Breaking News:We Just Won an Old Fight

Drug War Chronicle #637 - June 18, 2010

1. Feature: Colorado Looks At Legalizing Marijuana in 2012

It looks very likely that Colorado will see a marijuana legalization initiative in 2012. The question is which one? SAFER's Mason Tvert already has one drafted and filed, but now other activists are saying they want to draft one, too.

2. Feature: Medical Marijuana Advocates Smell Victory in South Dakota

Will the second time be the charm in South Dakota? A medical marijuana initiative was barely defeated there in 2006; this time the scent of victory is in the air.

3. Immigration Law: Supreme Court Rules Immigrants Need Not Be Automatically Deported for Minor Drug Offenses

From a Supreme Court whose rulings too frequently defy both justice and common sense, finally, a decision that embraces both. The high court has unanimously held that a pair of petty drug offenses is not grounds for mandatory deportation of legal immigrants.

4. Drug Raids: Las Vegas Narc on Marijuana Hunt Kills Father-to-Be in Home

Well, we've got another questionable drug raid killing by police, this time in Las Vegas. A 21-year-old black man, Trevon Cole, who smoked a little pot, was about to become a father when Las Vegas police burst through his apartment door. Now, he's dead--shot by a narcotics detective--and not for any good reason that the police have so far provided. Oh, and the cop who shot him seems to have a bad habit of shooting people under questionable circumstances.

5. Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

This may have been the bloodiest week yet in the prohibition-related violence that has wracked Mexico since Felipe Calderon called out the army in December 2006. And the death toll this year just passed 5,000, putting 2010 on pace to be the deadliest year yet south of the border.

6. Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

And the beat goes on: A Phoenix cop gets busted for robbing drug couriers, a Texas deputy gets nailed for selling smack to prisoners, a Louisiana deputy goes down on hundreds of counts, and a former NYPD narc heads for federal prison.

7. Law Enforcement: Atlanta Police House Cleaning Marks End of Kathryn Johnston Case

Five officers convicted of criminal offenses, two officers fired, six officers disciplined, one officer resigning to avoid discipline -- that's the toll the killing of Kathryn Johnston in a botched drug raid has taken on the Atlanta Police Department. The department says it's learned its lesson. Let's hope it's true.

8. Harm Reduction: Washington State 911 Good Samaritan Law to Prevent ODs Now in Effect

Washington is now the second state to adopt a "911 Good Samaritan" laws in a bid to prevent drug overdose fatalities. It's a smart harm reduction move.

9. Marijuana: Miami Beach Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway

A marijuana moon over Miami Beach? How romantic. A decriminalization initiative campaign is underway to make the tourist destination a bit more pot-friendly.

10. Medical Marijuana: Guam Senator Introduces Bill

Medical marijuana is hitting the Pacific. There was already interest in the Northern Marianas, and now a Guamanian senator has introduced a bill in that US territory.

11. Weekly: This Week in History

Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.

12. Appeal: 2010 is Important in Drug Policy -- And So Are You

2010 is a critical year in the effort to end prohibition and the war on drugs. The (DRCNet) "Changing Minds, Changing Laws, Changing Lives" campaign is asking for you to pitch in -- your support is more important now than it has ever been before!

13. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

"There's Only One Argument Against Legalizing Marijuana (And It's Wrong)," "Legal Marijuana Will Not Increase Crime. Please Stop Saying That," "Ron Paul and Sarah Palin Discuss Marijuana Legalization," "O'Reilly Attacks Sting Over Legalization Comments," "If the Drug War Worked, Cartels Wouldn't Be Killing Politicians."

14. Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle?

Do you read Drug War Chronicle? If so, we need your feedback to evaluate our work and make the case for Drug War Chronicle to funders. We need donations too.

15. Students: Intern at (DRCNet) and Help Stop the Drug War!

Apply for an internship at DRCNet and you could spend a semester fighting the good fight!

1. Feature: Colorado Looks At Legalizing Marijuana in 2012

Angered by a pair of bills aiming at regulating the state's burgeoning medical marijuana industry just signed into law by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D), one group of medical marijuana advocates has announced plans to get a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot in 2012. But there is already another legalization initiative filed with state officials and ready to go.
Colorado Marijuana Boot Camp for activists, organized by SAFER
The competing efforts suggest a certain fractiousness in the state's increasingly crowded and complex medical and recreational marijuana communities, but they also illustrate the growing momentum toward legalization on the ground in Colorado. Just last month, a Rasmussen poll showed marijuana legalization hovering on the cusp of majority support, with 49% of likely voters approving, 38% opposed, and 13% undecided. A 2006 legalization initiative got only 39% of the vote.

The initiative effort in the news this week is called Legalize 2012, and is being led by the Boulder-based education and advocacy group Cannabis Therapy Institute (CTI), which is deeply unhappy with the new regulations provoked by a massive boom in dispensaries in the past year or so. "The problem we have in Colorado is that the medical marijuana amendment didn't set up a distribution system, and now, 10 years later, that flawed language is coming back to haunt us," said institute spokesperson Laura Kriho. "The only way to cure the problems patients are now having is across the board legalization for all adults. It will simplify things for law enforcement, patients, and people who aren't patients."

Kriho had a litany of complaints about the recently approved medical marijuana regulation legislation. "Anybody convicted of a marijuana felony in the past is not going to be able to be a dispensary owner anymore. Dispensaries are not allowed to compensate doctors or patients. The local bans on dispensaries that will be found unconstitutional, but who knows when. So many hoops for dispensaries to jump through, and they can still deny a license," she recited. "The stated intent was to put a big chunk of the dispensaries out of business, and I think it will," she predicted.

"On the patient side, they're requiring three different follow-up visits to the doctor, plus registration fees," Kriho said. "For most of the patients I know, coming up with $90 for a license and $100 for a doctor's exam was the limit to what they could afford. If you push it up higher, people won't be able to afford it. "

The initiative effort is just getting under way, said Kriho. "We're just in the process of getting it going, we're forming the language committee," she said. "It's important to us to make sure the language is acceptable to all the people in Colorado. With a year and a half to write this, we should be able to get a good consensus. We have a unique opportunity now -- people have tasted that freedom and had it yanked away by the government."

"They were upset with the regulation bills and have some major issues with them," said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, which lobbied for some of the provisions in the measures. "But we are committed to working with them. We do have patient access issues here in Colorado -- for example, patients with severe depression or PTSD can't currently access it under state law. If we just legalize it for all adults, those individuals would have access."

"We might have some philosophical differences with groups like Sensible Colorado," said Kriho, "but we have to remember the end goal: keeping people out of jail."

"We need to agree on what we're going to agree on and work together on these issues," said Vicente. "CTI, Sensible Colorado, and SAFER have enough common ground that I'm optimistic we can work together."

"I think we can build an effective coalition," said Jessica Corrie, an attorney, Republican, mother, and nationally known legalization advocate. "We have everybody from evangelical Christians to hard-core labor activists. There are some concerns about the radical fringe of this movement, but we can't ignore them and shouldn't ignore them. I've seen many people with passionate radical views come into the fold. In the eyes of most voters, this was all about tie-dyed hippies, but now it's people like me. The effort should be to bring people together to the extent it's possible."

"I support any effort to change marijuana laws so adults are able to make the safer choice, but this effort seems short-sighted and unlikely to garner the support of the voters," said an uncharacteristically tight-lipped Mason Tvert, whose SAFER (Safer Alternatives For Enjoyable Recreation) ran the successful 2005 Denver legalization initiative and the 2006 statewide legalization initiative that won 39% of the vote.

Tvert and SAFER already have a legalization initiative drafted and filed with the secretary of state's office. Known as Initiative 47, the measure would legalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, three seedlings, and three mature pot plants by people 21 or older. It also calls for licensed marijuana cultivation and sales outlets, and it calls for a maximum tax of $50 an ounce.

"CTI decided to announce this because they think there should be no tax on marijuana," said Tvert. "The initiative we filed has a tax of $50 an ounce at most and allows licensed production and distribution, no penalties for adult use or possession, and people can grow up to six plants. That seems to me like a proposal that will be met with support by most Coloradans."

Tvert is willing to put that to the test at the ballot box. "We have every intention of running a ballot measure," he said. "The language is approved, the title is set, but we're holding off until 2012. We shouldn't have any problem getting through that process again."

If there is one thing everyone seems to agree on, it is that victory is within grasp. "We're looking for freedom for the whole plant, untaxed and unregulated as much as possible," said Kriho. "Legalize 2012 comes from that. We have to take this next step, and we have to get ready now. Legalization is polling 49% now and will be over 50% by 2012."

"I think the prospects are very good," said Corrie. "If you look at the 2006 initiative, legalization outperformed the Republican gubernatorial candidate, and we saw a dramatic shift in terms of voter demographics in 2008. Now it's polling at 49%, eight points more than any statewide candidate for office, and when you ask voters if marijuana should be regulated like alcohol and taxed, there is a jump of five or six points, which is a reflection of dire budgetary circumstances. That's where the Republicans we see on board are coming from. They think marijuana is bad, but they're tired of paying outrageous tax bills, and given some persuading that marijuana is safer than alcohol, I think they are reachable."

Married women with children have historically been one of the toughest demographics for marijuana law reform, but having activists like Corrie on board may be able to swing some of the worried mom vote. "Younger mothers worry that if we legalize marijuana, it's an endorsement of marijuana use," said Corrie. "My response is to ask whether prohibition stopped us from using marijuana. We mothers are the most powerful tool for preventing our children from engaging in dangerous behaviors, and so many women across the ideological spectrum have handed government bureaucrats the responsibility for taking care of our children," she explained.

"In speaking to older Republican women, many of them were actively involved in DARE in an effort to be the best parents they could be. They want to feel like there was some good in that, and I tell them they did the best they could with the information available at the time, but now it's time to work together with the best information to protect our kids," Corrie said. "This isn't a conversation you have in 10 minutes. This is a process of getting people to rethink ideas and concepts and political views, and that can be difficult, especially when people are forced to admit the government wasn't correct."

"I think Colorado is ready right now," Vicente laughed when asked if an initiative could pass in 2012. "But 2012 is when we'll actually have the resources."

Still, Kriho and CTI aren't putting all their eggs in one basket. "We are working with Roger Christie and his THC Ministry to bring on a cannabis religious revival," she said. "The Colorado constitution specifically protects method of worship, and we're confident the THC Ministry qualifies as a legitimate church. We may be forming branch ministries, like the church sanctuary movement. It's about protecting patients. Sincere religious practitioners should form a church to get protection," she said.

But if Colorado's marijuana community can keep from flying apart, in a couple of years, patients and recreational pot smokers alike might have made the entire state a sanctuary, through the ballot box.

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2. Feature: Medical Marijuana Advocates Smell Victory in South Dakota

With Election Day still more than four months off, the South Dakota Coalition for Compassion is laying the groundwork for South Dakota to become the country's next medical marijuana state. The campaign is confident of victory in November, and low-key for now with no organized opposition in sight, but promises to progressively ramp-up its efforts through the summer and fall.
coalition banner
Bucking a recent trend in state medical marijuana laws, the South Dakota Safe Access Act (known as Measure 13 on the ballot) does not provide for state-operated or -regulated dispensaries. Instead, it allows patients or designated caregivers to possess up to one ounce of usable marijuana and six plants. A single caregiver can grow for no more than five patients.

The measure cites the usual list of diseases (cancer, glaucoma, HIV, MS, Alzheimer's) and conditions (wasting syndrome, intractable pain, severe nausea, seizures, spasms) for which marijuana could be used medicinally, and includes a provision allowing the state Department of Health to add other diseases or conditions. Upon getting a physician's recommendation, the patient and his caregiver (if any) would register with the department and receive registration ID cards.

South Dakota gained notoriety in 2006 when it became the only state to see voters reject a medical marijuana legalization initiative, defeating it by a margin of 52% to 48%. This year, the outcome will be different, the coalition said. "I am very confident we're going to get it this time around," predicted coalition spokesman Emmett Reistroffer.

The political atmosphere, both locally and nationally, is certainly better this time around. In 2006, the medical marijuana initiative faced in Republican Larry Long a South Dakota attorney general strongly opposed to it and a Bush administration concerned enough to send officials from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) to the state to campaign against it. Now, recently-appointed Attorney General Marty Jackley, while, like Long, a Republican, is on the fence on the issue, and the Obama administration seems much less inclined to interfere in a state initiative vote.

"I talked to Marty Jackley, and he is nowhere near as opposed to medical marijuana as Larry Long was," said Reistroffer. "His ballot explanation was very fair, unlike 2006, when MPP had to sue then Attorney General Larry Long to make him write a fair explanation," he said.

"Jackley told me he was open to a carefully managed program, but wasn't prepared to specifically support our proposal. What he's afraid of is what could be hidden in the details," Reistroffer related. "Jackley was appointed to office and is running for election the same day as our ballot measure. I don't expect him to support us, but I do expect that he will remain neutral."

Jackley's office did not return Chronicle calls asking his position on the initiative.

The coalition has enlisted some potent advocates with credentials that could help push the effort over the top. One is Tony Ryan, a retired police officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "We are doing well, we seem to be well-received, we've been speaking to groups and have more invitations coming up," he said. "There seems to be a trend toward people being more accepting of the idea that we need to change our approach to drugs, and when you're talking specifically about medical marijuana and you can point to the ample evidence it is beneficial, people seem to be a lot more accepting than they were even four years ago."

Ryan was optimistic at the measure's prospects for passage this year. "Now that the American Medical Association has come out and said we need to think about getting it off Schedule I, things are really falling into place. This isn't about marijuana, this is about helping sick people -- that's the message we have to hammer home."

Another well-placed advocate is state Rep. Martha Vanderlinde (D-Sioux Falls), a practicing nurse who introduced a medical marijuana bill in the legislature, where it promptly went nowhere. "The South Dakota legislature is very conservative," she said. "They told me it was political suicide to sponsor that bill, but I felt it was necessary. There are people I talk to who say they want it, but they don't want to say so out loud," Vanderlinde explained.

"Medical marijuana is just one more tool in the kit for people with severe, debilitating medical conditions to use for relief," said Vanderlinde. "Working with cancer patients, MS patients, and others, I've seen it help so many people relieve their pain, their anxiety, their spasms. As a nurse working in the field, I see this as a simple herb that could help people, and that means a lot. Legalization for medical use is the only way to go."

This will be the year, she said. "With the AMA supporting medical marijuana, with the past president of the local MS Society on board, with Emmett and Tony crisscrossing the state to get the knowledge out there, the word is getting out. We want South Dakota to be the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana."

While the coalition is pleased with the AMA's acknowledgement of marijuana's medical benefits and call for a review of its scheduling, it's not so impressed with the local affiliate. The South Dakota Medical Association has been a disappointment, said Reistroffer. "We've received no support from them. They haven't even returned phone calls or emails. I'm hoping we can get them to remain neutral."

Things are about to start heating up, the coalition said. "We've got a little money set aside for some ads and we're ready to make a TV commercial featuring the former head of the state MS Society if the funding comes through," said Reistroffer. "Tony Ryan is in the middle of a long list of speaking engagements. Things are starting to pick up for us now, and July will be a big month, and the closer to the election we get, the more intense the campaign will get. I'm meeting with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) this week to probably set up our first polling."

"We helped draft the initiative and provided some strategic advice," said MPP spokesman Mike Meno. "The local campaign will be taking off soon. This almost passed in 2006; now, it's just a matter of getting people out to the polls."

"We will be reaching out to whoever we can," said Ryan. "We will be targeting college campuses," he said, noting the formation of a Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) chapter at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. "And we'll be using word of mouth. We'll be going places we didn't go in 2006, like some of those rural counties in the center of the state that voted strongly against it."

So far, so good in South Dakota. But let's see what the next four months bring.

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3. Immigration Law: Supreme Court Rules Immigrants Need Not Be Automatically Deported for Minor Drug Offenses

Immigrants who are in the US legally need not be automatically deported for minor drug offenses, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a unanimous decision. The case, Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, involved a Texas man who was a permanent resident of the US, having lived here since he was five years old, who was ordered deported after a second minor drug conviction.
US Supreme Court
Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession in Texas in 2004 and served 20 days in jail. The following year, he was arrested again, this time for possessing a single Xanax tablet without a prescription, and sentenced to 10 days in jail.

That too was a misdemeanor offense. But federal prosecutors argued that Carachuri-Rosendo's Xanax bust amounted to an "aggravated felony" under federal immigration law, making his deportation mandatory. Under federal immigration law and a previous Supreme Court ruling, federal prosecutors can charge a second drug offense as an "aggravated felony," a policy that has led to near life-long residents of the US being deported to countries they never knew over small-time drug busts, even petty marijuana busts.

Although, the prosecution theory prevailed in the lower courts, the Supreme Court shot it down this week. Complaining that the interaction of various state and federal laws created "a maze of statutory cross-references," Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for seven justices, displayed the sort of common sense too often missing in recent Supreme Court decisions.

"We do not usually think of a 10-day sentence for the unauthorized possession of a trivial amount of a prescription drug as an 'aggravated felony.' A 'felony,' we have come to understand, is a 'serious crime usually punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or by death,'" Justice White wrote. "While it is true that a defendant's criminal history might be seen to make an offense 'worse' by virtue thereof, it is nevertheless unorthodox to classify this type of petty simple possession recidivism as an 'aggravated felony.'"

The ruling does not mean Carachuri-Rosendo is home free. He is still eligible for deportation, but under the ruling, he may now seek a discretionary waiver of deportation from the Attorney General.

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4. Drug Raids: Las Vegas Narc on Marijuana Hunt Kills Father-to-Be in Home

A 21-year-old father-to-be was killed last Friday night by a Las Vegas Police Department narcotics officer serving a search warrant for marijuana. Trevon Cole was shot once in the bathroom of his apartment after he made what police described as "a furtive movement."
Trevon Cole with fiance Sequoia Pearce (photo from Sequoia Pearce via the Las Vegas Review-Journal
Police have said Cole was not armed. Police said Monday they recovered an unspecified amount of marijuana and a set of digital scales. A person identifying herself as Cole's fiance, Sequoia Pearce, in the comments section in the article linked to above said no drugs were found.

Pearce, who is nine months pregnant, shared the apartment with Cole and was present during the raid. "I was coming out, and they told me to get on the floor. I heard a gunshot and was trying to see what was happening and where they had shot him," Pearce told KTNV-TV.

According to police, they arrived at about 9:00pm Friday evening at the Mirabella Apartments on East Bonanza Road, and detectives knocked and announced their presence. Receiving no response, detectives knocked the door down and entered the apartment. They found Pearce hiding in a bedroom closet and took her into custody. They then tried to enter a bathroom where Cole was hiding. He made "a furtive movement" toward a detective, who fired a single shot, killing Cole.

"It was during the course of a warrant and as you all know, narcotics warrants are all high-risk warrants," Capt. Patrick Neville of Metro's Robbery-Homicide Bureau said Friday night.

Actually, narcotics warrants are fairly low-risk for police, if the numbers are a guide. With 1.5 million drug arrests per year, an average of just four police officers per year lost their lives conducting them during the past decade. Last year, no police officers were killed during drug raids.

A person identifying himself as Pearce's brother, who said he had spoken with his sister, had a different version of events from the police: "The police bust in the door, with guns drawn to my little sister and her now deceased boyfriend," he wrote. "My sister is 8 1/2 months pregnant, two weeks until the due date. But they bust in the door, irritated they didn't find any weapons or drugs, drag this young man into the restroom to interrogate him and two minutes later my sister hears a shot. They shot him with a shotgun, no weapon. For what? My sister is a baby, this young man is a baby, now my sister is at his house telling his mom her son is dead, and he is barely 21."

Pearce herself told the Las Vegas Review-Journal Monday that police forced her to kneel at gunpoint in the bedroom and that she could see Cole in the bathroom from the reflection of a mirror. According to Pearce, police ordered Cole to get on the ground, he raised his hands and said "Alright, alright," and a shot rang out.

According to Pearce and family members, Cole had no criminal record, had achieved an Associate of Arts degree, and was working as an insurance adjustor while working on a political science degree at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He was not a drug dealer, Pearce said.

"Trevon was a recreational smoker. He smoked weed, marijuana. That's what he did," she told KTNV-TV. "They didn't have to kill him. We were supposed to get married next year, plan a black and white affair," she said. "He was all I ever knew, we were gonna make it."

LVPD Monday identified the police shooter as narcotics detective Bryan Yant, a 10-year veteran of the force. This is the third time Yant has controversially used his police firearm. In 2002, he shot and killed a robbery suspect, claiming the suspect, who was on the ground, aimed a weapon at him. But although the suspect's gun was found 35 feet away, coroner's inquest took only half an hour to find the shooting justified.

The following year, he shot and wounded a man armed with a knife and a baseball ball who had been hired to kill a dog that had killed another neighborhood dog. Yants claimed the man attacked him and that he mistook the bat for a shotgun, but the man said he was running away from Yants when Yants fired repeatedly, striking him once in the hip. Because there was no death in that case, no inquest was held, but the department's use of force board exonerated Yants.

By Wednesday, anonymous law enforcement "sources" were feeding derogatory information about Cole to at least one local media outlet, KTVN-TV, which was happy to repeat it. "Sources" told the TV station Coles' "furtive movement" was "threatening enough detective Yant fired his AR-15 rifle once, hitting Cole, who had been flushing marijuana down the toilet." "Sources" added that the undercover officers had bought pot from Cole four times, although there was no name on the search warrant. (Coles and Pearce had only moved into the apartment a month earlier.) "Sources" also told the TV station police were extra cautious because undercover officers "were investigating another possible deal with Cole, involving cocaine and guns."

Time will tell if there is a scintilla of fact in anything these "sources" are selling. In the meanwhile, Yants is on paid administrative leave while the department investigates, and the family has hired an attorney to pursue a civil action. And another American has apparently been killed for no good reason in the name of the war on drugs.

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5. Latin America: 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 an estimated 23,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 5,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest 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:
Ciudad Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Thursday, June 10

In Guatemala City, Guatemala, four human heads were left to be discovered near the national Congress and three other locations in and around the city. A note threatening the interior minister and head of the national prison system was left with one of the heads. While leaving decapitated heads to be found happens with some frequency in Mexico, such cases are rare in Guatemala. Organized crime in Guatemala is integrally linked to Mexico, as Mexican cartels have an extensive presence in the country, which they use to move shipments of cocaine into Mexico from South America.

In Houston, Texas, federal authorities announced the arrest of 2,200 suspects linked to Mexican drug cartels. The arrests came during a 22-month probe which targeted cells of every major drug cartel. On Wednesday, some 400 people were arrested across 16 states. The probe led to the seizure of $154, 1,200 pounds of meth, 2.5 tons of cocaine, 1,400 pounds of heroin, and 69 tons of marijuana.

Friday , June 11

In the city of Chihuahua, 19 people were killed and four were wounded when gunmen raided a drug-rehabilitation clinic. At least 30 gunmen traveling in six vehicles stormed the Christian Faith and Life Center, using assault rifles to kill 14 people immediately, which was followed by the execution of an additional five. The attackers left a threatening message as they withdrew. The attack was similar to two which took place in Ciudad Juarez in September, which left 28 people dead. Initial reports from police suggest that the center may have housed members of the "Mexicles" gang, which is allied to the Sinaloa Cartel as it battles the Juarez Cartel for control of the Chihuahua drug-trafficking corridors.

In Ciudad Madero, Tamaulipas, at least 20 people were killed in five incidents across the city. The incidents began late on Thursday night when police clashed with an unclear number of gunmen who were moving in vehicles in the city. Police later discovered bodies on a nearby beach on several other locations in Madero.

Sunday , June 13

In Tepic, Nayarit, eight gunmen and a policeman were killed during a chaotic gun fight in a crowded shopping mall. At least 1,500 shoppers were present during the incident, which began when police entering the shopping mall to investigate a report of suspicious activity were met by gunfire from at least 15 gunmen. At least one civilian, a taxi driver, was killed in the crossfire. Four other killings were reported in Tepic on Sunday, making it the most violent day in the city's recent history.

Monday , June 14

Across Mexico, 43 people were killed in drug-related violence. In Michoacan, 12 police officers were killed after being ambush near the town of Zitacuaro. One gunman was killed in the ensuing firefight. The army and police launched an immediate manhunt for the remaining gunmen, who escaped.

In Mazatlan, Sinaloa, 28 prison inmates were killed in a gunfight inside the confines of the prison. At least some of the inmates were said to be members of the Zetas Organization. The incident comes just a week after Sinaloa Governor Jesus Aguilar warned about the repercussions of overcrowding in the Mazatlan prison, which houses 6,000 inmates, many of the linked to drug-trafficking organizations. Sinaloa has long been at the heart of the Mexican drug trade.

Tuesday , June 15

In Taxco, 15 gunmen were killed during a 40 minute-long firefight with elements of the Mexican Army. No soldiers were wounded or killed in the fight, which began after troops came under fire while investigating a suspicious location. Initial reports indicate that the gunmen were part of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel faction loyal to US-born drug trafficker Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villareal, so nicknamed for his blue eyes and light complexion.

Wednesday , June 16

In Ciudad Juarez, eight people were murdered in a 15-minute span across the city, and 22 were killed by the end of the day. In one incident, six people were killed at a methadone clinic, including a man who was killed next to his two-year old son.

In Monterrey, seven police officers were kidnapped and executed by armed men. The bodies of the officers -- all showing signs of torture -- were later found on an abandoned plot of land along with a message. One of the men was decapitated. Three teenagers were also killed in a separate incident in Monterrey. In Santiago, 19 miles away from Monterrey, two police officers were found shot to death.

Thursday, June 17

In Costa Rica, 14 drug traffickers were arrested by police. Four of the suspects were found to Mexican nationals and representatives of an unspecified cartel. Costa Rica has seen an increased presence of Mexican drug trafficking organizations who seek new routes for cocaine headed north from South America.

Total Body Count for the Week: 416

Total Body Count for the Year: 5,210

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

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6. Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

And the beat goes on: A Phoenix cop gets busted for robbing drug couriers, a Texas deputy gets nailed for selling smack to prisoners, a Louisiana deputy goes down on hundreds of counts, and a former NYPD narc heads for federal prison. Let's get to it:

In Phoenix, Arizona, a Phoenix police officer was arrested June 10 for allegedly robbing drug couriers of their cash. Officer James Wren, 23, faces four felony counts including conspiracy, attempted theft, attempted money laundering, and being a public servant participating in a criminal syndicate. Wren went down after a snitch told Avondale police Wren was stealing money from drug couriers while on duty. Police set up a sting and arrested Wren as he attempted to steal $40,000 in what he thought was drug money. Wren has reportedly confessed his involvement in two other cases as well. He has now resigned from the department.

In San Antonio, Texas, a Bexar County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday for selling heroin to inmates at the county jail. Deputy Robert Falcon, 48, a 20-year-veteran, is charged with possession of heroin and intent to deliver heroin. Falcon went down after someone snitched him out and authorities set up a sting, delivering drugs to Falcon while on duty. He took them and some cash and then was arrested. Falcon is still at the Bexar County Jail, only now he's wearing an inmate's garb, not a jailer's. He's looking at up to 20 years in prison.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, an Assumption Parish sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday on hundreds of counts of evidence tampering, drug offenses, and weapons violations. Deputy Louis Lambert, 47, faces 538 counts of malfeasance in office, 17 counts of illegally carrying a weapon while possessing narcotics, and one count of possession with intent to distribute a Schedule I narcotic. Authorities have released no more details. Oops -- Lambert is now a former deputy. He was fired after being arrested.

In New York City, a former NYPD detective was sentenced June 10 to 15 years in federal prison for helping to protect a cocaine dealing organization from the law. Luis Batista, 37, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and obstruction of justice. Batista befriended a major cocaine dealer shortly after joining the force as an undercover narcotics officer in 1997 and for years warned him of impending police actions and provided him with information from law enforcement data bases. When the dealer got busted in 2006, he ratted out Batista. Batista then persuaded a member of the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau to access a secure database and give him details of a report on his relationship with the dealer. He used his knowledge from that report to falsely claim the dealer was a confidential informant for him.

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7. Law Enforcement: Atlanta Police House Cleaning Marks End of Kathryn Johnston Case

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner officially announced June 10 that he had fired two veteran police officers for the roles in the 2006 killing of 92-year-old Atlanta resident Kathryn Johnston during a botched drug raid. The firings came after a department internal affairs report on the incident and a Citizens' Review Board report late last month that found Atlanta Police narcs were willing to break rules and lie in order to obtain search warrants.
Kathryn Johnston
That brings to 14 the number of Atlanta police officers disciplined in the wake of the killing, including five who pleaded guilty to federal charges after an FBI investigation, four of whom are still in prison. Another six officers have been disciplined, and one quit before facing departmental charges.

The two officers fired were Carey Bond and Holly Buchanan. Turner fired them for lying and falsifying incident reports and search warrant affidavits.

"We expect professionalism and integrity from all of our officers -- at all times," Turner said. "Policing is a difficult job, no doubt, but we must be expected to comply with the very laws that we are sworn to uphold."

Johnston was killed in November 2006 when Atlanta narcs raided her home using a "no-knock" warrant based on a tip from a single informant that he bought drugs there. As officers attempted to break down her door, the elderly woman fired one shot from a pistol. Officers on the scene returned fire, shooting 39 times, and leaving Johnston dead. When the officers found no drugs, they planted marijuana on her and attempted to get another informant to lie for them. That informant instead went to the FBI, breaking the case wide open.

In addition to the prosecution, firing, or disciplining of officers involved, Turner said the internal investigation revealed a need for systemic changes in the department, including the way confidential informants are handled and how warrants are served. Now, Turner said, the department requires three buys from a location before issuing a warrant.

Kathryn Johnston died a victim of over-zealous drug war policing. But her death may not have been in vain if the changes in the Atlanta Police Department mean there will be fewer "no-knock" raids and tighter controls on narcs and their snitches.

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8. Harm Reduction: Washington State 911 Good Samaritan Law to Prevent ODs Now in Effect

A law that provides some legal immunity for people who report a drug overdose in Washington state is now in effect, having kicked in on June 10. That makes Washington the second state to enact a "911 Good Samaritan Law." New Mexico was the first in 2007.

Under the measure, if someone overdoses and someone else seeks assistance, that person cannot be prosecuted for drug possession, nor can the person overdosing. Good Samaritans who manufactured or sold drugs could, however, be charged with those offenses.

The measure is aimed at reducing drug overdoses by removing the fear of arrest as an impediment to seeking medical help. According to the state Department of Health, there were 820 fatal drug overdoses in the state in 2006, more than double the 403 in 1999.

The bill also allows people to use the opioid agonist naloxone, which counteracts the effects of opiate overdoses, if it is used to help prevent an overdose.

Washington is the first state this year to pass a 911 Good Samaritan bill, but it may not be the last. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island are considering similar measures.

Supporters of the new law held a press conference June 5 to tout its benefits. "In 2008, there were 794 drug overdose deaths in Washington state," said Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, a drug overdose researcher from the University of Washington. "These overdoses do not need to be fatal. Death often takes several hours to occur," and people are often present. He said more information on the law is available at

"We're here today to encourage people who don't work in hospitals to help saves lives," Attorney General Rob McKenna said. "More people are dying now from prescription drug overdoses (than traffic accidents) and yet fewer people are aware of it," McKenna said. He said drug overdoses are a hidden problem because they aren't as visible as other problems.

Sen. Rosa Franklin, who worked to pass the bill, said she worked as a nurse before becoming a legislator and wanted to address a problem she saw and read about. She said this bill will save lives. "We can no longer... put our heads in the sand and say that drug overdose is not happening."

Alison Holcomb of the ACLU of Washington said drug overdoses wouldn't happen in an ideal world, and this law wouldn't be necessary. She said people do drugs to cope, find acceptance or escape. "We can continue to condemn such people as morally deviant and treat them as criminals," but, she said, that doesn't work. She said this law is an important step and a compromise agreement.

"My son, a bright, creative, compassionate and funny kid, began using prescription opiates... during his senior year of high school," John Gahagan said. Just weeks after graduation, his son died of a drug overdose. "The 911 Good Samaritan Law will save lives," he said, adding that his son was alone at the time of his overdose, but he knows parents of other teens who could have been saved. "This law will only be effective if there is awareness of it... Call 911 to save a life," he said.

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9. Marijuana: Miami Beach Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway

A group that wants to decriminalize marijuana possession in Miami Beach kicked off its campaign with a Wednesday night press conference. The next day, workers were hitting the Art Deco streets of the famed resort town to begin gathering signatures. They are aiming at putting the measure, which would amend the city charter, on the November ballot.

Organized by the Florida Campaign for Sensible Marijuana Policies, which is also organizing local decrim initiatives in Tallahassee, Orlando, Jacksonville Beach, and Atlantic Beach, the measure would allow Miami Beach police to issue a citation for a civil infraction instead of processing a misdemeanor marijuana possession arrest for small amounts of pot. The amendment would also increase the discretion of the state attorney to permit a plea to a civil infraction where appropriate.

Marijuana possession up to 20 grams would still be a misdemeanor under state law, and as they have done elsewhere, local police could ignore the will of the voters and continue to charge people under state law if the initiative passes.

The amendment needs some 4,400 valid signatures to make the November ballot. Thanks to a donation from a local film production company, it has the money to pay signature-gatherers, and organizers said they plan to far exceed the required number.

"The sum total effect of 72 years of marijuana prohibition and more than twenty million arrests since 1965 is that marijuana is now the largest cash crop in the United States and probably the most economically valuable agricultural commodity produced in the State of Florida. According to a recent report by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, Florida spends $573,366,000 annually on wholly ineffectual efforts to eradicate marijuana, a substance that every objective study has determined to be far less harmful than alcohol," said Ford Banister, chairman of the committee.

Banister said he is convinced Miami Beach is progressive enough to pass such a measure. "We are confident that the progressive and enlightened citizens of Miami Beach will agree that it's time we stop driving people to drink with excessive penalties for the use of a far safer substance," he said. "And if they do not yet know how much safer marijuana is than alcohol and the savings garnered by ending a failed policy, we will be working hard to educate them over the course of this campaign."

Florida is one of the bastions of Reefer Madness. It's high time somebody started pushing in the opposite direction in the Sunshine State.

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10. Medical Marijuana: Guam Senator Introduces Bill

At 4:20pm last Tuesday, Guamanian Sen. Rory Respicio introduced Bill 420, the Compassionate Health Care Act of 2010, to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana on the island, a US territory. The bill would set up a dispensary system and would also allow patients and caregivers to possess up to three ounces of weed, three mature plants, and four seedlings.
Rory Respicio
"We want to file this at 4:20pm to tie-in with the symbolism and the whole meaning behind 4/20," Respicio said. But the veteran Democratic lawmaker quickly clarified that the bill does not address non-medical use. "We're not advocating the use of cannabis for recreational types of activity at all," he clarified.

On Thursday, after consulting with legislative analysts from the Marijuana Policy Project, Respicio revised the bill and reintroduced it as Bill 423. The revisions included changing the wording so that doctors can recommend, not prescribe, medical marijuana, creating an oversight commission, and removing language that would have decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of weed.

"I believe the discussion should focus on the medicinal use of cannabis for patient care and on providing treatment for those in need," Respicio told the Pacific Daily News Wednesday. "Unfortunately, discussion has concentrated on everything related to cannabis except how it can help these seriously ill patients."

The bill would mandate that the Department of Public Health develop administrative rules, procedures, and regulations for dispensaries, or compassionate care centers. Under the bill, dispensary operators would be required to divulge where their product would be cultivated and provide that specified safety and security measures are in place.

The legislation would require the Department of Public Health to develop administrative rules, forms, procedures and regulations for the compassionate care centers. Those running the centers would also be required to submit the location of the center where the marijuana would be cultivated, as well as the security and safety measures that would be in place.

Respicio said he crafted the bill in close consultation with local doctors, including Guam Medical Association president-elect Dr. Thomas Shieh. "We think that we can get the support of Dr. Shieh, and he's been reaching out to other medical professionals, as well as Dr. Chris Dombrowski, who's been a the forefront of this debate for more than a decade," said Respicio.

But Respicio still has some work to do. Dr. Shieh told the Pacific News Center Wednesday that he was not yet on board. "Right now I can't support something that the effect of it is socially bad for the community," said Shieh, adding that approving medical marijuana would make it easier for young people and people without recommendations to obtain it.

"All of those concerns are very legitimate," retorted Respicio. "Oh, how are you gonna prevent people from taking their medical marijuana and giving it to someone else? Well, how are you gonna prevent someone with Xanax as a prescription and giving it to someone else? How are you gonna prevent these kinds of things? Well you don't and you can't but what you can do is have penalties for people who misuse this," said the senator.

Respicio added that he had presented the bill to Dr. Shieh for review three weeks ago. "At some point we just have to file it and continue to get the support of many individuals not just doctors, but you're also talking about veterans you're talking about cancer patients who have been appealing for the legislature to do something like this," he explained.

Respicio said that he knows the idea is controversial, but he hoped the public would give it serious consideration. "I just ask the people of Guam to pause for a moment and if they're afraid of something I am trying to do, they really should be more afraid of something like alcohol and the effects it has on the human mind and body more than the effects marijuana has," he said.

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11. Weekly: This Week in History

June 19, 1812: The United States goes to war with Great Britain after being cut off from 80% of its Russian hemp supply. Napoleon invades Russia to sever Britain's illegal trade in Russian hemp.

June 24, 1982: During remarks about Executive Order 12368 made from the White House's Rose Garden, President Ronald Reagan says, "We're taking down the surrender flag that has flown over so many drug efforts. We're running up a battle flag."

June 18, 1986: The evening death (heart failure from cocaine poisoning) of promising college basketball star Len Bias, a recent Boston Celtics draft choice, stuns the nation and leads to enactment by Congress (without hearings) of draconian mandatory minimum sentences.

June 19, 1991: In a secret vote, the Colombian assembly votes 51-13 to ban extradition in a new Constitution to take effect on July 5. The same day Pablo Escobar surrenders to Colombian police.

June 20, 1995: On a Discovery Channel special, "The Cronkite Report: The Drug Dilemma," former CBS news anchorman Walter Cronkite calls the drug war a failure and calls for a bipartisan commission study alternatives to prohibition, concluding, "We cannot go into tomorrow with the same formulas that are failing today."

June 23, 1999: New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson says, "The nation's so-called War on Drugs has been a miserable failure. It hasn't worked. The drug problem is getting worse. I think it is the number one problem facing this country today... We really need to put all the options on the table... and one of the things that's going to get talked about is decriminalization... What I'm trying to do here is launch discussion."

June 18, 2002: The Supreme Court rules that in conducting random searches for drugs or weapons on buses, police need not advise passengers that they are free to refuse permission to be searched.

June 20, 2002: Rolling Stone magazine reports that the Senior Judge of England's highest court, Lord Bingham, publicly declared his country's marijuana prohibition "stupid" and said he "absolutely" supported legalization.

June 22, 2002: The General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association passes an "Alternatives to the War on Drugs" Statement of Conscience.

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12. Appeal: 2010 is Important in Drug Policy -- And So Are You

Dear friend of drug policy reform:

I am writing today to ask you to step up for drug policy reform. 2010 is a critical year in drug policy, with great opportunities for changing minds, laws, and lives:

There is a long, hard road still ahead, but things are definitely moving our way. Like every nonprofit, our funding has been affected by the troubled state of the economy, and we need your help. Can we count on your support in this important year? Please make a generous donation to (DRCNet) today!

The support of our generous members has been part of a winning combination that saw us draw nearly two million annual visitors to our web site last year -- the most yet! -- and which saw opinion leaders in the blogosphere using our work on a regular basis. (See links about this below.), thanks to you, is the #1 source for news, information and activism promoting sensible drug law reform and an end to prohibition worldwide. The more we do at, the faster the reform movement will grow and the sooner that minds, laws and lives will change.

Your support counts now more than ever -- please join our 2010 "Changing Minds, Changing Laws, Changing Lives" campaign by donating to today.

I would like to send you some free gifts to show our appreciation. For a contribution of $30 or more, choose either the important new DVD, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police, or its classic predecessor, Busted: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters -- or choose either of our popular t-shirts -- "alcohol prohibition/drug prohibition" or "consequences of prohibition." For a gift of $55 or more, you get to pick any two... for a gift of $80 or more, pick any three... for a gift of $100 or more you can get all four! (Want to substitute? No problem. Choose any item from our inventory of books, videos and items.)

By joining today, you will make an immediate impact by helping

We are truly seeing more good things happen than ever before -- and the road ahead while challenging is also promising. Please donate to today - with your help, we can win this.


David Borden
Executive Director, (DRCNet)

P.S. Prohibition does not work -- and more and more people know it. Now is the perfect time to galvanize support for the cause. Please send in your donation and get your thank-you gifts today! Thank you for your support.

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13. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

Along with our weekly in-depth Chronicle reporting, DRCNet also provides daily content in the way of blogging in the Stop the Drug War Speakeasy -- huge numbers of people have been reading it recently -- as well as Latest News links (upper right-hand corner of most web pages), event listings (lower right-hand corner) and other info. Check out DRCNet every day to stay on top of the drug reform game! Check out the Speakeasy main page at
prohibition-era beer raid, Washington, DC (Library of Congress)

Since last issue:

Scott Morgan writes: "There's Only One Argument Against Legalizing Marijuana (And It's Wrong)," "Legal Marijuana Will Not Increase Crime. Please Stop Saying That," "Ron Paul and Sarah Palin Discuss Marijuana Legalization," "O'Reilly Attacks Sting Over Legalization Comments," "If the Drug War Worked, Cartels Wouldn't Be Killing Politicians."

Phil Smith posts early copies of Drug War Chronicle articles.

David Guard posts numerous press releases, action alerts and other organizational announcements in the In the Trenches blog.

Again, is the online place to stay in the loop for the fight to stop the war on drugs. Thanks for reading, and please join us on the comment boards.

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14. Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle?

Do you read Drug War Chronicle? If so, we'd like to hear from you. DRCNet needs two things:

  1. We are in between newsletter grants, and that makes our need for donations more pressing. Drug War Chronicle is free to read but not to produce! Click here to make a donation by credit card or PayPal, or to print out a form to send in by mail.

  2. Please send quotes and reports on how you put our flow of information to work, for use in upcoming grant proposals and letters to funders or potential funders. Do you use DRCNet as a source for public speaking? For letters to the editor? Helping you talk to friends or associates about the issue? Research? For your own edification? Have you changed your mind about any aspects of drug policy since subscribing, or inspired you to get involved in the cause? Do you reprint or repost portions of our bulletins on other lists or in other newsletters? Do you have any criticisms or complaints, or suggestions? We want to hear those too. Please send your response -- one or two sentences would be fine; more is great, too -- email [email protected] or reply to a Chronicle email or use our online comment form. Please let us know if we may reprint your comments, and if so, if we may include your name or if you wish to remain anonymous. IMPORTANT: Even if you have given us this kind of feedback before, we could use your updated feedback now too -- we need to hear from you!

Again, please help us keep Drug War Chronicle alive at this important time! Click here to make a donation online, or send your check or money order to: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. Make your check payable to DRCNet Foundation to make a tax-deductible donation for Drug War Chronicle -- remember if you select one of our member premium gifts that will reduce the portion of your donation that is tax-deductible -- or make a non-deductible donation for our lobbying work -- online or check payable to Drug Reform Coordination Network, same address. We can also accept contributions of stock -- email [email protected] for the necessary info.

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15. Students: Intern at (DRCNet) and Help Stop the Drug War!

Want to help end the "war on drugs," while earning college credit too? Apply for a (DRCNet) internship and you could come join the team and help us fight the fight!

StoptheDrugWar has a strong record of providing substantive work experience to our interns -- you won't spend the summer doing filing or running errands, you will play an integral role in one or more of our exciting programs. Options for work you can do with us include coalition outreach as part of the campaign to rein in the use of SWAT teams, to expand our work to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act to encompass other bad drug laws like the similar provisions in welfare and public housing law; blogosphere/web outreach; media research and outreach; web site work (research, writing, technical); possibly other areas. If you are chosen for an internship, we will strive to match your interests and abilities to whichever area is the best fit for you.

While our internships are unpaid, we will reimburse you for metro fare, and DRCNet is a fun and rewarding place to work. To apply, please send your resume to David Guard at [email protected], and feel free to contact us at (202) 293-8340. We hope to hear from you! Check out our web site at to learn more about our organization.

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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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