Drug War Chronicle #1046 - November 29, 2018

1. Georgia Nightmare: Jailed Four Months for Possession of Cotton Candy [FEATURE]

Cops said their roadside drug test said it was meth. It's far from the only time the cops or the test has been wrong.

2. Watch: Undercover Detroit Narc Squads Brawl As They Try to Arrest Each Other

It's laughable, but somebody could have gotten killed.

3. Medical Marijuana Update

Michigan's unlicensed dispensaries get a break, New Jersey is set to expand its medical marijuana program, and more.

4. Chronicle AM: Trump Pressures McConnell on Sentencing Reform, NJ Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing, More... (11/26/18)

The president wants to see criminal justice reform move in the Senate, New Jersey lawmakers take up marijuana legalization today, and more.

5. Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Advances, NYC Times Square Ads Target Governor Over Overdoses, More... (11/27/18)

New Jersey's marijuana legalization bill is finally moving, activists in New York City target the governor over safe injection sites, South Korea becomes the first East Asian nation to approve medical marijuana, and more.

6. Chronicle AM: First Step Act Fight Continues, MI Gets Legal Marijuana December 6, More... (11/28/18)

Senate Republicans are trying to find a way to keep the First Step Act alive, marijuana use and possession becomes legal in Michigan next week, and more.

1. Georgia Nightmare: Jailed Four Months for Possession of Cotton Candy [FEATURE]

A Georgia woman has filed a federal lawsuit after she spent nearly four months in jail because a roadside drug test administered by untrained police officers falsely identified a bag of cotton candy as methamphetamine.

Meth or cotton candy? Georgia cops couldn't tell the difference. (Creative Commons)
Monroe County resident Dasha Fincher filed the lawsuit in mid-November against Monroe County, the two deputies who arrested her, and the company that makes the drug test. The lawsuit argues that the Monroe County Sheriff's Office was reckless and negligent and violated her civil rights.

According to the lawsuit, the car Fincher was riding in was pulled over on New Year's Eve 2016 because of a dark window tint, the deputies said, even though they later admitted the windows were legal. Deputies Cody Maples and Allen Henderson spotted a large open plastic bag inside the vehicle, and Fincher explained that it was cotton candy.

The deputies didn't believe Fincher and used a roadside field drug test which they said indicated there was meth in the bag. She was then arrested, hauled off to jail, and charged with meth trafficking and possession of meth with intent to distribute. Her bond was set at $1 million, which she was unable to come up with, so she sat in jail for the next four months.

In March 2017, Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab test results revealed that the substance was not an illegal drug, but Fincher sat in jail for another month before prosecutors finally dropped the charges.

The lawsuit says the drug test is the Nark II, manufactured by North Carolina-based Sirchie Acquisitions. That particular field drug test is known for producing errant results. In Georgia alone, police using the Nark II to field test drugs have wrongfully arrested at least 30 people, including a man with breath mints (positive for crack), a teacher with Goody's Headache Powder (positive for cocaine), and a couple with vitamins (positive for ecstasy).

In all those cases, as in Fincher's, lab test results from the Bureau of Investigation found no presence of illegal substances. But in all those cases, the exonerating results came only weeks or months later, after the harm to innocent Georgians had already been done.

The Nark II is still in wide use in Georgia. The manufacturer, Sirchie, defends itself by saying: "Our NARK presumptive drug tests are presumptive only. All samples should be sent to a crime lab for confirmation." But too many Georgia law enforcement agencies clearly don't bother to wait for confirmation before making life-changing arrests. And the state of Georgia doesn't even require police officers to be trained on how to do the tests. As a result, innocent Georgians are being wrongfully arrested and jailed. And now, perhaps, at least one of these law enforcement agencies, will have to pay for its wrongdoing.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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2. Watch: Undercover Detroit Narc Squads Brawl As They Try to Arrest Each Other

In a caper right out of the Keystone Cops, two different squads of armed undercover Detroit narcotics officers clashed earlier this month in a buy-bust operation gone badly awry. No one was hurt or seriously injured, so the primary damage is that done to the already tattered reputation of the Detroit police.

Just since the turn of the century, the department labored under a Justice Department consent decree from 2003 to 2016 because of its reputation for excessive force and brutality, thousands of untested rape kits were found in a police warehouse in 2009, two consecutive police chiefs were forced to resign over sex scandals in 2011 and 2012, and six Detroit cops including an assistant police chief were charged last year with extortion and bribery in a scandal around steering towed car business to repair shops.

Still, even Detroit Police Chief James Craig was shaking his head over this latest incident. "This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I've seen in this department," Craig said at a news conference called after the clash.

Things went south on the night of November 9, when two officers from the 12th Precinct were posing as drug dealers in order to arrest would-be buyers. Two potential customers showed up, but they turned out to be undercover officers from the 11th Precinct out to bust drug dealers.

And those 11th Precinct narcs had backup and a search warrant waiting for once the buy went down. That's "when it started to go horribly wrong," Craig said.

Body camera video shows the two groups of cops shouting, shoving, and throwing punches at each other.

"They appeared to be like Keystone cops," Craig said of his narc squads.

The department is undertaking an internal investigation into what went wrong. Two officers accused of punching each other have been placed on restrictive duty and a supervisor has been reassigned out of special operations pending the outcome of the departmental investigation. Wayne County prosecutors are also taking a look to see if criminal charges will be filed.

There is good reason to take this police screw-up seriously. It should call into question Detroit police tactics, especially aggressive drug law enforcement, as well as police procedures that allowed the mishap to occur in the first place.

But there's another reason, too: These kinds of screw-ups get cops killed. In 1986, Detroit Police Officers Giacomo Buffa and Mark Radden were killed when Buffa and his partner, both in plainclothes, were doing a drug raid at a home and Radden and his partner, also in plainclothes, responded to a report of shots fired at the home. Both officers died in a hail of friendly fire.

Here you can see Detroit's finest at less than their finest:

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3. Medical Marijuana Update

Michigan's unlicensed dispensaries get a break, New Jersey is set to expand its medical marijuana program, and more.

Michigan

Michigan Unlicensed Dispensaries Can Stay Open Until Year's End. Medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to continue operating until at least December 31 as they await state licenses, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation announced Tuesday. Some 40 dispensaries have received state licenses so far; another 98 await licenses.

New Jersey

New Jersey Senate Health Committee Votes in Support of Medical Marijuana Expansion. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee voted Monday to expand the state's medical marijuana program. But advocates had concerns: "Today's vote in support of expanding New Jersey's medical marijuana program is a step in the right direction," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "However, we have concerns about the impact of this legislation on patients, as it will transfer oversight of medical marijuana from the New Jersey Department of Health, which has a long established, patient-centered program, to a new and relatively undefined commission."

Utah

Utah Medical Cannabis Act Revised Again. A bill aimed at replacing the voter-approved Prop 2 medical marijuana law has now been revised for a third time as legislators prepare to meet in special session to pass it. The newest version removes renter protections for patients, but increases the number of license for "cannabis pharmacies." Under the bill, a central pharmacy would ship marijuana to local health departments for patients to pick up, or patients could use the "cannabis pharmacies."

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

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4. Chronicle AM: Trump Pressures McConnell on Sentencing Reform, NJ Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing, More... (11/26/18)

The president wants to see criminal justice reform move in the Senate, New Jersey lawmakers take up marijuana legalization today, and more.

Mitch McConnell is getting pressured by the president to move on the First Step Act. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Governor-Elect Says Legalize It. Incoming Democratic Governor Tim Walz says it's time for the state to get on the legalization bandwagon. "I just think the time is here and we're seeing it across the country," he said. "Minnesota has always been able to implement these things right." Wise's Democratic allies control the state House, but Republicans control the Senate.

New Jersey Legislature Takes Up Legalization Bill. Hearings are underway at the statehouse for the long-awaited marijuana legalization bill, S2703. The bill would legalize up to an ounce for adults and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana production and distribution. The bill sets a 12% tax rate on marijuana sales, which includes the state's 6.625% sales tax, but also would allow localities to seek up to 2% in additional marijuana taxes.

North Dakota Lawmaker Will File Decriminalization Bill. In the wake of November's failed legalization initiative, one lawmaker says he will file a decriminalization bill during the coming legislative session. State Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R-Fargo) said her bill would probably decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce. Possession is currently a Class B misdemeanor.

North Dakota Initiative Campaigners Will Try Again in 2020. Legalize ND, the folks behind November's failed legalization initiative says it will be back in 2020. Group leader David Owen said he is "100% certain" the group will try again but with some changes. Next time, the proposal will contain provisions for tax revenues from sales and limits on how much individuals can grow and possess. This year's initiative lost 59%-41%.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Narcs Try to Arrest Each Other in Drug Bust Gone Awry. It was Keystone Cops in the Motor City earlier this month when a group of undercover Detroit narcs posing as drug dealers attempted to arrest another group of undercover Detroit narcs posing as drug buyers. The end result: A shouting match and shoving and punch-throwing brawl among more than two dozen armed police officers. "This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I've seen in this department," Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Monday. Two Detroit police officers were killed in a similar incident in 1986.

Sentencing Reform

Trump Urges McConnell to Act on Criminal Justice Reform. In a tweet last Friday, President Trump urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to allow a prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (S.2795) to be voted on in the Senate. McConnell said last week there wasn't time to get the measure through this session, but he has faced intense lobbying pressure, not only from the president but also other Republican senators and the religious right. "Really good Criminal Justice Reform has a true shot at major bipartisan support," Trump said in the tweet. "@senatemajldr Mitch McConnell and @SenSchumer have a real chance to do something so badly needed in our country. Already passed, with big vote, in House. Would be a major victory for ALL!"

International

French National Assembly Approves Fines for Drug Use. The National Assembly last Friday approved a bill that introduces a fixed fine of 200 Euros for the use of drugs, and marijuana in particular. Since 1970, illegal drug use has been subject to up to a year in prison and up to a 3,750 Euro fine, but such sentences were rarely imposed, especially for marijuana. Some ministers on the left criticized the measure as disproportionately affecting poor young people and condemned the lack of involvement of health authorities.

Thai National Assembly Gives Preliminary Approval to Legal Medical Marijuana, Kratom. The National Legislative Assembly has accepted "in principle" amending the country's drug law to allow for the medicinal use of five substances, including marijuana and kratom. Under the amended law, the Office of the Narcotics Control Board will be assigned to designate areas to be used for the production of the drugs and the quantity to be produced.

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5. Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Advances, NYC Times Square Ads Target Governor Over Overdoses, More... (11/27/18)

New Jersey's marijuana legalization bill is finally moving, activists in New York City target the governor over safe injection sites, South Korea becomes the first East Asian nation to approve medical marijuana, and more.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/times-square-overdose-campaign-november-2018-200px.jpg
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Advances. The long-awaited marijuana legalization bill, S2703, is moving in the legislature. It was voted out of a joint committee on Monday, with a 7-4 vote in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and a 7-3 vote in the Assembly Budget Committee. Now the bill goes to the Senate and Assembly floors for any amendments and final votes. The measure would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults and set up a statewide system of taxed and regulated production and sales.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Senate Health Committee Votes in Support of Medical Marijuana Expansion. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee voted Monday to expand the state's medical marijuana program. But advocates had concerns: "Today's vote in support of expanding New Jersey's medical marijuana program is a step in the right direction," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "However, we have concerns about the impact of this legislation on patients, as it will transfer oversight of medical marijuana from the New Jersey Department of Health, which has a long established, patient-centered program, to a new and relatively undefined commission."

Harm Reduction

Times Square Billboards Urge New York Governor to "Give the Gift of Life" by Authorizing Overdose Prevention Centers. Advocates and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose blasted Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in a series of electronic billboards that began airing throughout Times Square on Giving Tuesday, pressing the Governor to "Give the Gift of Life" this holiday season by authorizing Overdose Prevention Centers. The centers, also known as safer consumption spaces (SCS), are a proven tool for preventing unnecessary and tragic overdose deaths. As overdose deaths continue to increase across New York -- a New Yorker dies every 6 hours of a preventable overdose -- advocates in the EndOverdoseNY coalition are calling on Governor Cuomo to show his leadership and take immediate action to establish Overdose Prevention Centers.

International

South Korea Becomes First East Asian Nation to Approve Medical Marijuana. The South Korean National Assembly has voted to approve an amendment to the country's drug laws that will pave the way for the use of medical marijuana by prescription. Potential patients would be required to apply to the Korea Orphan Drug Center and approval would be granted on a case-by-case basis.

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6. Chronicle AM: First Step Act Fight Continues, MI Gets Legal Marijuana December 6, More... (11/28/18)

Senate Republicans are trying to find a way to keep the First Step Act alive, marijuana use and possession becomes legal in Michigan next week, and more.

Will the First Step Act get a Senate vote this year? And if it does, will it pass? Stay tuned. (ussc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Goes into Effect December 6. As of a week from tomorrow, it will be legal to possess and use small amounts of marijuana. But it will probably take until sometime in 2020 for pot shops to open for business. The state says it will start taking business applications late in 2019.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Unlicensed Dispensaries Can Stay Open Until Year's End. Medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to continue operating until at least December 31 as they await state licenses, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation announced Tuesday. Some 40 dispensaries have received state licenses so far; another 98 await licenses.

Psychedelics

Oregon Attorney General Approves Psilocybin Ballot Measure Language. An initiative that would allow licensed medical professionals to administer psilocybin for therapeutic purposes has had its ballot language approved. The next step is signature-gathering to get the measure on the 2020 ballot. The measure will need 140,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Drug Treatment

Massachusetts Federal Court Judge Orders Jail to Provide Methadone. A federal court in Massachusetts granted a preliminary injunction this week, requiring that the plaintiff in the case be provided continued access to methadone treatment for his opioid use disorder while incarcerated. The ruling requires a jail in Essex County to provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to a man who is about to be sentenced for conduct that occurred two years ago, before he first started his recovery. The court held that the plaintiff is likely to succeed on his claim that the jail's refusal to provide methadone treatment violates both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Sentencing Reform

Senate Republicans Seek Way to Get Sentencing Reform Bill Moving Again. Senate Republicans are pondering changing the First Step Act (S.2795) to make it more palatable for some conservatives, but which could blow up the bipartisan compromise that supports the bill as is. Some of the changes being discussed include tightening the safety valve provision, getting tougher on fentanyl offenders, and backing away from an ending the "stacking" regulation, which adds more time to sentences of people convicted of drug offenses while possessing a firearm. President Trump, meanwhile, continues to push Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the bill to a Senate vote.

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Permission to Reprint: This issue of Drug War Chronicle is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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