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Editorial: Did Trey Radel Really Vote for Drug Testing?

One of the top political stories this week was the recent arrest of Rep. Trey Radel, a freshman Republican congressman from Florida. Radel pleaded guilty to cocaine possession yesterday and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation. Last night he gave a press conference to apologize to the country and his constituents and family, and announced he would be taking a leave of absence to pursue counseling and drug treatment.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/borden12.jpg
David Borden
Since the bust came to light, numerous headlines have circulated to the effect of Radel having voted for legislation to drug test food stamp recipients. But this is only true in a technical sense. As the text of these articles notes, unlike their headlines, the legislation Radel voted for was an ultimately failed version of the Farm Bill, one of the recurring major federal budget packages authorized every five years. Drug testing was a noxious but small part of the legislation, which also was a mechanism for continuing agricultural subsidies, for continuing the SNAP program itself, and many other things. There were Democrats who voted for the bill too, the roll call shows, some of them liberals who undoubtedly opposed the drug testing provision. Also, the amendment that got drug testing added to the Farm Bill was passed through a voice vote, and there is therefore no record of who voted for or against it. That means that Radel's vote for the Farm Bill could have been consistent with supporting drug testing of SNAP recipients, opposing drug testing, or having no position on it. There is no way to know without delving further. Politicians often have to vote for bills despite there being provisions they don't like, because they want an overall bill to pass.

Radel is also one of just three Republican sponsors of the Justice Safety Valve Act, a bill to undo mandatory minimum sentencing by allowing judges to impose sentences below any specified minimums. Although mandatory minimums extend to more issues than drugs, it is drug offenders who are the principle targets of them. So Radel has actually done more than most members of Congress to try to at least reduce the use of incarceration in America, and for drug offenders in particular. A piece published on ThinkProgress.org Tuesday in fact noted a number of statements Radel has made that express skepticism about drug war policies. It also noted that he has expressed opposition to marijuana legalization, so there are facts on both sides. On the other hand, most members of Congress are still likely to say they're not for legalization, despite our movement's recent victories and where opinion polls have gone, so I'm not inclined to attach much significance to that.

Radel news conference, 11/20/13 (TodayNews via YouTube)
That doesn't mean there isn't a valid lesson to be learned from the Radel arrest. A Politico article fairly described the incident as "bring[ing] up drug testing for food stamps." Nancy Pelosi legitimately made this point. Radel's Republican colleagues who are the main supporters of the drug testing amendment may deserve the hypocrisy charge. But it's less than clear that Radel does.

More important than piling on a member of Congress who probably doesn't deserve it, but more important in any case, is to make the points that the incident helps to illustrate about the discrimination and injustices inherent in drug war policies -- like drug testing poor people who don't use drugs more than anyone else, and throwing them out the window when they make the same mistakes in their stressful lives that many others who have easier lives make too.

Radel Hypocrisy Charge Doesn't Withstand Scrutiny

[Update: I've posted an improved version of this editorial in the Chronicle. Request links and likes there instead. - DB]

One of the top political stories this week is the recent bust for cocaine possession of Rep. Trey Radel, a Republican freshman congressman from Florida. Radel pleaded guilty today, and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation. As I write this piece, he is giving a press conference to apologize to the country and his family.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/trey-radel-200px.jpg
Trey Radel
Since the bust came to light, headlines have been circulating to the effect of Radel having voted for legislation to drug test food stamp recipients. I believe this is off base, because it is true only in a technical sense. As the body of the articles explain, what Radel voted for was an ultimately failed version of the Farm Bill, one of the major, recurring federal budget bills that get authorized every five years. It includes things like agricultural subsidies, funding for the food stamps program as a whole (now known as SNAP, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, rather than "food stamps"), many other items. Drug testing of food stamp recipients was just one provision out of many in the bill, and a look at the bill's roll call shows that while it was mostly Republicans who voted for it, there were also some Democrats, including some liberals who almost certainly opposed the drug testing provision. Politicians frequently have to vote for bills that include provisions they don't like, because they want to larger package to pass.

The drug testing language was actually added to the bill through an amendment sponsored by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), which was passed on a voice vote, no roll call. That means there is no way to know, at least from the official legislative record, what Radel's position on the amendment was. His vote for the Farm Bill is consistent with supporting the amendment, with opposing the amendment, or with having no position on it. It's legitimate to point out, as a Politico article did, that Radel's arrest "brings up drug testing for food stamps." I hope it does, but that's a different point.

A ThinkProgress article noted that Radel has made comments suggesting "nuance" in his views on drug policy, pointing out he cosponsored a bill to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenses. Perhaps in a nod to the "drug testing vote" headlines, the article has an update at the bottom mentioning the vote. I believe the original thrust of the article was on target, and I don't see the hypocrisy angle holding up in this case, at least from as much as we know right now.

Medical Marijuana Update

Federal agencies are beginning to work on the banking problem for medical marijuana businesses, the District of Columbia is looking at why its program is so tiny, and New Mexico can't keep up with medical marijuana demand. And there's much more, too. Let's get to it:

National

On Tuesday, a US Treasury official said the department is discussing banking for medical marijuana businesses with the Justice Department. Access to banking services has been a major roadblock for marijuana businesses, but the Obama administration has signaled it is willing to try to reach a workable solution to the problem.

Arizona

Last Friday, a judge ruled that the state's medical marijuana law did not limit the health care rights by preventing those living less than 25 miles away from a dispensary from growing their own medicine. Judge Katherine Cooper throw out the challenge from two men, but she said they may be able to try again by arguing that the 25-mile rule amounts to a violation of their rights under constitutional provisions guaranteeing everyone equal protection of the law. She said, though, they have yet to make a case for that claim.

California

Last Thursday, the city of Los Angeles filed suit to block a Mar Vista dispensary from opening. The suit claims the business would violate voter-approved rules for marijuana dispensaries because its proximity to a residential neighborhood and seeks penalties of up to $2,500 a day for anyone involved in operating a dispensary at that location.

On Monday, the city of Jurapa Valley said it had filed lawsuits against five dispensaries. The suits seek to force the dispensaries to close. The Riverside County community wants to shut down all dispensaries within its jurisdiction. The lawsuits follow sternly-worded letters sent out in September 2011 and again last summer warning dispensary operators of possible actions against them.

On Tuesday, Santa Cruz County supervisors grappled with cultivation rules for medical marijuana grows. The supervisors had already set new rules for dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county and are preparing to vote December 10 on cultivation rules. The proposed rules would limit personal grows to 100 square feet, but allow up to 3,000 square feet in rural areas.

Also on Tuesday, the Richmond city council agreed to allow a dispensary to relocate to East Richmond. The Green Remedy Collective needed to move because its landlord is facing foreclosure, but wanted to move to a location zoned general use, which violates the city's guidelines. The city waived the zoning requirement.

Also on Tuesday, the Whittier city council voted to ban dispensaries. The ban passed 4-1 after several community and religious leaders spoke against allowing the outlets, claiming they have harmful effects on families and adolescents. The action was prompted by the approaching date for the expiration of the city's moratorium on issuing permits for medical marijuana dispensaries. The council imposed a 45-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in January 2012; it has renewed the moratorium twice. The current moratorium is set to expire January 24, 2014, and it cannot be renewed.

Last Friday, the city of Santa Ana sent warning letters to all dispensaries in the city saying they must close by the end of the month or face $1,000 a day fines and misdemeanor criminal charges. The city has a dispensary ban in place, but activists there have managed to place a referendum on the November 2014 ballot that would allow dispensaries to operate.

District of Columbia

On Tuesday, news came that Mayor Gray has convened a Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee to assess current policies. The move comes amidst complaints that strict restrictions on eligibility for the District's medical marijuana program are preventing patients from taking advantage of it. An Intergovernmental Operations Subcommittee will monitor the effectiveness of the current medical marijuana program, and a Scientific Subcommittee will review applicable scientific research. Both subcommittees will review the practices of other states. Only 59 patients are enrolled in the program in the District and only 39 doctors are currently licensed to recommend medical marijuana.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Brookline town meeting cleared the way for a dispensary to open there. The meeting passed three warrant articles designed to set up a licensing framework for medical marijuana businesses. Dispensaries must be at least 500 feet from a school.

Nevada

On Wednesday, the Reno city council approved a moratorium on dispensary business license applications. Las Vegas passed a similar temporary moratorium in September. Reno officials said they were waiting for the state to set final dispensary regulations before the 2013 medical marijuana law goes into effect on April 1.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state's third dispensary began accepting patient registrations. Garden State Dispensary (formerly known as Compassionate Care Center of America) is opening in Woodbridge, although when that will actually happen is not yet certain. Some 1,500 patients and caregivers have registered with the state program, which has gotten off to an excruciatingly slow start.

New Mexico

On Saturday, a survey of medical marijuana producers and patients found that demand is outstripping supply. New Mexico producers have had to turn away thousands of patients in recent months and ration supplies to others, the report found. The number of licensed producers has dropped from a high of 25 to 23, while the number of active patients certified to buy medical cannabis hit 10,289 as of the end of last month, according to state officials, increasing by 1,200 from earlier this year.

Oregon

Last Friday, the Tualatin city council voted to ban dispensaries. The town follows the lead of Medford, but both localities may be in conflict with Oregon's new dispensary law, which leaves regulation up to the state, not localities.

Pennsylvania

On Monday, medical marijuana supporters rallied at the state capitol in support of pending legislation that would allow for the use of medical marijuana by patients, including children. Senate Bill 1182, sponsored by Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R) is the first bipartisan medical marijuana legislation in the state.

West Virginia

On Wednesday, the first details of a new medical marijuana bill emerged. An interim meeting of the Joint Health Committee heard from counsel Charles Roskovensky that the bill he is drafting for them would allow people with certain illnesses like cancer and glaucoma to possess up to six ounces of marijuana. If the bill becomes law, registered patients would be able to purchase medical marijuana at five 'compassion centers' throughout the state that would be chosen through a competitive bid process, he said. Registered patients would also be allowed to have a limited number of 12 marijuana plants. But Roskovensky said the bill wasn't yet in final form, and he solicited suggestions from lawmakers.

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

Chronicle AM -- November 19, 2013

Hmmm, on the same day the DEA warns that "marijuana availability seems to be on the increase," hundreds of people apply for licenses to sell pot in Washington state. Times are changing, and somebody needs to let the DEA know. And there's more news, too. Let's get to it:

Crackdowns on pain pills are leading the way to comeback for heroin. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Hundreds Apply for Pot Business Licenses in Washington State. Monday was the first day budding ganjapreneurs could apply for licenses to open marijuana cultivation, processing, and retail facilities, and interest was intense. By 2:00pm Monday, 299 applications had been submitted. The state envisions up to 334 marijuana retail shops opening next year; it is unclear how many production and processing facilities will be licensed, although regulators have said they want to limit cultivation to two million square feet statewide. Applications are being accepted through December 17.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Another Marijuana Initiative. The Arkansas attorney general's office Monday rejected the proposed language of an initiative that would repeal the state's marijuana laws. The initiative isn't clear about what it seeks to achieve, the office said. The attorney general's office has been busy with initiatives this year; it has already approved two separate medical marijuana initiatives, and the author of this one can come back with new language if she wishes.

Drug Policy

DEA Releases 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment. The DEA Monday released the annual drug threat assessment, which includes looks at drug use and trafficking trends. The report identifies the illicit use of controlled prescription drugs as "the nation's fastest growing drug problem," warns that heroin use and supply is up, as is methamphetamine, but that cocaine use and supply is down. Also, "marijuana availability seems to be increasing," and synthetic drugs "have emerged as a serious problem in the United States."

New Yorkers to Map Out City Drug Policies on Saturday. New York City residents just elected a self-described progressive -- Bill de Blasio -- as mayor. Now, they will have a chance to let him know what direction they want the city to take on drug policy. As part of Talking Transition, "an open conversation about the future of New York City," hundreds of people are expected to attend a Saturday forum on "Ending the New Jim Crow: Mapping the Future of Drug Policy in New York City," then break into small groups to make recommendations on issues ranging from racially-biased marijuana arrests, lack of effective drug treatment, and overdose prevention strategies. Click on the main link for more details.

Heroin

Ohio Attorney General Declares War on Heroin. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine Monday announced he had created a new heroin unit within his office to fight back against what he called "an epidemic" of heroin use. The move comes as heroin overdose deaths have doubled in recent years, from 292 in 2010 to 606 last year. DeWine said his office will spend an additional $1 million a year on increased assistance to law enforcement, community outreach workers, and lab technicians. The rise in heroin use in Ohio comes after Gov. John Kasich cracked down on pain clinics in 2011, leaving illicit heroin as the last resort for people strung out on opioids.

International

China to Turn "Re-Education" Labor Camps into Drug Treatment Centers. At its recent Third Plenary meeting, the Chinese Communist Party announced it was abolishing its controversial "re-education" labor camps. Now, it turns out that the camps won't be closing, but will instead be converted into drug treatment and rehabilitation centers. "The new rehab centers will provide compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment for addicts, and help them find self-confidence again," one official explained. There are 1.8 million "officially registered" addicts in China, but the number of actual addicts could run as high as 12 million.

Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy Meets in Vancouver This Weekend. Canadian SSDP is holding its annual national conference this weekend in Vancouver. In addition to panels and speeches, there will be tours of Insite, Vancouver's supervised injection facility, a Downtown Eastside Walking Tour, and rides on the Sensible BC bus. For more details, click the link.

Chronicle AM -- November 18, 2013

A bill to protect the guns rights of legal marijuana users has been filed, hempsters hit the halls of Congress, a new medical marijuana bill is filed in Pennsylvania, and more. Let's get to it:

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) filed a bill to protect the gun rights of legal marijuana users.
Marijuana Policy

Polis Files Federal Bill to Protect Gun Rights of Legal Marijuana Users. US Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) last Thursday filed House Resolution 3483 to override a 2011 ruling by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms that medical marijuana patients cannot legally buy or own guns. The bill's summary says its purpose is "to amend title 18, United States Code, to provide exceptions from the firearm prohibitions otherwise applicable in relation to marijuana if its possession is lawful under State law."

Washington State Now Taking Applications for Pot Business Licenses. Beginning today, Washington state is taking applications for licenses to grow, process, and sell legal marijuana. The licensing application period lasts 30 days. Under rules drafted by the Liquor Control Board, the state will license up to 2 million square feet statewide for marijuana production and up to 334 retail outlets.

Near Majority for Marijuana Legalization in Wisconsin. A Marquette University Law School poll has Wisconsin hovering on the cusp of majority support for legalization. The late October poll had support for legalization at 49.7%, with 44.9% opposed, 4.7% not sure, and 0.8% who refused to answer.

No Decriminalization in Puerto Rico This Year. Marijuana decriminalization won't happen this year in Puerto Rico. The legislative session has ended without the lower house taking up a decriminalization bill passed earlier by the Senate. Recent polls showing little support for decriminalization and even medical marijuana helped dampen things, but decrim bill sponsor Sen. Miguel Periera said he will reintroduce it in the new session in January.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Forms Virginia Chapter. The national medical marijuana advocacy group is coming to the Old Dominion. The state chapter, Safe Access Virginia, will lobby elected officials to pass a comprehensive Virginia Medical Cannabis Act. The group had its inaugural meeting Saturday in Richmond.

Oregon Committee Reviewing Dispensary Rules Meets Today. The committee charged with drafting rules for medical marijuana dispensaries is meeting in Salem today. It will consider an opinion from the Oregon Legislative Counsel that says regulating dispensaries is the job of the state, not localities. Some localities have already moved to ban dispensaries.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R) introduced a limited medical marijuana bill Monday. While the text is not yet available, Leach's remarks suggest that it seeks to allow medical marijuana with a high CBD content that could be used by children suffering from epilepsy.

Hemp

Hemp Lobbyists go to Washington, DC. Led by David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, several dozen supporters of industrial hemp were on Capitol Hill Monday urging Congress to lift the federal ban on domestic hemp production. "It's time to grow hemp," Bronner said. "I mean, it's been a long and ridiculous situation."

International

Ireland Stops Anti-Drug Aid to Death Penalty States; Britain Pressed to Do Same. Last Friday, Ireland announced it was stopping "funding to UNODC's Illicit Trafficking and Border Management program because of human rights concerns related to the use of the death penalty in Iran." The British justice reform nonprofit Reprieve is now pressing the UK government to do the same. "Britain is rapidly becoming isolated as the only country which thinks supporting the death penalty machines of Iran and Pakistan is acceptable. Hundreds of people have been sentenced to death in these countries in the last few years for non-violent drug offenses -- helped by millions of pounds of British taxpayers' money. Britain could end this problem tomorrow by putting in place conditions on the aid that it cannot be used to support the death penalty -- why are ministers refusing to do so?"

More Mass Graves in Mexico. Investigators in western Mexico have dug up 19 bodies from a series of eight mass graves after being led to them by corrupt police officers who had been working for drug cartels. More bodies may be coming. They are believed to be victims of turf wars between the Knights Templar and New Generation Jalisco drug trafficking organizations. The corrupt cops were arrested after two federal police were abducted in Michoacan. The missing federal cops are not among the bodies found so far. Meanwhile, in Guerrero, five more bodies were pulled from a mass grave.

Chronicle AM -- November 11, 2013

Utah is getting organized for marijuana law reform, the NAACP is supporting a "states' rights" federal marijuana bill, attention turns to the drug war south of the border in Washington, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

NAACP Endorses Federal Respect States Marijuana Laws Act. The NAACP late last month formally endorsed the Respect States Marijuana Laws Act, House Resolution 1523. Introduced in April by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the measure would protect both medical and recreational marijuana use and distribution in states where it is legal. That the nation's largest African-American organization and one of the top civil rights organizations would support a "states' rights" measure, given the history with which states' rights is weighted when it comes to race relations, suggests that the NAACP fully understands how destructive the war on marijuana has been to African-American communities.

Beehive State Activists Form Utah Cannabis Coalition. A number of Utah-based marijuana reform groups have formed the Utah Cannabis Coalition to fight for marijuana legalization in all its forms. The groups include Hempower Utah, SLC Hemp, Utah Moms for Marijuana, Salt Lake City Moms for Marijuana, Legalize Utah, and UtahCARE - Cannabis Awareness, Respect and Education. The coalition will be working to win over legislators and holding a number of event this fall and winter.

Search and Seizure

Another New Mexico Nightmare Drug Search, This One Courtesy of the Feds. The New Mexico chapter of the ACLU is representing a woman who was subjected to a strip search, vaginal and anal probes, X-rays, and a CAT-scan, as well as being forced to defecate in front of observers after a drug dog alerted on her as she crossed the US-Mexico border. No drugs were found. This incident comes after two recent cases of Deming police subjecting unwitting motorists to similar treatment, but in this case, the abuse took place at the hands of federal officials and compliant medical personnel.

International

Prague Grow Shop Raids Spark Protest. The Czech marijuana activist groups Leglizace organized a protest in central Prague Saturday against recent mass police raids on shops that sell indoor gardening equipment often used to grow marijuana. Some 200 people gathered to whistle loudly as they carried signs with messages such as "Growing is No Crime." Police have charged at least 22 people with criminal offenses in the wake of the raids.

Mexican Drug War

Petition to End US Support for Mexican and Central American Drug Wars. A petition sponsored by the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy is calling on Congress and the Obama administration to carry out a "fact-based evaluation and seriously rethink the war on drugs" as applied to Mexico and Central America. "We call on you to end funding to the bloody war on drugs in Mexico and Central America, which has led to the death and disappearance of more than 100,000 Mexicans and the dangerous militarization of the region. Instead of continuing to waste billions of taxpayer dollars through the Merida Initiative and the Central American Regional Security Initiative, we urge you to join citizens and governments of the region in the search for more just, effective and humane alternatives to the drug war at home and abroad," the petition says. You can sign it at the link above, and it could use your help; the goal is 5,000 signatures this week, but it so far has fewer than 500.

Javier Sicilia and Caravan for Peace in Washington, DC, This Week. Mexican poet and drug peace leader Javier Sicilia and the Caravan for Peace (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity) will be in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday. Sicilia and the group will brief the Organization of American States and Congress at separate events Tuesday and Wednesday. Click on the link for more details.

The Crooked Cop and the Case of the Vanishing Guilty Plea [FEATURE]

Special to the Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigates@gmail.com. This is Part 8 in his continuing series of stories about prosecutorial misconduct and police corruption in the drug war.

In an unusual recent case, the US 4th Circuit Appeals Court overturned a conviction in a crack cocaine case despite the defendant having pleaded guilty. The case involving Baltimore drug dealer Cortez Leon Fisher was not overturned because the plea agreement was coerced or not voluntary -- the usual standard -- but because it was based on the lies of a corrupt police officer.

The case -- but not this tale -- began with an October 29, 2007 raid on Fisher's home executed by Baltimore police officer and DEA drug task force member Mark Lunsford. The search turned up crack cocaine and a loaded weapon. To avoid a decades-long stretch behind bars, Fisher copped a plea to one count of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Federal District Court Judge Frederick Motz then sentenced Fisher to 10 years in federal prison.

Fisher subsequently appealed to overturn his plea agreement after Lunsford was indicted on theft and perjury charges involving his use of bogus informants to falsely arrest and rip off drug dealers. In July 2010, the crooked cop got 20 months in federal prison for his crimes.

Lunsford's arrest and conviction uncovered a pattern of fabricating evidence to enrich police officers and selected informants, who received payments in cases in which they had not provided information. Reward money was fraudulently awarded to undeserving informants, and the proceeds were split between Lunsford and the snitches.

A search of Lunsford's home turned up jewelry belonging to alleged drug dealers and $46,000 in cash stolen from them. Federal prosecutors made no effort to return the stolen money to its rightful owners, but instead seized it for their own coffers.

But it gets worse. Lunsford also had a long history with Fisher and some of his family members, whom he had previously arrested on drug charges, some of which had been dismissed. In this light, Lunsford's pursuit of Fisher takes on the appearance of a personal vendetta.

When Fisher discovered that Lunsford had been indicted for perjury and theft in 2009, he wrote a pro se appeal to the judge who sentenced him, requesting that his guilty plea be vacated. But Judge Motz demurred.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/J._Frederick_Motz_District_Judge.jpg
Judge Fredrik Motz
"Unquestionably if the defendant had known of Lunsford's misconduct he would have filed a motion to suppress, and the motion may well have been successful," Motz wrote in denying the appeal. Nevertheless, "the defendant does not deny he was in possession of a firearm (as he admitted under oath during his Rule 11).Under these circumstances, I cannot find that a failure to allow defendant to withdraw his guilty plea would result in a 'miscarriage of justice.'"

Fisher appealed that decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. In his appeal, Fisher wrote that Lunsford "set me up and arrested me unlawfully." The informant in the case, Fisher said in the appeal, "never gave Lunsford information concerning drug activities at Fisher's home." Citing prior arrests of Fisher by Lunsford years ago, the appeal went on to say that after Lunsford arrested Fisher in 2007 in the current case, "the officer returned to my apartment later, stole a safe containing all my jewelry specifically numerous diamonds with blue and red design, including a diamond watch."

The 4th Circuit overturned the trial judge. The key question for the court was whether a police officer's misrepresentations of facts invalidated a guilty plea under the due process clause. The court noted that in order to invalidate a plea, the defendant must show that egregious impermissible conduct preceded the entry of the plea and that the misconduct influenced the defendant's decision to plead guilty.

While one member of the three-judge panel voted to dismiss Fisher's appeal, arguing that "natural reaction of extreme distaste to Lunsford's criminal act does not instantaneously transform Fisher's guilty plea into some form of due process violation that permits him now to withdraw his plea," his was a dissenting opinion.

Judges James Wynn and Henry Floyd disagreed. Lunsford's lies influenced Fisher to cop a plea and his perjury "undermined the entire proceedings, thus rendering the defendant's pleas involuntary, and violated his due process rights," they wrote. "A plea based on law enforcement fraud is invalid even if the person is guilty," the court held in its ruling in the case.

Cortez Fisher is still behind bars, waiting to see if the US Attorney's Office in Maryland will dismiss his case. Meanwhile, Lunford, the dirty cop, has already been released from prison, as have other defendants caught up in Lunsford's perjury and bogus search warrants.

Fisher was scheduled to appear in court on October 25th to resolve the matter, but a court clerk told the Chronicle a new date has not been announced yet. Fisher's attorney, Marta Khan, did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment about the matter.

"I was supposed to be home like the other people that they let go behind Lunsford's lies but I believe the feds will try to recharge me," Fisher told the Chronicle in a letter from prison."But I am ready for a new trial since I have all this new evidence."

Cop v. Drug Dealer

Baltimore police officer Mark Lunsford despised drug dealer Cortez Fisher. Their adversarial history stretches years to when Lunsford rode patrol near Baltimore's notorious Murphy Homes Project, where Fisher and his brother called "Midget" sold drugs, according to court documents.

Between 1993 and 2004, Lunsford's aggressive efforts to rid the crime-ridden community of drug dealers helped fellow narcotics officers make some of the cases against Fisher, including one particular case in 1999 when Fisher faced charges for armed marijuana trafficking.

In 2001, Fisher picked up another drug case, but was never convicted. Doggedly pursuing Fisher, Lunsford finally nailed him in 2004 on drug trafficking and a weapons charge filed in federal court. Fisher immediately copped a plea to serve 36 months in prison.

After finishing serving the 36 months, Fisher got nailed again on drug charges by Lunsford, this time costing him another 12 months behind bars. But Lunsford wasn't through yet.

In a search warrant affidavit dated October 29, 2007, Lunsford wrote that he received reliable information from a snitch that Fisher was selling drugs out of his house. Then, based on that false report, Lunsford claimed he personally saw Fisher sell drugs from his car. It was all a lie.

Court records filed in Fisher's case include a redacted FBI document dated October 23, 2009, where Lunsford admits that he fabricated source information in Fisher's and numerous other narcotics cases that sent citizens to prison. Lunsford told FBI agent that, fully aware of Fisher's involvement in the drug trade, he had lied when he said the informant he had named in the affidavit was the source of his information about Fisher.

Fisher may well have had a career as a drug dealer, but as the 4th Circuit noted, "even the guilty can suffer a miscarriage of justice."

Cortez Fisher remains imprisoned as he awaits word on what prosecutors will do. In the worst case, he will stay there until 2017. Meanwhile, the crooked cop whose perjurious information led to Fisher's arrest and subsequent plea bargain is a free man, not on parole, and not in the clutches of the criminal justice system.

For the guy from the mean streets of Baltimore, there is nothing left to do except to start over -- again.

"They took everything I had," he explained.

Baltimore, MD
United States

Chronicle Daily News--November 1, 2013

The big news today is yesterday's surprising appeals court ruling allowing the NYPD to continue stop-and-frisk searches, but there's more as well on marijuana reform, drug testing, and a conference in New Zealand.

NYPD practices stop-and-frisk techniques (nyc.gov/nypd)
Search and Seizure

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Judge's Ruling on NYPD Stop-and-Frisk. The 2nd US Court of Appeals in New York City blocked an order by District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin requiring changes in the NYPD's much criticized stop-and-frisk program. In an unusual move, the appeals court also removed Judge Scheindlin from the case, saying she had violated the code of conduct for federal judges by giving media interviews and publicly responding to criticism of her court. Scheindlin had found that NYPD violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of people by subjecting them to stop-and-frisk searches based on their race.

Drug Testing

Truckers Object to Federal Bill to Allow Hair Drug Tests. A bill pending in Congress, House Resolution 3403, the "Drug Free Commercial Driver Act of 2013," is drawing opposition from an independent trucker group, the association's organ Landline Magazine reports. The bill would allow trucking companies to use hair testing for pre-employment and random drug tests. Currently, federal regulations mandate urine testing and allow hair testing only in conjunction with urine tests, not as a replacement. Hair-based testing can reveal drug use weeks or months prior to the testing date. The independent truckers accuse bill sponsors of carrying water for larger trucking firms that want to undercut their competition.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado to Vote Tuesday on Marijuana Tax. Colorado voters will decide Tuesday whether to impose a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales to pay for school construction and a 10% sales tax to pay for marijuana regulation. The tax vote wasn't included in Amendment 64 because state law requires any new taxes to be approved by the voters. The measure is expected to pass despite opposition from some marijuana activists.

No Pot in Washington Bars, State Regulators Say. The Washington State Liquor Control Board Wednesday filed a draft rule banning any business with a liquor license from allowing on-site marijuana use. The state's pot law already bars public use, including in bars, clubs, and restaurants, but some businesses have tried to find loopholes allowing customers to use on premise, such as by having "private clubs" within the establishment.

DC Marijuana Reform Moves Could Spur Congress to Ponder Legalization. The DC city council appears set to approve decriminalization, and DC marijuana activists are pondering a 2014 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. That could set the stage for Congress to finally turn its sights on federal marijuana legalization, Bloomberg News suggested in this think piece.

One-Fourth of Americans Would Buy Legal Weed, Poll Finds. At least one out of four Americans (26%) said they would buy marijuana at least on "rare occasions" if it were legal, according to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll released Thursday. Only 9% said they buy it on rare occasions now. One out of six (16%) of respondents said they never buy it now, but might if it were legal.

International

New Zealand to Host International Conference on Drug Reform Laws. The country has drawn international attention for its innovative approach to new synthetic drugs—regulating instead of prohibiting them—and will be the site of a March 20, 2014 "Pathway to Reform" conference explaining how the domestic synthetic drug industry began, how the regulatory approach was chosen and how it works. International attendees will include Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann and Amanda Fielding, of Britain's Beckley Foundation.

Chronicle Daily News--October 31, 2013

Here's our first try at altering our format to continue to bring you comprehensive coverage of what's going on in the war on drugs and the world of drug reform. Look for this or something similar on a daily basis from now on. Let's get to it:

Marijuana

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies in Committee. House Bill 492, which would have taxed and regulated marijuana like alcohol was defeated in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Wednesday on an 11-7 vote. The action came just a week after a state poll showed 60% supported the bill.

Federal Judge Cuts Marijuana Sentences. Maryland US District Court Judge James Bredar Monday handed down sentences lighter than called for in federal guidelines in a major marijuana smuggling case, saying such offenses are "not regarded with the same seriousness" as they were just a few decades ago. Bredar also noted that the federal government's decision to largely leave marijuana sales in legalization states raised "equal justice" concerns.

Amendments Filed to California Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Americans for Policy Reform, the people behind the 2014 Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act initiative, Wednesday filed amendments to the proposed law. They include strengthening some penalties and clarifying medical marijuana patient ID card requirements. This is one of two initiatives aiming at 2014 in California, neither of which have big donor support.

Portland, Maine, Marijuana Legalization Initiative Draws Late Opposition. Small signs urging Portlanders to "Vote No on Question 1, NO to POTland" have begun popping up just days before the city votes on legalization next week. Who put them up is a mystery; no group has filed paperwork at city hall opposing the initiative. The initiative would not legalize marijuana per se, but would allow people 21 and over to "engage in activities for the purposes of ascertaining the possession of marijuana and paraphernalia."

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel Tuesday rejected the ballot title for a proposed legalization initiative, saying the language was ambiguous. This is the second time he has rejected the measure, which can still be rewritten and resubmitted.  

Drug Testing

Michigan Governor Signs Unemployment Drug Testing Law. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Tuesday signed a bill that denies unemployment benefits to job seekers who fail employer drug tests. The law is in effect for one year as a pilot program.

Psychedelics

New Group Formed to Assure Sustainability of Psychedelic Plants. The Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council was launched at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver last weekend. It will concentrate on "assuring the sustainability and safe use of traditional plants," and prominently mentioned ayahuasca in its formation announcement.

Sentencing Reform

Bipartisan Mandatory Minimum Reform Bill Introduced in US House. On Wednesday, Reps. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would significantly reform mandatory minimum drug sentencing policies. Companion legislation in the Senate, Senate Bill 1410, was introduced in July. The bills would halve mandatory minimum sentence lengths and expand safety valve access, as well as extend retroactivity under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

Study Shows Way to Louisiana Sentencing Reform. A study released Tuesday by the Reason Foundation, the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation details how Louisiana can reduce its prison population and corrections spending without lessening public safety by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders and reforming its habitual offender law. The study, "Smart on Sentencing, Smart on Crime: Reforming Louisiana's Determinate Sentencing Laws," is available online here and here.

International

At Least Five Dead in Mexico Vigilante vs. Cartel Clashes. Attacks in the Western Mexican state of Michoacan, home of the Knights Templar cartel, between anti-cartel vigilantes and cartel members left at least five dead and thousands without electric power last weekend. The fighting erupted after anti-cartel "self defense forces" marched Friday in the Knights Templar stronghold of Apatzingan and accelerated over the weekend. Vigilantes said they saw the bodies of at least 12 cartel members. 

UNODC Head Says Afghan Opium Crop is Thriving, Spreading. In remarks in advance of the release of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's annual Afghan opium survey early in November, UNODC head Yury Fedotov warned that the poppy crop will increase for the third straight year and that cultivation had spread into formerly poppy-free areas under central government control. Afghanistan accounts for about 90% of the global illicit opium supply.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Michigan couple get their child back, New Jersey gets its second dispensary, and Washington regulators get an earful over moves to do away with patient home grows under I-502 legalization. And much, much more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Tuesday, a judge allowed a medical marijuana patient to continue to use while on probation, even though her plea agreement strictly forbade it. The county attorney in the case had added a blanket condition to plea agreements prohibiting offenders from using marijuana regardless of whether they hold medical marijuana cards, but the woman's attorneys argued that the clause violated state law and that prosecutors could not legally prohibit probationers from using medical marijuana. The judge agreed. The county prosecutor is expected to appeal.

On Tuesday, advocates and doctors urged the state to add PTSD as a condition treatable with medical marijuana. The occasion was a public hearing at the Arizona Department of Health Services. The state currently allows marijuana for eight specified medical conditions. The department will make its decision by January.

Also on Tuesday, the ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit requesting that the courts officially rule that extracts are covered under the state's medical marijuana law. The suit was filed in a bid to protect the parents of a 5-year-old boy suffering from epilepsy from criminal prosecution for treating him with marijuana-derived oil. Extracts are currently in a legal gray area in Arizona, where police and some prosecutors say they are illegal and the Department of Health Services is still "developing guidance to clarify these issues," even though that guidance was supposed to be completed this month.

California

On October 16, Mendocino County announced it had released more records to the federal government related to the former marijuana grow permitting program that allowed growers to have up to 99 plants per parcel. The county was responding to a second set of federal subpoenas, this one for a "limited number" of records concerning the program. An earlier subpoena was much broader, but was fought by the county. The county and the feds reached an agreement in April to release some records, but with the names of participants redacted.

Also on October 16, the Selma city council banned dispensaries and imposed tight restrictions on medical marijuana grows. The Fresno County community will require growers to register, get building permits, and stay 1,500 from sensitive uses, and no outdoor grows are allowed. The new ordinance is a slight improvement on a 2010 ordinance that banned all medical marijuana uses in the city.

Also on October 16, word came that the Justice Department has abandoned some asset forfeiture proceedings against medical marijuana landlords. The US Attorney for the Central District of California, Andre Birotte, dropped at least four cases in October. But other US Attorneys in the state continue to pursue asset forfeiture cases, including pending cases against landlords for Harborside Health Center and the Berkeley Patients Groups.

On October 17, medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow prevailed in a civil trial against anti-drug crusader Paul Chabot. Swerdlow had alleged false arrest and malicious prosecution after a 2007 incident at a Rancho Cucamonga meeting. The jury found for the false arrest, but not the malicious prosecution, and awarded Swerdlow $5,000 for past losses. They will meet again to determine punitive damages.

On October 18, the owners of a former Vallejo dispensary filed suit against the city alleging abuse of power, excessive force, and retaliation after it was raided by police last year. Daniel and Rhonda Chadwick, owners of Homegrown Holistic Cooperative, Inc., claim the city retaliated against them after Daniel Chadwick spoke out at a contentious city council meeting after a series of dispensary raids. Police in Vallejo raided at least six dispensaries there in 2012 even though the city had voted the year before to tax dispensaries -- not shut them down. All of those cases fell apart, but the damage had been done.

Connecticut

On October 17, the Westport planning and zoning commission approved a moratorium on dispensaries and producers. The moratorium would last for a year, while the community has a chance to wrap its head around "the newness" of recently issued state regulations.

On Monday, the Farmington planning and zoning commission passed a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana facilities. The commission wants town staff to have adequate time to research the new state regulations.

Delaware

On October 22, the Marijuana Policy Project criticized Gov. Markell's dispensary plan. State law calls for three dispensaries, but Markell had delayed opening any dispensaries for the last two years after receiving a threat letter from federal prosecutors. Markell has now moved forward, but said he will support opening only one dispensary next year.

Florida

Last Thursday, state Attorney General Pam Bondi challenged a proposed ballot initiative for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The attorney general is required by state law to send initiatives to the state Supreme Court for review, but Bondi also attacked the initiative, saying if it passed, "Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations" and warning that it conflicted with federal law. The court will hear arguments on December 5.

Guam

Last Friday, Sen. Tina Muna-Barnes filed a medical marijuana bill. The bill would require that all medical marijuana come from Guam itself. Last month, Muna-Barnes introduced a resolution to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes that won broad support at a public hearing.

On Sunday, the Guam Medical Association complained it hadn't been consulted. The association didn't take a position for or against, but said it thought it should.

Massachusetts

On October 16, a Bolton town meeting decided to approve a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations. The moratorium would prevent such facilities until June 30, 2014.

Last Wednesday, a Saugus town meeting voted to approve a moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium will stay in effect until September 30, 2014, or until local zoning bylaws are adopted.

On Monday, Wareham voters approved a zoning law that allows medical marijuana treatment centers. The law replaces a temporary moratorium on such businesses that was voted in at the spring town meeting. The centers will be allowed in an "institutional district."

On Tuesday, Framingham selectmen gave the go-ahead for staff to take dispensary applications.There are at least a dozen proposals pending for dispensaries or grow operations in the city. A Special Town Meeting last week rejected a zoning bylaw and proposed overlay district that would regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and growing facilities. The town is developing a ranking system to rate applicants.

Michigan

Last Friday, an Ingham County judge ordered an infant child returned to her medical marijuana using parents. Steve and Maria Green's daughter Bree had been removed by Child Protective Services last month, but the judge found no evidence of abuse or neglect. The parents agreed not to medicate around their children, but said that's how they've handled things all along.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state's second medical marijuana dispensary opened. The Compassionate Care Foundation opened in Egg Harbor, making it the first in South Jersey. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2010, but the Christie administration has made the roll-out excruciatingly slow. Now, though, things are starting to roll. A third dispensary is slated to open in a couple of weeks in Woodbridge Township, and the state Department of Health is in licensing talks with three other facilities.

North Dakota

Last Tuesday, two Dickinson residents entered conditional guilty pleas to marijuana possession, enabling them to appeal to the state Supreme Court that their out-of-state medical marijuana guards should have allowed them to possess marijuana in North Dakota. Their lawyers will argue that the medical marijuana recommendations should be a valid defense.

Oregon

Last Friday, the panel charged with crafting rules for dispensaries met again. The legislature this year passed a bill to regulate the medical marijuana system statewide, and this was the panel's second meeting. It is expected to finish its work by December 1.

Virginia

Last Tuesday, a poll found support for medical marijuana at 71%. The state has taken no action to approve the medical use of the plant, but perhaps some legislators will take heed.

Washington

On Sunday, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles warned that the battle for homegrown medical marijuana is not over. State agencies charged with implementing marijuana legalization under the I-502 initiative have proposed eliminating patient grows under the state's medical marijuana program, but that effort has ignited a firestorm of criticism from patients. Now, they have at least one prominent supporter in the legislature.

Wisconsin

Last Tuesday, 18 legislators cosponsored a medical marijuana bill. The bill, Senate Bill 363, would allow for dispensaries and home cultivation. Patients or caregivers could grow up to 12 plants and possess up to three ounces at a time. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Republican Senator Leah Vukmir, but has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

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

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