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What To Do About the Drug Trade in West Africa? [FEATURE]

Over the past decade, West Africa has emerged as an increasingly important player in the global illicit drug trade. Although the region has historically not been a drug producing one -- with the important exception of marijuana -- it has become a platform for predominantly Latin American drug traffickers moving their illicit commodities toward lucrative European and Middle Eastern markets. The cocaine traffic alone is worth more than a billion dollars a year, according to a 2013 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

children walking from home to school in Bamako, Mali (JoeyTranchinaPhotography©2014 Sète, France)
And the trade is becoming more complex. Now, it's not only cocaine flowing through the region, but heroin destined mainly for Western Europe and methamphetamines being manufactured there and exported to Asia and South Africa, that same UNODC report found.

The region -- stretching along the African coast from Nigeria to the east to Senegal on the west, and extending deep into the Sahara Desert in countries such as Mali and Niger -- is plagued by weak states and corrupt governments, making it attractive to criminals of all sorts, who thrive in lawless lands. And it's not just criminals. The region is also home to various bands of Islamist militants, some of whom are involved in the drug trade.

Now, a commission of prominent West Africans is calling for fundamental changes in drug policies in the region. Last week, the West Africa Commission on Drugs, issued a report, Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa, calling for the decriminalization of drug use, treating drug use primarily as a public health issue, and for the region to avoid becoming the next front line in the failed war on drugs.

The commission is impressive. It was initiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Nigeria and headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and includes other former heads of state as well as a distinguished group of West Africans from the worlds of politics, civil society, health, security and the judiciary.

And so is its very existence. It marks the entrance of West African civil society into the international debate on drug policy in which calls for fundamental drug reform have gained increasing momentum in recent years. In 2008, former Latin American heads of state and other luminaries formed the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, and in 2011, Annan and other world luminaries and former heads of state came together to form the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Now, West Africa adds its voice to the chorus calling for change.

"We call on West African governments to reform drug laws and policies and decriminalize low-level and non-violent drug offenses," said Obasanjo upon the report's release last week. "West Africa is no longer just a transit zone for drugs arriving from South America and ending up in Europe but has become a significant zone of consumption and production. The glaring absence of treatment facilities for drug users fuels the spread of disease and exposes an entire generation, users and non-users alike, to growing public health risks."

"Most governments' reaction to simply criminalize drug use without thinking about prevention or access to treatment has not just led to overcrowded jails, but also worsened health and social problems," added Kofi Annan.

West Africa
"We need the active support and involvement of civil society and of the international community," said commission member Edem Kodjo. "South America, where most of the drugs smuggled to West Africa come from, and Europe, which is the main consumer market, must take the lead to deal with both production and consumption at home. We cannot solve this problem alone; governments and civil society have to come together in West Africa to help prevent the drug problem from getting completely out of hand."

The report won kudos from American drug reformer Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance.

"First Europe, then the Americas, now Africa," he said. "Drug policy reform is truly becoming a global movement, with Kofi Annan and Olusegun Obasango providing the sort of bold leadership that we've also seen in Latin America. Maybe, just maybe, West Africa will be spared the fate of other parts of the world where prohibition-related crime, violence and corruption spiraled out of control."

But some analysts, while welcoming the report, suggested that it did not get at the heart of the problem in West Africa.

"The report focuses on public health, and that's great, but I'm not sure that's the issue," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution who has published extensively on West Africa. "Nor are there generally large prison populations due to the arrests of low-level drug offenders. There is increasing drug use, and many addicts don't have access to public health. That, however is not because they were arrested, but because Africa in general doesn't have access to public health," she pointed out.

"In some senses, the commission report is preventative -- it warns of policies that would be counterproductive -- but it is not going to solve West Africa's problems," Felbab-Brown continued. "And the harm reduction approaches that dominate the discourse in Europe and the US are not really apropos for West African public health issues. The increasing focus of the international community is interdiction, but that accounts for only a small fraction of the total traffic, and the report doesn't deal with what kind of alternate law enforcement there should be, or who should be targeted."

But others thought the criminal justice and public health emphasis in the report were a step down the right path.

"The report's message about alternatives to criminalization for use and minor offenses is important in criminal justice terms -- to discourage the horrible over-representation of minor drug offenders in prisons in the region -- but also as a reminder that there are no such alternatives unless the health and social sectors develop those alternatives," said Joan Csete, deputy director of the Open Society Foundation's Global Drug Policy Program.

"Health ministries need to be as important around the drug policymaking table as the police, which is far from the case in most of Africa today," she added. "Services for treatment of drug dependence in the region are absent or of appalling quality. Improving health and social support for people with drug dependence is a key to drug policy reform in West Africa."

And Felbab-Brown agreed that while measures like drug prevention and treatment wouldn't solve the region's problems, they would still be helpful.

"We're already seeing quite a bit of heroin in the region, and we are seeing increasing use," she said. "These are cheap and prevalent commodities, the traffickers partake in kind, and user communities are being established. In a sense, developing strategies to prevent use, get treatment, and prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C is useful because there are more and more users."

drug, security, and insurgency analyst Vanda Felbab-Brown (brookings.edu)
But for Felbab-Brown, the key problem for West Africa is its weak and corrupt states.

"The big trafficking issues are around the intersection of very poor, very weak, very corrupt, and often very fragile states with state participation in various forms of criminality," she said. "Drugs are just another commodity to be exploited by elites for personal enrichment. Elites are already stealing money from oil, timber, and diamonds, and now there is another resource to exploit for personal enrichment and advancement," she argued.

"One narrative has it that drug trafficking has caused fragility and instability, but I think trafficking compounded the problems; it didn't create them," Felbab-Brown continued. "There is a systematic deficiency of good governance. Many of these states have functioned for decades like mafia bazaars, and the trafficking just augments other rents. There are rotten governments, miserable institutions, and poor leadership around all commodities, not just drugs."

"The states are not monolithic," Csete noted. "Some have high-level corruption, some are aggressive in trying to fight money-laundering and other elements of organized criminal networks, some rely heavily on traditional interdiction methods. Some of these countries have relatively strong democratic systems and relatively strong economic growth; some have governance institutions that are less strong."

The state of the states in West Africa influenced the commission and its recommendations, Csete said.

"Legalization of drugs -- production, sale, consumption -- was not judged to be politically feasible or necessarily desirable by the commission," she explained. "I think the commissioners generally perceive that generally these countries do not yet have a political climate favorable to debate on progressive changes in drug policy. The whole idea of the commission and its report is to open those debates -- high-profile people from the region saying things that sitting officials do not find it politically easy to say."

"These are newer post-colonial states," Felbab-Brown noted. "Are we having unreasonable expectations? Is this like Europe in the 13th Century, or is that some of these countries are doomed to exist in perpetual misgovernance?"

While there may be concern in Western capitals about the specter of West African drug trafficking, many West Africans have other, more pressing, drug policy concerns.

In its 2013 report, the UNODC noted that the importation of fake pharmaceutical drugs from South and Southeast Asia into the region was a problem. Joey Tranchina, a longtime drug policy observer who has recently spent time in Mali, agrees.

"Having traversed Mali from Bamako to Mopti, except for the usual oblique indigenous references to smoking weed, the only personal experience I have with drug crime is counterfeit pharmaceuticals from India, China, and Russia," he said. "They're sold cheap in the streets to people who can't afford regular meds and they take the place of real pharmaceuticals, especially malaria and HIV drugs. These drug scams are killing people in Mali," he said.

"Most people in West Africa don't see drug trafficking as that much of a problem," said Felbab-Brown. "If it's mostly going to Westerners, they say so what? For them it is a mechanism to make money, and those drug traffickers frequently become politicians. They are able to create and reconstitute patronage networks around drug trafficking, just as they were once able to get elected with money from blood diamonds."

It seems that, to the degree that drug use and drug trafficking are West African problems, they are problems inextricably interwoven with the broader issues of weak, fragile, and corrupt states that are unable or unwilling to deliver the goods for their citizens. The West Africa Commission on Drugs has pointed a way toward some solutions and avoiding some failed policies already discredited elsewhere, but it seems clear that that is just the beginning.

Chronicle AM -- June 12, 2014

Marijuana reform is exciting some third-party activity, New York's medical marijuana bill is still alive amidst ongoing last-minute negotiations, the New York Senate has passed a package of anti-opiate bills that will bring on more drug war, a high-level commission calls for radical drug policy changes in West Africa, and more. Let's get to it:

coca plant (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Independence Party Runs on Legalization Platform. The Independence Party of Minnesota, a fiscally conservative and socially liberal state party, is making marijuana legalization a key part of its 2014 platform. The party, which is fielding candidates in a number of statewide and legislative races, is descended from the Jesse Ventura-era Reform Party. Its gubernatorial candidate got 12% of the vote in the 2010 election.

New Jersey Democrats Try to Kick NJ Weedman Off Ballot. Ed Forchion, better known as the NJ Weedman, is running for a congressional seat on the Legalize Marijuana Party ticket, but the state Democratic Party issued a last-minute (or past the last minute) challenge to his candidacy Monday afternoon. The Democrats claim he is one signature short of qualifying and that he registered to vote last month in California, where he sometimes resides. NJ Weedman says he will fight the challenge.

Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Still Alive; Talks Underway. Last minute negotiations to pass the Compassionate Care Act continued in Albany today. The measure was transferred out of the Senate Finance Committee, where the committee chair said yesterday he would not allow a vote, to the Senate Rules Committee. Bill sponsor Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) said she is in talks with legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) office to keep the bill alive. Cuomo said earlier today that he still has "serious questions" about the bill. Stay tuned.

South Carolina Democrats Overwhelmingly Favor Medical Marijuana in Non-Binding Primary Question. South Carolina Democrats voting in the party primary Tuesday supported a non-binding question about allowing for medical marijuana use by a margin of three-to-one. The state passed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill this year, but that will only help a small number of patients.

Opiates

New York Senate Passes Package of Heroin Bills; Would Intensify Drug War. The state Senate earlier this week passed a massive package of bills aimed at dealing with increased levels of heroin and other opiate use. While the package includes prevention and harm reduction measures, such as increasing access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, other bills in the package seek to limit access to prescription opiates for acute pain, and the majority of the 23-bill package are law enforcement measures that aim to take the state back in the direction of the draconian Rockefeller drug laws of the 1970s. Read the complete list of bills passed here. Whether any of these will become law remains to be seen; the session ends next week.

International

West Africa Needs to Consider Drug Decriminalization, Report Says. The West Africa Commission on Drugs, headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, issued a report today calling for radical policy changes, including drug decriminalization, to reduce regional instability in West Africa exacerbated by the illicit trade in drugs. Otherwise, the region faces becoming "a new front line in the failed 'war on drugs,'" the report says. It also calls for drugs to be treated primarily as a public health issue. The report is Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State, and Society in West Africa.

Spain to Start Including Illicit Drug Trade in GDP. Spanish officials said today they will begin including estimated revenues from the drug trade, as well as prostitution, in calculating the country's Gross Domestic Product. Other European countries are doing the same as part of new European Union requirements that they must state percentages of GDP derived from illicit activities.

Peru Coca Output Declined Last Year, Prices Soared Amidst Eradication Efforts. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that, under the pressure of eradication campaigns, coca leaf production declined 18% last year, but that prices jumped nearly 50%, to more than $1300 a kilogram. The UNODC noted the changes in its annual Peruvian coca survey. Cultivation fell last year after expanding for the seven previous years. Peru is either the world's number one or number two coca producer; we'll have to see what UNODC says about Colombian production later this year. Bolivia is number three.

Mexico Awaiting DNA Test Results to Confirm Death of Sinaloa Cartel Leader "El Azul" Esparragoza. Mexican officials are waiting for DNA test results that would confirm the death by natural causes of Sinaloa cartel leader Juan Jose "El Azul" Esparragoza, which was first reported by the Sinaloa news weekly RioDoce on Sunday. Family members have reportedly confirmed his death, but the government is still waiting to make it official.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM -- June 11, 2014

There's money in marijuana, as Colorado keeps finding out, MPP is eyeing Massachusetts in 2016, opponents of Florida's medical marijuana initiative got a big bucks contribution from a major Republican funder, Customs and Border Patrol fires its internal affairs head, the US Embassy in Kabul can't explain what impact $7 billion in anti-drug aid there has had, and more. Let's get to it:

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Revenues Keep Climbing. Recreational marijuana sales hit $22 million in April, with the state taking in more than $3.5 million in sales and excise taxes. With medical marijuana sales factored in, people bought more than $53 million worth of weed in Colorado in April.

MPP Opens Ballot Committee in Massachusetts, Eyes 2016. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) opened a ballot referendum committee in Massachusetts Tuesday, a preliminary step for a marijuana legalization campaign in 2016. The formation of the committee, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts, allows MPP to begin raising and spending money in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Polls Have Strong Support for Medical Marijuana Among Likely Voters. With medical marijuana on the ballot in November, a new poll shows 70% of likely voters support the constitutional amendment. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. Another poll released this week has support at 66%. "Florida's medical marijuana amendment that will be on the ballot this fall continues to appear headed for easy passage," Public Policy Polling, which did the second poll, wrote in an analysis.

Conservative Billionaire Sheldon Adelson Kicks In $2.5 Million to Defeat Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative. Billionaire casino magnate and major Republican political donor Sheldon Adelson has donated $2.5 million to the campaign to defeat the Florida medical marijuana initiative. A newly-formed group backed by Adelson, the Drug Free Florida Committee, was started by longtime GOP fundraiser Mel Sembler and his wife Betty. It has raised $2.7 million so far and its top donors have been primarily Republicans.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Still Alive. Following a Tuesday hearing on Senate Bill 1182 Tuesday, committee members said they had been assured the bill would get a vote in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, but it will be then up to Senate leaders to decide if they will allow a floor vote. If it gets and wins a floor vote, the House would still have to pass it, or pass its own version.

Methamphetamine

Michigan Bill to Restrict Meth Precursor Purchases Passes House. A bill that would require people with prior methamphetamine convictions to obtain a prescription to buy cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine has passed the House. The bill also creates a statewide database for pseudoephedrine purchases and would require buyers to show the drivers' licenses.

Opiates

New York Governor Announces Doubling of State Police Drug Team to Fight Heroin, Prescription Pill Use. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced this morning that he will add 100 investigators to the State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team, nearly doubling the unit's size. He also announced that the state would make the overdose reversal drug naloxone to all first responders. And he announced an education and prevention campaign involving SUNY campuses.

New England Governors to Meet Next Week on Confronting Rising Opiate Use. The six New England governors are set to meet next week at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, to forge a regional strategy in response to growing alarm over increased use of prescription opiates and heroin. Massachusetts has declared a public health emergency over opiates, and other states in the region are experiencing similar issues. [Ed: Whether any of the New England governors, or New York's governor and narcotics police, will bear in mind the needs of chronic pain patients, remains to be seen.]

Law Enforcement

Myles Ambrose, Nixon's First Drug Czar, Dies. Myles Ambrose has died at age 87. He was President Richard Nixon's first "drug czar," serving as head of the White House Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE), the precursor to the DEA, which was formed in 1973. He had come to Nixon's attention when, as head of Customs, he initiated Operation Intercept, which shut down the US-Mexico border in 1969. Ambrose appeared set to take over DEA, but was pushed aside, in part due to bureaucratic infighting and in part because of hints of scandal related to his visits to the home of a Texas banker investigated in a drug trafficking conspiracy.

Customs and Border Protection Fires Its Own Head of Internal Affairs. The US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has let go James Tomsheck, head of internal affairs for the agency, after claims he failed to investigate hundreds of allegations of abuse. More than 800 complaints of abuse by agents had been made during his tenure since 2006, but only 13 resulted in disciplinary actions. Tomsheck's firing by CBP head Gil Kerlikowske is part of an attempt by Kerlikowske to address widespread allegations of abuse by American border agencies. Last week, Kerlikowske set out new rules for the use of deadly force, only to be followed hours later by a Border Patrol agent shooting and killing a fleeing drug trafficker. At least 22 people have been killed by Border Patrol agents since January 2010 and many more injured.

Sentencing

New Jersey Bail Reform Bill Gets Committee Vote Today. The Assembly Judiciary is set to consider Assembly Bill 1910, which would implement widely supported reforms to the state's bail system. Under the proposed legislation, arrestees would be assessed for risk and pretrial release decisions would be based on their measured risk, not their ability to pay money bail. Companion legislation in the state Senate, Senate Bill 946, was approved by the Budget and Appropriations Committee last week.

International

Rising Afghan Opium Production Threatens Reconstruction, US Official Says. Afghanistan's record-level opium production is stoking corruption, spilling into the financial sector, and aiding the Taliban and criminal networks, all of which threaten national reconstruction, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction, told a House subcommittee Tuesday. The US has spent $7 billion on anti-opium efforts since it invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, but "On my trips to Afghanistan in 2013 and earlier this year, no one at the Embassy could convincingly explain to me how the US government counter-narcotics efforts are making a meaningful impact on the narcotics trade or how they will have a significant impact after" the US-led combat mission ends in December," Sopko said.

Finland Greens Call for Marijuana Legalization, Drug Policy Shift From Punishment to Harm Reduction. The Finnish Green League has adopted a new manifesto on drugs that says "the focus of drug policy should be shifted from punishments to reducing adverse effects" and that "the criminal sanctions for the use of cannabis as well as the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use should be abolished." The Greens hold 10 seats in Finland's 198-seat parliament and are part of the ruling six-party "rainbow coalition" government.

Utah SWAT Team Kills Drug Fugitive in Standoff

A man wanted on drug and other arrest warrants who barricaded himself inside a West Haven auto body shop was shot and killed Wednesday afternoon when he allegedly pointed a weapon at SWAT officers after a standoff lasting several hours. Kristopher Chase Simmons, 35, becomes the 21st person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, citing police sources, Ogden police detectives attempting to arrest Simmons on "several drug-related and evading police felony warrants" located him at the auto body shop, but he and a woman with him fled into the shop, and he barricaded himself in a car.

What later happened to the woman is unclear (see below).

SWAT officers were called to the scene and hours of negotiations ensued, but when negotiations proved fruitless, SWAT officers entered the building.

"Simmons pointed a gun at the officers and two of them returned fire, wounding Simmons," Sgt. Lane Findlay of the Weber County Sheriff's Office wrote in a press statement Wednesday night.

But one commenter on a Standard-Examiner story about the incident and Simmons' criminal history had a decidedly different take on what went down:

"My friend is the 'mystery girl' the cops speak of that they could not locate or didn't know if she was real. She was real and she was inside hiding during the stand off and saw everything," wrote the commenter, who identified herself as Mona Little. "SIMMONS DID NOT HAVE A GUN. SIMMONS HAD BARRICADED HIMSELF INSIDE A CAR IN THE SHOP AND HAD A BLANKET OVER HIM. THE COPS SHOT HIM POINT BLANK IN THE CHEST AS HE WAS BEGGING THEM NOT TO! AFTER HE WAS MURDERED THE POLICE SET UP THE STAGE WITH 11 REHEARSALS, REFUSING TO LET THE CSI IN UNTILL THEY PRACTICED WHAT THEY WERE GOING TO CLAIM HAPPENED AND GOT ALL THEIR DUCKS IN A ROW, EVEN RE-ARRANGING THE CRIME SCENE TO WORK IN THEIR FAVOR!!! THIS IS MURDER BUT WHO WILL POLICE THE POLICE? THIS IS THE TRUTH."

Sgt. Findlay told the Standard-Examiner yesterday that a detective had indeed seen a woman, who police believed was an associate of Simmons, make her way into the building while others were being evacuated, but that there had been no sign of her since.

"It's not certain where she went," he said. "She could possibly have slipped out."

Police don't know who she is and she could be difficult to identify, he said. "I know there are detectives working on it."

West Haven , UT
United States

Smuggler Shooting Immediately Tests Border Patrol's New Force Policy

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM -- June 3, 2014

That Georgia drug raid last week that left a toddler seriously burned and in a medically-induced coma continues to spark outrage, the DC pot possession and cultivation legalization initiative is halfway there, New York's governor signs a deal for CBD medical marijuana trials that critics say isn't nearly enough, a former Brooklyn DA is in hot water over misusing seized drug money, and more. Let's get to it:

Baby "Bou Bou" is in a medically induced coma after a SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into his crib during a drug raid.
Marijuana Policy

DC Initiative Halfway There on Signature Count. The Washington, DC, initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana has collected some 30,000 signatures, of which it says some 12,500 are actually valid. It has until July 7 to come up with the 22,500 valid signatures needed to make the November ballot. Signature-gathering is in full swing; campaign head Adam Eidinger said he expected another 10,000 raw signatures by early next week.

Rhode Island Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Today. The state Senate Judiciary Committee was set to hold a hearing today on Senate Bill 2379, the Marijuana Regulation, Control and Tax Act. It would allow adults to possess up to one ounce and grow one plant, and create a regulated and taxed system of marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Signs Deal for CBD Trials; Medical Marijuana Say That's Not Good Enough. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced today that his administration has signed a deal with GW Pharmaceuticals to do a trial of its high-CBD, no-THC seizure drug Epidiolex. But medical marijuana advocates said the plan is too limited and will take too long, and Cuomo should be backing the Compassionate Use Act, a full-blown medical marijuana bill, instead of trying to blunt efforts to pass it by enacting half-measures.

South Carolina Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Into Law. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) yesterday signed into law Senate Bill 1035, which will allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures in children with epilepsy. The new law calls for a clinical trial at the Medical University of South Carolina, as well as a committee to study the feasibility of growing new strains in the state.

Asset Forfeiture

Ex-Brooklyn DA Accused of Using Seized Funds to Finance Reelection Campaign. Former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes may have used drug money seized from dealers to pay a campaign political consultant more than $200,000, according to a report from New York City's Department of Investigations. The money didn't help; Hynes was defeated in his bid for reelection. Now, he could face larceny charges.

Law Enforcement

Georgia Governor Wants to See Results of Investigation into SWAT Drug Raid That Left Toddler Badly Burned. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said Monday he was awaiting the results of an investigation into a drug raid last week in which a SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into a residence. That grenade landed in a crib when a 19-month-toddler, Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh, was sleeping, burning his face and chest and leaving him in a medically-induced coma at a local hospital. No drugs were found in the raid, no guns were found in the raid, and the person sought by police wasn't there. "Any time you have bad facts like this one, it does give you cause for concern," Deal said. "It's one of those things that require a thorough investigation… to know what if anything we can learn from it." Deal's comments came as public outrage over the incident is growing. Attorneys for the Phonesvanh family are calling for state and federal investigations into the raid.

In Winona County, Minnesota, the Drug War Dominates the Court Docket. Here are the latest results from the Winona County Circuit Court in Winona, Minnesota: Drug charges accounted for 50% of the 10 cases charged this week. There were two people charged with meth possession, one with meth possession and trafficking marijuana, one with trafficking amphetamines, and one for "felony second-count marijuana possession." The other charges were one DUI, one child sex assault, one domestic battery, one carrying a concealed weapon (and drug paraphernalia), and one burglary. Winona County butts up against the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota.

International

Southeast Asia's Tough Anti-Drug Policies Actually Exacerbating Opium Production, Report Says. A new report from the Transnational Institute, Bouncing Back -- Relapse in the Golden Triangle, finds that tough anti-opium cultivation policies by governments in Southeast Asia, especially Myanmar, have had a balloon effect, pushing production into areas outside the control of central governments. Instead of aiming to be drug-free by 2015, which is the current goal of the ASEAN nations, regional governments should rethink their policies and find "least harmful ways" to manage the issue.

Georgia's Drug Policies Remain Regressive, Repressive. A lengthy article from Eurasianet.org examines drug policies in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and finds them largely stuck in the dark ages. A few grams of marijuana can still earn someone years in prison, while treatment and prevention don't get much emphasis. Suspected drug users can be forced to submit urine samples for drug testing, then arrested and jailed or fined if they test positive. The fines are a lucrative income stream for the Georgian government. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

Chronicle AM -- June 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Prescription Opiates

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

Law Enforcement

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge Reinhardt again dissented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking Down the Phoenix Crew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same Sorts of Cases, Different Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM -- May 28, 2014

Look out 2016, here comes Nevada! Also, a US congressman rips into NYPD over marijuana arrests, a New York medical marijuana bill passes the Assembly, Dallas pays out big time for police misbehavior, former DEA head Asa Hutchinson wants more drug war for Arkansas, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol yesterday commenced its campaign to put a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. Two Nevada politicians who are members of the campaign, Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and former Republican Senate Caucus executive director Joe Brezny, were the first to sign the petitions. Canvassers need to come up with 101,000 valid voter signatures by November. If that happens, the measure goes to the legislature. If the legislature declines to act or rejects the measure, it goes to the voters in November 2016.

Oak Park, Michigan, Activists Sue Over Decriminalization Initiative Delay. The Safer Oak Park Coalition has filed a lawsuit against city officials charging that they are delaying efforts to put a decriminalization initiative before the voters. The Coalition handed in more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot on April 27, but city officials said it was too late to have a ballot measure ready for the August primary election. Unless the lawsuit prevails, Oak Park residents will have to wait until November to vote on the issue.

New York City US Congressman Rips NYPD Over High Marijuana Arrest Numbers. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, called on the NYPD yesterday to quit arresting so many people for minor pot possession. More than 28,000 were arrested last year -- 86% of them black or brown -- even though Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D) called the mass arrests and the racial disparity in them "unjust and wrong." The rate of arrests so far this year has dropped by 9%, but that's still 7,000 pot busts in the city this year alone, and the numbers were heading up at quarter's end. Arrests topped 50,000 in 2011, before NYPD was instructed to quit violating the spirit of the state's decriminalization by arresting people for "open possession" after intimidating them into emptying their pockets.

Washington State Parolees Can Smoke Marijuana. The Washington Department of Corrections says it will stop testing the state's 14,000 parolees for THC because marijuana is now legal in the state. "We don't want to hold them to that level, when, as a citizen, you wouldn't be held to that level either," a department spokesperson explained. The department isn't endorsing marijuana use, she added, "We are simply aligning with state law."

Medical Marijuana

New York Assembly Passes Comprehensive Medical Marijuana Bill. The Assembly Tuesday approved Assembly Bill 6357, a comprehensive medical marijuana bill, by a margin of 91-34. This is the fifth time the Assembly has passed a medical marijuana bill, only to see them die in the Senate. This year, a bill is moving in the upper chamber, and a key committee head has signaled if he may be willing to let it come to a vote -- if the Senate leadership agrees.

North Carolina Lawmaker Files Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. She said she would, and now she has. Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret County) Tuesday filed a bill to allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for people suffering "intractable seizures." The measure is House Bill 1220.

Drug Policy

Former DEA Head Asa Hutchinson Vows More Drug War if Elected Arkansas Governor; Democratic Foe Says He's Tough on Crime, Too. Former DEA head Asa Hutchinson, running as a Republican for the Arkansas governor's seat, Tuesday unveiled a plan to address drugs and crime that includes $1 million a year in additional funding for the state's parole system, $300,000 a year for reentry programs for ex-convicts, and more, as yet unspecified, money for the State Police, more drug courts, more drug task forces, and maybe even a new prison. He also hinted that he might want to "re-tweak" a 2011 sentencing reform bill to give prosecutors "more flexibility" in prosecuting property and drug crimes. Hutchinson's Democratic opponent, former US Rep. Mike Ross, also "has a strong record of being tough on crime and supporting our law enforcement community," his campaign retorted Tuesday.

Law Enforcement

City of Dallas Keeps Paying Out for Police Misbehavior. Last week, the Dallas city council approved a $105,000 settlement to a man beaten unconscious by police during a fruitless drug raid. It's just business as usual in Dallas, where the pay-out was just the latest in a series of series of high-profile, six-figure lawsuits against the Dallas PD in recent years, including at least one other drug-related case. The city council approved the most recent settlement without debate.

International

Australia's New South Wales Greens Launch Medical Marijuana Bill. The NSW Greens Tuesday launched their campaign to pass a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. The bill, the Drug Legislation Amendment (Use of Cannabis for Medical Purposes) Bill 2014 would allow people suffering from terminal illnesses to possess up to 15 grams of marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. The bill is in line with the recommendations of a cross-party Upper House inquiry into the issue last year.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

South Florida Man Dies 11 Days after Being Shot in SWAT Drug Raid

A Hallandale, Florida, man has died less than two weeks after being shot during a SWAT team drug raid at his home. Howard Bowe, 34, becomes the 17th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Hallandale Police Department SWAT team arrived at Bowe's home in the pre-dawn hours of May 8 to serve a search warrant related to suspected drug distribution at the duplex where he lived. Details of what exactly went down are unclear, but both Bowe and his pit bull were shot. The 13-year-old dog died at the scene. Howe died at a local hospital Tuesday evening.

"It appears the officers from the SWAT team felt threatened," Maj. Thomas Honan, a spokesman for the agency, said on the day of the shooting. He said the elderly dog broke free from its chain and charged the officers.

Bowe's friends and family members want to know what really happened.

"Everyone's still in shock," said Mike Ashley, a friend of Bowe's since school days. "I feel like there's a lot of unanswered questions."

Bowe's sister Corneece, who lives in the other half of the duplex told the Sun-Sentinel earlier that her brother had a car wash business and lawn mowing service and had never been violent. She had been awakened the morning of the raid by the sound of police gunfire, she said.

"They came in the back door," Corneesa Bowe said. "Why shoot an unarmed person?"

Neighbor Fred Webb told the newspaper Bowe was "an honest man who worked every day" at his business, a mobile car wash. A trailer for the car wash was parked next to the duplex. "I can't understand it," Webb said. "I hope he's all right."

Police have not said whether they recovered any drugs or weapons.

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