State & Local Government

RSS Feed for this category

County to appeal medical-marijuana ruling

United States
The San Diego Union-Tribune

Proposal would expand DWI to include drugs

United States
Southeast Missourian

Lawmakers Approve Clean-Needle Bill; Divided Senate and Assembly Approve Program After Emotional Debate

Trenton, NJ
United States
Newark Star-Ledger

Free Richard Paey!

Call Florida Governor Jeb Bush and urge him to pardon Richard Paey.

The number is 850-488-7146.

Paey just lost his appeal, which means he'll have to complete his 25-year sentence unless the Governor intervenes.

I just spoke with a nice lady at the Governor's office and informed her that Richard Paey is a paraplegic whose substantial need for pain medication resulted in a misguided conviction for drug dealing. I asked her to inform the Governor that I support the Florida Court of Appeals recommendation that he pardon Mr. Paey.

It only takes a minute and together we might be able to help make life a little more bearable for this most unfortunate man.

For a quick refresher on the case before you call, check out Maia Salavitz at The Huffington Post and Radley Balko's article in National Review Online.

Now put down your laptop and make the call. We'll still be here when you're done.


United States

Pain Patients: Richard Paey Loses Appeal, Wheelchair-Bound Man to Remain in Prison

Richard Paey, the Florida pain patient serving a 25-year sentence as a drug dealer after being convicted of fraudulently obtaining pain medications, will remain in prison after losing an appeal Wednesday. Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld his conviction and sentence on a 2-1 vote.

But in a highly unusual act, the appeals court offered some sympathy and advice. Paey should seek a commutation of his sentence from the governor, the court suggested. "Mr Paey's argument about his sentence does not fall on deaf ears," wrote Judge Douglas Wallace, "but it falls on the wrong ears."

While the two judge majority in the case was sympathetic but said its hands were tied, the lone dissenter on the bench, Associate Judge James Seals, disagreed. In a blistering dissent, Seals made a multi-point case that Paey's mandatory minimum sentence was both "cruel and unusual" and absurd in light of the shorter sentences given for many real crimes. (Click here to read an excerpt.)

Paey who was severely injured in an automobile accident in the 1980s, was arrested by the DEA and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office after buying more than 1,200 pain pills with fake prescriptions. Although agents watched Paey roll up to pharmacies in his wheelchair to fill the prescriptions, he was charged as a drug dealer under a Florida law that says anyone possessing more than an ounce is a dealer. Paey rejected a plea bargain before he was tried, saying it was against his principles.

While other appeals remain open to Paey, his attorney, John Flannery II, told the St. Petersburg Times he would take the appeals court up on its suggestion. Flannery filed a commutation petition Wednesday. It's unlikely that outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush will act on it before his term ends as year's end, but Flannery said he wanted to start the process for Governor-elect Charlie Crist.

Judge Rejects Counties' Medical Marijuana Suit

San Diego, CA
United States
Los Angeles Times

Harm Reduction: New Jersey Needle Exchange Bill Moves to Final Floor Votes Next Week

After more than a decade of struggle and thousands of preventable HIV/AIDS cases, New Jersey is on the brink of passing the first bill that would allow needle exchanges to take place in the state. After winning a final Assembly committee vote Monday, the measure now advances to final floor votes in the Assembly and the Senate next Monday.

The bill, A1852, the Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act, would allow up to six Garden State municipalities to begin needle exchange programs for injection drug users in a bid to reduce HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C infection rates. It also appropriates $10 million in "seed money" for drug treatment programs.

With legislative action in Maryland and Delaware in recent years, New Jersey is the only state that allows neither needle exchanges nor the non-prescription sale of needles. A bill that would allow for non-prescription needle sales, A2839, has also passed all committee hurdles in both houses and will go to an Assembly floor vote next Monday, but is unlikely to be voted on in the Senate until next year.

Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office was guardedly optimistic about the needle exchange bill's chances for passage in e-mails to supporters. While noting that the bill had already passed the Assembly once in 2004 and would probably pick up support in that chamber this time around, the Senate fight will be "very tough."

"This is a positive development that could put New Jersey back into the mainstream of other states that have approved clean-needle exchanges and other strategies to reduce the transmission of AIDS among drug addicts, their partners and children," said the bill's sponsor, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. (D-Camden).

Medical Marijuana: County Lawsuit Challenging California Law Thrown Out

San Diego Superior Court Judge William Nevitt, Jr. on Wednesday threw out a challenge to California's medical marijuana law, saying there was "no positive conflict" between state and federal law. The ruling came against a lawsuit filed by San Diego County in February and later joined by San Bernardino and Merced counties. County officials in all three jurisdictions were hostile to Proposition 215 (the Compassionate Use Act) and SB 420, which set up a state Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) with a system of county-administered ID cards.

The medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, and the Drug Policy Alliance jointly intervened to block the lawsuit. It was a September 1 motion argued by ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford that resulted in the favorable ruling.

In his ruling, Judge Nevitt concluded that "neither the Compassionate Use Act nor the MMP is preempted by the Supremacy Clause, by the CSA (Controlled Substances Act), or by the Single Convention." Nevitt also found that, contrary to the arguments by the recalcitrant counties, the voluntary ID card program "does not interfere" with the stated purpose of the Compassionate Use Act, which is to "ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes."

ASA executive director Steph Sherer declared the decision a victory for California's medical marijuana patients. "For the tens of thousands of seriously ill Californians who depend on medical marijuana, this victory could not be more significant," she said. "San Diego Supervisors sought clarification from the courts and now, with this ruling, we encourage San Diego and counties across California to move forward with implementing state law."

Hemp: North Dakota Becomes First State to Legalize Industrial Production

Industrial hemp production becomes legal under North Dakota state law as of January 1, making it the first US state to do so. But while the state Agriculture Department is ready to start handing out licenses next month, it cautions potential farmers that they can't actually begin growing hemp until they are licensed by the state and are approved by the federal government.

Given that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) remains opposed to legalizing the production of the marijuana relative -- the two plants are different cultivars of the cannabis plant, one grown for its oils, seeds, and fibers and the other to get you high -- North Dakota wheat, beet, and soybean farmers probably shouldn't be thinking about switching over anytime soon. That despite the fact that their cousins on the other side of that line in the trackless prairie that marks the US-Canada border in the area are growing it like crazy, sending it across the border, where it can be processed and sold as hemp products, and taking their US dollar profits back home.

In several bills passed since 1999, the North Dakota legislature has approved industrial hemp cultivation. Last month, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem gave his approval to implementing rules crafted by the Agriculture Department, whose head, Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, has been a leading proponent of the potential new cash crop. On Monday, the rules won final approval in the legislature.

"The administrative rules committee of the Legislative Council has reviewed the rules and has not recommended any changes," Commissioner Johnson said in a press release Monday. "After Jan. 1, 2007, North Dakotans will be able to apply for licenses to grow industrial hemp."

But he also warned that the feds remain an obstacle. "Our rules clearly state that persons who hold licenses to grow industrial hemp must also obtain permission from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). It will be up to the DEA to allow producers to compete with other countries for the profits from this potentially valuable crop."

Under the North Dakota rules, producers must consent to a criminal background check and document the amount of harvested hemp sold. Their fields must be provided with geopositioning instruments to track their location, and planted hemp seed must contain less than 0.03% THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

Johnson told the Associated Press he had no illusions of hempen hills in North Dakota anytime soon, but that he hoped to pressure the DEA to act. "We'll see where it goes," he said. "Hopefully, North Dakota will be the first state where producers can grow hemp for legitimate uses. Nobody has ever put something like this in front of the DEA," he said. "We want to make industrial hemp happen. We have put these rules together in such an airtight fashion that we know we are not going to have illicit drugs being grown in North Dakota," Johnson said.

The DEA doesn't care. Hemp contains traces of THC and thus falls under the purview of the Controlled Substances Act, DEA Washington spokesman Steve Robertson told the AP. "There is no differentiation between hemp and marijuana," Robertson said. "The regulations for hemp are the same as they are for marijuana." [Ed: Robertson of course is lying -- yes, lying -- the CSA clearly gives DEA the authority to grant hemp growing licenses.]

But perhaps some frustrated North Dakota farmer with a hemp license will take the agency to court. And then perhaps the US can join the list of civilized countries that allow hemp production, with North Dakota in the vanguard.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Careful readers will have noted that there was no corrupt cops story in Drug War Chronicle last week. That's because we couldn't find any. One of our primary sources, Bad Cop News, had essentially gone silent, and my Google alerts on various drug-related words and phrases had turned up nothing. I appealed to my readers in a blog post on Friday, however, and thanks in part to their responses, we have more corrupt cops stories this week. I have revised and widened my Google alerts, but I'm still calling on readers to send me any local corrupt cops stories they come across. I may have seen them already, but maybe not. Just visit my contact page at and put "corrupt cops" in the subject line to send them along.

This week, it's a veritable potpourri of police misconduct with a heavy emphasis on the larcenous. Let's get to it:

In Chicago, three police officers were charged Monday in a widening probe into allegations Chicago police shook down drug suspects. Officers James McGovern, 40, Frank Villareal, 38, and Margaret Hopkins, 32, all members of the department's special operations section, are charged with official misconduct, and Villareal and Hopkins are also charged with home invasion. Four other Chicago police officers were arrested on similar charges in September. All are accused of robbing, kidnapping, and intimidating drug dealers and using their badges to gain access to homes. So far, the arrests have forced prosecutors to drop more than 100 drug cases.

In Norwalk, Iowa, an assistant fire chief is accused of stealing drugs and covering it up. Assistant Fire Chief Michael Wenger, 41, was arrested last Friday after admitting stealing opiate pain relievers used for EMS calls, including morphine, Tordal, and Fentanyl, and altering logs to hide his thievery. He is charged with fraudulent practices and two counts of possessing a controlled substance. Norwalk, which has been without a fire chief for the past year, now lacks an assistant chief, too.

In Las Vegas, New Mexico, a New Mexico Highlands University security officer has been charged with drug trafficking. Police allege they found cocaine in Officer Michelle Espinoza's purse last week. According to a university spokeswoman, Espinoza, 35, has been placed on leave pending resolution of the case.

In Scranton, Pennsylvania, a Pittston Township police officer was charged in federal court last Friday with felony drug and weapons offenses. Officer Michael Byra, 28, recently testified he had made at least 60 drug busts, but it appears he had problems leaving the evidence alone. He is charged with possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of a firearm during a felony drug trafficking transaction and possession of a stolen firearm. The charges came after the DEA investigated missing evidence -- heroin, cocaine, marijuana, guns, $10,000 in cash, files, and a log book. Byra now faces up to life in prison.

In Ashland, Kentucky, a former state trooper pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges he stole $180,000 from police drug buy funds. Former trooper Louie Podunavac Jr., 41, was a sergeant responsible for the narcotics division in Boyd, Greenup, and Lawrence counties in eastern Kentucky until he retired in July upon being questioned by investigators hunting for missing funds. He admitted in court that he used his access to a state bank account to take money designated for drug buys and transfer it to an account in his own name. Podunavac will be sentenced March 12. He also faces six state charges of fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance. Podunavac's attorney, David Mussetter, explained that Podunavac broke his ankle in 2003, got strung out on Lortab, and stole the money to buy painkillers.

Near Boston, a Malden Police officer was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison on November 15 for ripping-off a drug dealer. Officer David Jordan, a 19-year veteran of the force, participated in a scheme with a local drug dealer to stop a rival dealer and steal three kilograms of cocaine valued at $81,000. Jordan's co-conspirator, Anthony Bucci, 43, of Wakefield, got 22 years the same day.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School