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Chronicle AM -- June 6, 2014

Another marijuana-heavy news day today -- at least it's coming from all corners of the country. The DEA is giving ultimatums to doctors in Massachusetts, the California GOP attorney general candidate wants to legalize it, and, Down Under, the Melbourne city council has a report calling for a debate on drug legalization. Let's get to it:

Another image from the Drug Policy Alliance's series of photos normalizing marijuana use. (Sonya Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Marijuana Advocates Regroup, Call for Discussion of Legalization. Montana marijuana advocates, who have seen their once wide-open medical marijuana system dramatically scaled back, are ready to go on the offensive again. A new group has formed to further the cause. The Montana Project for Innovative Policy is eyeing a legalization initiative for 2016.

Louisiana Marijuana Supporters to Rally at State Capitol Saturday. After a legislative session in which marijuana reform bills went nowhere, reform advocates will rally at the state capitol in Baton Rouge Saturday. The event is organized by Legalize Louisiana, which apparently still exists despite having officially dissolved in March. Click on the Legalize Louisiana link for event details.

Lewiston, Maine, Legalization Initiative Signature-Gathering to Begin Monday. Marijuana legalization supporters in Maine's second largest city will launch the signature-gathering campaign for their municipal legalization initiative Monday. The measure would legalize the possession of up to 2 ½ ounces. A similar measure passed in Portland last year, and South Portland voters will also vote on one this year.

California GOP Attorney General Candidate Says Legalize It. Ron Gold, the presumptive Republican challenger to Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris, wants to legalize and tax marijuana, he told the Sacramento Bee. "I just think that police resources are so few, and we have so much to do, that going after someone who is having a joint in West Hollywood is about as useful as having another Carter's Little Liver Pill," Gold said. "An adult is an adult," he added. "If you use those things - and you're stupid - we can't bar stupidity." Harris, who is an odds-on favorite to win, hasn't endorsed legalization. "Basically, I am to the left of Harris on an issue that's always been very popular and critical in California," Gold said. "I view it as a matter of principle."

Medical Marijuana

DEA Giving Massachusetts Doctors Ultimatum: Quit Dispensaries or Lose Your License. The Boston Globe reported today that DEA agents have been visiting Massachusetts doctors involved with medical marijuana dispensaries and telling them the DEA will jerk the licenses to prescribe drugs if they don't cut ties with the dispensaries. And it's working. At least two doctors have severed ties, while one gave up his DEA license, saying as a semi-retired surgeon, he didn't need it to do his job. The Globe reports this will likely slow the opening of some long-awaited dispensaries.

Arizona Judge Orders State to Allow Medical Marijuana for PTSD. A state court judge has ruled that "a preponderance of evidence shows medical marijuana provides palliative benefit to those suffering from PTSD" and given the state Health Department until July 9 to accept his decision or appeal it. The department has denied all previous petitions seeking to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions.

DC Council to Hold Hearing Next Week on Expanding Qualifying Conditions List, Easing Cultivation Restrictions. The DC council will hear two bills related to medical marijuana next Tuesday. Bill 20-766, cosponsored by every member of the council, would repeal the qualifying conditions list and allow physicians to recommend marijuana to any patient they think marijuana would benefit. Bill 20-678, will increase the number of plants a cultivation center could possess from 95 to 500, better ensuring that patient need is met. Click on the title link for hearing details.

International

Melbourne, Australia, City Council Releases Report Recommending Debate on Legalizing Drugs. The city council in Melbourne, Australia's second largest city, Thursday released a report calling for a debate on the "challenges and opportunities" of legalizing and regulating currently illicit substances. But some council members are now distancing themselves from that aspect of the report, which deals more broadly with how to reduce crime and violence in the city.

(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.)

DEA Leaning On Massachusetts Docs with Dispensaries Ties

The Boston Globe is reporting today that the DEA has been visiting Massachusetts doctors involved with yet-to-open medical marijuana dispensaries and giving them an ultimatum: Cut your ties with the dispensary or lose your DEA-issued license to prescribe drugs.

The heavy-handed tactic from the prohibition enforcers is working.  The Globe interviewed two physicians who promptly severed their ties with dispensaries and a third who instead surrendered his license to prescribe (he said that as part-time surgeon, he didn't need it, although he'd had it for 40 years).

That could have an impact on the opening of some dispensaries, and that could have an impact on Massachusetts patients, who've already been waiting nearly a year-and-a-half for them to open since voters approved medical marijuana there in November 2012.

The DEA's actions to screw around with medical marijuana in Massachusetts come even as, in a historic vote, the House just a week ago voted to bar the DEA from interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Stories like this one from the Globe are only going to add pressure for the Senate to go along.

The DEA doesn't get it. It has already lost this war. It's time for the agency to get out of the way, or better yet, go the way of the dinosaurs.  But while the DEA and the prohibition regime it enforces may be dying dinosaurs, those final twitches of the tail still have the power to inflict injury. Better to put the beast out its misery.

Location: 
Boston, MA
United States

Chronicle AM -- June 5, 2014

An Arkansas marijuana legalization initiative can start signature-gathering, DC's medical marijuana program now includes more eligible conditions, Tennessee's governor unveils his prescription drug plan, Canada's mandatory minimum sentencing law is being challenged, and more. Let's get to it:

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets scolded by the medical marijuana movement.
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel yesterday approved the popular name and ballot title for a constitutional amendment initiative that would legalize marijuana. Supporters of the Arkansas Hemp and Cannabis Amendment now have just over one month -- until July 7 -- to submit more than 78,000 valid voter signatures in order to qualify for the November ballot. A medical marijuana initiative sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care is already in the signature-gathering phase.

Medical Marijuana

Group Targets DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for Not Voting to End DEA Interference in Medical Marijuana States. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is now running TV ads criticizing Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee as "out of touch" for voting against a measure to bar the DEA from interfering in medical marijuana states. Wasserman Schultz was one of only 18 Democrats who voted against it while 170 Democrats voted for it. The ads are running on MSNBC in South Florida, where her district is.

DC Medical Marijuana Program Adds New Qualifying Conditions. The DC Department of Health has approved new conditions for which patients will be able to use marijuana. They are seizure disorders, Lou Gehrig's Disease, decompensated cirrhosis, cachexia or wasting syndrome, and Alzheimer's. Hospice patients will also be allowed to use marijuana. Previously, the DC program had been restricted to people suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and muscle spasticity.

Heroin

Ohio Democratic Candidates Call for Tougher Action Against Heroin. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper are calling for tougher action against heroin. FitzGerald said he wants tougher enforcement on dealers and that rising heroin use should be treated as a public health emergency. And Pepper called for heroin overdose deaths to be treated like murder. FitzGerald added that not enough dealers are going to prison, especially after a sentencing reform bill passed. The Ohio Republican Party responded calling the Democrats "tone deaf" and "ghoulish," saying that Gov. John Kasich (R) has been a strong advocate on the issue, and besides, Attorney General Mike DeWine's (R) office had just indicted two heroin dealers last week.

Prescription Drugs

Tennessee Governor Rolls Out Prescription Drug Plan. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) Tuesday unveiled his seven-point program to battle problems associated with prescription drug use. "Prescription for Success: Statewide Strategies to Prevent and Treat the Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic in Tennessee" calls for reducing the prescribing of prescription opiates, reducing overdose deaths (including through enactment of a 911 Good Samaritan law), increasing prevention, early intervention, and treatment, and increased cooperation among state agencies and between the state and other entities. While it has a law enforcement component, that doesn't seem to be emphasized. [Ed: There are some good provisions in this document, but reducing the prescribing of pain medications needs to be handled with great care. Although more people are getting opiates now, not all of the people who need them are, and it could easily get even worse for pain patients.]

Drug Testing

California Initiative to Drug Test Doctors Qualifies for Ballot. An initiative that requires random, suspicionless drug and alcohol testing of doctors has qualified for the November 2014 ballot, according to the Secretary of State's office. It also requires doctors to report any other doctor they suspect of being impaired by drugs or alcohol. It also increases the cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, which may the initiative's main goal. Legislative analysts estimate it could cost the state "at least in the low tens of millions of dollars annually" in higher malpractice costs and up to "hundreds of millions of dollars annually" because of changes in the amount and type of health care services provided.

Law Enforcement

In Massive Heroin Sweep, New Jersey Police Arrest Seven Users for Every Dealer. New Jersey cops arrested 325 people during an eight-week heroin sting, but only 40 of them are accused of selling heroin. The rest are alleged heroin users. Authorities said all were arrested on relatively low-level charges and all would have a chance to go through treatment programs, but the head of the state's drug court program said she wasn't sure the system could accommodate all of them.

International

New Zealand Workers Win Drug Testing Case. Workers at a mill who were subjected to mandatory drug tests after two marijuana plants were found growing on the site were treated unfairly and must be compensated, the Employment Relations Authority has ruled. The mill owner had argued that the discovery of pot plants was "reasonable cause" to drug test everybody, but the authority disagreed. "This is a victory for our members, and a victory for common decency and respect," says Ron Angel, a union organizer for timber workers. "Drug testing has to be about proving actual impairment at work - not treating workers as guilty until proven innocent."

Canada Battle over Mandatory Minimum Sentences Heads to BC Appeals Court. A case that could eventually overturn the Conservative government's mandatory minimum sentence scheme for drug offenses is being heard in the BC Court of Appeals today. Earlier this year, a BC provincial court judge ruled unconstitutional an automatic one-year prison term for a person repeatedly convicted of drugs. Lawyers for the government appealed; thus today's hearing. The case is that of Vancouver Downtown Eastside resident Joseph Lloyd, a long-time drug user with 21 previous convictions who was convicted last fall of trafficking small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and meth. The provincial court judge held that mandatory minimum sentences amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Bolivian Village to Bake Coca Birthday Cake for UN Head Ban Ki-Moon. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will be in Bolivia when his birthday rolls around on June 15, and the mayor of Cobija, Ana Lucia Reis, says they are going to bake him a coca birthday cake. "The idea is that Ban tries the coca and realizes that coca is part of our culture and is not cocaine," she said.

Smuggler Shooting Immediately Tests Border Patrol's New Force Policy

Last Friday, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske announced new policies designed to reduce the use of deadly force by Border Patrol agents. Hours later, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed marijuana smuggler Luis Arambula, 31, as he fled on foot through an Arizona golf course. Arambula becomes the 20th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

The killing is bound to put CBP's new use of deadly force policies to the test. According to the CBP's new handbook, the use of deadly force is authorized only when there is imminent danger of death or serious injury to the agent or someone else. Deadly force is not to be used "solely to prevent the escape of a fleeing subject," but can only be justified when the person "has inflicted or threatened to inflict serious physical injury or death" and the person's escape poses an imminent threat of serious injury or death to the agent or others.

But that doesn't appear to be the case with Luis Arambula. Border Patrol Agent Daniel Marquez shot him nine times as he ran through a golf course after his vehicle got stuck as he fled from agents. Agents had tried to pull him over on Interstate 19, but he didn't stop, instead getting off the highway, onto an access road and then a surface street into the golf course.

Two agents chased him on foot for a quarter mile, then Marquez opened fire. Agents claimed that Arambula made "punching out" motions with his arms, as if he were aiming a gun at that in a two-handed stance, but Pima County sheriff's deputies investigating the incident said Arambula was unarmed.

The Pima County Sheriff's Office is investigating the killing. We shall see how CBP handles this first challenge to its new deadly force policy.

Medical Marijuana Update

In an historic vote, the House tells the DEA and Justice Department to butt out of medical marijuana states, limited CBD medical marijuana bills are signed into law in Iowa and South Carolina, Minnesota becomes the 22nd medical marijuana state, one bill to regulate medical marijuana in California is still alive, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, the US House voted to bar the DEA and Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The House voted 219-189 to approve an amendment to 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill to cut off funds for the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, to interfere in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs. If the Senate doesn't come up with similar language, the provision will have to be fought for in conference committee.

California

Last Wednesday, the state Senate approved a medical marijuana regulation bill. The state Senate approved Senate Bill 1262, sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Anaheim). It is supported by cities and law enforcement, and would impose tighter controls on dispensaries, cultivation, and recommending.

Last Thursday, the state Assembly defeated a medical marijuana regulation bill. Assembly Bill 1894, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) was defeated in the Assembly in a vote that appeared to be as much about political animosities as about regulating medical marijuana. That means that if California is going to regulate medical marijuana this year, Senate Bill 1262 is the only remaining vehicle.

On Tuesday, the San Jose city council again deadlocked on its proposed dispensary and cultivation regulation ordinance. That means the ordinance remains alive. One of the issues dividing the council is whether dispensaries should be forced to grow their own marijuana in San Jose. Another is how restrictive to make zoning. Patients, activists, and dispensaries organized as Safer San Jose are waiting on the sidelines with a plan of their own if they don't like what the council ends up doing. They already have 38,000 signatures ready to turn in to put an initiative on the November ballot.

Also on Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors ordered staff to draft an ordinance banning marijuana cultivation anywhere in unincorporated parts of the county. The board had considered allowing patients and caregivers -- but not collectives and dispensaries -- to grow their own, but in the end, chose to go for the total ban.

Also on Tuesday, Lake County voters approved Measure N, which means the county's ordinance banning grows on parcels of less than one acre will go into effect in 30 day. The ordinance was passed last December. The measure passed with 53% of the vote in a low turnout election.

Illinois

Last Friday, the state Senate approved medical marijuana for minors and people with epilepsy. The legislation is Senate Bill 2636. It has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat Flynn (D).

Iowa

Last Friday, Governor Terry Branstad (R) signed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill. The legislation is Senate File 2360, which will allow people suffering seizure disorders to use high-CBD cannabis oil with a neurologist's recommendation.

Minnesota

Last Wednesday, Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) signed a medical marijuana bill. The bill allows for eight distribution centers across the state to by supplied by two medical marijuana manufacturers. The bill does not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana; but it can be vaped or eaten. Some medical marijuana groups are calling the law "overly restrictive."

New York

On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a deal for CBD trials. He announced that his administration has signed a deal with GW Pharmaceuticals to do a trial of its high-CBD, no-THC seizure drug Epidiolex. But medical marijuana advocates said the plan is too limited and will take too long, and Cuomo should be backing the Compassionate Use Act, a full-blown medical marijuana bill, instead of trying to blunt efforts to pass it by enacting half-measures.

Also on Tuesday, two key legislators met to seek a compromise on medical marijuana. Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) met yesterday in an effort to find a compromise between their two bills that could lead to passage of a bill before the session ends in two weeks. The Assembly has already approved Gottfried's bill, but the Senate has yet to act on Savino's. Being able to actually smoke marijuana may be an item for discussion.

South Carolina

On Tuesday, Governor Nikki Haley (R) signed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill into law. The measure, Senate Bill 1035 will allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures in children with epilepsy. The new law calls for a clinical trial at the Medical University of South Carolina, as well as a committee to study the feasibility of growing new strains in the state.

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

Chronicle AM -- June 4, 2014

Legendary chemist Alexander Shulgin has died, the fight for medical marijuana in New York continues, Chicago sues Big Pharma over prescription opiates, Britain's black police association wants a look at legalization in the US, pot politics continues to get big play in Bermuda, and more. Let's get to it:

Britain's National Black Police Association wants the government to study marijuana reform in the US. (nbpa.co.uk)
Medical Marijuana

Compromise Could Be Coming on New York Medical Marijuana Bill. Two key players in the New York legislature, Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) met yesterday in an effort to find a compromise between their two bills that could lead to passage of a bill before the session ends in two weeks. The Assembly has already approved Gottfried's bill, but the Senate has yet to act on Savino's. Being able to actually smoke marijuana may be an item for discussion.

Ecstasy

Legendary Chemist Alexander Shulgin, "Godfather of Ecstasy" Dead at 88. Alexander Shulgin, the Berkeley-based research chemist who turned the psychotherapeutic community on to MDMA (Ecstasy) died Monday at his Northern California home. In addition to his work with MDMA, Shulgin also created more than 200 other psychedelic compounds. His life's work is distilled in two books PIKHAL (Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved): A Chemical Love Story and TIKHAL (Triptamines I Have Known and Loved): The Continuation. The DEA considers those books handbooks for illicit psychoactive chemistry.

Prescription Drugs

Chicago Sues Pharmaceutical Companies; Claims They Contributed to Prescription Drug Surge. The city of Chicago has filed a lawsuit against five drug companies -- Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Actavis -- charging they deceived the public about the risks and benefits of highly potent and effective opiate pain relievers. "For years, Big Pharma has deceived the public about the true risks and benefits of highly potent and highly addictive painkillers in order to expand their customer base and increase their bottom line, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. The lawsuit claims the companies violated city laws against consumer fraud and misleading advertising. The city is seeking cash damages in an unspecified amount, but said it is not seeking to ban the medications.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission to Hold Public Hearing Next Week on Retroactivity for New Drug Quantity Sentencing Tables. On Tuesday, June 10, the US Sentencing Commission will hold a public hearing to gather testimony from invited witnesses on the issue of whether the amendment to the drug quantity table sent to Congress in April should be applied retroactively. The Commission will not be voting on the issue of retroactivity at this hearing, and that issue is open for public comment until July 7. A tentative hearing agenda is available here​.

More Than a Thousand Religious Leaders Call for Federal Drug Sentencing Reform. Some 1,100 religious leaders representing 40 different faith groups have signed onto a letter to Congress supporting passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act (S1410/HR 3382), which would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenses. The sign-on was sponsored by the Faith in Action Criminal Justice Reform Working Group.

Law Enforcement

Sarasota, Florida, Cops' Reverse Sting on Nickel Bag Marijuana Buyers Raises Eyebrows, Civil Liberties Concerns. Police in Sarasota, Florida, went undercover to sell nickel bags of weed to unsuspecting customers in a city park and then charged them with "purchase of marijuana," a felony punishable by up to five years in state prison. The operation has critics calling foul and questioning whether the operation was a good use of police sources, whether it violated the civil rights of some defendants (including a mentally ill man), and why it targeted users instead of dealers.

International

British Black Police Group Call for Government to Examine US States' Marijuana Legalization. Britain's National Black Police Association wants the British government to examine marijuana legalization in US states, with an eye toward moving in the same direction in the UK. "We've had our current approach to drug laws for 20 years. If we can learn anything from the US I think we should to see whether we can get some better outcomes," said Nick Glynn, vice-president of the group. "There about a million stop and searches carried out in England and Wales every year. Around half of those are focused on street possession of cannabis so there's a lot of time spent dealing with that very low level offense. In the US they've done it in separate areas instead of across the whole country so maybe that's something we can replicate here."

Georgia Prime Minister Denies Rumors He Plans to Legalize Marijuana, But.... Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili today denied rumors he plans to free the weed, but he did say that punishments for "soft drugs" may be reevaluated. Under current Georgian law, possession of marijuana can get you seven to 14 years in prison, although the state seems more interested in revenues from fines than in actually imprisoning people.

Bermuda Opposition Leader Stands By His Backing of Medical Marijuana; He Gave It to His Asthmatic Daughter. Opposition leader Marc Bean said Tuesday that he "absolutely" stands by his remarks last week supporting marijuana as a medicine and that he used it to treat his young daughter for asthma. He originally spoke out last week as the House of Assembly debated the findings of the Cannabis Reform Collective, which is calling for medical marijuana, decriminalization, and eventual legalization He also said he had smoked the stuff himself. "I was a Rastaman, full fledged -- I lit the chalice," Bean said.

Bermuda Parliamentary Select Committee Recommends Drug Testing for Legislators. A parliamentary joint select committee has issued a report recommending random, suspicionless drug testing of legislators because they are "guardians of public morality" and any drug use by them "calls into question their ability to uphold the principles of public morality and the rule of law and to lead by example. They might want to speak to Marc Bean first.

USDA Blocks Georgia Food Stamp Drug Testing Law

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has told the state of Georgia that its new law requiring some food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing violates federal policy. The state cannot implement the law, federal officials said Tuesday.

The Georgia law, passed in March and signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal (R), would require food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing if state workers have "a reasonable suspicion" that they are using drugs. The "reasonable suspicion" language, common in a new generation of proposed bills aimed at drug testing public benefits recipients, is designed to get around federal prohibitions against random, suspicionless drug testing, which the federal courts interpret as violating the unwarranted search provisions of the Fourth Amendment.

But while Georgia was able to get around the Fourth Amendment concerns, the new law still runs afoul of USDA policy. That policy "prohibits states from mandating drug testing of (food stamp) applicants and recipients," wrote Robin Bailey, regional administrator of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, in a letter to Georgia officials.

While a number of states have passed "reasonable suspicion" (or the equivalent) public benefits drug testing laws, Georgia is the only one to have passed a law that includes food stamp recipients. Perhaps USDA's stance will discourage other states from enacting similar measures.

Atlanta, GA
United States

Chronicle AM -- June 2, 2014

A Nevada marijuana legalization initiative picks up a key endorsement, Iowa joins the ranks of the CBD medical marijuana states, Tennessee's governor gets ready to roll out a new plan to address prescription drug use, thousands march for legalization in Santiago, Chile, the Peruvian president backs away from forced coca eradication, and more. Let's get to it:

Coca eradication not too popular in Peruvian towns with coca leaf statues in the main plaza (Phillip Smith)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada's Largest Newspaper Endorses Legalization Initiative. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, by far the largest circulation newspaper in the state, has endorsed the state's fledgling legalization initiative, which has set its sights on 2016. Click on the title link to read the Sunday editorial.

California Sen. Feinstein Opposes Cutting Federal Funds for Medical Marijuana Raids. Just hours after the US House approved an amendment that would block the Justice Department and the DEA from using taxpayer funds to go after medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said that "if a similar amendment were offered in the Senate, I would strongly oppose it." She said that while she sympathizes with patient needs, "rogue medical marijuana dispensaries, which require little or no medical bona fides and are prevalent throughout California, present major challenges for communities across the country." The 80-year-old politician credited the feds with closing more than 400 "rogue dispensaries" and worried that "the House amendment would prevent these critical enforcement activities from continuing."

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) last Friday signed into law Senate File 2360, which will allow people suffering seizure disorders to use high-CBD cannabis oil with a neurologist's recommendation.

Illinois Senate Approves Medical Marijuana for Minors, People With Epilepsy. The state Senate last Friday approved a bill that would allow minors and people of all ages suffering from epilepsy to use medical marijuana. The legislation is Senate Bill 2636. It has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat Flynn (D).

Prescription Opiates

Tennessee Governor to Unveil Plan to Address Pain Pills Tomorrow. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) will announce tomorrow a seven-point plan to address rising levels of prescription opiate use. One official said drug treatment will be a key component. In recent years, Tennessee has enacted prescription monitoring legislation and cracked down on doctors accused of over-prescribing opiates. Just last month, a committee of physicians appointed by the health commissioner agreed on new prescribing guidelines that set limits on daily doses doctors can prescribe. The program to be announced tomorrow is supposed to have seven points. Stay tuned.

Law Enforcement

Homicide Charges for Heroin Overdoses Rise in Wisconsin, But…. In a fine example of investigative journalism, the Gannet Wisconsin Investigative Media Team has released an analysis of the increasing use of homicide charges in heroin overdose cases in the state. Under Wisconsin law, anyone who makes, sells, or delivers a controlled substance that leads to an overdose death can by charged with first-degree reckless homicide by drug delivery. The report finds the number of such prosecutions spiking, but that sentences all over the place and the likelihood of being prosecuted depends largely on which county you are in. A good read.

In Warren County, Kentucky, the Drug War Dominates the Court Docket. The latest batch of indictments is out from the Warren County grand jury in Bowling Green, and more than half of them are for drug offenses. Nineteen people were indicted, 11 of them for drug offenses. There were four for possession of meth precursors, three for drug trafficking, two for marijuana trafficking, and one each for meth manufacture and drug possession. There was also one assault, one grand theft, and some drunk driving and "flagrant nonsupport" charges. Drug charges accounted for 58% of all the indictments.

International

Peru President Backs Off on Forced Coca Eradication in the VRAE. In a televised speech Sunday night, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala said he is indefinitely postponing plans to forcibly eradicate coca crops in the valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAE). The announcement came just days after Humala fired Carmen Macias as head of the anti-drug agency DEVIDA. Macias had been a strong advocate of a militarized eradication in the region, which produces more than half the country's coca crop and is also home to remnants of the Shining Path. Critics had warned that an aggressive eradication campaign would only help such rebels.

Uruguayan Presidential Candidate Who Vowed to Undo Marijuana Legalization Loses in Primary. "We are going to overturn this law that legalized marijuana growing. Nobody plant anything! Don't plant anything because we're going to knock it down!" National Party presidential nomination favorite Sen. Jorge Larranaga said ahead of Sunday's primary election to see who would get a chance to succeed outgoing President Jose Mujica. But instead, Larranaga lost in a surprise outcome.

Thousands March for Marijuana Legalization in Chile. Thousands of people marched through the streets of Santiago, the Chilean capital, Sunday in support of marijuana legalization. "Don't drive and drive, smoke and fly!" read one sign. Much open marijuana use was reported. Demonstrators demanded decriminalization and legalization, specifically including the right to grow their own.

New Bermuda Premier Says No to Marijuana Legalization, But Leaves Door Open for Decriminalization. Incoming Bermuda Premier Michael Dunkley said last Friday his administration has no plans to legalize marijuana, but could get behind a decriminalization scheme. Dunkley's comments came during a debate on the findings of the Cannabis Reform Collaborative, whose report earlier this month called for medical marijuana, decriminalization, and eventual legalization. "I think it is important to reiterate that the government's public undertaking has related to decriminalization and any potential wider use of cannabis," Dunkerly said. "Let me indicate early in this debate that at this time, the government is not prepared to consider personal cultivation, licenses for commercial cultivation and sale or blanket legalization of cannabis. In so far as this report recommends those things, they do not represent this government's current intentions."

ATF's Operation Gideon Raises Questions of Fairness, Justice, and Race [FEATURE]

Special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Part I of a series on the ATF's Operation Gideon, targeting inner city "bad guys" with drug house robbery stings

Early in May, a panel of judges from California's 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied petitions for an "en banc" hearing that would have allowed the full court to consider overturning long prison sentences for four would-be robbers seduced by an informant into believing they were about to rip-off a stash house loaded with drugs.

The stash house was fictional, those drugs never existed, and the brains behind the plot were not criminals, but federal agents.

The denial of the petition was not a unanimous decision, and it revealed deep fissures on the appeals court. Dissenting judges argued that the practice of enticing poor young men into robbing stash houses raised questions not only of fair play, but also of constitutionality. The dissenters were particularly concerned that federal agents targeted primarily minority neighborhoods filled with desperate, unemployed young men tempted by the lure of fast cash.

"The sting poses questions of whether the government intentionally targets poor minority neighborhoods, and thus, seeks to tempt their residents to commit crimes that might well result in their escape from poverty," Justice Stephen Reinhardt wrote in a blistering dissent. He also called it "a profoundly disturbing use of government power that directly imperils some of our most fundamental constitutional values."

The case involved four Phoenix men -- Cordae Black, Kemford Alexander, Angel Mahon and Terrance Timmons -- who were convicted in 2010 on charges of conspiracy to distribute more than five pounds of cocaine, as well as federal firearms charges, for a fake drug rip scheme set up by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). All four are now serving prison sentences of 13 to 15 years.

Even though federal appeals court judges have joined defense attorneys in calling the ATF drug rip schemes "outrageous conduct," they are not an anomaly, but are instead part and parcel of ATF's Operation Gideon, a nationwide program. The ATF, federal prosecutors, and the Phoenix police said a press release announcing a pilot sweep that rolled up 70 people, including Cordae Black and his crew, that Gideon "involved the deployment of some of ATF's most experienced undercover operatives to team with local agents and police investigators by conducting sting investigations involving violent home invasion crews."

According to a USA Today investigative report, as of last year, the feds had already locked up more than a thousand people who its agents had enticed into conspiracies to rob fake drug stash houses. And it's not just the AFT. The DEA often uses the fake drug rip-off schemes, as well.

US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt
The argument at the 9th Circuit in the Phoenix case centered on entrapment and whether ATF agents illegally enticed the defendants into the crime through "outrageous government conduct" beyond that allowed by entrapment doctrine.

Relying on the US Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in US v. Russell, where the court upheld such schemes if the defendant showed a predisposition to commit the offense, 9th Circuit Judges Susan Graeber and Raymond Fisher rejected claims of entrapment and outrageous conduct by the agents, and argued that the reverse sting was within legal boundaries of law enforcement tactics, which includes officers working undercover to infiltrate criminal organizations.

Fisher and Graeber said the agents' actions were reasonable when they offered the men the opportunity to make money by committing a drug robbery. The pair also held the defendants failed to show they lacked "predisposition to commit the offense."

That provoked a sharp retort from a second dissenter as well, Judge John T. Noonan.

"Today our court gives approval to the government tempting people in the population at large currently engaged in innocent activity, and leading them into the commission of a crime, which the government will then prosecute," he wrote.

It's not just the 9th Circuit. Fake drug stash operations that only target inner-cities have ignited a firestorm of controversy, including other caustic remarks from the federal bench.

"There is a strong showing of potential bias in the robbery stings," US District Court Judge Rueben Castillo wrote in an order last year. Castillo noted that since 2011, federal agents have used such stings to lock up at least 26 people in the Chicago area -- and that all of them were either black or Hispanic.

Federal officials retort that they are not engaging in selective prosecution based on race, but are going where known felons often commit violent home invasion-type drug robberies.

But defense attorneys argue that the operations target people who weren't doing anything, entice them with visions of easy wealth, set them up, and then throw the book at them.

"What the ATF is doing is basically targeting low-level criminals for high-level crimes," said attorney Tara Loveland, who is representing Cordae Black on appeal.

The case against Black and his codefendants raises serious questions about racial profiling. According to evidence introduced at the original trial -- and subsequently heard again at the re-hearing (via the appellate brief) -- ATF Agent Richard Zayas had a paid informant travel from Miami to Arizona to find "bad guys" in a "bad part of town."

That prompted Judge Reinhardt to say that Zavas' instructions obviously meant the informant should recruit people from minority communities. The targeting of the fake drug house robbery scheme was a practice "that creates the appearance of selective prosecution based on race and wealth inequality," he said.

"It is a tragedy when ATF has to drum up a crime that didn't exist," attorney Eugene Marquez, who represented Cordae Black at trial, told the Chronicle.

Chicago Operation Gideon suspect William Alexander just before his arrest (atf.gov)
Defense attorneys who represented the defendants on appeal argued that "fake drug stings initiated by ATF amount to entrapment because there were no drugs -- and none of the defendants would have agreed to participate had it not been for a paid snitch and the ATF's scheme of enticing the men to arm themselves with weapons to rip-off a large quantity of drugs that automatically brings severe mandatory prison sentences."

"Our defense was outrageous conduct and sentencing entrapment," Marquez explained.

But 9th Circuit majorities weren't listening to the defense attorneys. In a separate ruling, they reiterated their original decision denying defense counsel's motion to overturn the original convictions.

"There is no bright line dictating when laws enforcement conduct crosses the line between acceptable and outrageous," Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote for the majority. Outrageous government conduct can only occur when government agents engineer and direct a "criminal enterprise from start to finish -- or creating new crimes merely for the sake of pressing criminal charges," he argued.

Judge Reinhardt again dissented.

"In this era of mass incarceration, in which we already lock up more of our population than any other nation on earth, it is especially curious that the government feels compelled to invent fake crimes and imprison people for long periods of time for agreeing to participate in them -- people who but for the government's scheme might not have ever entered the world of major felonies," Reinhardt wrote.

If getting set up and convicted in a sting weren't bad enough, the defendants also got hit with longer sentences based on the imaginary amounts of drugs that were going to rob. Marquez explained that his client, Cordae Black, was hit a 10-year mandatory minimum because the ATF pretended the imaginary drug house had more than five kilos of cocaine in it.

But while jurists and defense attorneys grumbled, the ATF was pleased with its handiwork.

Arizona ATF agent Thomas Mangan welcomed the convictions of Black and his partners, as well as appeals court rulings upholding them. The stings had resulted in over 70 Arizona arrests, and the crew had "ample opportunity to back out, but had remained committed to carry out the robbery until they were arrested," he said in the Operation Gideon press release.

While court-approved enticement has a lengthy pedigree in this country, so does "outrageous government conduct" that can take it over the line into entrapment. A classic case is that of legendary automaker John Delorean, who was acquitted of cocaine conspiracy charges in 1984, even though prosecutors had Delorean on videotape wisecracking and saying that the cocaine stuffed inside a suitcase was "good as gold."

But Delorean's attorney was able to convince the jury that the FBI had leaned on a convicted drug smuggler, James Hoffman, to draw Delorean into a trap, complete with thinly-veiled threats if Delorean backed out of the sting.

"Without the government there would be no crime," Delorean's attorney told the jury.

Taking Down the Phoenix Crew

Putting together a fake drug robbery stings is like assembling the cast of a gritty crime drama. The Phoenix reverse sting worked against Cordae Black and his eager crew in typical take-down fashion. ATF agent Richard Zayas recruited a paid informant to frequent seedy bars and diffferent places in the "bad part" of town -- to find receptive players to rip-off a drug house. Zayas's informant met Shaver "Bullet" Simpson, a big-talking guy ready to play.

Zayas's informant duped Simpson into believing he had a friend with information on a stash house filled with drugs worth thousands of dollars. Simpson boasted he could find some tough-ass homies to do the job. Agent Zayas reminded Simpson that everyone involved with the plot must keep their mouths shut, and not talk about what goes down.

"My people straight," Simpson replied. "I hate snitchers."

Following the informant's meeting with Shaver Simpson, he introduced "Bullet" to undercover ATF Agent Richard Zayas, who fronted himself off as a disgruntled drug courier interested in having someone rob a dope house owned by Zayas's supposed cartel's connections. Zayas informed Simpson that Simpson's homeboys would need the "balls to do it because this ain't no easy lick."

Simpson then posed a question to Zayas: "My goons want to know whether they need to kill the people in the house."

Zayas responded nonchalantly that he "didn't care what they did as long as they took care of business."

Hooked like a fish, Simpson swallowed the bait, "Don't worry Daddy," he told Zavas. You got a real Jamaican (expletive), that's my family business; it's where I worked; I got this shit down to a science, man."

The beat goes on. Press conference announcing latest round of Operation Gideon busts, Stockton, CA, 2014 (atf.gov)
The trap was set. Shaver Simpson, the braggart, strangely, didn't show up for the showdown. But the work crew did. Once Cordae Black, Terrence Timmons, Kemford Alexander and Angel Mahon showed up at the designated meeting spot, the ATF agents and local police took the hapless crew down with guns drawn. A search of their vehicles produced four loaded weapons (which, according to the appellate brief, Zava insisted the crew have with them).

Despite Simpson's bravado about not being a snitch and hating such creatures, he pounced on the first opportunity to become one by testifying against his four homies. Still, at trial, Simpson accused ATF agent Richard Zayas of pressuring him to quickly find as many guys he could find to pull off the robbery.

Same Sorts of Cases, Different Results

In another Operation Gideon case, Chicago native William Alexander, a street-level crack dealer and beauty school dropout, got stung in a fake drug robbery on February 23 2011, along with his cohorts Hugh Midderhoff and David Saunders. All three were convicted of possession with intent to deliver five or more kilos of cocaine, along with firearms charges. To win a new trial, Alexander's lawyer argued on appeal that ATF's systematic strategy of sending informants into "bad parts of town" to recruit "bad people" meant that racial profiling played a vital role in Alexander's case.

His appeal brief noted that in the 17 stash house robbery stings prosecuted in the Northern Illinois Federal District since 2004, blacks were disproportionately represented. Of the 57 defendants, 42 were black, eight Hispanic, and seven white.

His appeal was denied -- because he couldn't show that the ATF and prosecutors intended racially disparate outcomes.

"To establish discriminatory intent, Alexander failed to show the decision makers in (his) case acted with discriminatory purposes -- and that the Attorney General and US Attorneys has broad discretion to enforce federal criminal laws," the appeals court held.

Antuan Dunlap and his heavily-armed posse-mates, Cedrick Hudson and Joseph Cornell Whitfield, had better luck. They were released from jail in an ATF drug house rip-off scheme when California US District Court Judge Otis Wright ruled the ATF crossed the line into entrapment.

Prosecutors had argued that Dunlap "manifested his propensity to commit robberies" by claiming to have engaged in similar activities in the past, and thus, "the defendant's words justified the reverse sting."

But in a 24-page stinging rebuke, the angry judge said the ATF engaged in "outrageous conduct" by enlisting people in "made-up crime" just so they could bust eager volunteers in drug stings. "Society does not win when the government stoops to the same level as the defendants it seeks to prosecute -- especially when the government has acted solely to achieve a conviction for a 'made-up' crime, Wright wrote. He also noted that such tactics "haven't brought down the crime rate nor taken drugs off the streets."

But the ATF and DEA fake drug rip-off schemes remain in full-swing across the nation despite the brewing controversy over tactics some defense attorneys and jurists regard with loathing. If the Justice Department will investigate whether the stings are aimed disproportionately at minority communities remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Phoenix crew sits in federal prison, while their attorneys plan an appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Next in the series: ATF's Deadly Takedown in Fake Drug Robberies.

Chronicle AM--May 30, 2014

Yesterday was a bad day for the DEA as the House thrice voted to slap its hands, an anti-marijuana initiative in Montana gets okayed for signature-gathering, the New York Senate releases a report on heroin and opiate addiction and calls for more drug war, marijuana legalization supporters rally in Tel Aviv, and more. Let's get to it:

The DEA had a bad day on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Marijuana Policy

Montana Anti-Marijuana Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. An initiative that would repeal Montana's already severely scaled-back medical marijuana law and ban anything listed as a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana, has been approved for signature-gathering. But Billings car dealer and initiative sponsor Steve Zabawa has only three weeks to get the 24,175 signatures necessary to get the measure on the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

In Historic Vote, House Bars Justice Department, DEA from Using Taxpayer Funds to Interfere with Medical Marijuana in States Where It Is Legal. The US House of Representatives voted 219-189 last night to approve an amendment to 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill to cut off funds for the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, to interfere in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs. If the Senate doesn't come up with similar language, the provision will have to be fought for in conference committee.

Hemp

In Historic Vote, House Bars Justice Department, DEA from Using Taxpayer Funds to Interfere with Hemp Production in States Where It Is Legal. The US House of Representatives voted last night to bar the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, from using taxpayer dollars to interfere with industrial hemp production in states where it is legal. Hemp production for research purposes in states that have laws allowing it was approved by the Congress as part of the omnibus farm bill earlier this year. A dozen states have such laws.

Law Enforcement

In Historic Vote, House Takes Funds from DEA, Shifts Them to Addressing Rape Kit Backlog. In addition to barring the DEA from going after hemp and medical marijuana in states where they are legal, the House also approved an amendment from Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) to take $5 million from the DEA's appropriation and shift the money into grants for state and local law enforcement to address backlogs of untested rape kits. The House voted down another Cohen amendment that would have taken $15 million from the DEA and allocated it instead to the Legal Services Corporation. The House also approved an amendment that would block additional staffing for the Pardon Attorney's Office in a bid to thwart President Obama's call for drug war prisoners to seek clemency.

Heroin and Opiates

New York Senate Task Force Proposes Massive Package of Prevention, Treatment, Law Enforcement Bills to Fight Increased Heroin, Prescription Pill Use. The state Joint Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction issued its final report Wednesday. The report, Solutions to New York's Heroin Epidemic, calls for prevention, treatment, and harm reduction measures, but the 25-bill package it includes is heavy on law enforcement. Thirteen of the 25 proposed bills would ratchet up the drug war. There is a complete list of the bills in the package in the report.

International

Colombian Government Releases Outline of Drug Accords With FARC. The Colombian government has released a document laying out the points agreed to with the FARC guerrillas on dealing with drug cultivation and the illicit drug trade. The two sides, meeting at peace talks in Havana a couple of weeks ago, reached the agreement a couple of weeks ago. Colombia Reports has the details at the title link.

Despite Drug Decriminalization, Colombia Continues to Arrest, Hassle Drug Users, Researcher Finds. In a report from the Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law, researcher Diane Guzman found that Colombia continues to rely excessively on punishing drug users, even though drug use is decriminalized there. Guzman blames police enforcement strategies and their focus on arrest, and reports that drug users detained by police are often let go after they pay bribes. She also found that Colombia's goal of reducing drug addiction suffers because the country doesn't devote sufficient resources to improving health care and rehabilitation for drug users. The report, En Busca De Los Derechos: Usuarios De Drogas Y Las Respuestas Estatales En América Latina, also examines drug policies in seven other Latin American countries. Guzman wrote the Colombia chapter.

Thousands March for Marijuana in Tel Aviv. An estimated 2,000 people marched and rallied for marijuana legalization in Tel Aviv Thursday night. The march comes as the Knesset prepares to debate a bill easing restrictions on medical marijuana next week and a bill from MK Tamar Zandberg to legalize marijuana a few weeks from now.

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