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Higher Education: House Passes Student Loan Bill With Further Limitations on Drug Warrior "Aid Elimination Penalty"

The infamous Higher Education Act (HEA) anti-drug provision, or "Aid Elimination Penalty," which bars students committing drug offenses from receiving financial aid for specified periods of time, took a step toward further dilution this week when the US House of Representatives Thursday approved H.R. 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA). In the passed bill is language that restricts the penalty to those convicted of drug sales, not mere drug possession.

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Mark Souder conceding the amendment
The bill will next go to a conference committee, whose job will be to produce a reconciled version of H.R. 3221 and a yet-to-be-passed Senate bill. The final version must then be reapproved by both the House and the Senate. If that final version contains the same or very similar language, it will mark the second significant reduction of the penalty, the decade-old handiwork of arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). In 2006, the provision was scaled back to include only drug convictions that occurred while students were enrolled in college and receiving financial aid (a change supported by Souder himself).

The House victory came only after Souder attempted and finally gave up a last ditch effort to undo the reform. The Indiana conservative first submitted an amendment to strip out the new language in the Education & Labor committee where the bill originated earlier this year, a vote which he lost. This week, he submitted the amendment as the bill came up for a vote on the House floor, but then withdrew it after Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) suggested compromise language that would limit the provision's effect to felony drug convictions instead of drug sales convictions.

That compromise language came too late to be included in the House floor vote Thursday. It would presumably be offered up during conference committee.

But that wasn't the only reason Souder withdrew his amendment. As he conceded in a House speech Thursday, "I was probably going to lose today."

More than 200,000 students have already lost financial aid under the Souder aid elimination penalty because of drug convictions. Passage of SAFRA, with either the sales conviction language or the felony conviction language, would reduce the pool of students who would potentially be victimized by it. It's not full repeal, but it's another step closer.

Marijuana: Arizona Supreme Court Rejects Religious Freedom Claim

Arizona's law protecting religious freedom does not apply to a man convicted of smoking marijuana while driving, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday. The ruling came in Arizona v. Hardesty.

In that case, Daniel Hardesty was arrested while driving in Yavapai County and charged with marijuana possession. At trial, he testified that he was a member of the Church of Cognizance, an Arizona-based religion that says it embraces neo-Zoroastrian tenets and uses marijuana for spiritual enlightenment. He argued that Arizona's 1999 law limiting the state's ability to "burden the exercise of religion" meant he could not be prosecuted because he was exercising his religious beliefs.

The trial judge disagreed, and Hardesty was convicted. He appealed to the state Supreme Court, and has now lost there, too. In a unanimous opinion, the justices held that while the state religious freedom law mandates restrictions on religious practices only if it shows a compelling interest and that the restrictions must be the "least restrictive means of furthering that interest," the state does have a compelling interest in regulating marijuana use and Hardesty's claim that the Church of Cognizance allows him to use marijuana anywhere or any time, including driving, made it clear that the "least restrictive means" was an outright ban on marijuana.

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, who authored the opinion, made a distinction between federal laws that allow Native American Church members to use peyote without fear of prosecution under state law and the religious freedom claim made by Hardesty. There was an "obvious difference" between the two situations, Berch said. "Members of the Native American Church assert only the religious right to use peyote in limited sacramental rights. Hardesty asserts the right to use marijuana whenever he pleases, including while driving," she wrote.

Monday's ruling was the second defeat in as many years for the church. Church founders Dan and Mary Quaintance were convicted of marijuana possession and conspiracy to distribute marijuana after being stopped with 172 pounds of pot in New Mexico. A federal judge in New Mexico rejected their religious freedom arguments. Dan Quaintance is currently serving a five year prison sentence, and Mary Quaintance is doing two to three years.

Europe: Dutch Government Wants "Members Only" Cannabis Coffee Shops

In a letter leaked to Dutch media, three key Dutch ministers wrote that the government wants to maintain the country's famous cannabis coffee shop system, but that it should be "members only" so the coffee shops will no longer attract foreign "drug tourists." The ministers of justice, home affairs, and health wrote that reducing drug tourism and reducing the number of coffee shops would help reduce crime and public nuisances associated with them.

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Bulldog coffee shop, Amsterdam (courtesy amsterdam.info)
Border town coffee shops in particular have been inundated with pot smokers from neighboring countries with more repressive policies, hordes of which have led to complaints of everything from traffic congestion to public urination to other drug dealing. The other criminality associated with the coffee shops comes from Holland's inconsistent policy of tolerating retail cannabis sales and possession while continuing to prohibit the licit growing of cannabis to supply those shops.

While the government was expected to issue a position paper on changing the coffee shop policy later this fall, Tuesday's leaked letter provides a clear indication of where the government is heading: toward "members only" coffee shops. While discriminating by nationality within the European Union would violate EU law, it appears the Dutch government will try to bar foreigners by requiring a Dutch bank card to purchase cannabis.

According to the letter, the ministers are also open to experimenting with allowing coffee shops to stock larger quantities of the herb. Currently, shops can keep only 500 grams on hand, resulting in a network of drug runners scurrying about Dutch cities and towns with fresh cannabis supplies.

The three party coalitions that make up the conservative national government have basic disagreements about coffee shop policy, with the Christian Democrats and allied parties wanting to dismantle the shops, but with the Labor Party in favor of keeping them. A more restrictive coffee shop policy in the near future, but leaving the shops open, is the most likely result.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

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shrine to San Malverde, Mexico's ''narco-saint,'' Culiacan, Sinaloa
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 4,000 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 , September 4

- Troops arrested three suspected cartel assassins in Ciudad Juarez. The three are thought to be part of La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juarez cartel. Between them, they are accused of having participated in 70 killings.

- A high ranking police official was gunned down in Los Mochis, Sinaloa. The commander, Ubaldo Dominguez Grijalva, was shot by at least two gunmen outside his house at 6:30 AM. Fifteen days ago, he was involved in an operation in which three suspected cartel hitmen were arrested after a firefight in Los Mochis.

Saturday , September 5

- Mexican troops captured a suspect in the September 2 killing of 17 patients in Ciudad Juarez drug rehabilitation center. The suspect, Jose Rodolfo Escajeda, is a high-ranking member of the Juarez cartel. He is also on the DEA's list of most wanted fugitives on suspicion of being involved in marijuana and cocaine trafficking to the United States.

- A former high ranking official of US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the US. The man, Richard P. Kramer, had previously been stationed in Mexico. He was apparently convinced by drug cartel members to retire and begin working for them directly. Kramer is accused of searching for information from law enforcement databases concerning possible informants, and with being involved in a 660 pound cocaine shipment which traveled from Panama to the United States, before being finally seized in Spain in 2007.

Sunday , September 6

- Gunmen killed a state legislative candidate, his wife, and their two children at their home in Tabasco. Authorities originally suspected that the murders were carried out by drug traffickers angered by recent arrests. Jose Francisco Fuentes Esperon, 43, a former university professor, had begun his campaign just one day prior to his murder. Mr.Esperon and his wife were both shot, while the children, ages 8 and 10, were asphyxiated.

Monday, September 7

- An arrest was made in the killing of Juan Francisco Fuentes Esperon, the state legislative candidate murdered over the weekend (see above). Police arrested several young men in what apparently was a burglary gone wrong. Interestingly, however, the Zetas drug trafficking organization took the unusual step of publicly distancing itself from the murders. The Zetas hung a banner in Villahermosa, the state capital, saying they were not involved.

- Seven people were gunned down in several separate incidents in Ciudad Juarez. Four of the victims were killed at a motel, and included an ex-US soldier who lived in El Paso and worked for the Postal Service. The men were drinking when they were attacked by heavily armed gunmen. In another incident, a man was killed and five people wounded when gunmen entered a private party and began shooting.

Tuesday, September 8

- Mexico replaced its attorney general, Eduardo Medina Mora, who had held the position for nine years. President Calderon gave no reason for the move. He is slated to be replaced by Arturo Chavez Chavez, who had previously worked for the state attorney general's office of Chihuahua, of which Ciudad Juarez is capital. He is likely to face a tough nomination battle in Mexico's congress, as the decision has been criticized because of his work in Chihuahua. During his tenure there from 1992-1996, the Juarez cartel became much stronger and the murders of hundreds of women went unsolved.

- In Veracruz, police found a headless body along with a message from drug traffickers attached to it. The body was left in the same location where two bodies (and another message from drug traffickers) were found on August 26. The note left with the body threatened extortionists and kidnappers, and may be the work of vigilante groups supported by drug traffickers or elements of the police.

- In Ciudad Juarez, a body with both arms severed was found dumped on a street. A spokesman for the regional prosecutor's office said that the victim was found with his severed arms crossed and placed on top of a cardboard sign that was left with the body. Additionally, the victim had plastic bags shoved into his mouth and his eyes were taped shut.

On another subject, two journalists from the state of Tabasco were arrested on suspicion of working for the Zetas drug trafficking organization. Newspaper correspondents Roberto Juarez and Lazaro Abreu Tejero Sanchez are accused of taking thousands of dollars from drug traffickers to withhold stories and share information from police sources. Police learned of the payments, which totaled some $4,500 a month, from a captured Zeta lieutenant.

Total reported body count for the week: 239

Total reported body count for the year: 4,955

Read last week's Mexico drug war update here.

Law Enforcement: Georgia Narcs Gun Down Young Pastor

America's war on drugs claimed another victim last week: Jonathan Ayers, 29, a Georgia pastor shot and killed by undercover narcotics agents in his car at a gas station in Toccoa, Georgia, on the afternoon of September 1. After being shot, Ayers drove off, but crashed less than a block away. He died while being treated at a local hospital. No drugs were found.

According to police, undercover officers from a three-county northeast Georgia drug and prostitution task force saw Ayers with a woman wanted for cocaine sales and followed him to the gas station after he dropped her off. While Pastor Ayers went inside to use the ATM, the officers waited by the pumps in an unmarked black Cadillac Escalade. Once Ayers got back into his car, the officers emerged and identified themselves as police. They ordered Ayers to open his car door, but he instead backed up, striking one officer, and then tried to drive away. Police fired twice, fatally wounding Ayers.

"The target was seen meeting with the deceased and at one point getting out of the car of the deceased. They went down from a local establishment down to the Shell Station," Stephens County Sheriff Randy Shirley told WNEG TV the next day. The undercover officers "identified themselves as police and Mr. Ayers backed up into one of the agents, and then pulled his vehicle forward in a fast motion toward the other agent... at which time the agent fired two shots into the automobile," he said.

Shirley conceded that Ayers had not intentionally struck the officer, who had ran behind the vehicle just as it reversed, but was driving toward the other officers "in a threatening manner." But video of the incident shows Ayers driving away from the officers as they opened fire.

Shirley also conceded that Ayers was not a target of the investigation, contradicting what police had told WNEG a day earlier. It wasn't the only clarification police had to make. Ayers' relatives told AccessNorthGa.com that police first told them he had died in a traffic accident, then that he had been shot, and then that he had been shot by a police officer.

The woman suspect police were following was later arrested and charged with cocaine sales. Her name has not been released.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting. The officers involved remain on administrative duty.

Ayers' family, friends, and parishioners said the pastor, whose wife is four months pregnant with their first child, was more likely behaving as a Good Samaritan for a sinner in need than involved in anything nefarious. They suggested he may have had his car windows up and not heard the undercover officers identify themselves and was attempting to flee from armed men confronting him.

Ayers was buried last Friday after a funeral service at his church drew more than 400 people. Parishioner Roger Shirley (no relation to the sheriff) said he was certain Ayers had already forgiven his killers. "I know I will eventually. But I can't right now," he said.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Man, the Chronicle takes a week off and look what happens: We've got more corrupt cops, sheriffs, ICE agents, and prison guards than you can shake a stick at. And a state prison mental health counselor, too. Let's get to it:

In Nogales, Arizona, a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement supervisor was arrested last Friday for helping Mexican drug cartels move large quantities of cocaine across the border. Richard Cramer, the former agent once in charge of the Nogales ICE office, faces charges of cocaine trafficking and public corruption. DEA investigators said Cramer used his position to run database checks under the guise of drug investigations when he was really checking to ensure that drug traffickers he worked with were not snitches for law enforcement. He is being extradited to Florida, where federal prosecutors say a majority of his illegal acts occurred.

In Memphis, a Memphis police officer was arrested August 27 by FBI and DEA agents as part of the ongoing Operation Tarnished Blue, which targets corruption within the Memphis Police Department. Officer Lowell Duke, 33, faces federal charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. He is at least the 34th department officer or civilian employee to be arrested under Tarnished Blue and other investigations since 2003. Charges in those cases have included ticket fixing, robbery, prostitution, extortion and drug conspiracy.

In Tavares, Florida, a Lake County Correctional Institution mental health counselor was arrested September 3 on charges she brought drugs into the prison. Now former prison employee Julia Bedenbaugh, 39, is charged with possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. She went down when an inmate in trouble after being caught with a contraband cell phone snitched her out. Authorities found her name and P.O. Box address on the phone, seized two envelopes from the box and got a positive hit on them from a drug dog. Police then returned the packages to the P.O. Box and arrested Bedenbaugh after she picked up the packages. One contained a cell phone and charger and the other contained two cigar tubes packed with crack and wrapped in electrical tape. She is out on a $20,000 bond.

In Monongahela, Pennsylvania, a Monongahela police officer was arrested last Friday on drug and corruption charges. Officer George Langan is accused of subverting the work of a Washington County drug task force by tipping off dealers and peddling dope himself. He is the fifth Monongahela police officer arrested on corruption charges in the past year-and-a-half in what a local prosecutor called a "culture of corruption." Langan was hit with 11 counts of violating the state drug law and 23 counts of public corruption, including official oppression, evidence tampering and criminal conspiracy. Authorities said Langan had been under investigation by various bodies for the past 10 years. He has been jailed under a $500,000 bond.

In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer was arrested September 3 for trying to shake down an undercover internal affairs investigator posing as a drug dealer. Officer Michael Sylvester, 29, was arrested after stealing $70 from the investigator. Police later recovered three small bags of cocaine from Sylvester's locker. He had recently been transferred from the Central District's Pennsylvania Avenue task force, working one of the East Coast's largest drug markets, after complaints about him extorting drug dealers surfaced. He will face theft and drug possession charges.

In Pine Bluff, Arkansas, an Arkansas state prison guard was arrested August 29 after marijuana was found in her bra as she reported for duty. Maximum Security Union guard Michelle Anderson, 26, is charged with possession of drugs with intent to deliver and possession of a weapon on prison property. She was arrested after another guard searched her and found more than an ounce of pot in her bra. Officers then searched her vehicle in the parking lot and found a handgun.

In St. Joseph, Michigan, the former head of the Benton Harbor police narcotics unit pleaded guilty Wednesday in a corruption investigation of the Benton Harbor police. Former officer Bernard Hall, 33, conspired with another, already convicted and imprisoned, officer, Andrew Collins, to falsify search warrants, obtain warrants without probable cause, embezzle funds, file false police reports, steal money and personal property, and divert seized drugs. Hall pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the civil rights of Benton Harbor residents. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. He has been in custody since his July 17 arrest. No word yet on a sentencing date.

In Bridgeton, New Jersey, a former state prison guard pleaded guilty August 31 to smuggling drugs and a syringe to an inmate at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Cumberland County. Under a plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend he do five years. The eight-year veteran will be permanently barred from public employment in the state.

In McAllen, Texas, a former Texas sheriff was sentenced September 3 to more than five years in federal prison for helping Mexican drug traffickers smuggle drugs through his county in return for cash payments. Former Starr County Sheriff Reymundo Guerra. Guerra was one of more than a dozen people indicted by a federal grand jury in Operation Carlito's Weigh, which targeted the Gulf Cartel. He pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to distribute narcotics.

More fun for the Philly narcs, a New Jersey ICE employee goes down, and a Brooklyn drug squad supervisor gets off easy. Let's get to it:

In Brooklyn, New York, the former supervisor of an NYPD narcotics team was sentenced last Friday to 160 hours community service for stealing $40 from a drug dealer and giving it to an informant who turned out to be an undercover cop. Michael Arenella was arrested in 2007 and charged with conspiring with corrupt cop Jerry Bowers, who agreed to testify against him. But Bowers flipped-out, allegedly killed his girlfriend, and wounded another woman. Bowers is doing time for the corruption case and faces trial for the attacks. Arenalla was acquitted by his trial judge of drug possession and sales charges, and has continued to deny significant involvement in a corruption scandal that put hundreds of cases against drug dealers at risk.

In Newark, New Jersey, a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employee was arrested last Friday after allegedly trying to steal what he thought was a 110-pound shipment of cocaine. Valentino Johnson, 25, who worked for ICE's Detention and Removal Operations, was instead busted by federal agents and a New Jersey State Police SWAT team in a sting operation. He and two codefendants are charged with conspiring to possess and distribute cocaine. They face between 10 years and life in prison. Johnston and his pals went down after one of the pals bragged to an ICE informant that the trio had been robbing drug dealers. The informant set up a meet and told Johnson a cocaine shipment would be arriving. Johnson and pals went for the bait. Now, they're in jail.

In Philadelphia, another victim of a Philadelphia police drug squad run amok has filed a federal lawsuit against the city. Jose Duran, owner of Super One Market is suing over a September 2007 raid in which members of the Narcotics Field Unit entered the store, arrested Duran for selling small plastic baggies sometimes used by drug dealers, then proceeded to take what they wanted and trash the place. Part of the raid was captured on store video cameras -- before one of the officers was seen climbing toward a camera and grabbing the wires before the screen went black. The lawsuit contends police destroyed video equipment to "cover up illegal search and seizures" and that the narcs "intentionally and maliciously destroyed property, consumed food and beverages, stole money and merchandise, and deliberately caused food and other items to spoil by their illegal search practices." Duran said $15,000 worth of video equipment was destroyed and that the narcs stole or ruined another $10,000 in cash and merchandise. The Duran case is only one of many being investigated by a joint police Internal Affairs-FBI task force after one drug officer's former snitch publicly alleged that some officers made up information to get judge's to approve search warrants. Four veteran drug officers -- Jeffrey Cujdik and his brother Richard, Robert McDonnell, and Thomas Tolstoy -- have been put on desk duty pending the outcome of the inquiry. Both Cujdiks, Tolstoy, and three other police drug officers are named as defendants in the Duran suit. Jeffrey Cujdik, McDonnell, and two others are named in a separate lawsuit.

Read last issue's corrupt cops stories here.

Law Enforcement: Minneapolis Pays For Drug Raid Cop's Attack on Bystander

The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously two weeks ago today to pay $495,000 to a man who was punched in the head by a Minneapolis police officer during a drug raid last year. The payment settled a pending federal lawsuit filed by the victim, 53-year-old Eldridge Chatman.

Chatman stepped out of his public housing apartment just before noon on April 11, 2008, only to encounter a Minneapolis police SWAT team preparing to execute a drug raid in the apartment hallway. The lead officer, Craig Taylor, carrying a submachine gun, attempted to signal Chatman to move out from in front of an apartment door the team sought to enter, then punched him in the head when he failed to move.

Chatman required two brain surgeries to stanch bleeding in his head caused by a subdural hematoma resulting from the punch. He also lost a tooth.

Chatman was represented by attorney Bob Bennett, who has made a pastime of suing the Minneapolis police for brutality and civil rights violations. Bennett said last Friday there was no reason to use force on Chatman because he did nothing wrong and posed no threat to officers.

Bennett also drew a parallel between Chatman's case and the recent scandal over the release of a Minneapolis police squad car video showing six officers kicking and punching another black man, Derryl Jenkins, after a traffic stop in February. Both cases involved "African-American males who showed the slightest inclination to not obey" a command. "There's a subset of people the police think they can use force on and get away with," Bennett said.

The six-figure pay out has parallels, too. Last December, the city awarded $612,000 to a family after police mistakenly raided their house in 2007. One family member, fearing intruders, fired a shotgun blast, and police shot back. No one was injured. In December 2007, the city paid out $4.5 million to police officer Duy Ngo after he was shot six times by a fellow officer during an undercover operation in 2003.

Until the city fathers can get their police under control, the good burghers of Minneapolis can expect to pay out more of their hard-won tax dollars to the victims of those who are supposed to serve and protect. Also in the meanwhile, the perpetrator (Officer Taylor) remains on the force.

Medical Marijuana: More Than a Dozen Dispensaries Hit, 31 Arrested in Coordinated San Diego Police Raids

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San Diego medical marijuana demo
One day after the San Diego City Council voted 6-1 to create a medical marijuana task force to help draft local laws governing dispensaries, local law enforcement agencies backed by the DEA Wednesday raided more than a dozen dispensaries in the city and its surroundings. For a complete list of the dispensaries raided, go here.

The raids were the result of an investigation led by San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a long-time ardent foe of medical marijuana. At a Thursday news conference, Dumanis announced that 31 people had been arrested, $70,000 in cash seized, and 14 dispensaries shuttered.

Taking a page from the DEA's playbook, Dumanis attempted to portray the dispensaries as drug dealing operations, not medical providers. The raids have "nothing to do with legitimate medical marijuana patients or their caregivers," she said. Instead they were aimed at "so-called medical marijuana businesses that appear to be run by drug dealers."

Under California medical marijuana law, dispensaries are legal if they are organized as collectives and operate as nonprofit entities. San Diego has licensed nine dispensaries, but had an estimated 60 dispensaries -- at least until Wednesday's raids.

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San Diego patient activist Donna Lambert
It's not the first time Dumanis has gone after dispensaries. A series of raids in 2007 shut down a dozen dispensaries and led to prosecutions that are still underway.

Medical marijuana supporters were livid at both Dumanis and the Obama administration. "Not only does the federal government have no place helping to enforce state and local medical marijuana laws," said Americans for Safe Access California director Donald Duncan. "Local officials must regulate medical marijuana and enforce those laws with civil actions, not with the barrel of a gun. It is incumbent on District Attorney Dumanis to help pass local regulations in San Diego not to aggressively undermine safe access to medical marijuana," he said.

"We're extremely disappointed that the feds participated in this attack on patients. The priority of the White House should be protecting patients, not helping local officials enforce oppressive restrictions," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Any concerns that the District Attorney may have will not be resolved through SWAT-style tactics like pulling people from their wheelchairs, as we saw yesterday. The federal government has no business enforcing state and local medical marijuana laws. It's our local governments' job to regulate medical marijuana and enforce those rules -- not with armed raids, but with civil actions," said Dooley-Sammuli. "The Obama administration has allowed Ms. Dumanis to use federal resources to further obstruct implementation of Prop 215 as she prepares to run for reelection in 2010. The people of San Diego deserve better."

Look for a feature article on San Diego's continuing recalcitrance regarding medical marijuana next week.

Latin America: Colombian Supreme Court Rules Drug Possession Not a Crime

Upholding a 1994 ruling from the country's Constitutional Court, Colombia's Supreme Court has ruled that possession of illegal drugs for personal use is not a crime. The ruling came in the case of Ancizar Jaramillo Quintero, who had been arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for the possession of 1.3 grams of cocaine. The court threw out his conviction in July and ordered his immediate release.

In its opinion in the case (available here in Spanish), the court held that drug addiction is a disease, not a vice, and should be treated accordingly. Drug use "generates in a person problems of addiction and slavery that turn one into a sick, compulsive individual deserving of therapeutic medical treatment instead of a punishment," the judges said.

The court also invoked a principal that could be likened to "no harm, no foul." "In the exercise of his personal and private rights, the accused did not harm others," so his conduct "cannot be the object of any punishment," the opinion stated.

Although the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use was not a prosecutable offense, the government of President Alvaro Uribe is trying to undo that decision with a constitutional amendment. It has already been approved by the lower house and is now before the Colombian Senate.

If the Senate approves the measure, it will mean that the Colombian government is out of step not only with its own judiciary, but increasingly, with the rest of Latin America. Mexico decriminalized drug possession last month, and a few days later, the Argentine Supreme Court issued a decision decriminalizing marijuana possession on the spot and calling into question the criminalization of possession of any drug for personal use. Brazil, Ecuador, and Uruguay are headed down similar paths.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We have a Deep South trio of dirty officers this week. Let's get to it:

In Brandon, Mississippi, a veteran drug enforcement officer with the Rankin County Sheriff's Office was arrested August 20. Deputy Scott Walters, head of drug enforcement and the department's drug dog officer, is charged with falsifying his time sheet. That charge is a felony. More charges could follow.

In Cochran, Georgia, a Cochran police officer was arrested August 20 on drug and other charges. Officer Elijah Mills, 30, faces charges of conspiracy to sell a controlled substance and violating his oath of office. His arrest comes as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating allegations of misconduct in the department.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a former East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Friday to 10 years in prison on drug charges. Former deputy Larry Wright, 28, was convicted of attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. He will also do three years of supervised release after serving his time.

Read last issue's corrupt cops stories here.

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