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Chronicle AM -- April 9, 2014

Attorney General Holder was on the pot-seat in Congress yesterday, New Jersey's legalization bill looks to have an uphill battle with public opinion, there's a psychedelic conference in Massachusetts this weekend, Uruguay is going to give medical marijuana to prisoners, and more. Let's get to it:

Trip the light fantastic at a conference on psychedelics at UMass-Amherst this weekend. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Holder Defends Administration Response to Marijuana, But Refuses to Go Further. Facing critics from both sides of the debate, Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday defended the administration's rather laissez-faire approach to marijuana legalization at the state level, but declined to go further to please reform supporters by taking executive branch action to reschedule the herb. He was appearing before the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link for more details and some of the repartee.

GOP Congressman Calls for Republicans to Nominate Presidential Candidate With States' Rights Position on Marijuana. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said Tuesday that the Republican Party should field a presidential candidate who supports states' rights to legalize marijuana -- as part of a broader states' rights agenda that also includes scrapping the Department of Education. "I think we ought to look for a presidential candidate who will make that part of his message," he said. "Just transfer it all to the states. Now this government would have nothing to do with education, and how about, from now on, drug laws are considered criminal matters, which is what our Founding Fathers had in mind, and that is up to the states." Rohrabacher also claimed (rather fancifully, unfortunately) that "Reagan did not want to put people in jail. He did not want to militarize our county in order to stop people from smoking weed."

Poll Finds New Jersey Evenly Split on Legalization, Less Support for Actual Bill. A new Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll has support for legalizing small amounts of marijuana at 48%, with 47% opposed. But when asked specifically about supporting a pot legalization bill, Senate Bill 1896, recently introduced by Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Middlesex), only 36% were in favor, with 49% opposed. "Obviously, New Jerseyans are really split on the idea of legalizing marijuana and are unsure about the specifics of the Scutari proposal," said Patrick Murray, director of the polling institute.

Medical Marijuana

Supporters Rally as New Hampshire Senate Considers Home Cultivation. Supporters of cannabis for therapeutic use are rallying in Concord this morning behind a bill that would allow for a limited home cultivation of marijuana plants for qualifying patients. The bill, House Bill 1622, would allow two mature plants per patient, and the authorization would be only until a licensed cannabis dispensary opens within 30 miles of their residence.

Missouri House Committee Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. A Missouri House committee has advanced legislation allowing the use of a cannabis extract by people whose epilepsy is not relieved by other treatments. House Bill 2238 passed the House General Laws Committee and is now set for a hearing in the House Rules Committee tomorrow.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription Drug Monitoring Bill Derailed in Oklahoma. A bill that would require doctors to check their patients' drug histories before writing narcotic prescriptions was derailed Tuesday by a House committee chairman, but sponsors expressed hope they could keep the issue alive. Rep. David Derby, chairman of the House Public Health Committee, would not let the bill be heard Tuesday during his panel's last scheduled meeting before a deadline for committee approval. He said he was concerned about several elements of the bill, including a provision that could allow the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to fine physicians $2,000 for failing to check the online Prescription Monitoring Program. The measure is House Bill 3030.

Psychedelics

Psychedelic Conference This Weekend at UMass-Amherst. Psychedelic and research and policy experts will speak on issues relating to the role of psychedelics in culture, medicine and science at the Psymposium 2014: The Nature of Psychedelics conference. The conference will be held at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst on April 12 & 13 and is open to the public. Click on the link for all the details.

Law Enforcement

Another Lawsuit Filed Against Crooked Suburban Chicago Cops. Another lawsuit has been filed against the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg and three of its former undercover tactical narcotics officers, who have been accused of selling illegal drugs they seized from dealers. Xavier Neodina filed the suit Monday in federal court claiming police used falsified information to get a search warrant for his home, that he was then arrested and sexually assaulted while being held in the Cook County Jail, and the officers "intentionally schemed and worked together" to set him up. This is the fourth lawsuit filed against Schaumburg and its crooked cops. At least a dozen people convicted of drug offenses have been cleared of charges. One of the cops has been sentenced to 12 years in prison, while two others face trial later this month.

International

Uruguay to Provide Prisoners with Medical Marijuana. Prisoners in the jails of Uruguay will be able to use marijuana if a doctor says it will benefit their health. Uruguay's drug czar, Julio Calzada, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that any inmates with doctors' orders will be prescribed marijuana to improve their physical or mental health.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Another jail guard dope smuggler, another cop with a pain pill problem, another cop brought down by a sting, another cop selling cocaine, and yet another cop smuggling cocaine. Ho-hum. Just another week of drug war police corruption. Let's get to it:

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Tulsa police officer was arrested last Thursday on multiple charges after getting caught up in a Tulsa Police sting operation. Officer Tyrone Jenkins, 40, took payments from an undercover officer and agreed to provide confidential information. He also allegedly attempted to sell cocaine. He is charged with two counts of violating the Computer Crimes Act, two counts of bribery, and one count of Attempted Intent to Deliver an Illegal Narcotic. He's looking at up to more than 50 years in prison.

In Concord, California, a Concord police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he was stealing prescription drugs from senior citizens. Officer Matthew Switzer, 38, a 12-year veteran, went down after a tipster contacted police about his alleged thievery. He allegedly took drugs from at least residents at a local senior housing complex. He is charged with two counts of first-degree burglary and one count each of second-degree burglary, fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs and elder abuse. His attorney says he's strung out on pain pills from an on-duty injury. He has since resigned from the force.

In Bryan, Texas, a Brazos County jail guard was arrested last Friday for smuggling drugs and tobacco into the jail. Cody Allan Jones admitted accepting a total of $1,100 to smuggle pouches of tobacco into the facility, but said he didn't know there was Ecstasy inside the pouches. He was booked into his place of employment, but bailed out the next day.

In Miami, a Miami-Dade police internal affairs lieutenant was arrested Tuesday on charges he was helping cocaine traffickers. Lt. Ralph Mata is accused of protecting cocaine smugglers, buying them firearms, doling out sensitive law enforcement intelligence, and even concocting a plot to murder rivals. The 22-year veteran, allegedly known as "The Milk Man," is portrayed as a key player in a smuggling ring that moved cocaine in produce pallets from countries including Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. Click on the link for more juicy details.

In Greenbelt, Maryland, a former Prince Georges County police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to 10 years in federal prison for his role in a conspiracy to sell cocaine and untaxed cigarettes. Sinisa Simic pleaded guilty in 2011 to cocaine trafficking, extortion and firearm offenses. He admitted protecting the sale and transport of multiple shipments of contraband cigarettes in Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere. He was one of 10 people, including two other police officers, enveloped in a corruption probe in the county.

Southern California Schoolgirl Killed in Drug-Related Police Pursuit

A 12-year-old Orange County girl was killed last week when a driver fleeing police seeking to apprehend him on drug and weapons warrants crashed into her family's car. Vivian Nguyen becomes the 14th person to die so far this year in US domestic drug law enforcement operations.

According to The Orange County Register, citing police sources, Westminster Police were chasing a Chevy Suburban driven by Aleksandr Apostoloic, 26, who was wanted on narcotics trafficking and weapons warrants, last Thursday afternoon when the Suburban slammed broadside into a minivan carrying Nguyen's family.

Vivian Nguyen died that same night. Her brother William, 13, is hospitalized in critical condition, and her mother, Helen, is in serious condition. Both are expected to recover.

Apostoloic was arrested midnight Thursday on suspicion of murder, assault with a deadly weapon and felony evasion, as well as the warrants for drug trafficking and weapons violations.

Twelve uninvolved bystanders died in police pursuits in California in 2012, the last year for which data is available. A 2006 law requires law enforcement agencies to implement pursuit policies and yearly training or lose their immunity to lawsuits related to pursuit injuries or damages. It was not reported whether the Westminster Police have done so.

Westminster, CA
United States

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

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

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

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

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

It didn't work out that way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rogue Cops in the Hood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camden, NJ
United States

Police Kill Wisconsin Man in "No Knock" Drug Raid

A Red Cedar, Wisconsin, was shot and killed by police during a February drug raid. Although we didn't catch the story at the time, Dennis Grohn, 32, becomes the 13th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

[Editor's Note: We only saw this story when a new story about Grohn's autopsy results came out. We strive to catch every drug war-related death in the US, but we're only as good as our Google news searches, so we once again implore readers to send us any news of drug war deaths they come across. We may have seen them already, but we may not have, either, and we appreciate your input in our bid to be as comprehensive as possible.]

According to The St. Paul Pioneer Press, citing police sources, members of the Dunn County sheriff's office, the West Central Drug Task Force and Eau Claire County Regional Tactical Team hit Grohn's home with a "no knock" search warrant at 2:00am on February 12.

The details of what happened next are sketchy, but Grohn ended up shot and fatally wounded shortly thereafter. He was pronounced dead in the emergency room of the Mayo Health Clinic.

There is no mention in either the initial accounts of the raid or in the autopsy story of Grohn having or brandishing a weapon. But according to the search warrant, police were looking for weapons, as well as methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, and other indicia of drug sales at his home.

But Dunn County District Attorney James Peterson determined last month that the use of deadly force by the Eau Claire County Regional SWAT team was justified and offered up the following detail:

"According to an investigation done by the State Department of Criminal Investigation, a member of the SWAT team entered Grohn's garage and saw him sitting in a chair. The deputy says Grohn growled and charged him. The men collided, and the deputy shot Grohn once. The two then fell to the floor in a struggle. Another officer told investigators he saw Grohn's hand on the deputy's rifle and that he feared for his own, and the deputy's, life. He then fired one shot at Grohn, killing him. Prior to entering the home the swat team had been advised that this was considered a high risk entry. Grohn had a history of violence toward police officers, weighed 280 pounds, was suspected of having a shotgun and was likely under the influence of meth. Peterson says Grohn was also likely aware he was facing a lengthy prison sentence if he was caught selling meth."
 

The autopsy report on Grohn came out this week, and the Dunn County Medical Examiner's Office said he was "heavily under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of his death," and that the amount of meth in his blood was "near a toxic range." But it wasn't meth that killed Grohn, it was a policeman's gun shot.

Red Cedar, WI
United States

Pew Poll Reveals Seismic Shift in Drug Policy Attitudes [FEATURE]

A new national survey released today by the Pew Research Center provides strong evidence that Americans are undergoing a tectonic shift in their views on drug policy. Not only are Americans convinced that marijuana legalization is coming; a majority supports it, and even larger majorities support a fundamental realignment of our drug policies away from the criminal justice system and toward treatment instead of punishment for hard drug users.

rethinking...
Among the key findings of the report was that more than six in ten Americans (63%) say that state governments moving away from mandatory prison terms for drug law violations is a good thing, while just 32% say these policy changes are a bad thing. This is a substantial shift from 2001 when the public was evenly divided (47% good thing vs. 45% bad thing). The majority of all demographic groups, including Republicans and Americans over 65 years old, support this shift.

Similarly, two-thirds (67%) say the government should focus more on providing treatment for people who use drugs like cocaine and heroin. Just 26% think the focus should be more on prosecuting people who use such drugs. The poll did not ask if hard drug users should just be left alone barring harm to others.

"Given that the vast majority of Americans don't think people should be prosecuted for drug possession, it's time to ask the question: Why are we still arresting people for nothing more than drug possession?" asked Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

More than 1.5 million people are arrested in the U.S. every year for a drug law violation. The vast majority -- more than 80% -- are arrested for possession only. Roughly 500,000 Americans are behind bars on any given night for a drug law violation, including more than 55,000 people in state prisons for simple drug possession.

"There's a new consensus that mandatory minimums are no longer appropriate for drug and other nonviolent offenders," said Nadelmann. "This is reflected and confirmed by the growing bipartisan support for rolling back and ending such laws."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/pew-mandatory-minimums-poll.jpg
The passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced, but did not eliminate, sentencing disparities between federal crack and powder cocaine offenders is one example of the emerging reformist consensus. Sentencing reform measures passed by around half the states in the past decade, which have resulted in an absolute decline in state prison populations, have also proven popular with a citizenry increasingly tired of drug war without end.

And President Obama and Attorney General Holder have continued to make a series of moves over the past year indicating that they are serious about reducing mass incarceration and fixing the criminal justice system, including a call from Holder to federal prosecutors to not use mandatory minimum charges if they don't have to.

Likewise, in an otherwise-bitterly-divided Congress, legislators from both sides of the aisle are pushing to reform mandatory minimum drug laws. The reforms are supported by a group of Senators who can only be described as strange bedfellows: Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island).

At the same time, the Pew poll illuminates what has been a major shift in attitudes on whether the use of marijuana should be legal. As recently as four years ago, about half (52%) said they thought the use of marijuana should not be legal; 41% said marijuana use should be legal. Today those numbers are roughly reversed -- 54% favor marijuana legalization while 42% are opposed. Just 16% say it should not be legal for either medical or recreational use.

And no matter respondents' personal feelings for or against marijuana legalization, 75% of them think it is inevitable.

Also, more than two-thirds (69%) said that alcohol was more harmful than marijuana for individuals. And nearly the same number (63%) said alcohol was more harmful to society.

"Leadership is needed to overcome the institutional lethargy and vested interest that have stymied meaningful police and sentencing reform," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "The policies are counterproductive, and too many otherwise law-abiding people are getting caught up in the justice system because of them."

"It is good to know that despite the DEA's best efforts the American people are getting scientifically accurate information about marijuana, and the fact that it is objectively less harmful than alcohol to both individual health and society at large. The increase in support since last year's poll shows that more and more Americans understand it's simply bad public policy to steer adults toward alcohol by punishing those who prefer marijuana as a less harmful alternative," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Now that three-quarters of Americans understand taxing and regulating marijuana is inevitable, the writing is on the wall. Congress needs to read it and move forward with legislation allowing states to choose more effective policies without federal interference," Riffle added.

While Nadelmann also greeted the poll results, he warned that it should not be used as fuel for even more, if softer, expansion of the criminal justice system.

"It's good to see yet another poll confirm the results of other state and national polls showing majority support for legalizing marijuana," he said. "And it's nice to see that Americans overwhelmingly support treatment-instead-of-incarceration. But it's important to recognize that there has been overwhelming support for treatment-instead-of-incarceration for well over a decade now -- and that we've reached the point where the public needs to be better educated about the benefits of providing treatment outside the criminal justice system rather than within and through it. It would be a shame if this latest poll result were used to promote drug courts and other coercive, abstinence-only programs rather than meaningful treatment in the community."

Chronicle AM -- April 2, 2014

A new Pew Research poll has some surprising and heartening results, Madison (WI) says legalize it, Wisconsin passes a CBD medical marijuana bill, misbehaving cops get noticed, the Russians are griping about the Aghan poppy crop again, and more. Let's get to it:

Aghanistan opium poppy field (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Dane County (Madison), Wisconsin, Voters Say Legalize It. Voters in Dane County approved a non-binding advisory referendum calling on legislators to legalize marijuana in the land of the Cheese Heads. The referendum passed with 64.5% of the vote.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Senate Panel Holds Hearing on Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate General Laws Committee heard testimony on a medical marijuana bill Tuesday, but took no action. The measure, Senate Bill 951, is not expected to pass this session.

Wisconsin CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Legislature. The Wisconsin legislature has approved a CBD medical marijuana bill. Assembly Bill 726 passed the Senate Tuesday, the last day of the legislative session. It had already passed the Assembly.

Drug Policy

Pew Poll Finds Tectonic Shift Underway on Drug Policy. A new Pew Research Center poll finds that the public is ready for a truce in America's long-running drug war. Two-thirds favored treatment over jail for heroin and cocaine users and strong majorities said that alcohol was more harmful than marijuana. Click on the link for full poll results, or read our feature story on it in this issue.

Prescription Drugs

US Senator Calls on DEA to Implement Prescription Drug Take Back Program. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) took to the Senate floor Tuesday to press the DEA to implement a 2010 law based on bipartisan legislation she sponsored. The law expands drug take back programs. "Prescription drug abuse has reached crisis levels and is leading to a spike in heroin abuse as well, and we should spare no effort to reverse this deadly trend," Klobuchar said. "My drug take back law will help keep drugs out of the wrong hands and prevent prescription drug abuse as well as heroin abuse. The Administration needs to implement this common sense law so that we can give families new tools to help fight this devastating epidemic." No word yet on any DEA response.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Occupy Activists Given Drugs By Cops Can Sue, Judge Rules. In a bizarre story out of Minneapolis, a federal judge has ruled that Occupy activists plied with marijuana by Minnesota police doing a drug identification training exercise during the protests can sue. Law enforcement agencies that employed the officers involved had filed a motion to throw out the case, but US District Court Judge John Tunheim rejected the motion, noting that "in light of the clear prohibition on providing illicit drugs to citizens," the agencies "are not entitled to the protection of qualified immunity." Click on the link for all the weird details.

Lawsuit Charges Corruption, Harassment Among Alabama Narcs. A former Walker County deputy who worked for the department's Narcotics Enforcement Team before he was fired has filed a lawsuit against the county and the sheriff charging he was fired for cooperating in an FBI investigation of his boss, who killed himself after stealing drug money to pay personal bills and support his mistress. Click on the link for all the sordid details.

International

Russian Drug Czar Charges NATO Doesn't Care About Afghan Drug Production. NATO's decision to phase out cooperation with Russia in training anti-drug officers for Afghanistan reveals the alliance's unwillingness to really combat drug production in this country, Viktor Ivanov, the chief of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, told Interfax on Wednesday. "This is not surprising. What could you have expected from NATO?" Ivanov said. "NATO has long been pursuing a policy aimed at the presence of its military component in Afghanistan. Now they are pulling out of this country, leaving massive drug production there," Ivanov said. Afghanistan accounts for nearly 90% of the world's illicit opium production, according to the UN.

DC Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill! [FEATURE]

Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray Monday signed the marijuana decriminalization bill passed last month by the city council. It's not quite a done deal yet, though -- Congress has 60 working days to object, but to stop the bill, it must pass a resolution blocking it, and President Obama must sign it. So it appears likely that the nation's capital will have decriminalized pot possession by the time Congress leaves town for the August recess.

"DC lawmakers heard loud and clear the public's demand to end marijuana arrests and passed one of the strongest decriminalization laws in the whole country, said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. We don't expect members of Congress to object to saving taxpayer dollars and advancing racial justice here in the nation's capital."

The decriminalization bill, the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409) makes possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of only $25 (the cheapest of any decriminalization state). It also explicitly prohibits police from using the smell of marijuana as a pretext for stopping and searching people.

The bill advanced through the DC political process on a wave of concern that marijuana laws in the nation's capital were being enforced in a racially discriminatory fashion and is seen by council members and advocates alike as a model for reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Last July, the American Civil Liberties Union released The War on Marijuana in Black and White, which found that black people in the District are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, and the Washington Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released Racial Disparities in Arrests in the District of Columbia, 2009-2011, which found that blacks accounted for nine out of 10 drug arrests in the District.

Those grim realities were at the forefront as a broad spectrum of DC faith, community, and advocacy groups praised Mayor Gray's signing of the bill.

DC Mayor Vincent Gray has signed the decrim bill. (mayor.dc.us)
"Passage of this law gets to the unspoken imbalances in our justice system for people of color and it is the voice of the people who ensured its passage," said Collective Power, a grassroots alliance of District residents concerned about the disproportionate criminalization and discrimination of communities of color. "The District of Columbia must be at the forefront of decriminalizing 'being black and brown' and this is the start."

"The passing of the decriminalization marijuana bill is the first step in the right direction to dismantling the immoral war on drugs that has devastated communities of color," said Rev. Kelly D. Wilkins with the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ.

"Although I do not advocate or condone the use of marijuana, I support this bill because far too many of our people have been targeted, locked up, thrown away and placed outside of our society due to a small amount of marijuana, said Reverend George C. Gilbert, Jr. with Holy Trinity United Baptist Church.

"This bill is one of the first measures to address racial profiling in drug arrests, both procedurally and substantively. We are confident that Congress shares the District's concerns about disparities in enforcement and the disturbing trends we are seeing nationwide," said Patrice Amandla Sulton with the NAACP DC Branch.

"This historic legislation exists because DC residents and their leaders decided to change an ugly reality: Black people are stopped, searched, and arrested under marijuana prohibition far more than whites, when both groups use the drug at similar rates," said Seema Sadanandan, Program Director at the ACLU of the Nation's Capital.

"I've talked to hundreds of people in the District's black and brown communities who have been stopped and searched because police officers claimed they smelled marijuana, only to find no evidence of the drug whatsoever," Sadanandan continued. "Children on their way home from school, parents on their way to work -- marijuana odor has become the flimsy excuse for treating people of color like criminals. With this decriminalization legislation, we will take a critical step toward ending the racial profiling of entire communities."

If and when the law goes into effect, DC will join 17 states that have already decriminalized small-time marijuana possession. But passage of the decriminalization bill into law is by no means the end to marijuana politics in the District -- in fact, it could be just a first step on a path toward outright legalization, either through the council or through the initiative process.

Before the council right now is a full-blown marijuana legalization bill, Council Bill 20-466, which has been sitting in the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee since it was introduced last fall by Councilmember David Grosso.

And waiting in the wings is the DC Cannabis Campaign, whose marijuana legalization initiative has just been approved for signature-gathering.

"I congratulate Mayor Gray for signing this practical reform that should result in fewer people being burdened with a trip to the courthouse for small amounts of marijuana. More people than ever are hopeful the mayor will next support full legalization," said the campaign's chairman, Adam Eidinger.

Given time limitations, Eidinger and the DC Cannabis Campaign can't sit around waiting for the city council to act or for a new mayor to be chosen. They need to start gathering signatures now if they are to try to qualify for the November ballot. They only have until July 7 to come up with 25,000 valid voter signatures, but if they do, the passage of the decriminalization bill may be a significant victory that ends up forgotten in the accelerating rush toward repealing pot prohibition.

Washington, DC
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More jail guards gone bad, evidence has gone missing in Alaska, a Georgia cop sells pot from his patrol car, a North Carolina detective working prescription pill diversion diverts some his way, and more. Let's get to it:

In Barrow, Alaska, news came last Friday that drugs and money are missing from the North Slope Borough Police Department evidence room. The stuff actually turned up missing a year ago, with evidence bags containing cocaine and cash sliced open and the contents removed. Now, an internal investigation is underway.

In Greenville, North Carolina, a Pitt County sheriff's detective was arrested last Monday for stealing drugs from a pharmacy and the sheriff's office prescription drug drop-off box. Detective Tyler Bryan had worked closely with doctors and a pharmacist to help stop the diversion of prescription drugs, but the pharmacy complained that he would take large amounts of narcotic pain medication and say he would turn the medicine in to the drop box. He is charged with doctor shopping for Oxycontin. He has also now been fired.

In Globe, Arizona, a Gila County Jail guard was arrested last Wednesday on charges he was smuggling contraband to inmates. Brittany Gonzales, 28, had just a month on the job when someone snitched her out and she went down after a brief investigation. She is facing felony promoting prison contraband charges.

In Indianapolis, an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer was arrested last Thursday following an internal affairs investigation into evidence mishandling. Patrolman Cory Owensby was put on leave last fall when investigators were tipped off that he had failed to turn over evidence in at least five cases, including marijuana, prescription pills, drug paraphernalia, and a steel axe. He was indicted on five felony counts of official misconduct. He also face five misdemeanor counts of criminal conversion and three misdemeanor counts of false informing. He has been released on his own recognizance.

In Lithonia, Georgia, a former Newton County deputy was sentenced last Thursday to five years in federal prison for selling marijuana from his marked patrol car while in uniform. Darrell Mathis, 41, went down after selling weed to both an FBI snitch and an undercover FBI agent, and had a pound with him when he was busted. He copped to one count of possessing a firearm during a drug transaction.

In Jersey City, New Jersey, a former state prison guard was sentenced last Friday to seven years in prison for smuggling heroin and marijuana into the prison where he worked. Bobby Singletary, 55, had worked at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center satellite unit for sex offenders in Kearny. He was found guilty of conspiracy, official misconduct, and bribery for a three-year smuggling operations where inmates paid for drugs by wiring money to conspirators on the outside.

Chronicle AM -- April 1, 2014

No April Fools' stories here -- the mayor of Washington really did sign a decriminalization bill, the Kentucky legislature really did pass a CBD medical marijuana bill, the US government really won't help Honduras shoot down drug planes, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill. District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray signed the marijuana decriminalization bill already passed by the city council Monday. It's still not quite a done deal, though; it must still get past the Congress, which has 60 days to stop it. We will have a feature story on the signing later today.

California Cannabis Hemp Initiative is Back and Seeking Signatures Again. The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, which failed to meet a signature-gathering deadline earlier this year, has been re-filed and is again seeking to come up with enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The followers of legendary activist Jack Herer have tried each election cycle for years to qualify, but have never managed to do it. They need slightly more than half a million signatures by August.

Medical Marijuana

The Eighth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics to be Held May 8-10; Registration Now in Progress. The medical marijuana organization Patients Out of Time and the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine are sponsoring the conference on the state of the art (and science) on medical marijuana in Portland, Oregon. Click on the link for all the details.

Arizona State Senator Blocks Funding for Long-Sought Medical Marijuana Research. Supporters of medical marijuana research are trying to put state Sen. Kimberly Yee in the hot seat because the Senate Education Committee chairwoman is blocking a bill that would allow monies collected under the state's medical marijuana program to be used to help fund an approved trial of medical marijuana for treating PTSD in veterans. The bill is House Bill 2333, which has already passed the House. A demonstration is set for tomorrow in Phoenix. Click on the title link for more details.

Kentucky Legislature Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Monday gave final approval to a bill that would allow research hospitals to prescribe CBD cannabis oil to children with seizures. Senate Bill 124 now goes to the desk of Gov. Steve Beshear (D).

Medical Marijuana Dropped from New York State Budget. On Saturday, Governor Cuomo, Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Co-Presidents Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein announced that they had reached a budget agreement, but the deal excluded a medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act. The Assembly had included the proposal as part of their one-house budget bill, but the Senate and governor refused to include the bill in the final budget. The Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, has bipartisan support in the Senate, and is supported by a super-majority of New York voters. But Senate leaders have refused to let the bill come up for a vote.

Oregon Health Authority Rethinks, Revises Rules to Allow Edibles, But. The Oregon Health Authority on Monday issued revised rules for marijuana-infused products, allowing the sale of baked goods and other sweets but banning marijuana-laced sweets "attractive to minors." The authority had recently issued draft rules banning edibles, but backed off in the face of strong opposition.

Puerto Rico Senate Debating Medical Marijuana. The Puerto Rican Senate is currently discussing the legalization of marjhuana for medical use and its cultivation. Advocates of the move argue legalization will dramatically cut crime and legal costs on the Caribbean Island. Click on the link for more details.

Prescription Drugs

Congressman Wants to Ban Zohydro. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch has filed a bill that would ban Zohydro, the powerful opioid pain reliever recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The bill is House Resolution 4241. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-VA).

Law Enforcement

Portland, Oregon, Commissioner Wants to Slash Dope Squad Funding. Portland Commissioner Steve Novick is working to convince his colleagues to cut half of the money budgeted for Portland Police Bureau's Drugs and Vice Division, arguing that other city services demand higher priority -- such as disaster preparedness and pedestrian safety. He argues that the division is engaged in a "failed 40-year effort to interrupt the supply of drugs." He makes his case before the commission today.

International

US Won't Help Honduras Shoot Down Suspected Drug Planes. The US will no longer provide radar information that could help the Honduran government shoot down suspected drug planes, US embassy officials in Tegucigalpa confirmed Monday. Honduras passed a law in January that allows military force against suspected drug planes if approved by the Honduran defense secretary.

Britain to Set Drugged Driving Per Se Standards. The British government is about to set drugged driving standards for a number of substances, some legal and some not. These are not "zero tolerance" standards, but will allow drivers to have small amounts of the substances in their blood without triggering drugged driving charges. Click on the link to see the limits for various substances.

Drug War Issues

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