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Florida Detective, Meth Suspect Killed in Shootout

A Clay County, Florida, sheriff's narcotics detective and a man he was investigating as a methamphetamine suspect were shot and killed in an exchange of fire last Thursday evening. Narcotics Detective David White and suspect Ted Arthur Tilley, 36, become the 10th and 11th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Narcotics Detective David White (Clay County SO)
Police told the Associated Press White was part of a nine-man investigating a reported meth lab at a residence in Middleburg. When White and Detective Matthew Hanlin approached the front door and attempted to speak with someone inside, the person slammed the door shut.

According to Clay County sheriff's office spokeswoman Mary Justino, when police then tried to force their way in, they were met with gunfire. White was mortally wounded -- he died shortly thereafter at a local hospital -- and Hanlin was shot in the left arm. He underwent surgery and is in stable condition.

As Tilley fled the home, he was shot and killed by another member of the sheriff's office, police said. Five other men at the scene were detained, but police later said only one had been arrested.

The owner of the home told News 4 Jax TV that it was in foreclosure, he hadn't lived in it for three years, and the men were squatting there without his permission. He said the home was one of dozens of abandoned homes in the immediate neighborhood.

Middleburg, FL
United States

Soros Gives Big Bucks for California Three Strikes Reform Measure

An initiative that seeks to reform California's three-strikes sentencing law appears to have the financial wherewithal to qualify for the November ballot after philanthropist and drug reform supporter George Soros kicked in $500,000 donation last Friday. The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 has now accumulated more than $1.2 million in contributions.

California prison overcrowding
The conventional wisdom is that a California initiative needs at least one million dollars just to get through the signature-gathering phase. Initiatives need 504,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot, a daunting task that defeats all but the best funded campaigns.

The other big contributors reported are Stanford University professor David Mills, the measure's proponent, who has so far kicked in $603,000, and Washington, DC, investor Peter Ackerman, who gave $100,000.

The initiative would amend the state's Three Strikes law, approved by voters in 1994, so that only serious or violent felonies would count as a third strike punishable by 25 years to life in prison. It would also allow re-sentencing for people serving three strikes sentences if their third strike was not a serious or violent felony.

A 2004 initiative that would have reformed the three strikes law made the ballot and appeared to be on the verge of victory until a campaign against it spearheaded by Arnold Schwarzenegger turned the tide at the last minute. That initiative, known as Proposition 66, lost with 47.3% of the vote. Soros also donated to that campaign, kicking in $400,000.

This year's campaign has until May 14 to turn in signatures.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana patients are taking to the streets Thursday, Feb. 16, to protest the Obama administration's clampdown on medical marijuana across the country. And then, there's the action at the state and local level. Here's the latest:

National

Americans for Safe Access is calling for a coordinated day of action Thursday to protest the Department of Justice crackdown on medical marijuana providers. Rallies will go on in nine cities in six states. Rallies are planned to take place at an Obama fundraiser in San Francisco, as well as at the president's campaign headquarters in Sacramento (CA) and San Diego (CA), and at federal buildings in several cities, including Trenton (NJ), Phoenix (AZ), Seattle (WA), Eugene (OR), and Portland (ME). For more detailed rally information, go here.

Arizona

Potential Arizona dispensary operators are chomping at the bit in the Phoenix metro area's East Valley. Now that a lawsuit filed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has been dismissed and the state has announced it will go ahead with licensing and regulating, there are more than 80 active applications for dispensaries in the East Valley. But under Arizona law, there can only be 12 in the area.

California

Last Wednesday, the Elk Grove City Council approved an ordinance restricting medical marijuana grows in the community to inside homes or detached backyard buildings. The 3-2 vote will allow patients or their primary caregivers to grow pot only on limited space indoors. The ordinance will take effect 30 days after a second reading. Other restrictions in the ordinance include a ban on growing within 1,000 feet of school or public park, an upper limit on grow lights of 1,200 watts, city-approved ventilation and security systems must be installed, and a cultivation permit is required.

Last Thursday, the San Francisco Examiner reported that the DEA had asked the city's Department of Public Health to turn over records for 12 of the city's remaining 21 dispensaries. Last year, the DEA asked for information on five dispensaries, whose landlords then received threat letters from federal prosecutors.  All five dispensaries closed. San Francisco was the first city in California to license and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries under its Medical Cannabis Act, which became law in 2005.

On Monday, the Atwater City Council voted to continue a now year-long temporary dispensary ban. The Merced County town first approved the moratorium for 45 days on February 14, 2011, then extended it for another 10 ½ months. It would have expired Wednesday had the council not acted. The new extension is for 45 days, which can also be extended for 10 ½ more months. The city said it is looking into drafting an ordinance.

On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council repealed its dispensary regulation ordinance. Council members had voted to limit dispensaries in September, which prompted a municipal initiative campaign to overturn the ordinance.

Also on Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council voted to ban dispensaries, although it gave 18 existing dispensaries that had played by the rules a six-month exemption. The council was pressed to act after an appeals court threw out its regulatory ordinance last year. The council can revisit the exemption for the existing dispensaries in four months, and it could increase the extension, shorten the extension, or do nothing.

Colorado

On Tuesday, the last dispensaries in Fort Collins closed their doors. That was the end result of a November election where voters approved an ordinance that banned the 20 or so dispensaries operating in the city.

Also on Tuesday, a bill in the state Senate that would have helped dispensaries with banking problems died in committee. Under federal pressure, banks and other financial institutions refuse to do business with Colorado medical marijuana enterprises. Senate Bill 75 would have allowed patients and dispensaries to join financial co-ops, but failed on a 5-2 vote in the Senate Finance Committee after being opposed by the banking industry.

Delaware

Last Friday, Gov. Jack Markell suspended the regulatory and licensing process for his state's dispensaries. He acted after federal prosecutors responded threateningly to a request for clarification Markell's office had made. Now, Delaware has a medical marijuana law with no dispensaries and no provision for patients to grow their own.

Hawaii

Last Friday, House Bill 1973, which is opposed by medical marijuana supporters, advanced on a committee vote and is now before the House Judiciary Committee. Among other provisions, the bill would remove severe pain as a qualifying condition, making about half of existing patients ineligible for the program.

Maryland

Last Thursday, Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) filed two bills based on working group approved by the legislature last year. House Bill 1024 would allow medical marijuana distribution only through university-affiliated hospitals, while House Bill 1158 would allow distribution through registered dispensaries. Maryland has a medical marijuana law, but it does not allow for access to medical marijuana and it only provides for a defense in court -- not protection from arrest. A broader bill was introduced last month as well.

Michigan

On Monday, a Chesterfield Township dispensary avoided being shut down by performing a legal end-run on Attorney General Bill Schuette. Big Daddy's Hydroponics and Compassion Center got a judge to agree that Schuette improperly attempted to have the judge find the facility in civil contempt and potentially shut it down and/or jail the owners. Because the claim sought punitive, not coercive, action, the case should be treated as criminal contempt, Big Daddy's attorney successfully argued. They now face criminal contempt charges, though, but at least they're still open for business.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A state trooper transporting marijuana, a pair of cops ripping off drug cash, a constable smuggling across the Mexican border, and a cop with a bad pain pill habit make this week's hall of shame. Let's get to it:

In Chicago, a police sergeant and a patrol officer were charged Monday with stealing $5,000 in undercover government money in an FBI sting operation. Sgt. Ronald Watts, 48, and Officer Kallatt Mohammed, 47, allegedly took the money from a cooperating FBI witness who was under surveillance by federal agents. That same witness testified that Watts had previously asked to be informed of impending drug-cash transactions. Watts and Mohammed have each been charged with one count of theft of government funds. The pair have been released on unsecured $10,000 bonds. They are looking at up to 10 years in prison.

In Brownsville, Texas, a former reserve officer for the Nueces County constable's office was found guilty last Friday of smuggling cocaine and heroin across the Gateway International Bridge from Mexico. Mercedes Perez, 54, went down after a drug-sniffing dog alerted on his vehicle and Customs officers found five pounds of heroin and 15 pounds of cocaine concealed inside his car. Perez testified at trial that he didn't know the drugs were in his car. He was convicted of conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine and possession with the intent to distribute heroin and cocaine. He faces a mandatory minimum 10 years and could get up to life in federal prison.

In Charleston, West Virginia, a former state trooper pleaded guilty Monday to being involved in a major marijuana grow operation. Kurt Steffen, 30, was hired as a state trooper in May 2007 and shortly afterward joined with others in an indoor grow op that generated untold thousands of dollars before it was busted in January 2010. When it was busted, authorities found thousands of dollars worth of grow equipment and more than 300 plants. In pleading guilty, Steffen also admitted using his state patrol car to transport the weed. He copped to one federal count each of manufacturing and conspiring to distribute more than 100 pot plants. He's looking at a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, and up to 40 years.

In Denville, New Jersey, a former Denville police officer was sentenced last Friday to three years in prison for ripping off oxycodone and heroin from the department's evidence room. Eugene Blood, 38, a nine-year veteran of the department, had pleaded guilty in December to stealing the drugs in 2010 and 2011, when he was the evidence officer. Before sentencing, Blood apologized for the thefts and said he had developed an addiction to painkillers. Blood's thefts compromised numerous narcotics cases, prosecutors said.

Delaware Suspends Medical Marijuana Program

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) Friday suspended the regulation-writing and licensing process for the state's medical marijuana dispensaries, essentially killing medical marijuana in a state whose law does not allow patients or caregivers to grow their own.

Markell acted after the US Attorney for Delaware, Charles M. Oberly III, responded threateningly to a December request for clarification about his attitude toward the state's law from Markell's legal counsel, Michael Barlow. In line with the Justice Department's most recent iteration of its stance toward medical marijuana, last June's memo from Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Oberly warned that state employees who regulated the medical marijuana industry might not be safe from federal prosecution.

"Growing, distributing and possessing marijuana, in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws permitting such activities," Oberly wrote in a letter delivered last Thursday to Barlow. "Moreover, those who engage in financial transactions involving the proceeds of such activities may also be in violation of federal money laundering statutes… "State employees who conduct activities mandated by the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act are not immune from liability under" the Controlled Substances Act, Oberly added.

Markell's office told the Wilmington News Journal Friday that Oberly's stance prevented the Department of Health and Social Services from moving forward on licensing dispensaries, which, under Delaware's law, would be limited to three nonprofit operations.

"To do otherwise would put our state employees in legal jeopardy, and I will not do that," Markell said.

"If you look at the Cole memo, it focuses on this large-scale, industrial distribution model, and what we have in Delaware is a distribution model that centralizes that into one place," Barlow told the News Journal. "It seems to be something the Cole memo is looking to specifically. The governor's concern is that we're not doing things to put state employees potentially in the way of the federal government's new enforcement."

Ironically, some of the impetus for the passage of Delaware's medical marijuana law was the Obama administration's earlier adoption of a hands-off position on medical marijuana, the October 2009 memo from Cole's predecessor, David Ogden. That memo said federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers was "unlikely to be an efficient use of federal resources."

Delaware passed its medical marijuana law last May. A month later, the Cole memo came out, and the new wave of federal medical marijuana threats, raids, and prosecutions began.

Wilmington, DE
United States

Guatemalan President Will Propose Drug Legalization

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina is again speaking out on drug legalization. He said in a Saturday radio interview that he would propose legalizing drugs in a forthcoming meeting with regional leaders, and he specified that that included decriminalizing the transport of drugs through the Central American isthmus.

President Otto Perez Molina and his "mano duro"
"I want to bring this discussion to the table," he said. "It wouldn't be a crime to transport, to move drugs. It would all have to be regulated."

Saturday's comments reinforce remarks the retired general made last month, shortly after taking office. Then, he said the drug trade should be decriminalized "from the south, where it is produced, through all the countries, like Guatemala, through which it passes, to Mexico and the United States."

Perez Molina didn't provide any more specifics of his proposal, nor did he say when the regional meeting would take place. But he did say he would discuss the subject with Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes when Funes visits Monday.

Perez Molina said that the war on drugs and all the US cash and technical assistance had failed to reduce drug trafficking in the region, which serves as a springboard for South American cocaine headed into Mexico and, ultimately, the United States.

"There was talk of the success of Plan Colombia but all it did was neutralize big cartels," Perez Molina, referring to the US' decade-long, $6 billion anti-drug effort in Colombia.

The first time around, Perez Molina's remarks on decriminalization come as something of a surprise, but now he has twice called for a discussion of what is in effect full legalization. He said nothing like that during his election campaign, in which he vowed to use "an iron fist" against encroaching Mexican cartels. In one of his first acts in office, he emulated Calderon by calling out the armed forces to fight the cartels.

Both the Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel are reported to be operating in Guatemala, which borders Mexico to the north. The drug gangs are blamed for an increasing number of killings in the Central American country, the bloodiest being the May 2011 massacre of 27 farm workers whose boss had been targeted by the Zetas.

Guatemala City
Guatemala

Iowa Man Falls to His Death During Drug Raid

A Des Moines man has died after apparently falling from an apartment building balcony as he attempted to evade police executing a drug search warrant. Kirby Praseuth, 28, becomes the ninth person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to police, the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement was serving a search warrant on an apartment around 6:30am Friday. After police secured the apartment, the two suspects inside told them a third man had gone out onto the back balcony to evade them. When officers went to the balcony of the fourth floor apartment, they found Praseuth lying on the ground below.

Hewas taken to Methodist Hospital in critical condition, but later died. Police said they are continuing to investigate how he ended up on the ground.

The two people in the apartment were arrested, but there is no information on what charges have been filed or what, if anything, was found in the apartment.

WHO-TV reported Saturday that police said the search warrant was related to a marijuana distribution investigation.

Des Moines, IA
United States

Detroit Marijuana Legalization Measure to Get Vote

A marijuana legalization initiative in Detroit was improperly barred from the ballot in 2010, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The appeals court decision overturned the ruling of a Wayne County judge, who had sided with the Detroit Elections Commission's decision to keep the measure off the ballot because they thought it conflicted with state and federal law.

"It was outside the authority of (city officials) to consider the substance and effect of the initiative and defendants have a clear legal duty to place the matter on the ballot," the court held in a 2-1 decision.

That means that unless the city appeals the decision, the measure should be on the August municipal ballot.

[Update: Detroit law department corporation counsel Krystal Crittendon said this week that the city plans to appeal, and it did so Wednesday.]

Sponsored by the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, the initiative would remove from the municipal code all references to the adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in private from the municipal code, in effect legalizing up to an ounce within the city limits. The initiative would not change state law, which still criminalizes marijuana possession.

The appeals court ruling marked "a great day for voters' rights in the city of Detroit," the Coalition's Tim Beck told the Detroit Free Press Friday. The election commission's decision to deny the measure a spot on the ballot was "total hocus-pocus," Beck said. "We did everything right. Every 'i' was dotted, every 't' crossed."

There is an ongoing campaign led by the Committee for a Safer Michigan to put a legalization initiative on the statewide ballot in November, but it appears likely voters in the state's largest city will have the chance to make their voices heard well before then.

Detroit, MI
United States

Welfare Drug Test Bills Fail in South Dakota, Virginia

The push to mandate drug testing for recipients of public benefits is sweeping statehouses across the country this year, but in two states, those efforts hit a roadblock last week. In South Dakota and Virginia, bills were either defeated or deferred.

In South Dakota, the House Health and Human Services Committee last Monday killed a pair of bills that would have required people receiving welfare or Medicaid benefits to undergo random, suspicionless drug testing. House Bill 1268, introduced by Rep. Mark Kirkeby, would have directed the state to create a drug testing pilot program for Medicaid recipients, while House Bill 1174, introduced by Rep. Mark Venner (R-Pierre), would have mandated drug testing for welfare recipients based on "reasonable cause." Both bills would have thrown people who tested positive off the programs.

But after Social Services Secretary Kil Malsam-Rysdon testified that federal law barred drug testing for people on Medicaid and that drug testing welfare recipients hadn't saved any money where it had been implemented, the two measures were voted down, or, in South Dakota's unique legislative language "deferred to the 41st legislative day." (The session only lasts 40 days.)

"If this passes, Medicaid in South Dakota would not exist," she said, referring to Kirkeby's bill. As for Venner's bill, if people suspect welfare recipients are using drugs, they should call the cops or children's services officials, Malsam-Rysdon said. "There are other systems to deal with illegal drug use," she added.

That same day, a Virginia House Appropriations Committee subcommittee voted to defer action on a welfare drug testing bill for this session. Two days later, the committee followed the lead of the subcommittee, so the bill will see no further action this year, although it could be taken up again next year.

The bill, House Bill 73, would have required local social service agencies to screen welfare recipients for probable cause they were using drugs, and if probable cause was found, subject them to a full substance abuse assessment, which could include drug tests. Participants who failed the drug test would have been ineligible for benefits for a year unless they completed a drug treatment program.

Legislators expressed concern about the bill's cost after the Department of Planning and Budget estimated that the drug testing provision would cost the state $1.3 million in its first year and $1 million a year thereafter.

"It's just that the money situation is tight," subcommittee Chair Del. Riley Ingram (R-Hopewell) said Monday explaining his vote.

A companion measure in the Senate, though, is still alive. It is before the Senate Finance Committee.

Mexican Army Seizes 15 Tons of Methamphetamine

Mexican army troops seized an astounding 15 tons of pure methamphetamine in the western state of Jalisco, the Mexican military announced last Wednesdayt. That's an amount equal to half of all the meth seized worldwide in 2009 and would have supplied some 13 million individual doses worth over $4 billion on the street in the US.

clandestine Mexican meth lab in Jalisco (SEDENA)
The army said it had received several anonymous tips, leading it to the enormous stash on a small ranch in the municipality of Tlojomulco de Zuniga, near Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city. Soldiers found no one on the ranch and made no arrests, although it appeared 12 to 15 people had been working there. 

The army called the seizure "historic," and it appears to be the largest meth bust in Mexican history by far. The previous record bust by the army came in June 2010, when soldiers seized 3.4 tons of pure meth in the central state of Queretaro. During that bust, soldiers also seized hundreds of tons of precursor chemicals.

Meth manufacture is a big business for Mexico's drug cartels. The US National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that 80% of the meth in the US comes from Mexico. After a downward blip five years ago, the supply of meth has been on the increase, and so have seizures. On the US-Mexico border, meth seizures jumped 87% between 2007 and 2009, according to the 2011 UN World Drug Report.

Experts interviewed by the Associated Press reeled at the size of the seizure.

"Seizures of this size... could mean one of two things," said Antonio Mazzitelli, the regional representative of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime. "On one hand, it may be a product that hasn't been able to be sold, and like any business, when the market is depressed, stockpiles build up," he said. "Or such large-scale production could suggest an expansion, an attempt by some Mexican groups, the most business-oriented I would say, to move into Latin American and Asian markets."

"I have never seen quantity in that range," said Steve Preisler, an industrial chemist who adopted the nom de plume Uncle Fester to author the book "Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture," and who is seen by some as the father of modern meth-making. But, he added: "The amounts of precursors they were importing would produce multi-tons of product."

Guadalajara is Sinaloa cartel territory, and an unnamed "senior US law enforcement official in Mexico" told the AP this week's bust was "probably Sinaloa."

The Mexican army in the area might want to watch its back for the next few days because the cartels are known to seek reprisals. Earlier this week, in fact, cartel gunmen in Coahuila attacked an army patrol hours after soldiers seized eight tons of marijuana, leaving two or three dead.

Mexico

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