Despite marijuana legalization being in effect in two states last year and decriminalization laws in nearly 20 more, the number of marijuana arrests actually increased last year, according to data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report.

Pot arrests accounted for nearly 45% of all drug arrests, which totaled 1.56 million last year. Drug arrests were the single largest category of offenses. There were three times as many drug arrests last year as there were arrests for violent crimes.

There were 700,993 marijuana arrests in 2014, compared with 693,000 in 2013. More than 88% of those arrests were for simple possession -- also an increase over 2013, by 2%.

Last year, people were being arrested for marijuana offenses at a rate of one every 45 seconds. That compares with one every half hour in 1965 and one every two minutes in 1990, when marijuana arrests really started skyrocketing. In that year, there were some 330,000 pot arrests; they peaked in 2007, with nearly 900,000. Last year's number represent a 20% decline from the 2007, but is still an increase over 2013.

The spread of legalization and decriminalization in the West is reflected in the numbers. Marijuana arrests were more likely to occur in the Midwest and South, while many fewer arrests were reported in the West.

Marijuana reform advocates were quick to denounce the uptick.

"These numbers refute the myth that nobody actually gets arrested for using marijuana. Could you imagine if hundreds of thousands of adults were arrested last year simply for possessing alcohol? That would be crazy. It's even crazier that hundreds of thousands of adults were arrested for possessing a less harmful substance," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Marijuana busts can happen at home, at a concert, on the sidewalk, when driving...
"It's hard to imagine why more people were arrested for marijuana possession when fewer people than ever believe it should be a crime," Tvert continued. "Law enforcement officials should not be wasting their time and resources arresting and prosecuting adults for using marijuana. While law enforcement was busy making nearly three quarters of a million marijuana arrests, more than 35% of murders went unsolved, the clearance rate for rape was less than 40%, and for robbery and property crimes, it was below 30%."

"It's unacceptable that police still put this many people in handcuffs for something that a growing majority of Americans think should be legal," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "A record number of states are expected to vote on legalizing marijuana next year, so we hope and expect to see these numbers significantly dropping soon. There's just no good reason that so much police time and taxpayer money is spent punishing people for marijuana when so many murders, rapes and robberies go unsolved."

The numbers should decrease next year. By the end of 2016, legalization will have been fully in effect in Alaska, DC, and Oregon, as well as in Colorado and Washington, where it was in effect all of last year. But for the numbers to have gone up last year even as legalization and decriminalization expanded across the country strongly suggests that enforcing the marijuana laws continues to be a favorite pastime for law enforcement.

Washington, DC
United States

Mass High Court Rules Police Can't Search Vehicles Based Solely on Suspicion of MJ Possession

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Civil rights advocates and marijuana legalization supporters are welcoming a decision from the state Supreme Judicial Court that says police can't stop motorists solely because they suspect the vehicle's occupants are carrying marijuana. The decision came in Commonwealth v. Rodriguez.

The Rodriguez in question was Elivette Rodriguez, who was a passenger in a car stopped by New Bedford police in 2012 after they allegedly detected the smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle. During the stop, police found a bag containing 60 Percocet pills, and Rodriguez was charged with possession of a Class B substance with intent to distribute, as well as other offenses.

Before trial, Rodriguez filed a motion to suppress the evidence from the search, arguing that since the state had decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008, the mere odor of marijuana coming from the car did not create sufficient probable cause to undertake the traffic stop and subsequent search. The trial judge denied that motion, but put the trial on hold while Rodriguez appealed his decision. The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative took the case from the appeals court.

In its ruling Tuesday, leaning heavily on the 2008 decriminalization law, the Supreme Judicial Court agreed with Rodriguez. "Permitting police to stop a vehicle based on reasonable suspicion that an occupant possesses marijuana does not serve [the] objectives" of the law, Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the majority. Allowing such stops "does not refocus police efforts on pursing more serious crime," another goal of the law, she wrote.

The court's 5-2 majority ruled that the pills were inadmissible in court because they were "fruit of the poisoned tree," in the classic formulation. In other words, the evidence resulted from an illegal search and thus must be thrown out. Rodriguez' drug case was referred back to district court for "further proceedings consistent with this opinion," but since they now have no evidence against her, prosecutors said they would drop the case.

In arguing the case, Bristol prosecutors had asserted that police can stop vehicles for a civil marijuana offense, just as they can for a civil traffic offense, but the court rejected that argument. While traffic laws are designed to promote road safety, "there is no obvious and direct link" between marijuana possession and maintaining highway  safety.

"The high court was making a statement "about how the police ought to spend their time and the taxpayers' money," ACLU of Massachusetts legal director Matthew Segal told the Boston Globe. Pulling over a vehicle for suspicion of marijuana possession "is not consistent with the Massachusetts constitution, nor is it consistent with the will of the voters who passed decriminalization," he said.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, one of two groups undertaking marijuana legalization initiative campaigns in the state (the other is Bay State Repeal), was also pleased with the decision. In a statement, campaign spokesman Jim Borghesani said the "provides further clarification for how police officers should handle vehicle stops in the era of decriminalization, and it advances the clear message sent by voters in 2008 to refocus police activity on more serious crimes."

Chronicle AM: The Pope on Dope, Marijuana Arrests Jump, NYC Safe Injection Site Campaign, More (9/28/15)

The pope criticizes the drug war at the UN, the president addresses overdoses and addiction in his weekly address, marijuana arrests jumped last year, a campaign to bring safe injection sites to New York City is launching, and more.

Pots busts jumped last year. Why?
Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Lawmakers Get Earful from Patients at Hearing. The task force overseeing the state's medical marijuana program heard from patients and providers at a hearing last Friday, with complaints about high prices and logistical problems getting lots of attention. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Policy

Pope Francis Criticizes War on Drugs. During his address to the United Nations last Friday, Pope Francis turned from criticizing "systemic violence" in places like Syria and Ukraine to addressing violence linked to drug prohibition -- although without calling it that. "Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade," Pope Francis said. The drug war is failing, the pontiff said, and it brings dire consequences. "[It is] a war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption," he continued. Click on the link for a full transcript of his remarks.

President Obama Uses Weekly Address to Talk About Preventing Substance Abuse. Obama used his weekly radio address last Saturday to encourage people to participate in "National Drug Take-Back Day" that same day, warning that too many Americans are dying of drug overdoses. "More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in car crashes," he said. "And most of those deaths aren't due to drugs like heroin or cocaine, but rather prescription drugs." Click on the link for a full transcript of the president's address.

International Drug Policy Conference in DC in November. The Drug Policy Alliance is hosting the world's premier drug policy conference in suburban Washington, DC, on November 18-21. Click on the link for much more information.

Harm Reduction

Campaign for Supervised Injection Sites Coming to New York City. The Open Society Foundation will host a town hall Wednesday on innovative solutions to public drug use and overdosing, including supervised injection sites. It's the opening salvo in a campaign to bring such sites to New York City. While a proven harm reduction measure, no such sites currently operate in the United States. Click on the link for more.

Law Enforcement

Nationwide Marijuana Arrests Jumped Last Year. The FBI has released its annual Uniform Crime Report. The report shows that nearly 701,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2014, up from 693,000 the previous year. Nearly 90% of all arrests were for possession.


United Nations Will Monitor Honduras War on Drug Gangs. The UN will open a human rights monitoring office in Honduras to monitor potential human rights violations by security forces as they pursue their war on drug gangs, President Juan Hernandez said Sunday. Hernandez and his predecessor, Porfirio Lobo, have increasingly relied on the military to fight gangs, and complaints about human rights violations have been piling up.

Bolivian Drug Law Reforms Would Reduce Penalties for "Microtraffickers," Consumers. The government of President Evo Morales has proposed reforms of the country's drug laws that would cut sentences for consumers and small-time traffickers. The proposal has been sent to the Legislative Assembly. Click on the link to read more in Spanish.

As Peace Negotiations Advance, Colombia Revamps Drug Policy [FEATURE]

Marking the end of an era, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Tuesday unveiled a new policy for dealing with coca cultivation and cocaine production, one that will rely on crop substitution and alternative development, with manual crop eradication only to be used as a last resort.

harvesting the coca crop in Colombia (dea.gov)
Santos then flew to Havana, where he met with leaders of the leftist FARC guerrillas and Wednesday announced an agreement on a transitional justice deal that should lead to the end of the world's longest-running insurgency by March 2016. The agreement on how to deal with combatants in the nearly half-century long civil war is the latest in peace talks that have been going on in Havana since November 2012. Negotiators had already forged agreements on the thorny issues of land reform, the FARC's political participation after peace is achieved, and how to deal with illicit drug production.

Colombia's years-long policy of attempting to eradicate coca crops by spraying fields with herbicides will be history at the end of this month. That policy was backed and financed by the United States as part of its multi-billion dollar effort to defeat drug trafficking and, later, to defeat the FARC.

Despite the billions spent, Colombia remains the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, according to the US government. While production is down from record levels early this century, it rose 39% last year to about 276,000 acres. Figures from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime show a lower extent of cultivation (170,000 acres), but echo that it is on the increase. According to UNODC, the increase was 44% last year.

The plan announced Tuesday, the Integrated Plan for Crop Substitution, has as its goals reducing the crime associated with the drug trade by reorienting policing efforts toward processing, trafficking, and money laundering -- not harassing peasants -- improving state capacity through the improvement of social, economic, and political conditions in the countryside, and dealing with drug consumption with a focus on human rights, public health, and human development.

It sets out six foci:

  1. Social Investment. That will include state and private spending on roads, energy supply, water supply, and investment in public health and education.
  2. Crop Substitution. A phased-in plan with community involvement that will create socio-economic stabilization and create new income opportunities. Agreements will be made with whole communities, not individual growers. Once a community has agreed to crop substitution, voluntary coca eradication will begin. If there is no agreement to eradicate, the government will do it manually, by force.
  3. Interdiction. Interdiction will continue, but in concert with the priorities of local communities and farmers. The plan also envisions "strengthening the legal tools available to fight the illegal drug business."
  4. Investigations and Prosecutions. The government will give top priority to going after "intermediate and top links of the drug trafficking chain," not peasant farmers.
  5. Prevention and Treatment. The new plan will emphasize youth prevention, as well as drug treatment using "programs founded on evidence." The plan calls for an increase in the quantity and quality of drug treatment offered.
  6. Institutional Reforms. The plan will create a new agency for alternative development in illicit cultivation zones. The agency will establish metrics for success, which will be made public on a regular basis.

The government's plan is in line with the recommendations of its Advisory Commission on Drug Policy in Colombia, which in a May report, called for drug policy to be based on evidence and the principles of public health, harm reduction and human rights, with effective state institutions to coordinate policy implementation. Combating the drug trade should focus on trafficking organizations and money laundering, and peasant coca growers should be offered alternative development, not criminal prosecution, the report also recommended. (The report and the issues it addressed were recently discussed at this http://www.brookings.edu/events/2015/09/21-colombian-antidrug-policies-a.... " target="_blank">Brookings Institution event.)

Aerial eradication ends at the end of this month. (wikipedia.org)
"With this program we hope to have a twofold result: reducing the illicit cultivation and improving the living conditions of hundreds of thousands of peasants," Santos said in a speech from the presidential palace.

The plan will focus on the southern provinces of Narino and Putumayo, "where there are some 26,000 families that produce coca," Santos said. "Work will be done to construct roads, schools, health clinics, aqueducts and service networks," he added, noting that coca cultivation is most extensive in areas where the state is weakest.

While the government will seek agreements with communities to voluntarily eradicate their coca crops, "if an agreement is not reached, forced eradication will be resorted to," Santos warned. Forced eradication has led to conflict between farmers and eradicators in the past, with nearly 200 eradicators killed in attacks from unhappy peasants or guerrillas of the FARC, which has taxed and protected coca cultivation in areas under its control.

When Santos arrived in Havana Wednesday he was sounding optimistic, both about the new approach to coca cultivation and about the prospects for peace.

"We've already started. And if we can move forward now, imagine how much we could move forward if we do away with the conflict," said Santos. "We've already talked with the FARC about joint plans for the substitution of crops. Imagine what this means. That the FARC, instead of defending illicit crops and the entire drug trafficking chain, will help the state in their eradication. As the slogan says, with peace we will do more," Santos said.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A strange tale out of Kentucky, and two New York cops get slapped on the wrist for their misdeeds. Let's get to it:

In Louisville, Kentucky, a Bullitt County sheriff's special deputy was indicted last Friday on charges he was a major drug trafficker and threatened to kill Kentucky narcotics officers. Special Deputy Chris Mattingly has been charged with conspiracy to distribute over a ton of marijuana. He went down after he surfaced on a wiretap of a drug cartel member in Riverside, California, and since then, police working with information developed from there have made repeated seizures of hundreds or tens of thousands of dollars in cash from vehicles associated with Mattingly.

In Troy, New York, a former Troy police officer was sentenced last Thursday to probation for telling a drug dealer he was being targeted in a raid. Brian Gross, 33, a member of the Community Narcotics Enforcement Team, admitted to disclosing information contained in a wiretap warrant. He told a female friend the narcs were investigating her brother and planned to raid his home. The targeted dealer apparently spread the word, because police hit five houses that day as part of a drug investigation and came up empty-handed.

In White Plains, New York, a former Yonkers narcotics detective was sentenced last Thursday to spend eight weekends in jail for lying to get a search warrant for a drug raid in which a man fell to his death. Christian Koch had pleaded guilty to perjury charges along with his partner, former officer Neil Vera, who got six months of weekends in jail.

Drug War Issues

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