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Chronicle AM: Carl Sagan Pot Papers Released, Supreme Court Takes Up Highway Drug Dog Detentions, More (10/8/14)

The Library of Congress unveils writings on marijuana and drug reform from astronomer Carl Sagan, pot pops up in the Oklahoma Senate race, the Supreme Court will take up the issue of how long police can detain someone on the side of the road waiting for a drug dog, the "Baby Bou Bou" SWAT raid case isn't over yet, and more. Let's get to it:

Carl Sagan
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Pops Up in Oklahoma US Senate Race. Even in Oklahoma, though that is not really a big surprise, given that Democratic contender state Sen. Constance Johnson is a leading Sooner advocate for legalization. At a debate in Stillwater with Republican contender US Rep. James Lankford, Johnson surprised no one by standing by her well-known position on pot. And Lankford surprised no one by opposing it. Click on the link to get some flavor.

Carl Sagan's Writings on Marijuana, Drug Policy in New Library of Congress Exhibit. The Library of Congress in Washington, DC, has made available to the public a huge trove of astronomer and PBS "Cosmos" host Carl Sagan's papers relating to marijuana and drug policy. Sagan was a proponent of marijuana and drug reform, and Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority has penned a nice piece about the collection and its release. Click on the title link to read it.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Restrictive Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Committee Assignment. The bill, Senate Bill 1182, passed the Senate last month, but is being slowed down by Republicans in the House. It was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, but Republican members said it would have to have at least two public hearings before going to a committee vote. With only four working days left in the legislative session, that isn't going to happen this year.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court to Rule on Roadside Detention of Motorists While Cops Await Arrival of Drug Dogs. How long can police hold a driver on the side of the road while waiting for a drug dog to arrive to do a sniff (which the Supreme Court considers not a search)? The US Supreme Court agreed yesterday to take up a case that could decide that issue. In the case, a Nebraska man was stopped for an alleged traffic infraction and ticketed by the officer 21 minutes later. But he remained detained by the officer for another six minutes, until backup arrived. The officer then used the dog to sniff the car, the dog alerted, a search ensued, and methamphetamine was found. The man pleaded guilty, but appealed, saying his detention after the ticket was written amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Oral arguments will be presented early next year. The court opinion will likely be announced by June 2015.

Family of Toddler Burned in Georgia SWAT Drug Raid Seeks Federal Charges. After a Georgia grand jury declined to indict any police officers in the botched drug raid that left toddler Bounkham "Baby Bou Bou" severely injured when a SWAT officer through a flash-bang grenade in his play pen, his family is seeking a meeting this week with federal prosecutors in hopes of getting federal charges filed. While the local grand jury failed to indict, it was highly critical of law enforcement practices in the case. "There should be no such thing as an emergency narcotics investigation," the jurors wrote in their report. Georgia US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement that her office is looking into it. "Federal authorities have been participating in the investigation of this terrible incident, and now that a state grand jury has declined to return an indictment. We will review the matter for possible federal charges," said Yates.

International

Bolivian Presidential Candidates on Drug Policy. The PanAm Post has a nice analysis of the drug policy positions of the various candidates in the Bolivian presidential elections set for Sunday. While sitting President Evo Morales has won kudos for his coca policies, he has not undertaken any broader reform initiatives, such as drug decriminalization or legalization. Neither have any of the other candidates. The candidates are united in their "prohibitionist insanity," the article notes. Morales is expected to be reelected.

El Chapo Guzman Indicted in New York for Murders. Mexico's imprisoned Sinaloa cartel leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, has been indicted for 12 murders in an indictment issued by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn. He and his successor, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, were also charged with money-laundering more than $14 billion in drug profits. But don't look for him to be heading for New York any time soon; he faces numerous charges in Mexico, as well.

Mexican Drug Gang Hit Men Linked to Mass Murder of Student Teachers in Guerrero. The attorney general for the state of Guerrero said Tuesday that some of the 44 rural teachers' college students who went missing last week after clashing with police in the city of Iguala were probably executed by drug traffickers working with crooked police. Two men who identified themselves as members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang have supposedly confessed to killing at least 17 of them. Authorities have found a mass grave containing 27 bodies. The state attorney general said it appeared local police arrested the students, then handed them over to the hit men. The students were said to be political radicals and had been protesting against local officials. This sort of repressive political violence is nothing new in Guerrero, but the mass murder is one of the largest in recent Mexican history.

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

Chronicle AM: Dallas to Stop Marijuana Arrests, Rick Steves Campaigns, DEA Agent Makes Fake Facebook Page, More (10/7/14)

It's crunch time for those marijuana initiatives, Dallas will quit making small-time pot arrests, Colorado's governor disses the voters, Pennsylvania's medical marijuana bill is stalled, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Dallas to Quit Arresting People for Small-Time Marijuana Possession. Starting in January, police in Dallas County, Texas, will only ticket -- not arrest -- people caught in possession of two ounces or less of marijuana. But those cited will still face misdemeanor charges, a fine of up to $2,000 and up to six months in jail (though that is rarely the case). The state legislature in 2007 voted to allow jurisdictions to implement cite-and-release, but only a handful of locales in the state have exercised that option.

Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off in Lewiston, Maine. The campaign to legalize marijuana locally through ballot initiatives in Lewiston and South Portland, Maine, kicked off its final month of electioneering with a rally today in Lewiston. The effort is led by the Marijuana Policy Project and is part of a plan to legalize the herb statewide in the near future. Portland, the state's largest city, passed a similar initiative last year.

Rick Steves Hits the Road for the Oregon Legalization Initiative. The charming and mild-mannered PBS travel show host is kicking off a 9-stop tour in support of Measure 91. Steves, who lives in next-door Washington state, also played a critical role in that state's successful 2012 legalization initiative.

DC Council Votes to Strengthen Law to Seal Records for Past Marijuana Arrests. The DC Council voted unanimously today in favor of a bill that would improve the process by which a person can seal criminal records pertaining to conduct that has since been decriminalized or legalized. The council is expected to take a final vote on the bill in late October and it will then go to Mayor Vincent Gray for his review. The council decriminalized marijuana possession earlier this year, and the Measure 71 possession and cultivation legalization initiative appears poised to pass in November.

Colorado Governor Says Voters Were "Reckless" to Legalize Marijuana. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said during a campaign debate with Republican challenger Bob Beauprez that Colorado voters were "reckless" for voting to legalize marijuana. "Any governor that looks at doing this before we see what the consequences are, I would view it as reckless," he said. But what about voters who voted for it? "I think for us to do that without having all the data, there is not enough data, and to a certain extent you could say it was reckless. I'm not saying it was reckless because I'll get quoted everywhere, but if it was up to me I wouldn't have done it, right. I opposed it from the very beginning. In matter of fact, all right, what the hell -- I'll say it was reckless." Hickenlooper may call voters "reckless," but he has overseen the good faith implementation of the voters' will. Beauprez opposes marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Appears Stalled in House. The state Senate last month passed a restrictive medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 1182, but even that appears to be too much for the Republican-controlled House. Spokesmen for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County) said the body wants to carefully study the bill, including holding public hearings. That means there is virtually no chance it will come to a vote this session. But some Democrats have some legislative maneuvers planned, including trying to attach it to another bill, so stay tuned.

Law Enforcement

Grand Jury Fails to Indict Cops in "Baby Bou Bou" Georgia SWAT Raid. A grand jury in Habersharm County has decided against charging any police officers in a botched drug raid in which a toddler was severely injured by a flash-bang grenade thrown by a SWAT officer. "Baby Bou Bou" Phonesvanh's nose was nearly blown off his face and he spent weeks hospitalized after the raid, in which no drugs were found and no one was arrested. The county has also refused to pay the child's medical bills. Look for a civil suit to come.

DEA Agent Set Up Fake Facebook Page in Woman's Name Without Her Consent. A DEA agent investigating a drug case took over a woman's identity, creating a fake Facebook page in her name and posting racy photos from her seized cell phone. The woman was a minor player in a drug case and didn't know her identity had been commandeered until friends asked her why she was posting racy photos. The woman hadn't even set up a Facebook page of her own. DEA Agent Timothy Sinnigen set up the fake page and used it to communicate with at least one drug suspect. Now, the Justice Department is arguing in federal court that it was perfectly okay for him to do so. Click on the link to read the whole sordid tale.

Sentencing

Ten Percent Drop in Federal Prison Sentences of a Year or More. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University reports that the number of federal prison sentences of a year or more has dropped by 10% over the past five years. Only about one in four people convicted of federal crimes received sentences of greater than a year. Drug offenders accounted for nearly one-third (32.4%) of them. The TRAC data doesn't specify whether this figure has gone up or down in the past five years.

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.)

Georgia Homeowner Killed in Fruitless Drug Raid

A Georgia SWAT team shot and killed an armed homeowner during a September 24 drug raid sparked by the word of a self-confessed meth addict and burglar who had robbed the property the previous day. No drugs were found. David Hooks, 59, becomes the 34th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WMAZ TV 13, Laurens County sheriff's deputies with the drug task force and special response team (SWAT team) conducted a no-knock search on Hooks' home in East Dublin on the evening of the 24th. When the raiders burst through the back door of the residence, they encountered Hooks carrying a shotgun. Multiple deputies opened fire, shooting and killing Hooks.

According to his family, Hooks was not a drug user or seller, but was a successful businessman who ran a construction company that, among other things, did work on US military bases. Hooks had passed background checks and had a security clearance.

The search warrant to raid Hooks' home came about after a local meth addict named Rodney Garrett came onto the property two nights earlier and stole one of Hooks' vehicles. Garrett claimed that before he stole the vehicle, he broke into another vehicle on the property and stole a plastic bag. Garrett claimed he thought the bag contained money, but when he later examined it and discovered it contained 20 grams of meth and a digital scale, he "became scared for his safety" and turned himself in to the sheriff's office.

Hooks' family, however, said that Garrett had been identified as the burglar and a warrant issued for his arrest the day after the burglary. He was arrested the following day; the raid happened that same night.

Garrett's claims were the primary basis for the search warrant. But investigators also claimed they were familiar with the address from a 2009 investigation in which a suspect claimed he had supplied ounces of meth to Hooks, who resold it. Nothing apparently ever came of that investigation, but the five-year-old uncorroborated tip made it into the search warrant application.

And it was enough to get a search warrant from a compliant magistrate. Hooks family attorney Mitchell Shook said that even though the warrant was not a no-knock warrant, the Laurens County SWAT team did not announce its presence, but just broke down the back door of the residence.

Shook said David Hooks' wife, Teresa, looked outside and saw people with hoods on the evening of the raid and woke up her husband. Fearing the burglar or burglars who had struck two nights earlier had returned, Hooks armed himself.

"David and Teresa were under the impression that the burglars were back and that a home invasion was imminent," the family said in a statement. "David armed himself to protect his wife and his home. Despite the fact that the illegal search warrant did not have a 'no knock' clause, the Drug Task Force and SRT members broke down the back door of the family's home and entered firing in excess of 16 shots. These shots were from multiple firearms and from both 40 caliber handguns and assault rifles. Several shots were fired through a blind wall at David with the shooters not knowing who or what was on the other side of the wall. The trajectory of the shots, coupled with the number of shots infers a clear intent on behalf of the shooters to kill David Hooks."

"The task force and the SRT members broke down the back door of the family's home and entered, firing an excessive sixteen shots. There is no evidence that David Hooks ever fired a weapon" said Shook.

Nor was there any evidence he was involved in drugs. As Shook emphasized, after the shooting, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted an intensive 44-hour search of the property and came up with not one item of contraband.

Hooks' family is called on the Laurens County district attorney to do its own investigation of the killing after he receives the GBI's report and "take whatever action the law and justice demands." It is also calling on Sheriff W.A. "Bill" Harrell to immediately suspend all the officers involved until the investigations and any prosecutions are settled.

East Dublin, GA
United States

Chronicle AM: CO MedMJ Crackdown, Heroin ODs Up, Mexican Soldiers Charged in Massacre, More (10/2/14)

A Colorado legislative panel wants to tighten up on medical marijuana, a South Carolina legislative panel studies medical marijuana, the CDC says heroin overdoses are up, a North Carolina county engages in more drug war same old-same old, and there's news from Mexico, too. Let's get to it:

cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Colorado Lawmakers Want to Crack Down on Medical Marijuana. A state legislative panel, the Marijuana Revenues Interim Committee, yesterday recommended filing legislation that would tighten up the medical marijuana caregiver system and clarify that local governments can collect taxes on recreational marijuana. The bill would require all primary caregivers to register with the state. Officials fear that their inability to track caregiver grows under the present system is helping the black market. The bill would limit caregivers to six plants per patient and limit patients to one caregiver. Medical marijuana supporters questioned why a committee charged with revenue issues was concerning itself with medical marijuana laws.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Panel Meets Today. A joint legislative panel studying the uses of medical marijuana in the state is meeting at the Medical University of South Carolina today. It's the first of three meetings to be held around the state to gather information. The state last year approved a CBD cannabis oil bill; these meetings are designed to help lawmakers gather information and refine the state's marijuana and hemp laws.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

CDC Report Says Heroin Overdose Death Rate Doubled. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that the heroin overdose death rate doubled between 2010 and 2012 in the 28 states covered in the report, but that twice as many people died from prescription opiate overdoses. The study says two things appear to be driving the increase in heroin overdoses: widespread exposure to prescription opiates and increasing rates of opiate addiction, and easier availability of heroin. Click on the link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Craven County, NC, Makes Penny-Ante Drug Roundup. After a "two-month investigation," the Craven County Narcotics Unit and the New Bern Police Narcotics Unit (CNET-the Coastal Narcotics Enforcement Team) rounded up 16 drug suspects this week, but the charges are less than impressive. Of the 16 people arrested in the big bust, five were charged only with possession of drug paraphernalia (which was also tacked onto nearly everyone else's charges, too), two were charged solely with failure to appear in court, and one was charged with possession of marijuana in jail. Five were charged with "possession with intent to sell" various drugs and one with "possession with intent to sell" marijuana. One person was charged with possession of meth precursors. Of the 16 arrested, only one was arrested on an actual drug trafficking charge.

International

Mexican Special Forces Grab Beltran-Leyva Cartel Head. Hector Beltran Leyva, head of the Beltran Leyva cartel since his brother Arturo was killed by Mexican marines in 2009, was captured at a San Miguel de Allende restaurant yesterday. It's another coup against the cartels for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which has also captured Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and at least two leaders of the feared Zetas cartel.

Three Mexican Soldiers Charged With Murder in Massacre of 22. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam announced late Tuesday that three soldiers have been charged with homicide in the shooting deaths of 22 people killed in Mexico state on June 30. The military originally said they were cartel members who died in a shoot-out with troops, but witnesses described them being executed after surrendering. Just last week, the Defense Ministry had charged eight of the soldiers with crimes against military justice.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Florida police chief gets caught with online pills, a North Carolina jail guard gets caught peddling pills, a former Pennsylvania cop heads to the slammer for cooking meth, and a Seattle-area former deputy gets even more prison time for lying during sentencing. Let's get to it:

In Atlantic Beach, Florida, the former police chief was arrested Tuesday on numerous drug charges just a week after he resigned in the middle of a state investigation. Former Chief Michael Classey went down after federal Homeland Security agents told the Florida Department of Law Enforcement they had intercepted a package of drugs from India addressed to Classey. He was arrested when he went to pick up the package, and a subsequent police search of his home turned up more drugs. He is now charged with 18 counts of possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, one count of trafficking in a controlled substance, one count of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, a York County jail guard was arrested last Friday after he was seen selling prescription drugs in a gas station parking lot. Guard John Strait allegedly admitted he stole Xanax pills from family members. He is charged with distribution of a controlled substance and is now out on bail. And looking for a new job.

In Brookville, Pennsylvania, a former Brookville police officer was sentenced last Thursday to five years in state prison for running a meth lab. April Ann Novak was convicted of criminal conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance and manufacturing methamphetamine.

In Seattle, a former King County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Tuesday to more prison time after he was found to have lied during his sentencing hearing. Darion Holiwell had been convicted in August of pimping his estranged wife, stealing ammunition from the department, and dealing drugs and was sentenced to a year in prison. During his original sentencing hearing, Holliwell's lawyer told the court the ex-deputy was broke, but investigators found that he had just cashed in a $180,000 retirement package. That earned him an additional five months in the clink.

Chronicle AM: Decrim in Jamaica/MD/Philly, Chris Christie Talks Drugs, PA ODs Bill, More (10/1/14)

Decrim comes to Maryland and Philadelphia, and Jamaica is working on it, too; the Oregon initiative campaign heats up, Chris Christie talks drugs, a SWAT reporting bill in Michigan gets a hearing, and more. Let's get to it:

Rastas down Jamaica way will soon have something to smile about. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legalization Campaign Unveils First TV Ad. The Measure 91 legalization initiative campaign has unveiled the first of its TV spot ads, featuring a former veteran Oregon law enforcement officer explaining why he supports legalization. The campaign has about $2 million budgeted for TV ads in the final weeks of the campaign. Click on the title link to view the ad.

Leading Legalization Foe to Make Oregon Campaign Appearances. The man who is arguably the leading public opponent of marijuana legalization, Dr. Kevin Sabet of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), will make seven appearances in Oregon this week to campaign against the Measure 91 legalization initiative. He had planned a 13-stop "Oregon Marijuana Education Tour" partly funded with federal grant dollars, but that was scrapped after the Measure 91 campaign cried foul. Now, Sabet's crusade is privately funded.

Philadelphia Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Mayor Michael Nutter (D) today signed into law a bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Up to an ounce will be considered a civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine or a $100 fine for public consumption. The new law will go into effect October 20.

Decriminalization Now in Effect in Maryland. As of today, the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is no longer a crime, but a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $100. The move comes after the legislature earlier this year passed and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed into law SB 364. Now, 17 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized small-time pot possession.

Louisiana Poll Shows Little Support for Harsh Marijuana Sentences. A new Public Policy Polling survey released by the ACLU of Louisiana found that 78% opposed sentences of longer than six months for pot possession, 71% opposed life sentences for felons caught with marijuana, and 68% support medical marijuana. Louisiana has some of the nation's harshest marijuana laws, including a sentence of up to life in prison for marijuana possession by a felon and a prison sentence of up to 20 years for repeat pot possession offenders. Simple possession first offense is punishable by up to six months in jail, but 60% of respondents said it should be decriminalized. Click on the poll link for demographics and methodologies.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmakers to Hear High CBD Cannabis Oil Testimony Today. A legislative panel is meeting today in Lawrenceville to hear testimony from law enforcement, health care professionals, and others about medical marijuana extracts and cannabis oils. This could lay the groundwork for new legislation to be filed next year.

New Mexico Credit Unions Will Close Medical Marijuana Producer Accounts. Some credit unions have sent letters to nearly half the state's licensed medical marijuana producers saying they no longer accept their business and are closing their accounts. The credit unions said they could not comply with federal guidelines. Medical marijuana supporters are demanding to know why.

Drug Policy

Chris Christie Talks Drug Treatment, Ending Mandatory Minimums. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible 2016 GOP presidential contender, called Tuesday for making drug and alcohol treatment "more available for everybody" and criticized mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. "With 23 million folks addicted, it's not working," Christie said of the war on drugs. "There's gotta be a separation between the criminal act [of using illegal drugs] and the disease." Click on the link for more details.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Overdose Prevention Bill. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) Tuesday signed into law SB 1164, which has two harm reduction measures aimed at reducing drug overdoses. The bill creates a "Good Samaritan" immunity from prosecution for people helping overdose victims and it makes the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) more available to police and the public. The new law will go into effect on October 20.

Law Enforcement

Michigan House Committee Hears Testimony on SWAT Reporting Bill. The state House Criminal Justice Committee is hearing testimony today on a bill that would require SWAT teams in the state to report on their activities. The SWAT Team Reporting ACT, HB 4914, would require agencies with SWAT teams to n the number, location, reason, authorization and outcome of all deployments, and to file reports with the Attorney General's office twice a year.

International

Jamaica on the Way to Marijuana Decriminalization. Justice Minister Mark Golding said today that a bill to decriminalize marijuana has been drafted and should be passed into law before the end of the year. The bill would make possession of up to two ounces a petty offense and would also allow decriminalization for religious purposes, allowing the island nation's Rastafarians to smoke "Jah herb" without fear of arrest.

Chronicle AM: UMass Snitch Policy Review, Baby Bou Bou SWAT Grand Jury, More (9/30/2014)

Medical marijuana news from several states today, the Baby Bou Bou SWAT raid case is before a grand jury, UMass examines its student snitch policy, DA candidates in Houston are fighting over drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Mississippi Group Wants Legalization Initiative. A group of activists filed a petition Monday with the secretary of state's office seeking a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. This is the first step in putting a measure before the voters. The group is called Mississippi for Cannabis. We're not sure if these are the same folks, but there is a Legalize Marijuana in Mississippi Facebook page.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Supreme Court Hearing Patient's Wrongful Firing Lawsuit Today. The state Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who worked for the Dish Network until he was fired four years ago for testing positive for marijuana. Dish Network argues that even though medical marijuana is legal under state law, it is still illegal under federal law, and the firing was thus justified.

New York US Senators Ask Feds to Approve State's Request to Transport Medical Marijuana Across State Lines. US Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Charles Schumer (D) Monday sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) request for the Justice Department to allow the state to import high-CBD cannabis oil from out of state. "As members of Congress whose constituents suffer from these illnesses, we feel that the federal government ought to do what it can to help these children," the senators wrote. "Therefore, we are requesting that you provide the state of New York with a waiver that would prohibit federal prosecution for the importation of cannabidol in the rare cases where medical marijuana is imported between two states with legalized medical marijuana, and the amount is small, finite and prescription-based."

Second Annual Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Festival This Weekend. The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition is hosting the festival to celebrate the eighth year of the state's medical marijuana program. Click on the link for more details.

Wisconsin Activists Target Recalcitrant Legislators With Billboards. Sick and tired of seeing bills blocked in the state legislature, medical marijuana activists are targeting two key opponents, Republican state Sens. Mary Lazich and Leah Vukmir, in a newly unveiled billboard campaign. The billboards urge readers to call the two senators and ask them why Wisconsin patients have no access to medical marijuana.

Drug Policy

Harris County, Texas, (Houston) DA Race All About Drugs. A debate over the weekend between Republican incumbent Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson and Democratic challenger Kim Ogg was all about drugs. The candidates both suggested that they would allow some low-level marijuana possession offenders to avoid permanent criminal records, although Ogg would go further than Anderson. They also tussled over whether or not to press felony charges for trace amounts of cocaine or crack pipes, with Anderson taking the harder line. Click on the link for more flavor.

Prescription Opiates

Doctors' Group Issues Pain Reliever Guidelines, Says Not Appropriate for Many Cases. The American Academy of Neurology has released a new position paper, Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain, that says the risks of opioid pain relievers outweigh their benefits in treating chronic headaches, low back pain, and fibromyalgia. "Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction," the group concludes. The position paper calls for increased screening, monitoring, and drug testing of opioid-using pain patients, but has little to say about actually treating chronic pain.

Law Enforcement

UMass to Review Whether to Allow Students to Act as Drug Snitches. In the wake of the heroin overdose death of a student who had been arrested by campus police on drug charges, but who was allowed to become an informant for police, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst said Monday it would review the program that allows police to recruit students as snitches. Questions have been raised about whether the program gets students appropriate treatment for drug problems and whether the students' parents are notified of violations, as they are with alcohol violations.

Georgia Grand Jury Hearing Evidence on "Baby Bou Bou" SWAT Raid. A Habersham County grand jury Monday began reviewing evidence in the case of "Baby Bou Bou," the toddler who was seriously injured when a SWAT team member on a drug raid threw a flash bang grenade into his play pen. The SWAT team found neither drugs nor the individual they were seeking. The grand jury will review the evidence surrounding the drug raid and determine if criminal charges should be filed against authorities who executed it.

International

Eleven Killed in Mexico Cartel Clashes in Chihuahua. Mexican prosecutors said clashes last Friday between Sinaloa and Juarez cartel members in the town of Guachochi, Chihuahua, in the Tarahumara mountain range, left 11 people dead. No Mexican security forces were involved, they said. The isolated region, home to the Tarahumara Indians, has been the scene of repeated clashes between rival drug gangs.

Canadian Drug Reformers Rally in Ottawa. Drug reformers, health lobbyists, and the Liberal Party's health critic, Hedy Fry, gathered on Parliament Hill Tuesday to advocate for more enlightened drug policies. Current policies unfairly criminalize drug users and don't effectively treat addiction, they said. Click on the link for more detail.

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

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Policy in Senate Races, CA Fair Sentencing Act, Stanton Peele on Disease Model, More (9/29/14)

Marijuana politics is popping up in some US Senate races, pot arrests are still going up in some states, the Guam medical marijuana initiative faces a legal challenge, Stanton Peele takes on the disease model of addiction and liberals who love it, Jerry Brown signs the California Fair Sentencing Act, and more. Let's get to it:

Addiction psychologist Stanton Peele rips into liberals who embrace the disease model of addiction. (YouTube.com)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy in the Kentucky US Senate Race. Pot politics is playing a role in the Kentucky Senate race. Both incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Grimes agree that industrial hemp is a good thing, but Grimes said last Thursday she wants to have a discussion on legalizing marijuana, especially for medical purposes. McConnell retorted last Friday that he opposes legalizing marijuana for any reason because the state has a heroin problem and it would send the wrong message.

Nebraska Democratic US Senate Candidate Open to Legalization. The Democratic nominee for the US Senate from Nebraska is open to marijuana legalization. "I think we should give very serious consideration to legalization of marijuana," Dave Domina said Thursday. "If I were a philosopher king, we wouldn't have it, but I'm not and we need to spend our law enforcement dollars as intelligently as we can. That's not on marijuana enforcement. "What we should do is to make safe and dispense responsibly the drugs that are the most common, the least dangerous," he said. "I'm not saying they are desirable. I don’t think cigarettes are desirable, frankly. But nonetheless, I think that’s what we need to do. We need to methodically make marijuana available to people on a rational basis. It needs to be safely distributed and it needs to be taken away from crime as a profit center." The Republican nominee, Ben Sasse, didn't take a firm stand on the issue.

Marijuana Arrests Up in 17 States. Marijuana legalization may be inevitable, but some states haven't gotten the message. According to a new report from marijuana researcher Dr. Jon Gettman, even though national marijuana arrests peaked in 2007, marijuana arrests increased in 17 states between 2008 and 2012. Those states and their rates of annual increase are: South Carolina (11.6%), Washington, DC (7.7%) South Dakota (7.7%), North Dakota (5.5%), Utah (4.5%), Illinois (4.3%), Montana (3.5%), Idaho (3.2%), Virginia (2.6%), New York (2.4%), New Jersey (2.4%), Oregon (2.1%), Tennessee (1.7%), Wisconsin (1.2%), Vermont (1%), Michigan (1%), and West Virginia (1%). The report is Marijuana in the States 2012.

Overblown Analogy Department. The Polk County, Florida, Sheriff's Office is sounding the alarm over high-THC cannabis oil, popularly known as "wax" or "dabs," but its spokesperson is relying on an old bogeyman to get her message across. "This particular drug is to marijuana the way crack is to cocaine," Donna Wood said.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Attorney Seeks to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. Voters in Guam are set to vote on a medical marijuana initiative submitted by the territorial legislature next month, but a Guam attorney has asked the US District Court there to block the vote. Howard Trapp argues that the legislature can't legally "pass the buck" to voters, even though the island's Supreme Court said it could in an August ruling. The election commission has until October 7 to respond to the filing.

First Illinois Patients Get Their Cards. Jim Champion, an Army vet who suffers from multiple sclerosis, is apparently the first Illinois patient to get his medical marijuana card. His came last week. He is the first of more than 2,000 Illinois residents who have applied under the state's new law.

New York Governor Asks Justice Department to Allow State to Acquire Medical Marijuana from Other States. Last Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General David Cole asking the Justice Department to extend a narrow, time-limited exception to federal law to allow the importation of certain strains of medical marijuana from other states for use by children in New York with severe forms of epilepsy. The letter follows a similar letter sent last month by the Cuomo administration to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Drug Policy

Dr. Stanton Peele on the Disease Theory of Addiction. Drug war critic and iconoclastic addiction psychologist Dr. Stanton Peele has penned a provocative screed critical of the disease theory of addiction and political liberals who embrace it. The article is "Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It."

Sentencing

California Fair Sentencing Act Signed Into Law. California Gov. Jerry Brown Sunday signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which will undo racial disparities in the sentencing of cocaine offenders under laws passed during the crack cocaine hysteria of the 1980s. Brown did not issue a signing statement. The law, Senate Bill 1010, eliminates sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It also eliminates related disparities in probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for those offenses.

International

Uruguay Presidential Candidate Says Pot Smoker Registry Could Be Used to Identify People Needing Drug Treatment. Former President Tabare Vazquez, who is running to return to the office, has proposed using the state's registry of marijuana users to expose them to drug treatment. He was attempting to frame the law as a rehabilitative measure, but critics say it could dissuade users from registering with the state. Vazquez's remarks also run afoul of provisions in the law that limit revealing such data "without the individual's express written consent."

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

Chronicle AM: OR Marijuana Poll, Colombia Drug Accord, Big Philly Drug Case Dismissal, More (9/26/14)

A new poll is surely leading to nail-biting in Oregon, a dirty narc is costing Philadelphia prosecutors dozens of drug cases, Colombia reveals details on drug accords with the FARC, a Canadian drug policy rally is coming next week, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Latest Oregon Poll Has Initiative at 44%. A new SurveyUSA poll has support for the Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative at 44%, with 40% opposed, and 16% undecided. The high number of undecideds may be an artifact of the way the poll question was asked -- it asked if voters were "certain" to vote for or against the measure. An even split among undecideds would result in passage of the initiative. This is a decline from an August SurveyUSA poll, which had the measure at 51%, but the questions were worded slightly differently in the two polls. Click on the links for more poll details.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia Judge Dismisses 59 Drug Cases Involving Dirty Narc. The cases involved former narcotics officer Jeffrey Walker, who has been convicted of plotting to rob drug dealers. That brings to 160 the number of cases involving Walker that have been vacated since he was indicted in May 2013. Another 58 cases remain open. Walker is now cooperating in a broader probe of the narcotics unit, where six officers were charged in July with robbing, beating, and kidnapping drug suspects.

International

Colombia Reveals Details on Drug Policy Treaty Provisions With FARC. Colombia Reports has an in-depth look at the drug provisions in the work-in-progress peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the leftist rebels of the FARC. A preliminary agreement was released Wednesday in the face of criticism over the lack of transparency in the process. The two sides have agreed on national-level programs to conduct consensual illicit crop substitution, address drug use through a public health approach, and beef up law enforcement to combat criminal groups involved in drug trafficking. Click on the link for much more.

Mexican Congressman Assassinated By Drug Cartel. Prosecutors in the state of Jalisco are saying they believe Dip. Gabriel Gomez Michel, who was abducted from a highway on the outskirts of Guadalajara on Monday, was most likely killed by a drug cartel. The bodies of Gomez and his driver were found in his burned out vehicle on Tuesday and positively identified on Wednesday. Prosecutors are pointing the finger at the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, a relatively new entrant in the cartel wars.

Mexico Arrests Eight Soldiers in Apparent Execution of Drug Gang Suspects. Seven soldiers and their commander have been arrested over the killing of 22 suspected drug gang members in a June 30 incident in the village of San Pedro Limon in Mexico state. The army had said the victims died in a fire fight with soldiers, but witnesses said they were killed in cold blood, and further suspicions were raised by the one-sided nature of the conflict. Only one soldier was slightly injured. Witnesses said only one person died in an initial confrontation; the rest were killed after surrendering. The army said they were members of La Familia Michoacana.

Canada First Annual National Drug Reform Rally Set for Tuesday. The first Annual National Rally for Canadian Drug Policy Reform will take place September 30 in Ottawa. A day earlier, proponents will meet with members of parliament to discuss evidence-based drug policy reforms. The rally is sponsored by the Canadian Drug Reform Network, the Canadian Harm Reduction Coalition, and Canada NORML, among others. Click on the link for more information.

Did Miami Police Wrongfully Execute Four, Including Their Informant? [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Part II of his series on ATF Fake Drug Stings Across America.

During the 1980s, Miami was a rich, glittering, southern city, awash in cocaine, and all sorts of other illegal drugs. The drug scene was so heavy and dangerous, its real-life drama inspired the popular Miami Vice TV series and the classic movie Scarface, as well as the more recent Cocaine Cowboy, an award-winning documentary based on the city's cocaine trafficking scene.

Today, Miami is no longer in the spotlight, but the drug business is still booming. And now there's a new twist: Law enforcement has made the dangerous world of the illicit drug trade even more dangerous by creating schemes to deceive would-be players into robbing drug trafficking stash houses that don't exist, setting up confrontations between robbers and police or robbers and homeowners over crimes cooked up by law enforcement itself.

The "fake robbery sting" is the brainchild of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), and the pro-active tactic has proven wildly popular, with state and local law enforcement agencies across the country engaging in the stings, particularly in the inner cities. In Miami, the results have included the mass killings of suspects by police SWAT teams under highly questionable circumstances.

A 2011 "fake robbery sting" that left four people dead -- including a police informant -- gunned down by a Miami-Dade SWAT team, has brought the program into harsh relief. Tricked by an informant into believing the residence was loaded with marijuana and large amounts of cash, the four men showed up armed and wearing ski masks.

SWAT officers shot and killed all four of them, including informant Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, 39, an ex-con who helped police set up the sting. Also killed by police were Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., age 52, Jorge Lemus, 39, and Antonio Andrew, 36.

A fifth suspect Gonzalez-Valdez Jr., the son of Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., was the only survivor. Police arrested him at the scene in the getaway vehicle, an Cadillac Escalade located outside the targeted residence. Gonzalez- Valdez Jr. later pled guilty to a litany of brutal home invasion robberies and got 27 years in federal prison.

The dead informant, Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia (Dade County)
Prosecutors investigated the killings, but got little cooperation from the SWAT team. Of the 11 officers involved in the mass killing, only four -- one from each fatal scene -- agreed to give statements to investigators, and only as long as no prosecutors were present. The other seven officers refused to give statements.

Prosecutors decided not to prosecute any of the police involved, making it clear as they did that they were frustrated by their inability to bring charges and that they believed serious police misconduct was involved. Especially damning to police was the State Attorney's Office (SAO) memorandum on the resolution of the case. The SAO report found one killing justified, but barely minced words about the rest of the lethal operation and police cooperation with investigators:

"Due to a number of unusual, counter-intuitive, suspicious and/or disturbing factors present in the other three shootings, we cannot state definitively that those shootings were legally justified. Nevertheless, because we do not have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to disprove the version of events given by the three officers and are thus compelled to accept their testimony as truthful [bolding and italics in original],… there is insufficient evidence to prove an unlawful killing of Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, Antonio Andrew, or Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. by any of the other 10 officers involved in the events of June 30, 2011."

That claim of legal compulsion drew a scoffing rebuke from Jeanne Baker, an attorney for the ACLU of Florida. "There's no rule of law that says that the prosecutors when evaluating a case are compelled to accept as truthful the testimony of the subject of the investigation," she told Miami NBC 6 News.

The SAO report further accused the officers of lying to investigators, moving dead bodies, and possibly planting evidence. The shootings were so disturbing that the State Attorneys went so far as to say "the officers weren't necessarily innocent."

The prosecutors' outrage was palpable, but what really lit up the city was the release by NBC 6 News of a video tape from a police helicopter's infrared camera that showed a replay of the men shot multiple times, although it appeared the men had not fired a shot at the officers and actually had surrendered.

Confronted with the now public video evidence, Miami police officials went on the offensive, expressing resentment that NBC Channel 6 got access to the secret police helicopter surveillance video. Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson asked the State Attorney's Office to investigate how the video tape showing the shootings fell into the hands of reporters.

A police spokesman said the informant, Rosendo Betancourt, defied officers' orders not to go onto the property, and that the officers, hidden in the dark, said it appeared the would-be robbers were trying to reach for weapons.

But consider the case of Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. The one weapon -- fully loaded -- that was allegedly his was located a few yards from where his body was found. Police had shot him 40 times as cowered against a tree in the fetal position. Police did not explain how Gonzalez-Valdez was threatening them with a weapon yards away from him.

Police officials also complained about the release of information in a State Attorney's Office report revealing that Betancourt, had been wearing a well-disguised audio wrist watch to record conversations. Betancourt could be seen wearing the watch during a surveillance video recorded earlier on June 30, 2011, the day of the killings.

Betancourt had been given code words to signal to police that he was their informant, and the audio surveillance from his watch would have showed whether or not he did so. But the audio wrist watch somehow went missing.

"That would've been a critical piece of evidence," said Jose Arrojo, a Chief Assistant at the State's Attorney Office.

Although police managed to thwart any attempt to prosecute them, the taxpayers of Miami-Dade have not been so fortunate. In July, the city agreed to pay $600,000 to the families of three of the men to settle a deadly force lawsuit. Betancourt's family didn't settle, and their lawsuit against the city remains pending.

The Redland sting -- named after the neighborhood where it went down -- remains one of the bloodiest episodes in a city that has seen its share of questionable police killings. And it raises serious questions about police misconduct and impunity.

"Are there questions marks? Of course. There are too many questions marks," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle admitted in an interview with Miami's NBC Channel 6.

Fernandez-Rundle said it was reasonable to conclude that based on the evidence that the officers acted with negligence and may have violated proper police procedures by shooting the men, particularly when an analysis of audio recording of the shooting proved "definitely" that six of the officers did not hear a gunshot from one of the dead men, nor did anyone find a rifle belonging to any of the men, as reported by an officer who said Jorge Lemus had a rifle.

Fernandez-Rundle also cited as another factor in her decision not to file charges a Florida appeals court decision that, she said, held "that any violation of police procedures and training is not admissible as evidence in criminal cases."

"The cops violated his civil rights," Jesse Dean-Kluger, an attorney involved in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Antonio Andrew, told the Miami New Times in 2012. Dean-Kluger argued the cops led the men into a scheme to expect an armed confrontation with drug dealers.

Deadly Operation: An Informant Comes Forward

So where did everything began in the first place? While most people snitch to avoid going to prison or for the easy money, police said Betancourt walked into a Miami-Dade robbery detail in June 2011 out of a sense of moral duty. He told a harrowing tale about being "sick and tired" of extreme violence inflicted on victims by a group of brutal home-invasion robbers.

Betancourt said the violence carried out by the men he knew personally included savage beatings, the cutting of one man's scrotum, using a hammer to pound the toes and fingers of the victims, cutting off fingers, and issuing threats to cut off childrens' fingers to force parents to reveal hidden valuables and money.

Police investigators questioned Betancourt as to how he knew so much about the crimes, Betancourt explained the men regularly sold him the stolen goods that were taken during the robberies. He identified Roger Gonzalez Valdez Sr., Jorge Lemus, Antoinio Lewis and Gonzalo-Valdez Jr. -- as the men responsible for the violent robberies Miami-Dade cops were already investigating.

Police developed a scheme to Betancourt as an informant to lure the men into a plot to rob a drug dealer's marijuana stash house in Redland, a suburb of Miami.

Attorney Matthew Leto is representing the Betancourt-Garcia family. (hlhlawfirm.com)
Between 8:00pm and 8:30pm on June 30, 2011, the men arrived at the "fake drug house" located at 18930-216th Street SW in Redland. Once the men agreed on an entry plan, they cut through a fence to reach the house -- and as they trudged closer; suddenly, police snipers, hidden among the shadows, armed with Colt M4 Commando assault rifles, stormed out from different directions in the dark to pursue the men who, now aware they'd been set up, scattered throughout the property. It is unclear if the officers commanded the men to "halt," but officers fired upon each suspect.

The first suspect killed, an armed Jorge Lemus, was shot to death while crouching down behind a vehicle. Informant Rosendo Betancourt died next in a hail of bullets. An overhead police helicopter infrared camera captured Betancourt surrendering to police with his hands up in the air. Next, police ordered Betancourt to lie on the ground, and crawl towards the officers. Betancourt complied.

The SAO report stated Sergeant Manuel Malgor then ordered Betancourt to turn over, and at this point, according to Malgor, this is when the informant got blasted 23 times -- just as it appeared to Malgor that Betancourt reached for his gun. Indeed a weapon was found in Betancourt's waistband but the lawyers representing Betancourt's family suspected the police planted the gun.

They had other questions, too. Why didn't Betancourt utter the code word assigned by police: "I'm heading to Disney World -- or help!" And what happened to the missing audio watch that Betancourt was wearing to record conversations between himself, the police and the robbers, a watch that could be clearly seen that he was wearing during the "real time" surveillance -- only a few hours before he was killed.

Aerial video footage did not actually capture Sgt. Malgor and fellow officers shooting Betancourt, thus, the prosecutors said, they "could not disprove the Sergeant's story," but they seriously questioned why the officer did not handcuff Betancourt as he laid on his stomach.

"The police let him down," a family member lamented.

Antonio Andrew was shot a dozen times while lying on the ground. Again, the officers claimed Andrew reached for a gun, although State prosecutors determined the officers gave contradictory orders.

For example, one officer hollered at Andrew, "Don't move your hands, and let me see your hands underneath your waistband." When Andrew obeyed the second command, an officer said Andrew made a quick movement towards his waist area. And this is when officers fired a dozen shots, killing Andrew instantly.

When a NBC Channel 6 reporter asked Assistant State Attorney Don Horn how someone can make a simultaneous move for his waistband -- when an officer said Andrew's hands were already in his waistband, Horn replied in disgust, "I don't know. It made no sense to me."

Even more disturbing, Horn wasn't able to question the officer (why) he gave obvious conflicting commands or ask the officer any other question because the officers, as mentioned earlier, would only speak to investigators if no prosecutor was present.

Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. either dropped or discarded his gun as he tried to flee the scene. Police eventually found Gonzalez cowering at the base of a tree. The officer seen on the released video behind the tree with Gonzalez's "back" to him said in his statement that Gonzalez made a quick move into his waistband, a move that allegedly forced the officers to open fire, striking Gonzalez 40 times out of 50 shots fired.

But prosecutors question whether the officer had a good view of Gonzalez near the tree, as the officer claimed. "Our repeated reviews of the video caused us to question whether the officer... was even in a position to see what he saw," the attorneys wrote.

State prosecutors also said the evidence showed that officers moved Gonzalez-Valdez's body after they shot him dead. Here's why prosecutors suspected this: a black hand-held police radio was found in Gonzalez's hand.

"We have a system of justice that require apprehension, prosecution, conviction and sentencing," said attorney Justin Leto of Miami, who handled the wrongful death lawsuit for Jorge Lemus and Antoinio Andrew. "I don't see any evidence indicating these people needed to be shot on sight," Leto said.

Justin Leto's brother Matthew is representing the Betancourt family in its pending federal lawsuit.

"The police did not take care of Mr. Betancourt like they promised," said Matthew Leto.

That lawsuit appears to be the end of the story. Four men are dead -- gunned down by police in an operation more reminiscent of an elite military anti-terror raid than of what we traditionally think of as civilian law enforcement -- and there is no legal accountability. Impunity is something we criticize in heavy-handed Latin American or Middle Eastern governments, but perhaps we need to look in the mirror.

Miami, FL
United States

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