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This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A small-town Florida department run amok loses its chief -- at least temporarily -- an Alabama cop gets caught delivering weed, four South Texas cops get caught running cocaine, and a Camden, New Jersey, sergeant goes down for a dope squad run amok there. Let's get to it:

In Bal Harbour, Florida, the Bal Harbour police chief was suspended last Wednesday after a US Justice Department report said the department had misspent millions of dollars in drug money it had seized. Chief Thomas Hunker, 61, has been suspended with pay while an outside law enforcement agency investigates. The Bal Harbour police had developed the habit of conducting undercover operations all over the country to target drug dealers and their cash. Records show the agency doled out $624,558 in payments to informants in less than four years, and ran up $23,704 in one month for cross-country trips with first-class flights and luxury car rentals. The feds have frozen millions that Bal Harbour police helped confiscate, and the Justice Department now wants the village to return more than $4 million. The Justice Department also accused Hunker of professional misconduct for, among other things, conducting unauthorized checks of national criminal records databases for individuals who did not have access to those systems; receiving multiple gifts from people who may have benefited from his influence; allowing a drunk individual to drive a marked police vehicle on a beach, getting a "sweet deal" on his wife's car purchase after the department bought several vehicles from the same dealer; allowing inflated overtime on money-laundering investigations; and improperly paying informants.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a Montgomery police officer was arrested last Wednesday after he was caught delivering more than three pounds of high-grade marijuana to a home in Mobile County. Officer Lyvanh Ravasong is charged with marijuana trafficking. Ravasong went down when he arrived at the residence at the wrong time -- as Mobile County Sheriff's deputies were executing a search warrant at the address. Ravasong is also believed to be associated with a 16-acre pot farm discovered in October near Chunchala. Officer Ravasong is now former officer Ravasong.

In McAllen, Texas, four South Texas lawmen were arrested late last week on charges they accepted thousands of dollars in bribes to guard shipments of cocaine. Mission Police Officer Jonathan Trevino, 29, and Hidalgo County Sheriff's deputies Fabian Rodriguez, 28, and Gerardo Duran, 30, were arrested last Friday, while Mission Police Officer Alexis Espinosa was arrested a day earlier. All four were members of an anti-drug trafficking task force called the Panama Unit, but are accused of instead providing protection for traffickers. Trevino is the son of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Hidalgo. Federal prosecutors said they received a tip in August that task force members had been stealing drugs and set up a sting. The sting resulted in Duran and another task force member escorting 20 kilograms of cocaine north from McAllen, for which they were paid $4,000. The other task force members earned thousands more dollars for escorting four more cocaine shipments in November. It's unclear what the actual charges are, but all four were being held on $100,000 bonds.

In Camden, New Jersey, a former Camden police sergeant was sentenced last Wednesday to eight months in federal prison for his role as the supervising officer of a corrupt anti-drug squad that stole cash, conducted illegal searches, planted drugs and falsified reports. Dan Morris, 49, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deprive others of their civil rights. He admitted that between May 2007 and September 2008, he conducted illegal searches without a warrant or consent, obtained coerced consents to search residences based on threats and undue pressure, stole money during illegal searches and arrests, and allowed officers he supervised to include facts in police reports that were false. Morris is the third Camden officer to plead guilty in the conspiracy, while a fourth was found guilty at trial, and a fifth was acquitted. The FBI probe of the conspiracy has resulted in the reversal of about 200 drug convictions of suspects arrested by the unit between 2007 and 2009, when the cops were arrested. Morris, a city officer since 1986, was the unit’s supervisor during the time of the investigation.

HSBC Bank Admits Cartel Money Laundering

The London-based HSBC Group, Europe's largest banking entity, has agreed to forfeit $1.256 billion and pay an additional $600 million-plus in fines for laundering money for Mexican drug cartels and other objects of American ire, federal officials announced Tuesday. The agreement was part of a deal to avoid criminal prosecution of the bank by the Justice Department and will result in deferred prosecution provided the bank lives up to its agreements with the Justice Department.

The bank was accused of violating the Banking Secrecy Act, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and the Trading with the Enemy Act -- the latter two types of violations having to do with its transactions on behalf of customers in Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Burma, all of which were subject to sanctions enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the time of the violations. The Banking Secrecy Act violations have to do with the banks laundering of at least $881 million for Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

"HSBC is being held accountable for stunning failures of oversight -- and worse -- that led the bank to permit narcotics traffickers and others to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through HSBC subsidiaries, and to facilitate hundreds of millions more in transactions with sanctioned countries," said Assistant Attorney General for Criminal Affairs Lanny Breuer. "The record of dysfunction that prevailed at HSBC for many years was astonishing. Today, HSBC is paying a heavy price for its conduct, and, under the terms of today's agreement, if the bank fails to comply with the agreement in any way, we reserve the right to fully prosecute it."

"Today we announce the filing of criminal charges against HSBC, one of the largest financial institutions in the world," said US Attorney for Eastern New York Loretta Lynch. "HSBC’s blatant failure to implement proper anti-money laundering controls facilitated the laundering of at least $881 million in drug proceeds through the US financial system. HSBC's willful flouting of US sanctions laws and regulations resulted in the processing of hundreds of millions of dollars in OFAC-prohibited transactions. Today's historic agreement, which imposes the largest penalty in any BSA prosecution to date, makes it clear that all corporate citizens, no matter how large, must be held accountable for their actions."

HSBC may have been slapped with the largest penalties ever, but it is hardly the only bank to have been caught profiting off prohibition. In 2010, Wachovia forfeited $110 million to avoid criminal prosecution for money laundering for the cartels, Sigue Corporation forfeited $15 million in 2008, American Express International Bank paid $65 million in fines and Union Bank of California forfeited $21.6 million in 2007, and Bank Atlantic paid a $10 million fine to avoid prosecution for laundering drug cartel profits in 2006. Like HSBC, all of those banks agreed to reform their banking practices and submit to federal oversight as part of the agreement.

HSBC is accused of under-staffing its anti-money laundering program and failing to monitor billions of dollars in purchases of physical dollars by its Mexican affiliate, HSBC Mexico. It reportedly failed to monitor over $670 billion in wire transfers and the purchase of over $9.4 billion in US dollars.

According to the Justice Department, "HSBC Mexico's own lax AML controls caused it to be the preferred financial institution for drug cartels and money launderers."

The unanswered question is why a government that lets bankers who launder hundreds of millions of dollars of drug profits routinely sends crack-slingers to federal prison for decades for selling a few dollars worth of drugs. Perhaps if those drug dealers had a few million dollars they could hand over to the feds, they could walk, too.

New York, NY
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been a relatively quiet week on the medical marijuana front, with the big news being the DC Circuit Court's interest in determining whether Air Force vet Michael Krawitz has standing to challenge the federal government's refusal to reschedule marijuana. But that isn't all. Let's get to it:

National

On Monday, plaintiffs in the federal marijuana rescheduling case filed an additional brief at the court's request after it heard oral arguments last week. In the case Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, the DC Circuit issued an order last week seeking details on the harm sustained by plaintiff and disabled US Air Force veteran Michael Krawitz as a result of the federal government's policy on medical marijuana. The federal appeals court will use this additional briefing to decide whether the plaintiffs have legal "standing" to bring such a lawsuit against the government. The lawsuit argues that the government has acted arbitrarily and capriciously by keeping marijuana classified as a Schedule I substance, a dangerous drug with no medical value. By ignoring the overwhelming scientific evidence, ASA argues that the federal government has kept marijuana out of reach for millions of Americans who would otherwise benefit from its therapeutic value.

Arizona

Last Friday, a lawsuit against Maricopa County officials for refusing to process dispensary applications got underway. The White Mountain Health Center filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County after it refused to provide documentation and information required in order to obtain a dispensary permit under the voter approved 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. White Mountain was the first to apply for a dispensary permit under county jurisdiction, but Maricopa County DA Bill Montgomery opposes the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act because he says it would force public employees in Arizona to violate federal drug laws that prohibit the use, sale and cultivation of marijuana. Lawyers from the ACLU, who are representing White Mountain, argued that the state has the right to have a medical marijuana law, and that the federal government has not punished officials in any of the other 17 states where it is legal. The case continues.

California

Last Friday, San Francisco's first unionized dispensary opened. The Mission Organic Center applied for its permit more than three years ago, but had to navigate the permit process and overcome an appeal at City Hall before opening. Dispensary owner Eugene Popov has been paying rent on the storefront the whole time, as well as shelling out $10,000 in permit fees. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 has supported the dispensary throughout the process and now has the union shop dispensary in the city.

Also last Friday, neighbors of a Berkeley dispensary threatened to sue the building owner if the dispensary does not stop "all illegal drug activities at the location" associated with the Perfect Plants Patient's Group. Residents complained of bags from the business in neighborhood yards, drug deals openly occurring on the street and kids loitering and smoking marijuana, all of which they attribute to the continued operation of the dispensary. The city is contemplating ordering the dispensary shut down, but the neighbors issued their lawsuit threats because they felt the city wasn’t moving fast enough. The dispensary is not on the city's list of permitted dispensaries.

On Wednesday, the San Francisco Weekly revealed that Mayor Ed Lee blocked a plan to let shuttered dispensaries operate on city property. The number of dispensaries in the city has shrunk from 30 to 20 under the federal onslaught, and city officials had bruited about the idea of letting some of them open on city property while they sought new locations. But Lee's office nixed the idea earlier this month, according to emails retrieved by the Weekly.

Late Wednesday afternoon, an alert went out on the San Diego Americans for Safe Access email list saying San Diego's only known dispensary, Next Generation on San Ysidro Boulevard, was being raided. The dispensary is "currently under attack and in full raid condition," the alert said.

Michigan

On Wednesday, a Big Rapids medical marijuana provider was sentenced to federal prison. John Clemens Marcinkewciz was a registered caregiver when he was arrested on state charges, which were then handed off to the feds. After the federal court ruled that he could not mention the state's medical marijuana law in his defense, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and manufacture of 100 or more marijuana plants. While there was no word at press time what sentence he received, he was looking at at least a five-year mandatory minimum.

Oregon

Last week, Lane County authorities filed an asset forfeiture complaint against a dispensary they raided in August. They hit Kannabosm on August 30 and arrested the owner, Curtis Shimmin, on marijuana and money laundering charges. The store had been open for a year. Now, they want to seize $60,637 in cash, Shimmin's personal automobile, and an ATM machine that was at the business. Shimmin had argued that cash-for-marijuana transactions were not illegal under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act because they were not technically sales, but compensation to growers for their expenses. Lane County begged to differ.

Medical Marijuana Update

The end of dispensaries in LA looms, more federal threat letters in Colorado, and a medical marijuana initiative in North Dakota!? That's just some of the news. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and eight initial cosponsors introduced HR 6335, the States' Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act, in an attempt to stop the seizure of property from landlords of state law-compliant medical marijuana businesses. The bill would prohibit the federal government from using the civil asset forfeiture statue to go after real property owners if their tenants are in compliance with state medical marijuana law. The bill is a response to the use of threat of asset forfeiture by US Attorneys in California in their campaign to shut down dispensaries, including the state's largest dispensary, Harborside, last month.

Arizona

On Monday, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said the state should not authorize dispensaries because they could violate federal law. His advice came in the form of an official opinion crafted by lawyers in Horne's office, following requests for the opinion by law enforcement officials. He also wrote that he expected the courts to settle the matter and that he would not seek to block Tuesday's lottery for dispensary applicants.

On Tuesday, state officials conducted the lottery, awarding applicants in 68 dispensary districts preliminary approval to move forward with the permitting process. More than 400 applications had come in for those districts. In another 29 districts, there was only one applicant. State officials say some dispensaries could open within weeks if they are already well along in their planning processes.

California

Last Wednesday, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed the ordinance banning dispensaries. The measure, approved by the City Council a week earlier on a 14-0 vote, will take effect within 30 days. The so-called "gentle ban" will still allow patients and caregivers to grow their own, but is designed to eliminate the estimated 500 dispensaries in the city. Organizers from the UFCW Local 77 were already discussing plans for a referendum asking voters to allow some dispensaries.

Also last Wednesday, LAPD raided a Woodland Hills dispensary and an associated private residence, seizing 50 pounds of marijuana and arresting one person. The dispensary was West Valley Caregivers on Ventura Boulevard. Police said to report that they were working their way east on Ventura "so hopefully some of these will shut down without us having to do all this work."

Last Thursday, Lake County officials are using nuisance abatement procedures adopted a month ago under an interim urgency ordinance to shut down large grows in the county. As of last Thursday, 19 grows had been shut down, 2,000 plants removed, and seven people arrested. The enforcement actions come as a local judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping them from being inflicted on the four plaintiffs in the case, but only them.

Last Friday, a Riverside County judge ruled that the county cannot ban dispensaries in unincorporated areas. Judge Ronald L. Taylor said the county's outright ban on dispensaries leaves no room for dispensaries to operate legally under state law. A county attorney vowed to appeal.

Also last Friday, the Tax Court ruled a dispensary operator could not deduct business expenses. The ruling came after the IRS went after Martin Olive, owner of the Vapor Room Herbal Center in San Francisco, which was forced out of business at the end of July after its landlord received letters threatening asset forfeiture from US Attorney Melinda Haag. The federal tax code precludes a deduction of any amount for a trade or business where the "trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances… which is prohibited by federal law." Olive argued unsuccessfully that the provision did not apply because his business was not the illegal trafficking of a controlled substance, but was operating legally under state law.

Colorado

Last Friday, US Attorney John Walsh sent threat letters to 10 more dispensaries. This is the third batch of letters containing threats of prosecution or asset forfeiture directed at dispensaries. The first two rounds led to the closing of 47 of them. The letter said all of the targeted dispensaries were within 1,000 feet of schools. They have 45 days to shut down or face asset forfeiture actions.

Also last Friday, the DEA claimed medical marijuana is being diverted into illegal trafficking. It cited some 70 cases of Colorado medical marijuana ending up in 23 different states. Medical marijuana defenders responded that 70 cases wasn't that many, that the state's industry is tightly-regulated, and that there was marijuana in those states before Colorado had a medical marijuana program.

New Jersey

Patients in the Garden State will be able to register for medical marijuana cards beginning Thursday of this week, according to NBC New York. "It's the first time the department will be interacting directly with potential patients and their caregivers," state Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd told the Associated Press. Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair has begun to grow marijuana and will open its doors to patients in the fall.

North Dakota

On Monday, proponents of a statewide medical marijuana initiative handed in signatures. They need 13,500 valid signatures to make the November ballot. They handed in 20,000. State officials have about a month to validate signatures and see if the initiative made it.

Washington

On Tuesday, the state Health Department charged two naturopaths with unprofessional conduct for running "an assembly line" for medical marijuana approvals at last year's Hempfest. The pair, who were featured in a Seattle Times story last August, saw 216 potential patients and approved 214 of them after cursory exams. The charges are believed to be the first against any medical professional in the state over medical marijuana recommendations.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's mainly news from California this week, with DEA and LAPD raids leading the way, but also snippets from Colorado and Montana, and the DEA head on the hot seat. Let's get to it:

National

On Wednesday, DEA administrator Michelle Leonhardt ran into tough questioning (go to 47:15) at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on DEA oversight. After Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) repeatedly and fruitlessly asked her whether meth or heroin is worse than marijuana, the best she could come up with was "all illegal drugs are bad." Nor would she concede under repeated questioning from Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) that marijuana causes less harm than meth. Cohen also went after Leonhardt on medical marijuana.

"Have you ever seen a person who had cancer and used marijuana to alleviate their condition?" Cohen asked. "I have, and would you agree it has some benefit for somebody who is dying, that marijuana is the only thing that makes him eat and smile according to his 80-year-old mother?"

"That's between him and his doctor," Leonhardt replied.

"Then why does the DEA take the position that medical marijuana is wrong?" Cohen asked before Leonhardt got a reprieve because his time was up.

California

Last Thursday, the DEA raided the G3 Holistic dispensary in Upland and federal prosecutors issued indictments for six people in connection with the raid.The folks behind G3 had operated three dispensaries, but shut down two after being warned to close by the feds eight months ago. Three operators of the chain as well as three workers involved in an Ontario grow warehouse that supplied it were taken into custody. All are charged with  conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, possession of pot with intent to distribute it, and maintaining a drug location. They all face up to life in prison if convicted. The defendants were due in court in Riverside today.

As of last Thursday, there are no more dispensaries in Whittier. Whittier Hope Collective shut its doors after receiving a threat letter from federal prosecutors June 5. The Whittier City Council on a 3-2 vote in October 2009 approved a conditional-use permit allowing Whittier Hope Collective to operate. Nearly a year later the dispensary opened. The collective even joined the Whittier Area Chamber of Commerce. Now, its 5,000 members will have to go elsewhere.

Last Tuesday, Lake County supervisors directed county staff to draft an interim urgency ordinance restricting medical marijuana cultivation in unincorporated areas of the county. Staff will take under consideration comments from the Board of Supervisors, the public, and the Lake County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Board. The supervisors are expected to consider the draft ordinance next week.

Last Friday, the IRS announced it had seized the bank accounts of a Sacramento dispensary. The DEA had raided the El Camino Wellness Center earlier in the week. The IRS said it seized $870,000 from bank accounts in what it described as a money-laundering investigation. The seizures underscore efforts by federal authorities to crack down on dispensaries by employing laws traditionally used to target money transfers by narcotics traffickers. The IRS referred to the dispensary as an "illegal marijuana store." El Camino opened in 2008 and last year became the first Sacramento dispensary issued a permit under a city regulatory program for medical marijuana outlets. The city is still collecting voter-approved taxes on local dispensaries, amounting to $1.1 million between July 2011 and March of this year.

Also last Friday, a Shasta County medical marijuana collective threatened to sue the county over its ban on dispensaries. The Medicine Man Collective Spiritual Center Corporation filed a claim earlier in the week saying the ban will have robbed them of $17.2 million by 2013. It is demanding a meeting with county officials to revise the rules, and says it will seek that amount in court if the county doesn't comply. The collective claims it had served some 20,000 patients in the past. County supervisors passed an ordinance banning pot collectives indefinitely in the unincorporated part of the county in December, and they also passed the county's first-ever ordinance limiting growing. The county counsel has 45 days from the date the claim was filed to accept or reject it.

On Monday, a San Diego initiative to regulate dispensaries failed to make the ballot. Citizens for Patient Rights and the Patient Care Association needed to gather 62,000 valid signatures to qualify, but collected fewer than 20,000. Proponents said the federal crackdown and prosecutions by San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis had depleted dispensary ranks and impeded the flow of money needed to raise the signatures. The same groups last year collected more than 40,000 signatures to successfully repeal a city ordinance that medical marijuana dispensary directors and patients believed was too restrictive. They plan to pursue another initiative or to work with the new city council and mayor to pass regulations after the fall election.

Also on Monday, activists in Del Mar asked the city council to adopt a dispensary ordinance after collecting signatures from well over 10% of Del Mar voters. The Patient Care Association led the signature drive and hopes the council will immediately pass the Compassionate Use Dispensary Regulation and Taxation Ordinance in order to serve medical pot patients in Del Mar sooner rather than possibly later. But Del Mar officials opted to instead receive a report on the measure. By doing so, the council will have the choice to either adopt the ordinance within 10 days of receiving the report, to be issued by mid-July, or order an election. The Patient Care Association expects to qualify ballot measures in Solana Beach and Lemon Grove by the end of the week and in Encinitas by the end of the month. The proposed compassionate use dispensary ordinance would impose a 2.5 percent sales tax on medical pot to benefit the city's general fund.

Also on Monday, the Oaksterdam Cannabis and Hemp Museum announced plans to relocate. The museum, which is affiliated with Oaksterdam University, is being forced out of its present location by the April DEA and IRS raids on Oaksterdam properties, and must relocate by the end of the month. The relocation is a result of concerns raised by the City of Oakland about having the publicly accessible museum in a shared space with a downtown Oakland medical cannabis dispensary. The museum has been closed since the raids.

Also on Monday, the San Francisco City Attorney filed a brief defending the rights of local governments in California to issue permits authorizing medical cannabis collectives to serve their patients, urging the state Supreme Court to reverse a Court of Appeal holding that such regulation is substantially preempted by federal law. The amicus brief authored by Dennis Herrera and joined by Santa Cruz County Counsel Dana McRae argues that discretionary permitting, an integral element in planning and land use policy, is particularly essential for local regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries. The appellate court's October 4, 2011 ruling in Pack v. Long Beach, Herrera and McRae contend, wrongly hinders the ability of local governments to protect public health and safety effectively, and to enact policy innovations tailored to local needs.

Also on Monday, the San Leandro City Council again punted on regulating dispensaries and grows. The council agreed to take up the issue again next month. A moratorium is in effect until September 30, but city staff has warned the council it should have an ordinance in place before then. The council has been hesitating, waiting to see what happens with a dispensary regulation bill in Sacramento.

On Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors voted to oppose a statewide dispensary regulation bill over fears the regulations could limit local control of marijuana dispensaries and grow sites. The bill, Assembly Bill 2312, sponsored by Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), would require commercial marijuana growers to register with a new Board of Medical Marijuana Enforcement, and counties and cities could tax marijuana if local voters agree. It passed the Assembly last month, and is set for a Senate committee hearing next week.

Also on Tuesday, the LAPD raided two dispensaries in Woodland Hills because of "illegal sales" of marijuana. Witnesses identified the dispensaries as Green Joy and Green Magic, both on Ventura Boulevard. The raids were carried out by the Topanga Narcotics Division. The LAPD has been busy in the San Fernando Valley, with the department claiming that it had wiped out all cannabis stores in its Devonshire Division.

Also on Tuesday, Long Beach police raided a downtown dispensary just hours before the city council was to hear a report on enforcement of its four-month-old dispensary ban. Hit was THC Downtown, which had applied for a permit through a lottery process (while the city still handed out permits), failed to win the lottery, but opened anyway. Police said three employees and two security guards would face misdemeanor charges of violating the city's ban on dispensaries that were not permitted.

On Wednesday, patients and activists rallied in Sacramento to protest last week's raid on the El Camino Wellness Center. "The Obama administration is betraying patients and lying to the public," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), one of the groups organizing Wednesday's protest. "The president and the attorney general have said publicly that the Justice Department is not targeting state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries, but that's exactly what it's doing." Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the House Judiciary committee that, "We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity with state law." However, by all accounts, El Camino was acting in full conformity with local and state laws.

Colorado

On Monday, the Commerce City City Council approved regulations under which medical marijuana businesses must apply for a conditional permit, and then for a business license. The program goes into effect July 1. License applicants must sign waivers that release the city from any liability for injuries or damages if state or federal agencies seek arrest or prosecution. The ordinance creates rules for regulating dispensaries, cultivation facilities, production and manufacturing of medical marijuana products.

Montana

Earlier this month, state Democrats added support for medical marijuana to their party platform. The new plank says that, because voters approved the use of medical marijuana, the Democratic Party supports "the right of qualified patients with a medical condition where marijuana is appropriate (to) have safe access to medical marijuana." Party spokesmen said the measure didn't spark much debate at the party convention. Some 61% of voters approved the Montana Medical Marijuana Act in 2004, but a combination of federal raids and changes by the Republican-led state legislature have left the program in tatters.

Medical Marijuana Update

The biggest medical marijuana news this week has to be the Oregon election that saw a pro-medical marijuana attorney general candidate win against a former interim US Attorney, but there was plenty of other news, as well. Let's get to it:

National

Last Wednesday, Mitt Romney got asked about medical marijuana and didn't much like the question or really answer it. "Aren't there issues of significance that you'd like to talk about?" Romney asks the interviewer. "The economy, the economy, the economy. The growth of jobs. The need to put people back to work. The challenges of Iran. We've got enormous issues that we face, but you want talk about -- go ahead -- you want to talk about marijuana? I think marijuana should not be legal in this country. I believe it is a gateway drug to other drug violations. The use of illegal drugs in this country is leading to terrible consequences in places like Mexico -- and actually in our country."

On Tuesday, a Mason Dixon poll found broad support for medical marijuana among Republicans. Some 67% of Republicans said federal officials should respect state medical marijuana laws. So did 75% of Democrats and 79% of independents.

Also on Tuesday, researchers reported that smoking marijuana can relieve MS symptoms. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that smoked marijuana relieved pain and muscle tightness spasticity. The research was published in the peer-reviewed Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Arizona

As of Monday, Arizona started accepting dispensary applications. Arizona has some of the strictest dispensary rules in the country, including requirements that a licensed physician be employed on premises, that letters be obtained showing dispensaries are complying with zoning laws, and that they have a business plan showing they are operating as nonprofits. Then there is the $5,000 application fee and the preference that will be shown to those who can prove they have $150,000 in the bank. Still, competition is expected to be fierce for the licenses, which will be capped at 125 statewide. Interested parties have until May 25 to apply.

California

Beginning Saturday, a medical marijuana "Unity" conference gets underway in Sacramento. It goes through Monday and is aimed in part at obtaining passage of Assembly Bill 2312 to regulate medical marijuana cultivation and distribution statewide. The conference is sponsored by the PAC Californians to Regulate Marijuana as well as  Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, California NORML, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, and the Emerald Growers Association. The conference will focus on skill-building and grass roots leadership, with a day of lobbying set for Monday.

Last Thursday, a Santa Barbara dispensary operator took a plea deal. Charles Restivo, operator of the Pacific Coast Collective between 2008 and 2010, was arrested after a four-dispensary raid by local law enforcement in February 2010. He was charged with possession of marijuana for sale and cultivation of marijuana for sale since authorities argued the dispensary was violating state laws regarding medical marijuana. Under the deal, Restivo pleaded guilty to one new count of possession of concentrated cannabis (hash) in return for the other charges being dropped. He will get three years probation.

Also last Thursday, the Clear Lake city council voted to oppose Measure D, the Lake County marijuana cultivation initiative set to go before voters June 5. The council's action follows similar votes taken by the Lake County Office of Education Board of Trustees Wednesday night, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and the Lakeport City Council last week. It is also opposed by the Sierra Club, the Lake County Deputy Sheriffs Association, Kelseyville Business Association, Lake County Chamber of Commerce, California Women for Agriculture, Lake County Farm Bureau, the Buckingham and Clear Lake Riviera homeowners associations, and the Lake County Association of Realtors' Board of Directors. Measure D would allow 12 female plants to be grown in residential areas on lots under a half acre, 24 plants on lots larger than a half acre and 84 plants on larger parcels.

On Tuesday, the DEA and local police raided a Fontana dispensary. The raiders hit Holistic Meds RX, detaining four people, and seizing large quantities of medical marijuana. It was a federal warrant, but town and San Bernadino County police aided the DEA. Dispensaries have opened in Fontana, but have been unable to get permits because the city considers the businesses illegal.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles city council postponed adopting a "gentle" ban on dispensaries proposed by Councilman Jose Huizar. The move came after Councilman Paul Koretz instead proposing allowing some dispensaries to continue to operate if they agreed to city regulations. Koretz called Huizar's "gentle" ban, which would close all dispensaries, but allow personal and collective grows, in reality a "vicious, heartless" ban. The city is home to an uncertain number of dispensaries, somewhere in the hundreds.


Colorado

On Monday, 25 dispensaries targeted by federal officials had to be closed down. That was the second wave of dispensaries threatened by US Attorney John Walsh, who earlier forced 22 out of business. He says a third wave of threat letters is forthcoming. In the first wave, Walsh targeted dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools; in the second wave, he targeted dispensaries within 1,000 feet of college campuses. No telling yet what his criteria will be next time.

On Tuesday, the Dacono city council moved forward with its ban on dispensaries, as well as grows and edibles manufacturing. The council voted 4-2 for the ban, but must do so one more time on June 11 before it takes effect. The town has had a temporary moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses since July 2010, but that edict expires on July 1. The town has three existing dispensaries, but they would be forced to close if the ban passes.

Michigan

Last Friday, the state appeals court confirmed the conviction of a man who had a medical marijuana card, but not a fence. Lewis Keller of Emmet County got busted with 15 plants on his property. Under state law, he could have 12, but it had to be fenced. Keller said he knew he was over the limit, but he didn't realize the plants had to be secured.

On Tuesday, the Jackson city council got an earful from advocates concerned about its proposed medical marijuana ordinance. Under the proposed ordinance, qualifying patients or primary caregivers who are registered by the Michigan Department of Community Health to grow marijuana could do so in their homes. Patients could consume the drug only in their homes or their primary caregivers' homes. Patients and primary caregivers also could grow medical marijuana at non-dwelling locations in certain commercial and industrial business districts.
The city has had a moratorium on medical marijuana operations during the drafting of the ordinance. The city council will revisit the issue next week.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, the House passed a medical marijuana bill already passed by the Senate. It now goes back to the Senate for approval of changes. Gov. John Lynch (D) has vowed to veto the bill over concerns over distribution, just as he did in 2009, when a veto override failed by two votes in the Senate.

New York

On Wednesday, a Siena College poll found majority support for medical marijuana in the Empire State. The poll had 57% supporting it and only 33% opposed. A bill in the Assembly has been stalled since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signaled that this was not the year for it.

Oregon

On Tuesday, Ellen Rosenblum defeated former interim US Attorney Dwight Holden in the fight for the Democratic Party nomination for state attorney general. Oregon medical marijuana activists and national drug reformers rallied against Holden and supported medical marijuana-friendly Rosenblum as she picked up 63% of the vote against the former front-runner. Activists said the vote shows opposing medical marijuana carries a political price tag.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the House passed compromise dispensary legislation. A similar measure has already passed the Senate, so after the formalities of concurrence votes, the measure will head to Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I), who is expected to sign it.

Washington

On Monday, the Pasco city council moved closer to banning grows. A workshop discussion that night leaves little doubt that the city will outlaw medical marijuana gardens in the city at its next meeting to avoid violating federal anti-drug laws. Pasco is among Washington cities that have been waiting for nearly a year for the legislature to act to clarify a law allowing cities to write their own rules for medical marijuana garden collectives. The council is expected to vote on the ordinance Monday.

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This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More asset forfeiture problems in Texas, plus a typical weekly rogues' gallery of dirty cops. Let's get to it:

In Austin, Texas, a former Brooks County sheriff is being investigated by the state attorney general's office over his lavish use of forfeited assets seized from drug and weapons suspects. The Corpus Christi Times details the allegations against former Sheriff Balde Lozano as well as a broader investigation into asset forfeiture in Texas in a series of reports. A state auditor has questioned Lozano's spending on new cedar paneling for his office, 18 vehicle purchases and sales, and $80,000 in credit card transactions.

In Los Angeles, a jailer at the LA County Jail was arrested last Monday on charges he was smuggling cocaine into the jail. Jailer Remington Orr, 24, was caught carrying the drugs when he went to work at the Men's Central Jail. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, transportation with intent to sell, and bribery. He was jailed on $1 million bail. Three sheriff's guards have been convicted and a fourth fired in recent years for smuggling or attempting to smuggle narcotics into jail for inmates.

In Athens, Ohio, a local police chief was arrested last Wednesday for peddling pain pills. Buchtel Chief of Police Kelsey Lanning went down after Athens County sheriff's deputies did a controlled buy at his home. Lanning is accused of buying the prescription medication to give to someone who was working with the sheriff's Narcotics Enforcement Team.

In Oklahoma City, an Oklahoma City police officer was charged last Friday with tipping off a drug suspect of an impending raid. Sgt. Mari Christina Cervantes is charged with a misdemeanor count of obstructing police officers. In November 2010, police raided two locations, including the home of one of Cervantes' snitches. Police found text messages from Cervantes on his cell phone, including one telling the informant to "stay away," another hoping police wouldn't find anything, and a third saying, "They are supposed to be kicking in the door, but you didn't hear it from me."

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a Miramar police officer was sentenced last Friday to two years' probation for searching the apartment of a drug suspect without a warrant and lying about it. Officer Jean Paul Jacobi, 39, was found guilty in December of official misconduct, falsifying records, and criminal mischief and could have gotten up to five years behind bars. The state asked for two years, but the judge gave him probation, and if he keeps his nose clean, with deferred adjudication, his felony record will be wiped clean. The search in question occurred after police arrested a drug suspect in a traffic stop and seized his vehicle. The keys ended up with another Miramar police officer, who gave them to Jacobi, who used them to enter the apartment without a warrant.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Lead us not into temptation with seized cash, nearby evidence rooms, and the perks of police powers, amen. A few law enforcement officers haven't been reciting the prayer. Let's get to it:

In Austin, Texas, the state attorney general's office is reviewing the use of asset forfeiture funds by the Brooks County Sheriff. An audit of $562,000 in asset forfeiture spending by Sheriff Balde Lozano found that he spent $394,000 to purchase 18 cars without county approval for reasons that had nothing to do with law enforcement and that he charged more than $88,000 in restaurant dinners, department and electronics store purchases, and at hotels and gas stations. He spent $3,000 at Cavender's Boot City alone. Lozano has not yet been charged with any crime, but the investigation comes only eight months after former Brooks County DA Joe Frank Garza was sentenced to prison for skimming at least $1.2 million from the fund for himself and his former staff members.

In Bridgeton, New Jersey, a Williamstown police officer was arrested last Wednesday on steroid-peddling charges, including a count of intending to deal drugs near a local school. Officer Robert Smith, 31, went down after local police received information he was involved in narcotics. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled dangerous substance with the intent to distribute, and distribution of a controlled dangerous substance in a school zone. At last report, he was being held in the Salem County jail on $75,000 cash bail. He has been suspended without pay and faces dismissal if found guilty.

In Alexandria, Louisiana, a former supervisor of the Rapides Parish drug task force was indicted last Thursday on a slew of drug and malfeasance charges. Michael LaCourt had originally been arrested in Augusts, but a parish grand jury issued a superseding indictment charging him with distribution of methamphetamine and conspiracy to distribute meth. He is also charged with having sex multiple times with a woman who was under the supervision of the Division of Probation and Parole. He faces four malfeasance charges, three of them for his misbehavior with the woman and one for falsely telling Crimestoppers that a certain person had provided information in a case, allowing that person to collect reward money. Bond was set at $150,000. LaCour had headed Metro Narcotics from 2008 until his August 2011 arrest. He went down after "three female offenders" complained about him.

In Carlsbad, California, a Carlsbad vice and narcotics detective was arrested last Thursday after he was caught stealing drugs from the evidence room "by various police employees." Det. Michael Koch, 44, an 18-year veteran of the department, was arrested within hours of the incident and posted $25,000 bail last Friday. The department declined to comment on the type or quantity of drug is accused of taking.

In Tucson, Arizona, a Border Patrol agent and an Arizona prison guard were arrested last Thursday on charges they had conspired to smuggle drugs into the US. Border Agent Ivhan Herrera-Chiang and corrections officer Michael Lopez are charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. Herrera-Chiang had been part of the Border Patrol's Smuggling Interdiction Group since March 2011, but was actually acting as a middle man between Mexican drug traffickers and Lopez. He is accused of monitoring Border Patrol radio and agent locations and notifying Lopez where the smuggling effort should occur. Both men are reported to have made at least partial confessions.

In Savannah, Georgia, a former Savannah-Chatham police officer pleaded guilty last Friday to extorting drugs and a cell phone while working off-duty at a night club while in uniform. Floyd Sawyer, 45, went down after DEA agents informed the FBI they had received reports that Sawyer and another Savannah police officer, Sgt. Kevin Frazier, were shaking down dealers at the club and taking their drugs and other possessions. FBI agents set up a sting, sending an undercover agent into the club posing as a dealer. Sawyer and Frazier shook down the agent, taking Oyxcontin pills and a cell phone from him. The pills ended up going to a local small-time dealer and the phone ended up with one of Sawyer's relatives. Sawyer pleaded guilty to extortion, but denied using force or intimidation, leaving the judge in the case to warn that he may not accept the plea bargain.

In Palm Beach, Florida, the commander of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office SWAT team has been placed on administrative leave, the office announced Tuesday. Lt. Daniel Burrows, a 17-year-veteran of the department was placed on leave January 3 amid allegations of misuse of prescription pain medication and possibly being under the influence of drugs while on duty.

Feds Threaten Colorado Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Colorado US Attorney John Walsh last Thursday sent letters to 23 medical marijuana dispensaries and their landlords across Colorado warning that they must shut down within 45 days or "action will be taken to seize and forfeit their property." The letter was sent to dispensaries operating within 1,000 feet of a school.

Colorado dispensaries (not necessarily this one) are under attack. (O'Dea at WikiCommons)
"Those who do not comply will be subject to potential criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions by the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado and the Drug Enforcement Administration," the US Attorney's Office elaborated in a press release.

The letters are of a kind with letters sent out by US Attorneys in California beginning in October. In both states, federal prosecutors are targeting dispensaries that trigger enhanced federal penalties by being within a 1,000 feet of a school, which does not violate state law in either state, but does result in enhanced penalties in federal prosecutions. The California threat letters have led to the closure of numerous targeted dispensaries, as well as the closure of dispensaries that were not directly targeted, but were intimidated by the signals emanating from the feds.

"When the voters of Colorado passed the limited medical marijuana amendment in 2000, they could not have anticipated that their vote would be used to justify large marijuana stores located within blocks of our schools," Walsh said in the release. The letters are "merely a first step to address this issue, and the office will continue to insist marijuana stores near schools shut down."

The Colorado dispensary scene exploded after then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issued an October 2009 memo saying federal prosecutors should not use their resources to target patients and providers in compliance with state laws. But in June 2011, Ogden's successor, James Cole, issued another memo clarifying that state laws do not provide protection from federal prosecution.

Colorado dispensaries are taxed and tightly regulated, and had previously been relatively free of federal interference. It looks like that is changing now.

Denver, CO
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Virginia sheriff gets raided, a sleazy Michigan cop gets busted, a New Jersey cop gets convicted, and several Oklahoma lawmen are headed to prison. Let's get to it:

In Halifax, Virginia, Virginia State Police served a search warrant at the Halifax County Sheriff's Office December 5 in an ongoing embezzlement investigation of Sheriff Stanley Noblin. State Police seized documents, a bank statement, and several computers, including a binder titled "fiscal year asset forfeiture money" and a notebook titled "drug buy money." The search is part of an investigation requested by state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II into the disposition of $48,500 in asset forfeiture funds and $34,500 in drug buy funds for which no official use has been discerned.

In Benton Harbor, Michigan, a Benton Harbor police officer was arrested December 8 on charges he forced a 24-year-old woman to perform fellatio on him to avoid being arrested for marijuana possession. Officer Jared Graves is charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree, one count of misconduct in office, and one count of delivery of marijuana. Graves allegedly was called to an apartment complex on a drug use complaint and confiscated marijuana from the woman. Two days later, he told her to come to the police station to discuss the incident. He then forced her into oral sex and returned her marijuana. Weeks later, Graves met the woman at the apartment complex and compelled her to perform oral sex and engage in sexual intercourse, again threatening her with the marijuana offense.

In Camden, New Jersey, one Camden police officer was convicted and another acquitted last Friday on charges they falsified reports, planted evidence, and stole money. Officer Antonio Figueroa, 35, was convicted on three of five counts of civil rights violations and conspiracy, while Office Robert Bayard, 33, was acquitted of all charges. Both were members of the Camden Police Special Operations Unit, an elite crime-fighting team formed to crack down on drug dealing and violent crime in the city. Three other officers in the unit have already pleaded guilty to planting drugs on suspects and stealing cash discovered during searches. They had also been accused of lying to state grand juries and falsifying reports to bring unjustified criminal charges. Figueroa will be sentenced March 16.

In Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, a former Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics agent was sentenced December 5 to 35 months in federal prison after admitting his role in an operation to smuggle guns from Oklahoma to Texas, some of which ended up going to drug cartels in Mexico. Francisco Javier Reyes, 30, pleaded guilty last year to one count each of conspiracy and transferring firearms to an out-of-state resident as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors. He could have gotten up to 10 years.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, three former Tulsa police officers and a former ATF agent were sentenced December 6 after being convicted on drug corruption charges. Former officer Jeff Henderson got 3 ½ years in prison, former officer JJ Gray got four months, retired officer Harold Wells got 10 years, and former ATF agent Brandon McFadden, who copped a plea and testified against the others, got 21 months. All were convicted in a long-running scandal involving false arrests, false reports, and other civil rights violations. Three other officers were acquitted, but remain off the job while Tulsa Police finish an internal investigation.

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