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New Jersey Pharmacy Needle Sales Bill Passes

A bill that would allow for the sale of syringes in pharmacies without a prescription has cleared the New Jersey legislature with bipartisan support and awaits the governor's signature. The bill, Assembly Bill 1088, passed the Assembly Monday on a 54-24 vote; a companion measure passed the state Senate in February on a 28-12 vote.

The bill would allow for the purchase of 10 syringes without a prescription. (image via wikimedia.org)
An ever-growing body of evidence supports increased access to sterile syringes to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. While New Jersey passed a law allowing for needle exchanges in 2006, the law capped their number at six.

The bill would allow for the purchase of up to 10 syringes without a prescription. It also decriminalizes the possession of needles bought from a pharmacy without a prescription.

New Jersey is one of only two states that still bans over-the-counter syringe sales. The other is neighboring Delaware.

The bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), Assemblywoman Joan Voss (D-Bergen), Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-Essex), Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (D-Bergen and Hudson) and Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-Essex and Passaic).

"This is a historic moment," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.  "This is the first time the New Jersey legislature has voted to join the overwhelming majority of other states in allowing limited sales of syringes without a prescription. This legislation has overwhelming support from the medical and public health community. Governor Christie now has the opportunity to sign this legislation that will help end AIDS and save lives."

Trenton, NJ
United States

NY Times: DEA Launders Mexico Drug Cartel Profits

American undercover agents, primarily with the DEA, have laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in drug proceeds from Mexican drug trafficking organizations as part of their investigations into how the cartels operate, The New York Times reported Sunday. The newspaper cited "current and former federal law enforcement officials."

The DEA seized this money, but it has laundered millions for the Mexican drug cartels. (Image: DEA)
While the DEA conducts similar operations in other countries, it had not done so in Mexico since 1998, when, after a cross-border drug sting offended Mexican sensibilities, permission for such operations there was rescinded. But that changed after Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared his bloody war against the cartels.

The agents took shipments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash across borders and deposited them in traffickers' accounts or shell accounts set up to launder the funds. Their activities allowed the cartels to launder funds for months or even years while investigations proceeded.

As the Times noted, "The high-risk activities raise delicate questions about the agency's effectiveness in bringing down drug kingpins, underscore diplomatic concerns about Mexican sovereignty, and blur the line between surveillance and facilitating crime."

"Building up the evidence to connect the cash to drugs, and connect the first cash pickup to a cartel's command and control, is a very time consuming process," explained one anonymous former DEA official. "These people aren't running a drugstore in downtown LA that we can go and lock the doors and place a seizure sticker on the window. These are sophisticated, international operations that practice very tight security. And as far as the Mexican cartels go, they operate in a corrupt country, from cities that the cops can't even go into."

But as the Times noted, "It is not clear whether such operations are worth the risks. So far there are few signs that following the money has disrupted the cartels' operations, and little evidence that Mexican drug traffickers are feeling any serious financial pain. Last year, the DEA seized about $1 billion in cash and drug assets, while Mexico seized an estimated $26 million in money laundering investigations, a tiny fraction of the estimated $18 billion to $39 billion in drug money that flows between the countries each year."

The DEA money laundering operations raise concerns similar to those raised by members of Congress about a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) effort, Operation Fast and Furious, in which ATF allowed low-level smugglers to buy guns in the US and transport them to Mexico in a bid to find higher-ranking cartel operatives. ATF lost track of hundreds of those guns. Some turned up at Mexican crimes scenes and two were found on the US side of the border where a Border Patrol agent had been shot to death.

New York, NY
United States

NY Marijuana Smoker Dies in Confrontation with Cop

[Editor's Note: Drug War Chronicle is trying to track every death directly attributable to domestic drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing or death related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

A College of Staten Island employee died November 29 in a confrontation with an NYPD officer after he was caught smoking marijuana in a campus bathroom. Cory Holmes, 39, becomes the 46th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Police sources told the New York Daily News that the police officer confronted Holmes after smelling pot smoke coming from a bathroom stall occupied by the off-duty member of the college's auxiliary service. Holmes attempted to flee, but was wrestled to the ground in a school parking lot.

Police said Holmes attempted to grab the officer's gun during the struggle, but no shots were fired. Two civilians who witnessed the confrontation came to the officer's aid and helped as he handcuffed Holmes, who then went into cardiac arrest.

Holmes was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. The unnamed officer was treated for minor injuries and released.

New York, NY
United States

Drug Crop-Killing Fungi Too Risky, Scientists Say

Using pathogenic fungi to eradicate coca, opium, or other illicit drug crops is too risky because there is not enough data about how to control them and what effect they could have on people and the environment, according to a panel of scientists commissioned to study the subject by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office).

fusarium oxysprorum (wikimedia.org)
The finding came in a report, Feasibility of Using Mycoherbicides for Controlling Illicit Drug Crops, which was released November 30 by a panel of scientists convened by the National Research Council (NRC). ONDCP requested the report after it was required do to so by Congress in its 2006 budget authorization bill.

Mycoherbicides are killer fungi that can be targeted at specific plants and reproduce themselves, staying in the soil for years. Hard-line drug control advocates have urged their use against coca in Colombia and opium in Afghanistan, seeing them as a potential "magic bullet" that could eliminate drug problems at the source. But Colombia rejected the use of mycoherbicides in 2002 and the Afghan government has strongly signaled that it is not interested in using them there.

The NRC scientists found that the evidence base to support using mycoherbicides was scanty. "Questions about the degree of control that could be achieved with such mycoherbicides, as well as uncertainties about their potential effects on non-target plants, microorganisms, animals, humans, and the environment must be addressed before considering deployment," they said.

The panel did not reject outright the use of mycoherbicides; instead, it recommended "research to study several candidate strains of each fungus in order to identify the most efficacious under a broad array of environmental conditions." But it warned that "conducting the research does not guarantee that a feasible mycoherbicide product will result, countermeasures can be developed against mycoherbicides, and there are unavoidable risks from releasing substantial numbers of living organisms into an ecosystem."

The use of mycoherbicides would require meeting multiple domestic regulatory requirements, as well as possible additional regulations and agreements before being used on drug crops in foreign countries, the report noted. That might also prove problematic because "approval to conduct tests in countries where mycoherbicides might be used has been difficult or impossible to obtain in the past."

Congressional and bureaucratic drug warriors are going to have to look elsewhere for their "magic bullet" to win the war on drugs -- unless they're in the mood to appropriate more funds for more research that may or may not come up with a workable mycoherbicide. Then all they would have to do is sell the idea to the government of the country they want to spray it on.

Washington, DC
United States

Czechs Decriminalize Peyote, Magic Mushroom Growing

Under changes in Czech drug policy approved November 28 by the Cabinet, growers of psychedelic cacti and fungi will no longer face criminal punishment. The hallucinogenic plants will be removed from the government's drug "black list," meaning that cultivation of more than "small" amounts will no longer be a crime.

Psilocybe cubensis, the magic mushroom. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Peyote and magic mushrooms were originally included on the list when the Czech's reformed their drug laws in 2009, making the Czech Republic one of the most liberal in Europe on drug policy. But amateur cactus growers who said they had no intention of consuming their plants complained that the drug reforms effectively criminalized them for pursuing their hobbies.

The 2009 reforms decriminalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, as well as the possession of small amounts of other drugs.

Last week's adjustment of the reforms actually tightened up a bit on the issue of marijuana cultivation. They include a change in the way marijuana's potency is calculated. Previously, authorities measures the amount of THC in pot plants by measuring the content of the whole plant; now, they will only measure the content of the flowers, where the THC is most concentrated. That means some pot cultivators who are growing low-potency marijuana will not be able to escape drug law enforcers.

Czech Republic

Honduras Calls Out the Army to Fight Drug Cartels

The Honduran congress voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to send out the armed forces to combat Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The vote gives the military broad domestic policing powers, including additional powers in the fight against the cartels.

Honduran army troops training with US Marines (wikimedia.org)
"We cannot have an armed forces only for foreign threats when there are so many deaths in the country because of violence," Juan Orlando Hernandez, president of the Congress, said before the vote in remarks reported by CNN. "We are making this decision to support the Honduran people."

According to the United Nations, Honduras has the world's highest murder rate, with more than 82 murders per 100,000 people last year. By comparison, Mexico, where more than 45,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon deployed the military against the cartels there five years ago, has a murder rate of 18 per 100,000 and the US 4.8.

About 20 people a day are murdered in Honduras, and most accounts blame most of the killings on drug cartels smuggling cocaine from South America. Under pressure in their home country, the Mexican cartels have expanded operations throughout Central America. El Salvador and Guatemala are also finding themselves running up against brazen cartel gunman.

The crime problem is aggravated by the existence of violent street gangs, and the national police have proven both ineffectual and corrupt. The move to involve the military in policing comes just after President Porfirio Lobo was forced to begin a purge of the national police, of whom 167 have just been arrested for charges ranging from corruption to murder.

While the Honduran military had already been involved in operations against the cartels, it had been limited to assisting police and could only go on joint operations with police. Soldiers did not have the power of arrest, nor could they collect evidence or send cases to prosecutors.

That has now changed. The military has full domestic policing powers, including making arrests, doing searches, and executing warrants in law enforcement matters. But armed forces spokesman Col. Alcides Flores said the military is not displacing the police, nor is it imitating Mexico, whose armed forces have been sullied by accusations of corruption and human rights violations during its campaign against the cartels.

"The new decree authorizes the armed forces to make captures without a police presence, but we are just augmenting the capacity of the police," he said. "At no time are we replacing the police. And we are not following the Mexican model. We are making a Honduran model," he said.

Tegucigalpa
Honduras

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling 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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of 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, November 18

In Tijuana, $15 million -- thought to belong to the Sinaloa Cartel -- was confiscated from a safe house. Six kilos of cocaine and four weapons were also found during the army raid, although no arrests were made.

Monday, November 21

In Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila, three police officers were kidnapped while on patrol and executed.

In Harris County, Texas, a controlled-delivery by police officers attempting to catch a drug shipment went awry when suspected Zetas cut off and shot dead a truck driver who had secretly been working with the authorities. A nearby Sheriff's deputy was also wounded, possibly by friendly fire in the chaos. Four men, three of whom are Mexican citizens, were taken into custody and charged with capitol murder. It is still unclear if the men were targeting the informant or attempting to rip off his 300-pound load of marijuana.

Tuesday, November 22

In Ciudad Juarez, two police officers were killed while riding in an unmarked car. Authorities recovered 44 bullet casings at the scene.

Wednesday, November 23

In Sinaloa, at least 20 people were killed in several incidents. In Culiacan, 13 people were found dead inside two vehicles which had been set fire in two different locations. Near Guasave, three men were shot and killed. In the municipality of Mocorito, four people were murdered. Mexican media has speculated that at least some of the killings may be related to a fight between the Sinaloa Cartel and a faction of the Beltran-Leyva Organization.

Thursday, November 24.

In Tamaulipas, the army announced that a large weapons cache and almost two tons of marijuana were captured during a series of operations in the city of Miguel Aleman, across the Rio Grande from Starr, Texas. The weapons cache included a rocket launcher and ten explosive devices, including pipe bombs. Miguel Aleman is currently controlled by a faction of the Gulf Cartel.

In Guadalajara, 26 men were found bound, gagged, executed and dumped in three vehicles. Many of the men had been asphyxiated, and some appear to have been shot. Notes left written on the victims and a banner left at one of the crime scenes suggest that the killings were carried out by the Zetas and by members of an allied organization, the Millenium Cartel. Some Mexican media outlets have speculated that the killing is in response to the September dumping of 35 men, many purportedly Zetas killed by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Friday, November 25

In the Hague, Mexican activists filed a war crimes complaint against Mexican President Felipe Calderon. According to the coalition behind the complaint, Mexican security forces have been involved in approximately 470 cases of human rights violations. The complaint filed in the Netherlands also mentions crimes committed by drug cartels, and specifically mentions Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. The Mexican government immediately denied the accusations.

In Mexico City, the city's police chief announced that an investigation would take place to determine the circumstances behind a journalist's video, which shows a police officer dunking a man's head into a bucket following a firefight between gunmen and police in the crime-ridden neighborhood of Tepito.

In Matamoros, the son of a deceased Gulf Cartel boss was captured. Antonio Ezequiel "El Junior" Cardenas Guillen, 23, is the son of Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen Sr., "Tony Tormenta," who was killed in a firefight with Marines in November 2010. El Junior was arrested with four associates -- including two suspected cartel accountants -- as he left a party.

Saturday, November 26

In Nuevo Leon, three alleged Zetas suspected of involvement in the July killing of two men who served as bodyguards for the state's governor were arrested during a traffic stop. Authorities said the men also confessed to four other killings, three of whom were police officers murdered in May.

In the city of Chihuahua, two men and a woman were shot and killed. The two men tried run away after their car was cut off by gunmen, but were shot as they ran. The female was killed in the automobile. Police have no leads in the case.

Monday, November 28

In Ciudad Juarez, a four-year-old boy was shot and killed while playing outside a neighbor's house. Alan David Carrillo was playing with several other children outside the home when it was sprayed with automatic weapons. He was rushed to a hospital but died there shortly after arriving.

In Hermosillo, Sonora, a prominent member of Mexico's Movement for Peace and Justice and Dignity was shot and killed. Nepomuceno Moreno, 56, was shot at least seven times by a gunman in a passing car. Last year, Moreno had accused hooded police officers of kidnapping his 18-year old son, who was never seen again. For their part, the Sonora Attorney General’s office has said that the principal line of investigation in the case is that Moreno was somehow involved with organized crime groups. In 1979, he was arrested in Arizona for heroin smuggling and possession, and is also said to have been involved in more recent criminal activity.

[Editor's Note: We have been conservatively estimating Mexican drug war deaths this year after El Universal quit publishing a box score. As of mid-November, we had estimated 8,100 deaths so far this year, but in light of new figures have revised that figure upward by about 3,000 deaths. Even that figure is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 11,300

TOTAL: > 45,000

Mexico

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's prison guards gone wild this week, plus a really sleazy deputy gets a sweet deal and a 'roided cop takes a plea deal. Let's get to it:

In Athens, Ohio, a former Athens County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty Monday to four lesser charges after originally being arrested on charges he coerced sex from female drug defendants. None of the charges Jerry Hallowell, 44, pleaded guilty to are sex offenses. Instead he copped to one charge of soliciting or receiving improper compensation (which was apparently sexual favors), a first-degree misdemeanor; plus three fifth-degree felony charges of misusing an official statewide electronic database available to police officers. Hallowell allegedly used the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway to run background checks on women he was interested in. The felonies carry a maximum sentence of one year each, but Hallowell will probably not do any time because he was convicted of the lowest level nonviolent felonies.

In Norfolk, Virginia, a former Norfolk police officer pleaded guilty November 23 to selling steroids, syringes, and marijuana to an undercover officer. Kristin Wayne Harris, 37, copped to one count of drug possession and one count of sale of an anabolic steroid. He was originally charged with 11 drug-related felonies and two misdemeanors, but prosecutors dropped all the charges except for two. The investigation into Harris' steroid sales also led to the resignation of three other Norfolk police officers, but he was the only one charged with a crime. He's looking at anywhere from six months to 20 years in prison when sentenced.

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a Florida state prison guard was arrested November 22 for agreeing to smuggle drugs into the prison. Ormond Rossi, 37, a guard at the Broward Correctional Institution, is charged with bribery and opium trafficking. He went down in a sting after agreeing to smuggle pain pills in return for cash, cigarettes, two water bottles full of vodka, and an unlisted number of steaks. At last report, he was still behind bars.

In Detroit, a prison guard and a former prison guard were arrested November 23 on charges they smuggled marijuana and tobacco into the Ryan Correctional Facility. Guard Joseph Jordan, 27, and former guard Corey Young, 37, were both charged with misconduct in office, furnishing contraband to a prisoner, and conspiracy to furnish marijuana to a prisoner. Young was also charged with bringing contraband into a prison, bringing a weapon into a prison, and four counts of furnishing contraband to a prisoner. They allegedly accepted payments from inmates' friends and relatives in exchange for smuggling tobacco and pot, and went down in an investigation after a prisoner was found with weed and tobacco in his cell. Each felony count is worth five years.

In Atlanta, a former Fulton County Jail guard pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting bribes to help distribute cocaine within the jail. Akil Scott, 31, copped to attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine and accepting a $650 bribe. Prosecutors said he twice accepted $650 from undercover agents to deliver what he thought was seven grams of cocaine. Sentencing is set for February 16. Scott is looking at up to 20 years in federal prison on each count.

Drug Reform Ally Barney Frank Retiring from Congress

Advocates of drug policy reform are losing a key ally on Capitol Hill. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) announced Monday that he will not seek reelection and will retire at the end of this term in January 2013.

Barney Frank at press conference calling for repeal of a law that denies financial aid to students because of drug convictions
Frank, 71, has served in Congress for 30 years and is now the ranking minority member of the House Financial Services Committee. The openly gay congressman has been a liberal stalwart throughout his tenure on the Hill and among the strongest congressional advocates of drug policy reform.

Beginning in 2001, Frank repeatedly introduced bills that would block the government from intervening in states with medical marijuana laws, and since 2008, he has introduced bills that would decriminalize marijuana possession. This year, he teamed up with libertarian Republican Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) to introduce the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. That bill currently has 19 cosponsors.

Frank was also the lead sponsor of the "Removing Impediments to Students' Education" act to repeal a provision added to the Higher Education Act in 1998 that delays or denies federal financial aid to students because of drug convictions. The law was scaled back in 2006 to apply just to offenses committed while one is in college and receiving aid, and in 2009 the House of Representatives passed language as part of a student aid funding bill that would have limited it further to just sales convictions. (The section of the 2009 bill containing that language was stripped as part of Democrats' strategy to pass health care reform, in which the health care reform and education bills were combined.)

In 1994 Frank was one of four members of Congress, a Democrat and Republican from both the House and Senate, who advanced "safety valve" legislation to allow judges to exempt first-time drug offenders from five- and ten-year mandatory minimum sentences under specified circumstances.

None of his marijuana law reform bills have come close to passage, but Frank gets big kudos from the reform community for his tireless efforts. His sponsorship of marijuana reform legislation has helped change the conversation in Congress, a process he admitted in a 2009 interview with Esquire is still far from complete.

"Announcing that the government should mind its own business on marijuana is really not that hard," he said. "There's not a lot of complexity here. We should stop treating people as criminals because they smoke marijuana. The problem is the political will. This is a case where there's cultural lag on the part of my colleagues. If you ask them privately, they don't think it's a terrible thing. But they're afraid of being portrayed as soft on drugs."

Frank's bold and straightforward stance has helped begin to change that, but with his impending retirement, marijuana and larger drug policy reform will lose a champion in Congress. His seat may remain Democratic, but there are few Democrats who have been as good as Barney Frank when it comes to trying to end the drug war.

Washington, DC
United States

Evanston, Illinois, Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

Even as Chicago ponders whether to decriminalize pot possession, one of its suburbs has gone ahead and done it. The city of Evanston Monday night passed its 2012 budget, complete with an ordinance that decriminalizes the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.

People caught with fewer than 10 grams would be ticketed and fined, but would face no jail time and no criminal record. Up until now, they would have been charged with a misdemeanor and faced up to six months in jail.

City council members and Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said that decriminalization would prevent young people from being burdened with a criminal record and would free up police and prosecutorial resources in the revenue-strapped town.

"There is a high amount of paperwork and time that is spent going to court," Alderwoman Melissa Wynne told the Daily Northwestern. "It's not just the arrest, but then the processing and follow-through that takes a lot of time."

"A one-time violation by someone with that level of possession could be a teenager or someone in college," said Alderman Donald Wilson. "I wouldn't want to see people suffer the long-term consequences of something that might just be short-term misconduct."

Alderman Peter Braithwaite cited a higher rate of marijuana arrests among black youths in the city in explaining his support for decriminalization. "I'm definitely very concerned about the number of black teens who end up in the criminal justice system and how that affects their futures and abilities to get jobs later in life," he said.

Marijuana law reform is definitely in the air in the Chicago area. The Cook County Board of Commissioners okayed decriminalization in unincorporated areas of the county in 2009 and then expanded that remit to include all jurisdictions in the county that don't have their own police forces. The suburban city of Skokie recently decriminalized possession of less than 10 grams for teenagers, and the city of Chicago is currently considering a decriminalization move.

Evanston, IL
United States

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