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Prosecution: No More Crack Pipe Felonies for Houston

Beginning January 1, prosecutors in Harris County, Texas, will no longer file felony drug charges against people found with less than one one-hundredth of a gram of illegal drugs. Currently in Houston, people caught with trace amounts of drug or holding crack pipes with drug traces are routinely charged with felonies.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/crackpipe.jpg
crack pipe
But under a new policy promulgated by Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, police are instructed to instead issue Class C misdemeanor tickets to people caught in possession of crack pipes or trace amounts of drugs. That means arrestees will face only a $500 fine, not the up to two years in state jail mandated by the felony charge.

The cops are not happy. "It ties the hands of the officers who are making crack pipe cases against burglars and thieves," said Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union. "A crack pipe is not used for anything but smoking crack by a crack head. Crack heads, by and large, are also thieves and burglars. They're out there committing crimes," he told the Houston Chronicle.

But Lykos told the Chronicle there were good reasons to change the policy. Less than one-hundredth of a gram of a drug is not enough for more than one drug test, and defense attorneys often want to run their own tests, she said.

The policy change also "gives us more of an ability to focus on the violent offenses and the complex offenses," she added. "When you have finite resources, you have to make decisions, and this decision is a plus all around."

Last year, Harris County prosecutors filed 46,000 felony cases, with 13,713, or nearly 30%, for possession of less than a gram of controlled substances. It is difficult to say how many of those would not have been charged as felonies under the new policy because most were charged only as possession of less than a gram.

While police are grumbling, defense attorneys are beaming. "It's a smart move and it's an efficient move and it lets us get down to the business of handling criminal cases of a more serious magnitude," Nicole Deborde, president-elect of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, told the Chronicle.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Friday, December 4

Near Monterrey, a group of more than 20 gunmen attacked a police detention center and freed 23 inmates. Two federal officers were killed during the attack. Witnesses reported that the inmates were driven away in at least five vehicles. Earlier on Friday in Monterrey, clashes between the army and dozens of gunmen left 13 people dead -- 12 suspected cartel members and one civilian.

The clashes began when soldiers came under fire as they raided a ranch where hostages were thought to be kept. A firefight ensued between the soldiers and an estimated 50 gunmen, seven of whom were killed and nine captured before the rest managed to escape. The gunmen that escaped later ran into another unit of soldiers, and five of them were killed in the gun battle that followed. A civilian was also killed in the crossfire. Several of the dead gunmen were ex-cops suspected in the death of a municipal police chief who was murdered in November.

Saturday, December 5

Thirty-six people were killed in drug-related violence across Mexico, including five federal agents. Additionally, a public security official in Chihuahua was kidnapped by gunmen as he drove on a highway, and remains to be found. Of the dead, 14 were murdered in Chihuahua, eight of them in Ciudad Juarez. Near Culiacan, Sinaloa, a state police official was found dead (along with an unidentified woman) in a bullet-riddled car. A three-year old who was in the backseat survived. In Guerrero, three policemen and two gunmen were killed in a firefight.

Tuesday, December 8

With the late night killings of four youths in Ciudad Juarez, the total body count this year from Mexico's drug war passed the 7,000 mark. In a 24 hour period, 13 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez, three in Sonora, seven in Guerrero, four in Sinaloa, and four in Mexico City and the surrounding area, bringing the yearly total to 7,026. Of these, 2,991 took place in Chihuahua, mostly in Ciudad Juarez.

Wednesday, December 9

In a report released Tuesday, Amnesty International blasted the conduct of Mexican government forces as they fight against drug traffickers. The report cited five cases involving 35 people that the organization thought were representative of the rampant human rights violations in Mexico, and accused the army of torturing civilians, capturing suspects illegally, and killing prisoners. The report was especially critical of Mexico's civilian authorities, who have refused or failed to investigate allegations of abuse on the part of the army. Complaints against the army are handled entirely by the Mexican military justice system, and out of the thousands of complaints, only a few have been investigated.

In Hermosillo, several locations were attacked in coordinated grenade attacks, leaving four people wounded. In Nogales, near the border with Arizona, five people were executed by gunfire in what appears to be an attempt to take over the local drug trafficking corridor. In Chihuahua, ten people were found murdered, eight of them in Ciudad Juarez.

Total Body Count for the Week: 174

Total Body Count for the Year: 7,056

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More problems in the NYPD, "Starsky and Hutch" are being investigated in Camden, and a Florida cop heads to prison for tipping off drug traffickers. Let's get to it:

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/evidenceroomcash.jpg
In New York City, an NYPD officer from the Bronx was arrested last Friday for robbing a drug dealer of hundreds of thousands of dollars and acting as a courier for a long-time friend's cocaine distribution network. Officer Juan Acosta, 34, allegedly took $15,000 in payment for his courier work as recently as two months ago. Acosta and his buddy had been working together for at least four years. Both are charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and face up to life in prison if convicted. Acosta was being held without bail at last report.

In Camden, New Jersey, a pair of hot dog Camden police officers -- Patrolmen Kevin Parry and Jason Stetser -- have been suspended without pay as the FBI investigates allegations that they stole from drug dealers and made false arrests. Some suspects jailed after being arrested by the pair have been released on order of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, while at least one person already convicted and serving a sentence after being arrested by them accuses them of roughing him up and planting drugs in his residence.

In Lake Wales, Florida, a former Lake Wales police officer was sentenced December 3 to two years in state prison for tipping off a drug operation member about the identity of an undercover narc working for the Polk County Sheriff's Office. Keenan Colson ran license plate numbers and screened names for outstanding warrants, then passed that information on to a "known drug ring leader." One of the license plates belonged to the undercover sheriff's deputy. Colson was arrested in February and pleaded no contest in September to two counts misuse of confidential information, one count disclosure of confidential criminal justice information, and three unlawful uses of a two way communication device.

Public Opinion: Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, Poll Finds

For the first time, a national public opinion poll has reported majority support for marijuana legalization. According to the poll by Angus-Reid Public Opinion, support for marijuana legalization now stands at 53% nationwide. The poll did not provide a regional breakdown.

In May, a Zogby poll reported support for legalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana at 52% nationwide. The Angus-Reid poll asked only if respondents supported marijuana legalization.

In the Angus-Reid poll, among Democrats marijuana legalization garnered 61% support, with 55% of independents agreeing, and even 43% of Republicans.

Marijuana legalization bills have been introduced this year in California, Massachusetts, and Washington. California will also almost certainly have a legalization initiative on the ballot next November.

The poll also asked about legalizing other drugs. Fewer than one out of 10 respondents supported legalizing heroin, cocaine, meth, or Ecstasy. (More work to be done on that front.)

Finally, the poll asked whether the "war on drugs" has been a success or a failure. More than two-thirds (68%) said it has been a failure, with support for that position constant across geographic regions.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/ricardo-murillo.jpg
poster of assassinated human rights advocate Ricardo Murillo
Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 16,000 people, with a death toll of over 7,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Saturday, December 12

In the town of Almoloya, near Mexico City, six members of a family were killed by gunmen who attacked their home in the morning. Gunmen entered their home, locked several children in a bedroom, then lined up and shot the six adults, three men and three women ranging in ages from 25 to 52. Two bodies were also found in the nearby town of Villa Victoria, although it is unclear if these two incidents are related.

In Guadalajara, a prep school teacher was shot and killed by two gunmen as he drove to work. In Culiacan, Sinaloa, two women with their hands and feet bound were found executed. 16 people were killed in Ciudad Juárez, including a police official. In Michoacan, police found the bodies of three suspected cartel members, who were found dead in a car that contained weapons of various calibers. Six people were also killed in Tijuana, and five in Durango.

Monday, December 14

The spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico called on the Mexican army to withdraw from the streets of Mexican cities. The spokesman, Hugo Valdemar, called on more effective police forces to be created. He also said that local authorities "cannot count on the army," and said that "unfortunately, the army is committing human rights violations" in its fight against organized crime. The same day as his statements, two law enforcement facilities in Durango were attacked by grenades.

Tuesday, December 15

Seven people were killed in Tijuana, bringing the total number of murders in the city to 23 in four days. Among the dead was a man found by commuters hanging by his hands from a bridge over the Tijuana-Playas de Rosarito highway. In Ciudad Juárez, ten men and one woman were killed in several incidents across the city. In the state of Aguacalientes, a woman was found murdered, along with a note accusing her of being an informant. Near Nogales, six bodies were found dumped in a construction site. In the same time period, three people were killed in Sinaloa, three in Guerrero, and one (a 17-year old boy) outside Mexico City.

Wednesday, December 16

In a major coup for the government, Beltran Leyva cartel leader Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed along with two other cartel members when members of the Mexican Navy attacked their apartment in a luxury quarter of Cuernavaca. One Mexican sailor also died in the 90 minute-long gun battle.

Ricardo Chavez Aldana, a reporter for the Ciudad Juárez radio station Radio Cañón fled to El Paso with his family and requested political asylum. Two nephews of his were recently killed in Ciudad Juárez and his family had received death threats. He is the fourth Ciudad Juárez journalist to seek asylum in the US. In the last nine years, 56 journalists have been killed in Mexico. Most of the killings remained unsolved.

In Tijuana, gunmen armed with assault rifles killed four men in a taco store. Several people were wounded in the attack. The day before, the bodies of four decapitated men were found in the city, and four other people were killed by gunfire, including one woman. These killings brought to 35 the number of people murdered in Tijuana since Friday. The reasons for the sudden spike in violence are unclear, although much of the violence in Tijuana is due to the intense rivalry between the Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO) and a breakaway faction that has allied itself with the Sinaloa Cartel.

In Ciudad Juárez, 18 people were killed in a 24-hour period. In one incident, five men were killed when a home was attacked by a group of gunmen. The five men attempted to flee, but were gunned down in the courtyard. In another incident, two men were killed by gunmen wielding AK-47's.

In Guerrero, body parts belonging to two individuals were found inside plastic bags. A note was found near the bag which threatened kidnappers and was said to be from "the boss of bosses". This nickname is thought to belong to Arturo Beltran-Leyva, one of the heads of the Beltran-Leyva organization. The note also implored the local population not to be alarmed by the killings.

Body Count for the Week: 221

Body Count for the Year: 7,277

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Congressional Budget Deal Allows Federal Funding for Needle Exchange and Medical Marijuana in the Nation's Capital

US House and Senate negotiators in conference committee approved the finishing touches on the Fiscal Year 2010 budget Tuesday night, and they included a number of early Christmas presents for different drug reform constituencies. But it isn’t quite a done deal yet--this negotiated version of the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act must now win final approved in up-or-down, no-amendments-allowed floor votes in the House and the Senate. What the conference committee approved: * Ending the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs--without previous language that would have banned them from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, and similar facilities. * Ending the ban on the use of federal funds for needle exchanges in the District of Columbia. * Allowing the District of Columbia to implement the medical marijuana initiative passed by voters in 1998 and blocked by congressional diktat ever since. * Cutting funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign from $70 million this year to $45 million next year. In a news release after agreement was reached, this is how the committee described the language on needle exchange:
Modifies a prohibition on the use of funds in the Act for needle exchange programs; the revised provision prohibits the use of funds in this Act for needle exchange programs in any location that local public health or law enforcement agencies determine to be inappropriate
Its description of the DC appropriations language:
Removing Special Restrictions on the District of Columbia:...Also allows the District to implement a referendum on use of marijuana for medical purposes as has been done in other states, allows use of Federal funds for needle exchange programs except in locations considered inappropriate by District authorities.
And its language on the youth media campaign:
National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: $45 million, $25 million below 2009 and the budget request, for a national ad campaign providing anti-drug messages directed at youth. Reductions were made in this program because of evaluations questioning its effectiveness. Part of the savings was redirected to other ONDCP drug-abuse-reduction programs.
Citing both reforms in the states--from medical marijuana to sentencing reform--as well as the conference committee’s actions, Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann stopped just short of declaring victory Wednesday. “It’s too soon to say that America’s long national nightmare – the war on drugs – is really over,” said Nadelmann. “But yesterday’s action on Capitol Hill provides unprecedented evidence that Congress is at last coming to its senses when it comes to national drug control policy.” But, as noted above, there are still two votes to go, and DPA is applying the pressure until it is a done deal. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans will get HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C if Congress does not repeal the federal syringe funding ban,” said Bill Piper, DPA national affairs director. “The science is overwhelming that syringe exchange programs reduce the spread of infectious diseases without increasing drug use. We will make sure the American people know which members of Congress stand in the way of repealing the ban and saving lives.” Washington, DC, residents got a two-fer from the committee when it approved ending the ban on the District funding needle exchanges and undoing the Barr Amendment, the work of erstwhile drug warrior turned reformer former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), which forbade the District from implementing the 1998 medical marijuana initiative, which won with 69% of the vote. “Congress is close to making good on President Obama’s promise to stop the federal government from undermining local efforts to provide relief to cancer, HIV/AIDS and other patients who need medical marijuana,” said Naomi Long, the DC Metro director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “DC voters overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana for medical use and Congress should have never stood in the way of implementing the will of the people.” "The end of the Barr amendment is now in sight,” said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This represents a huge victory not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all city residents who have every right to set their own policies in their own District without congressional meddling. DC residents overwhelmingly made the sensible, compassionate decision to pass a medical marijuana law, and now, more than 10 years later, suffering Washingtonians may finally be allowed to focus on treating their pain without fearing arrest." Medical marijuana in the shadow of the Capitol? Federal dollars being spent on proven harm reduction techniques? Congress not micromanaging DC affairs? What is the world, or at least Washington, coming to?
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Prosecution: No More Crack Pipe Felonies for Houston

Prosecution: No More Crack Pipe Felonies for Houston Beginning January 1, prosecutors in Harris County, Texas, will no longer file felony drug charges against people found with less than one one-hundreth of a gram of illegal drugs. Currently in Houston, people caught with trace amounts of drug or holding crack pipes with drug traces are routinely charged with felonies. But under a new policy promulgated by Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, police are instructed to instead issue Class C misdemeanor tickets to people caught in possession of crack pipes or trace amounts of drugs. That means arrestees will face only a $500 fine, not the up to two years in state jail mandated by the felony charge. The cops are not happy. “It ties the hands of the officers who are making crack pipe cases against burglars and thieves,” said Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union. “A crack pipe is not used for anything but smoking crack by a crack head. Crack heads, by and large, are also thieves and burglars. They're out there committing crimes,” he told the Houston Chronicle. But Lykos told the Chronicle there were good reasons to change the policy. Less than one-hundreth of a gram of a drug is not enough for more than one drug test, and defense attorneys often want to run their own tests, she said. The policy change also “gives us more of an ability to focus on the violent offenses and the complex offenses,” she added. “When you have finite resources, you have to make decisions, and this decision is a plus all around.” Last year, Harris County prosecutors filed 46,000 felony cases, with 13,713, or nearly 30%, for possession of less than a gram of controlled substances. It is difficult to say how many of those would not have been charged as felonies under the new policy because most were charged only as possession of less than a gram. While police are grumbling, defense attorneys are beaming. “It's a smart move and it's an efficient move and it lets us get down to the business of handling criminal cases of a more serious magnitude,” Nicole Deborde, president-elect of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, told the Chronicle.
Location: 
Houston, TX
United States

Medical Marijuana: LA City Council Votes to Cap Medical Marijuana Dispensaries at 70

Under a measure passed Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city will shrink by more than 90%. The council voted to cap the number of dispensaries at 70, while recent estimates put the number of actually operating medical marijuana outlets in the city at between 800 and 1000. The vote is only the latest in the council’s torturous and twisted four-year effort to regulate the city’s booming medical marijuana retail industry. There were four dispensaries in the city when the council first tackled the issue in 2005. By the time the council issued a moratorium on new dispensaries in 2007, there were 186. In the past two years, their numbers have increased four-fold from there. Of the dispensaries that legally registered with the city prior to the moratorium, officials believe 137 are still open. Those establishments will be allowed to stay open, but may have to move to comply with restrictions on where they may locate. "I think we should hold true to those that followed the rules," said Councilman Dennis Zine, explaining why he voted to reward dispensaries that were legally registered. If Los Angeles actually does cap dispensaries at 70, that will mean roughly one dispensary for every 50,000 residents. In Oakland, the only other large city in the state to impose a cap, four dispensaries serve 100,000 residents each. Other, smaller, California cities with caps include Berkeley (one dispensary for each 34,000 residents), Palm Springs (one for each 24,000 residents), West Hollywood (one for every 9,000 residents), and Sebastopol (one for every 3,500 residents). The council will continue working on its medical marijuana dispensary regulation ordinance tomorrow (Wednesday), and could even see a final vote then.
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

Europe: Czech Government Decriminalizes Up To Five Pot Plants, 15 Grams

Beginning January 1, possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana or up to five marijuana plants will not be a punishable offense in the Czech Republic. Likewise, people will be able to possess up to 40 hallucinogenic mushrooms. The limits were announced Tuesday after they were decided on by the cabinet. Late last year, the Czech parliament approved a new penal code that specified no punishment for the possession of “small amounts” of drugs. But the code did not specify just what constituted a “small amount,” with the result that police sometimes charged people, especially home pot growers with more serious offenses. The task of formalizing those limits has been taken up by the Justice Ministry, which submits its proposals to the cabinet. The ministry has also proposed setting the “small amount” limits for ecstasy at four tablets and for hashish at five grams. Similarly, people could possess up to two grams of methamphetamine without fear of punishment. The cabinet will consider those proposals in two weeks. Possession of amounts greater than “small amounts,” but less than those assumed to indicate drug trafficking, will result of prison sentences of up to one year for marijuana and up to two years for other drugs. According to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction‘s latest annual report, Czechs are among Europe’s leading pot smokers. Among young Czechs (age 16 to 34), 22% toke up at least once a year. The European average was 16%.
Location: 
Prague
Czech Republic

Latin America: Top Honduran Anti-Drug Official Assassinated

The top Honduran anti-drug official was ambushed and killed today by hit men on motorcycles as he drove alone through the capital, Tegucigalpa. Former army Gen. Julian Aristides Gonzales, 57, director of the Office for Combating Drug Trafficking, died after being hit by multiple shots from the gunmen, who escaped. Gonzalez had complained of receiving death threats from drug traffickers in the past. He was set to retire in two months and move to Canada. "We regret the death of this man who offered his life for the welfare of Hondurans," national police spokesman Orlin Cerrato said. "By the decency of his actions, he unleashed a real battle against the main vice that besets humanity." Along with the other Central American republics, Honduras is a key transit country for cocaine smuggled out of South America and destined for the insatiable markets of the north. Gonzalez’s office this year has seized five tons of cocaine out of an estimated 100 tons that transit’s the country each year. Trafficking through Honduras is believed to have intensified since the June coup that overthrew President Mel Zelaya. After the coup, the US suspended anti-drug cooperation and development aid to the rump government of interim President Roberto Micheletti. Honduran police complain that they have detected more aircraft smuggling drugs from South America since the coup, but have had less ability to stop them without US helicopters and radar. Citing worries about the increase in drug trafficking, Gonzalez held a press conference yesterday to urge the public to help the fight by reporting suspicious activity. He was dead 24 hours later.
Location: 
Tegucigalpa
Honduras

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