Drug War Chronicle #689 - June 23, 2011

1. Press Conference Marks 40th Anniversary of Nixon Drug War Declaration [FEATURE]

A Washington, DC, press conference Thursday kicked off a day of actions around the country Friday to mark the 40th anniversary of Nixon's declaration of a "war on drugs."

2. Rallies, Vigils Mark 40 Years of Failed Drug War [FEATURE]

From sea to shining sea, people took to the streets for protests and vigils to mark the 40th anniversary of Nixon's war on drugs.

3. Mexico Drug War Update

Last Wednesday was a bloody day in Nuevo Leon, and last weekend was a bloody one in Michoacan. And those are just the high-lights.

4. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It never ends, does it? Another week, another set of crooked cops. At least this week, the jail and prison guards managed to stay out of the news.

5. Scott Suspends Florida State Employee Drug Testing

Florida's drug testing-crazed governor has backed down from a plan to subject state employees to suspicionless drug tests.

6. CHA Drops Plan to Drug Test Public Housing Residents

The Chicago Housing Authority's proposal to require suspicionless drug tests for public housing residents excited lots of opposition. Now it's dead.

7. Gov. Christie Puts Hold on NJ Medical Marijuana Program

Will New Jersey medical marijuana patients ever gain legal access to their medicine? Eighteen months after the law was passed, Gov. Christie appears bent on delaying it as long as possible.

8. Brazil Supreme Court Rules Pro-Marijuana Marches Are Legal

Last month, police in Sao Paulo attacked marijuana legalization marchers after their march was banned. Next year, they won't be able to do that.

9. India Court Nixes Mandatory Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

An Indian regional appeals court has struck down a mandatory death penalty for drug offenses. That's the first time any court anywhere has done so.

10. Virginia Police Kill Old Man in Pill Raid

A creaky, half-blind, 69-year-old Virginia man is dead after shooting at police raiding his home for pain pills.

11. This Week in History

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

1. Press Conference Marks 40th Anniversary of Nixon Drug War Declaration [FEATURE]

Forty years ago Friday, President Richard Nixon officially declared "war on drugs," citing drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1." Now, forty years, a trillion dollars, and millions of ruined lives later, drug reformers are mobilizing for a day of rallies, vigils, and other actions in towns and cities across the country. Most of the actions are set for Friday and are being organized by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) in conjunction with other national and local drug reform and social justice groups.

Nixon $1 trillion bill for the drug war -- "this note has been spent in your name pursuing the failed war on drugs")
"Some anniversaries provide an occasion for celebration, others a time for reflection, still others a time for action," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Forty years after President Nixon declared his war on drugs, we're seizing upon this anniversary to prompt both reflection and action. And we're asking everyone who harbors reservations about the war on drugs -- to join us in this enterprise," he said.

"The objective is to work with legislators who dare to raise the important questions, by organizing public forums and online communities where citizens can take action. We are enlisting unprecedented numbers of powerful and distinguished individuals to voice their dissent publicly, and organizing in cities and states to instigate new dialogues and directions in local policies," Nadelmann added.

Some 50 cities will see events, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and New Orleans. [Editor's Note: To find the action nearest you, click here. Look for Drug War Chronicle reporting on the San Francisco event Friday evening.] Here's what will be going on in the six cities listed above:

  • Washington, DC: Leaders from African American and religious communities, including Rev. Jesse Jackson and Dr. Ron Daniels, will hold a forum at the National Press Club on June 17th to denounce current drug war policies. Leaders will call for a new direction in drug policy that reduces the role of the criminal justice system and that addresses the devastating impact of drug policies on black communities.
     
  • Chicago: Hundreds of Chicagoans will gather at the James R Thompson Center to rally against the drug policies that have led to injustices such as the extreme racial disparities in Illinois’s prisons and jails.
     
  • Los Angeles: Grassroots organizations and students, including Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Pico Youth and Family Center, Mothers United to End the War on Drugs, All of Us or None, Homies Unidos and other criminal justice organizations, will stage a Day of Action to call for an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration. Also, the William C. Velasquez Institute will host a forum in Los Angeles with top Latino leaders to discuss the impact of the drug war on Latino communities.
     
  • New York City: Advocates, community leaders and elected officials will attend a forum and silent vigil at the Harlem State Office Building to highlight the impacts of the drug war on NY communities. The event is being organized by Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH)
     
  • New Orleans: Local criminal justice organizations will commemorate the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs with a Second Line March that is a "Funeral for the failed war on drugs."
     
  • San Francisco: An amalgamation of drug reform, criminal justice, budget reform, and other groups will hold a "Communities Rising" rally and march to send a strong message to Gov. Brown and the legislature that California must prioritize key social services over prison spending. Sponsoring the event are Californians United for a Responsible Budget, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, All of Us or None, American Friends Service Committee, Berkeley Needle Exchange Emergency Distribution, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, California Partnership, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Critical Resistance, Justice Now, Harm Reduction Coalition, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Oasis Clinic, SF Drug Users Union, TGI-Justice Project, These Cuts Wont’ Heal and United for Drug Policy Reform.

"We call on the governor, California’s mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs, and all Californians to join us in calling it a failure that should be stopped immediately," said Dr. Diana Sylvestre of Oasis Clinic and United for Drug Policy Reform. “We will continue to organize to win our fight against this endless assault on sane drug policies."

DPA kick-started the Friday events with a Thursday press conference at the Newseum in Washington, DC. It was supposed to feature former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and a number of US representatives, but a key congressional vote and a conflict in Johnson's schedule meant it was largely up to the silver-tongued Nadelmann and The Wire star Sonja Sohn (Detective Shakima Greggs on the show) to keep the event going until Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) managed to vote, then rush over to the Newseum to join in.

But Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), a big drug reform supporter joined in via teleconference from Vermont.

"We're so congested with convicts we can't build prisons fast enough," said Shumlin. "When we lock up a nonviolent offender it costs us about $47,000 a year, and every dollar of that comes out of a hardworking Vermonter's pocket."

Nadelmann interjected that New England has become a hotbed of reform and cited its proximity to Quebec as a possible reason.

"They have heroin maintenance there," he said. "They can go to a clinic and obtain legally produced heroin, called diamorphine. It's a tragedy that the drug czar and others are unwilling to sponsor such research here."

VT Gov. Shumlin addresses press conference by video feed
"There is an unwillingness among elected officials to deal with this," replied Shumlin. "Almost every country in the world has a better policy. I find it astonishing that after 40 years of a failed drug policy costing taxpayers billions of dollars we continue to followed this failed policy of the war on drugs. It just amazes me."

"The war on drugs has caused great harm to our nation's most precious resource, our women, children, and families," said Sohn, who revealed that she had been a drug-taking mother who kicked on her own. "Mass incarceration leaves a gaping hole in society. Those adults become walking wounded parents, trying to guide children caught up in a community in crisis," the actress said. "We need a society based on compassion and love and freedom for all, as opposed to the heartless lock 'em up strategy of the past. Tough love only works if love is part of it."

Sohn said she used drugs while pregnant and wanted to get off them, but was afraid to. "I feared I would lose my child" if she sought help, she said.

"We need a much more pragmatic strategy," said Nadelmann. "Nobody believes anymore you can drugs away from our young people. Our first message to young people is don't do it, our second message to young people is don't do it, our third message is don't do it, but if you are going to do it, here's some things you might want to know. The bottom line is that you come home safe at the end of the night," he said.

Once she arrived at the Newseum, Rep. Waters was in typically fine form. The Los Angeles congresswoman ripped into the drug war and the politicians that enable it. Drug prohibition is "an utter failure of policy," she said.

"We have led congressional efforts to enact meaningful reform, but we've only achieved incremental change," Waters said. "Reducing the sentencing disparity in the crack law is progress, but it doesn’t go far enough. The US has spent a trillion dollars in the last 40 years to fight the war on drugs, and we have very little to show for it."

Waters said she was going to introduce the Major Drug Traffickers Act of 2011, which would curb federal prosecution of low-level drug offenders and refocus federal resources to target major traffickers instead.

"We can give the courts greater discretion to take individual circumstances into account," she said. "We now have the opportunity to identify some consensus priorities in changing our federal policies, and it's time to take the message to the White House and Congress.

That's exactly what Thursday's press conference and Friday's actions across the country are intended to do. Politicians can only plug their ears for so long before the outcry becomes too loud to ignore.

back to top

2. Rallies, Vigils Mark 40 Years of Failed Drug War [FEATURE]

It was 40 years ago Friday that President Richard Nixon (R) declared illegal drugs "public enemy No. 1" and ushered in the modern war on drugs. Four decades, millions of drug arrests, and a trillion dollars later, the sale and consumption of illicit drugs is as firmly ensconced in American society as ever, and a growing number of Americans are ready to end drug prohibition and embark on a more sane and sensible, not to mention less harmful, approach toward drugs.

Marching to the end the drug war in San Francisco (Image courtesy the author)
In dozens of cities across the land, activists, drug war victims, and just plain folks gathered Friday to commemorate the day of infamy and call for an end to that failed policy. Their numbers were not overwhelming, but their voices are being heard, and the more hopeful among us can begin to see the faint outlines of a nascent mass movement for reform.

Messages varied from city to city -- in California, demonstrators focused on prison spending during the budget crisis; in New Orleans, the emphasis was on racial injustice and harsh sentencing -- but the central overarching theme of the day, "No More Drug War!" was heard from sea to shining sea and all the way to Hawaii.

In San Francisco, several hundred people from more than a dozen sponsoring organizations gathered at City Hall for a press conference and to demand that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the state legislature prioritize vital social services over spending on prisons. Then, accompanied by drummers from the Brass Liberation Orchestra, they marched through the city center to state office buildings before returning to City Hall.

"It is past time that we take real steps to make real changes to California’s totally inhumane prison system," said Emily Harris, statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), one of 17 local groups organizing the march.

The Brass Liberation Band was beating the drums for an end to prohibition (Image courtesy the author)
"Spending on prisons has grown from five percent to ten percent of our General Fund spending, doubling just in the past decade," said Lisa Marie Alatorre of Critical Resistance, a CURB member organization. "Locking up too many people for too long does not contribute to public safety and is draining essential resources from education and health care -- programs that make a real difference to Californians."

"We call on the governor, California's mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs, and all Californians to join us in calling it a failure that should be stopped immediately," said Dr. Diana Sylvestre of Oasis Clinic and the Oakland-based United for Drug Policy Reform. "We will continue to organize to win our fight against this endless assault on sane drug policies."

In Chicago, hundreds gathered outside James R. Thompson Center in the Loop to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the drug war, while inside the center was a ceremony honoring Juneteenth, a remembrance of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln in 1863. For those present, the connection between the struggle to win civil rights and the fight to end the drug war was easily made. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Father Michael Pfleger and other community leaders lent their voices to the rally.

Dancers joined the protest krewe in New Orleans (Image courtesy Pelican Post)
"There is not a war on drugs, there is a war on the poor and a war on people of color!" said Pfleger, whipping up the crowd.

"We all know that the war on drugs has failed to end drug use. Instead, it's resulted in the incarceration of millions of people around the country, and 100,000 here in Cook County on an annual basis," said Preckwinkle, the only elected official to address the crowd. "Drugs and the failed war on the drugs have devastated lives, families and communities. For too long we've treated drug use as a criminal justice issue, rather than a public issue, which is what it is."

In Honolulu, the ACLU of Hawaii and other drug reform advocates marked the occasion with a rally and speeches. Access to medical marijuana was a big issue for attendees there, although the main focus was on ending the drug war.

"It has cost a trillion dollars. It has perpetrated massive racial injustice. It has made the United States the largest jailer," said Scott Michaelman. "Treatment over incarceration is a core part of our message. Low level nonviolent users should not be a part of the criminal justice system," he added.

Braving the heat to beat prohibition in the Big Easy (Image courtesy Pelican Post)
In steamy New Orleans, several dozen protesters led by Women with a Vision and including dance groups and local anarchists braved temperatures in the 90s to hold a bouncy second-line parade through Central City and then a community forum to call for an end to racial profiling, lengthy sentences, and unfair drug policies.

"You get to see the people coming together. It's a unity thing," Keyondria Mitchell, a supporter who led one of the dancing groups, told the Pelican Post.  She said the event's varied attendees were testament to a changing public perception of the drug war. "That's what you want, awareness."

Women with a Vision director Deon Haywood said that 40 years on, the drug war had failed to make us safer despite all the money down the drain. "It hasn't curbed the use of illegal drugs, but what it has done is incarcerate many people," said Haywood. "We have only two licensed addiction counselors serving three parishes: Orleans, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard. Why can't that money be put into treatment?"

In San Diego, dozens gathered at Pioneer Park in Mission Hills to hear, among others, former California Assemblymember Lori Saldana call for complete repeal of drug prohibition; in Denver, the Drug Policy Alliance sponsored a well-attended debate; and in Portland, Oregon, the Lewis & Clark chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy organized a candlelight vigil at Pioneer Square attended by around 100 people. Events also occurred in other cities, including Ann Arbor, Miami Beach, and Washington, DC.

The crowds didn't compare to those who gather for massive marijuana legalization protests and festivals -- or protestivals -- such as the Seattle Hempfest, the Freedom Rally on Boston Commons, or the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, or even the crowds that gather for straightforward pot protests, such as 420 Day or the Global Marijuana March, but that's because the issues are tougher. People have to break a bit more profoundly with drug war orthodoxy to embrace completely ending the war on drugs than they do to support "soft" marijuana. That relatively small groups did so in cities across the land is just the beginning.

back to top

3. 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 more than 38,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

The profits of prohibition fuel the violence in Mexico. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Wednesday, June 15

In Nuevo Leon, a record 33 people were murdered in one day.  Among the dead were two bodyguards of State Governor Rodrigo Medina who were kidnapped, murdered, and mutilated. The previous daily high in the state was 18, which included 14 inmates killed in a jailhouse fire that had been deliberately set.

Friday, June 17

In Nuevo Leon, 26 police officers were detained for their involvement in the murder of the two bodyguards of Gov. Medina on Wednesday.

In Matamoros, the leader of Los Zetas, Heriberto Lazcano "Z-3" was reported killed after a series of ferocious gun battles in the city with the rival Gulf Cartel. Mexican and American authorities have both denied that Lazcano is dead, and question why he would personally be leading attacks on the Gulf Cartel stronghold of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas.

Sunday, June 19

In Michoacan, at least 23 people were executed over the weekend by the Knights Templar drug trafficking organization. President Calderon was in the state capital of Morelia at the time attending a U-17 soccer game between Mexico and North Korea. The Knights Templar had announced the coming murders via banner on Friday. On Saturday, nine people were found dead in three different locations, each containing three bodies.

The Knights Templar is an off-shoot of La Familia Michoacana, and has vowed to wage war on the opposing faction of LFM led by El Chango Mendez (captured Tuesday -- see below) and his allies in Los Zetas.

Monday, June 20

In Veracruz, a journalist was gunned down along with his wife and 21-year old son. Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, 55, was an editor, crime reporter and columnist for the local Notiver newspaper. At around 5:30am on Monday, heavily armed gunmen kicked down the door to his home and gunned down everyone inside.

Also in Veracruz, seven municipal police officers were arrested in connection with the death of a Mexican Marine who was found dead on June 11 near the Tuxpan River. He was one of three Marines who were recently kidnapped and murdered in Mexico. The Marines have been on the forefront of Mexico's war on drug cartels and have conducted missions against high-profile targets such as Arturo Beltran Leyva, who was killed in December 2009.

Tuesday, June 21

In Cosio, Aguascalientes, the leader of La Familia Michoacana was captured by police at a highway checkpoint. Jose de Jesus Mendez Varga, 50, also known as "El Chango" -- the Monkey -- had been in command of the LFM organization since it broke up into rival factions after its previous leader, Nazario Moreno, was killed in fierce clashes with federal forces in December 2010. On Wednesday Mexican authorities said that US law enforcement played a key role in his capture.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least seven people were murdered. In one incident, a bag containing the head and dismembered body parts of a man was left outside a church. In a different part of the city, three men were gunned down inside a home in the southeast part of the city.

In the town of Cuahtemoc in the nearly lawless Chihuahuan sierra, authorities announced that eight people were found murdered there on June 18.

In Mexico City, Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes said after a meeting with President Calderon that the Zetas have been sending scouting missions to El Salvador to see whether they can purchase weapons from corrupt police and military officials.

Editor's Note: We cannot accurately tally the drug prohibition-related killings in Mexico at this time. El Universal, the only Mexican newspaper that was doing so on a regular basis, has stopped. We will have to rely on official pronouncements on the death toll, and will report them when they happen. Below are the numbers through the end of last year. With more than 1,400 reported dead in April alone, this year's toll could well exceed last year's. As of this month, we believe the total death toll has surpassed 38,000.]

Total Body Count for 2010: 15,273

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

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

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

Total Body Count for Calderon's drug war through 2010: 34,883

back to top

4. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It never ends, does it? Another week, another set of crooked cops. At least this week, the jail and prison guards managed to stay out of the news. Let's get to it:

In New York City, an NYPD narcotics detective was arrested on June 9 on charges he lied about witnessing drug transactions that resulted in the arrest of one man for selling crack and three others who were his customers. Detective Francisco Payano's fictive report began to fall apart last year when a defense attorney brought forward surveillance video footage of the location in question that showed no drug dealing going on at the time in question and that Payano wasn't even present. The case against the alleged dealer has been dropped, but one customer already pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. The cases against the other two have been sealed. Payano faces 64 counts of perjury and other charges. He has been released pending trial.

In Nashville, a Metropolitan Nashville police officer was indicted Friday on federal bribery and drug trafficking charges. Officer Richard Wilson, 31, went down in a sting after accepting $24,500 to transport what he thought was cocaine for who he thought were drug traffickers. He is charged with soliciting a bribe, attempted cocaine distribution, and money laundering.

In Philadelphia, two former Philadelphia police officers were sentenced June 15 to 10 to 20 years in prison each after being caught in an undercover sting helping drug dealers rob a man they thought was a drug courier. Christopher Luciano, 23, and Sean Alivera, 31, were arrested last October and pleaded guilty in April to charges of robbery, conspiracy, kidnapping, official oppression and possession of a drug with intent to deliver.

In Jacksonville, Florida, a former Jacksonville Sheriff's officer was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison for agreeing to transport cocaine from Daytona to Jacksonville in return for payment. Former officer Carl Kohn went down after he starting plotting a deal with a "cooperating individual" to transport five kilos of cocaine in return for $2,500. He pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute five or more kilos of cocaine.

In Mesquite, Texas, the former head of the Mesquite Police narcotics unit was sentenced Monday to 15 months in federal prison for stealing cash during an undercover drug operation. John David McAllister, 42, went down after authorities received a tip that an officer was stealing drug money and FBI agents set up an undercover sting in March. FBI agents left $100,000 in cash in 52 bundles in a car they directed McAllister to search. They videotaped him removing one of the bundles and stuffing it in his pants before returning to the Mesquite Police Department. Still under surveillance, McAllister then drove to a nearby shopping mall and bought a $480 watch. FBI agents matched the cash used in that transaction to photocopies of the cash they used in the sting. McAllister was charged with theft of government property.

back to top

5. Scott Suspends Florida State Employee Drug Testing

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has suspended his March executive order mandating random drug testing of state employees. He quietly sent a memo to agency heads on June 10 announcing the decision, but the move wasn't publicly exposed until the ACLU of Florida posted the memo on its web site last week.

Scott issued the executive order March 22, and the ACLU of Florida responded by filing a lawsuit alleging the order violated the Fourth Amendment's search and seizure provisions. The ACLU acted on behalf of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents some 50,000 state workers and 200,000 city and county workers in the Sunshine State.

Scott's memo bravely says he is "confident that the drug testing called for in the order is consistent with the Constitution," but acknowledges that "while the case is pending, it not does not make sense to move forward with the logistical issues involved in instituting the new policy."

Now, Scott wants to implement random drug testing only within the Department of Corrections. That would allow for the case to continue to move forward and be resolved, the memo said.

The ACLU of Florida has clearly and consistently said suspicionless drug testing of state employees is unconstitutional. It reacted to the governor's memo with vigor and pleasure.

"This is nothing less than a massive and embarrassing retreat on the part of Governor Scott," said Florida ACLU director Howard Simon. "Despite his continuing rhetoric, he must now realize that Floridians won't simply roll over but will stand up and defend our constitutional rights."

"We are pleased that this new order has delayed subjecting thousands of state employees to demeaning, invasive and illegal tests of their bodily fluids. But it does not change our constitutional challenge," said ACLU of Florida legal director Randall Marshall. "Any government search without suspicion of drug use or not directly related to public safety is a violation of privacy protections and we will vigorously move ahead with our challenge."

"Our suit was very clear about the reasons why the governor's order was unconstitutional," said ACLU of Florida cooperating counsel Peter Walsh. "And in direct response to our suit, the governor has retreated. The state already lost a previous case of random drug testing for Florida workers and the state simply cannot legally do what the governor ordered. His reconsideration and retraction of the heart of his proposal proves what we said all along -- his order is deeply, fatally flawed."

But Scott still seems not to understand that the Fourth Amendment provides protection against state intrusions of privacy that are unavailable to employees of private companies. "The private sector does this all the time," Scott told the Palm Beach Post as he tried to explain why he thought he would prevail. "I mean, our taxpayers expect our state employees to be productive. This is the right thing, and we're going forward."

Scott has also campaigned for and signed off on drug testing Florida welfare recipients and applicants. The ACLU of Florida has not filed suit to block that yet, but a second lawsuit aimed at the governor's fondness for making Floridians produce urine samples for the state is in the works. And the taxpayers of the state of Florida are going to end up paying to defend the indefensible.

back to top

6. CHA Drops Plan to Drug Test Public Housing Residents

The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has dropped its proposal to require all adults living in its properties to undergo random drug tests. Tenants who tested positive under the plan would have been evicted.

There will be no drug testing of residents at Lake Parc Place or any other CHA properties. (Image courtesy CHA)
The CHA also said Tuesday it would keep the "innocent tenant defense" that the proposal had also targeted. That allows tenants who face eviction because a household member or relative committed a drug offense or other crime to appeal against eviction on the grounds they were not aware of the offense.

The reversal comes after weeks of criticism from residents, activists, and the ACLU of Illinois. The man who sought to implement the proposal, CHA CEO Lewis Jordan, has resigned as well.

"The CHA received a tremendous amount of feedback during the public comment period, and simply, the result of that is that CHA will not move forward," CHA spokeswoman Kellie O'Connell-Miller told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The decision was "welcome news," said ACLU of Illinois senior staff counsel Adam Schwartz. "There is no evidence that individuals who rent CHA apartments are more likely to use drugs than residents in other rental properties throughout the City of Chicago. Singling out these individuals simply is unnecessary and a diversion of precious resources," Schwartz said. "We applaud the Board for listening to the voices of the residents and dropping this harmful proposal."

The CHA Central Advisory Council, consisting of CHA tenant leaders, also applauded the agency's change of course. "CHA made a wise decision. There were just too many issues associated with drug testing," said Robert Whitfield, Central Advisory Council attorney.

back to top

7. Gov. Christie Puts Hold on NJ Medical Marijuana Program

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Thursday day night he won't allow the state's medical marijuana program to get underway until he receives reassurances from Washington that the federal government will not prosecute state workers involving in regulating it. It is the latest delay by the governor, whom advocates accuse of dragging his feet on implementing a law passed before he was elected.

"The federal government is saying medical marijuana is against the law," Christie explained during an appearance on On the Line, a call-in show broadcast on the New Jersey Network. "Until I get that assurance, I cannot ask people to do things that they might get prosecuted by federal prosecutors. What happens if they get arrested and I ordered them to do it, that's wrong," Christie said.

Christie added that his office has twice written to US Attorney Paul Fishman seeking clarification, but has not received a response. The letters were written by New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow -- the first one in April -- and copied to US Attorney General Eric Holder. Fishman has repeatedly referred media queries to Holder, and it appears he's giving New Jersey officials the same silent treatment.

State Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Donna Leusner told New Jersey.com Friday the state continues to prepare to implement the program. "We are continuing our work on the program, but are waiting for clarification on the application of federal law,'' Leusner said.

Activists and patients were not amused. They noted that it has been nearly a year and a half since the law was passed, and no patient has yet been able to legally access his or her medicine.

"We urge the governor to reconsider this decision. Nothing has changed in the equation between state and federal law," said Roseanne Scotti, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, who helped massage the law through the legislature. "Fourteen other states are operating medical marijuana programs and no state workers have ever been prosecuted or threatened with prosecution. By delaying implementation, the governor is condemning sick and dying people to turn to the illegal market for the medicine that best relieves their pain and suffering. Delaying the implementation of this bill also thwarts the will of the people of New Jersey who overwhelmingly support this program."

"It is the federal government that is wrong in this, not New Jersey. State officials should not look to the feds for guidance on medical marijuana," said Ken Wolski, director of the state's largest patient lobbying group, the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey. "The attorney general should instead be insisting that the federal government reschedule marijuana from its absurd Schedule I status."

"I can't believe that Governor Christie is forcing sick New Jersey citizens to use the black market for medicine that is proven to help them," said patient Nancy Fedder of Hillsborough. "I have Multiple Sclerosis and medical marijuana is absolutely a better choice for me. This law was passed by our legislators over a year ago and Governor Christie has done everything he can to hinder its implementation. Now he's putting the entire program on hold!"

Legislative sponsors of the medical marijuana law weren't pleased either. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out there's some foot dragging going on," said Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden).

"I thought the program was moving forward. It was the whole reason we compromised," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), who sponsored the bill in the Assembly. "It's disappointing -- he should go ahead. It's more of his national ambitions getting the better of him," he told New Jersey.com.

Advocates vowed to continue to fight to get the program implemented. "We plan to do everything in our power to urge the governor to move forward with the program," said Scotti. "If the governor is worried about state workers getting arrested, we know many smart dedicated individuals who would be more than happy to take the jobs overseeing the medical marijuana program and assume any risk of arrest. Let people run the program who care about the program and about relieving the suffering of sick and dying people. There's a solution right there."

back to top

8. Brazil Supreme Court Rules Pro-Marijuana Marches Are Legal

The Brazilian Supreme Court ruled June 15 that marches in favor of marijuana legalization can take place. The decision overturns various lower-court decisions that had banned them as "apology for drug use" and "support of drug trafficking."

Sao Paulo (image via Wikimedia)
The ruling came on a unanimous 8-0 vote. The court held that the marches must be allowed if authorities were to respect the rights of freedom of expression and the right to assemble. The marches are a way for citizens to exercise their rights, Justice Celso de Mello said.

"Nothing proves more harmful and dangerous than the desire of the state to repress freedom of expression, especially of ideas that the majority repudiate. Thought should always be free," De Mello said.

In 1997 police arrested members of the band Planet Hemp, immediately following a Sao Paulo show they had recorded for evidence. Police charged the band members with lyrics supporting the use of maconha (marijuana).

Pro-pot legalization marches associated with the Global Marijuana March the first weekend in May each year began in Brazil in Rio de Janeiro and have since popped up in other cities across the country. Beginning in 2008, local courts began banning them, arguing that they were a justification for drug use.

Just a month before this ruling, riot police in Sao Paulo attacked with tear gas and batons more than 1,000 marchers who had gathered despite a ban on the march. Next year, they won't have the excuse of illegality to repress the pot parade.

Brazilians didn't wait until next year to exercise their newfound freedoms. Demonstrators marched in 40 cities last weekend to demand marijuana legalization.

back to top

9. India Court Nixes Mandatory Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

In a decision handed down last Thursday, the Bombay High Court struck down the mandatory death penalty for some drug offenses as unconstitutional. It becomes the first court anywhere in the world to do so, according to the Indian Harm Reduction Network (IHRN), which petitioned the court for the ruling.

The Bombay High Court in Mumbai (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The Bombay High Court is one of 22 regional high courts and has jurisdiction over the states of Maharashtra and Goa. It the equivalent of a US federal court of appeals.

Section 31A of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act imposed a mandatory death sentence for a second offense of drug trafficking or possession of more than a specified amount of drugs. Now, courts in Maharastra and Goa can still impose the death penalty for those drug offenses, but they are not required to.

The decision came in the case of Ghulam Mohammed Malik, a Kashmiri man sentenced to death by the Special NDPS Court in Mumbai in February. He had been convicted of a second offense of smuggling charas (cannabis resin).

THE IHRN intervened in the case, arguing that the mandatory death sentence did not allow the court to take into consideration individual circumstances or mitigating factors. The IHRN told the high court the mandatory death penalty was arbitrary, excessive and disproportionate to the crime of dealing in drugs.

"The order marks an important advance in drug policy and anti-death penalty campaigns," said Anand Grover, director of the Lawyers Collective, who argued the case for IHRN. "We will examine the decision fully to assess whether striking down the death penalty, as was done by the Supreme Court for Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code, would have been more appropriate."

Across the world, 32 countries impose capital punishment for offenses involving narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Of these, 13 countries (including India until today) prescribe mandatory death sentences for drug crimes. In countries like Iran and China that actually carry out executions, drug offenders constitute the vast majority of those executed. In May last year, the Court of Appeal in Singapore upheld the mandatory death sentence imposed upon a young Malaysian for possession of heroin.

"This is a positive development, which signals that courts have also started to recognize principles of harm reduction and human rights in relation to drugs. It is not utopia, but it is a giant step," said IHRN head Luke Samson.

"The Court has upheld at the domestic level what has been emphasized for years by international human rights bodies -- capital drug laws that take away judicial discretion are a violation of the rule of law," said Rick Lines, executive director of Harm Reduction International (formerly the International Harm Reduction Association) and author of The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses: A Violation of International Human Rights Law"India's justice system has affirmed that it is entirely unacceptable for such a penalty to be mandatory. This will set a positive precedent for judicial authorities in the region, which is rife with draconian drug laws."

For more information about the resort to the death penalty for drug offenses and efforts to combat it, visit Harm Reduction International's Death Penalty Project.

back to top

10. Virginia Police Kill Old Man in Pill Raid

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

Police in Hampton, Virginia, executing a search warrant for prescription pain pills shot and killed a 69-year-old homeowner after he fired on them inside the house. William Cooper becomes the 30th person killed in US domestic law enforcement operations so far this year.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/hampton-police-badge.jpg
According to the Daily Press Hampton News, police sought a search warrant after a confidential informant told them Cooper had sold methadone, Percocet, and "several other unknown prescription pills" from his home. Police executed the warrant just after 10:00am Saturday, forcing his front door open and entering the residence.

Hampton Police spokesman Jason Price said police identified themselves when they arrived at the house. "We did knock and announce our presence," he said. "It was not a no-knock search warrant."

A common police practice in executing warrants is to announce their presence with loud knocks on the doors and shouts of "Police!" or similar phrases, then wait a matter of seconds before breaking down the door, effectively making them knock and announce raids in technical legal terms only. Neighbors reported the police had forced their way in, and the door was visibly broken.

Price said there was an exchange of gunfire, with Cooper shooting first and the officers firing back. Cooper was pronounced dead at a local hospital an hour later.

Police announced Tuesday
they had seized four prescription pain pill bottles -- three of them empty -- and a number of weapons in the retiree's home. They consisted of one empty bottle of Oxycontin and three bottles of Oxycodone-acetaminophen (Percocet), with one containing pills. They also seized 16 other pill bottles, including ones containing drugs used for treating the symptoms of arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. Police also seized Cooper's wallet, $903 in cash, and his 2000 Lexus, as well as a vehicle title and "financial documents." They alleged the 11-year-old car was connected to the drug sales.

"We did locate evidence that supports the charge of distribution of illegal narcotics," police spokesman Jason Price said Tuesday. Police did not say whether Cooper had prescriptions for the pain pills.

But friends of Cooper said he used a cane, suffered from knee and back pain, and took lots of pain medications. Cooper complained that the drugs he was taking "weren't enough" for the pain, said Richard Zacharias, 58, a retired NASA employee who was renting a trailer home from Cooper. He also said that Cooper had poor eyesight because of cataracts and often slept late. Those factors might have caused him not to realize it was police in his home at 10:00am, Zacharias said.

But Price said police would continue to identify themselves as they moved through the home. "It's very obvious that we're the police," he said.

"It doesn’t smell right," Zacharias protested. "He wasn't real big, he wasn't real threatening." The police killed Cooper "in his own house, and that doesn't sit right with me," he said. "People around here sleep with a gun beside their bed because of all the home invasions we've had. The guy was a nice guy. The guy was a good guy."

The two so far unnamed police shooters are now on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation. But Hampton Police Chief Charles Jordan Jr. didn't see any need to wait for that. "The investigation thus far supports the actions of the officers," Jordan said Saturday. "They were met with deadly force and had no alternative other than to return fire."

back to top

11. This Week in History

June 28, 1776: The first draft of the Declaration of Independence is written -- on Dutch hemp paper. A second draft, the version released on July 4, is also written on hemp paper. The final draft is copied from the second draft onto animal parchment.

June 26, 1936: The Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs is signed in Geneva.

June 29, 1938: The Christian Century reports, "in some districts inhabited by Latino Americans, Filipinos, Spaniards, and Negroes, half the crimes are attributed to the marijuana craze."

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 27, 1991: The Supreme Court upholds, in a 5-4 decision, a Michigan statute imposing a mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole for anyone convicted of possession of more than 650 grams (about 1.5 pounds) of cocaine.

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 26, 2001: China marks a UN international anti-drug day by holding rallies where piles of narcotics are burned and 60 people are executed for drug offenses. Chinese authorities execute hundreds of people since April in a crime crackdown labeled "Strike Hard" that allowed for speeded up trials and broader use of the death penalty. [The macabre ritual was repeated each year subsequently, but lack of reports of it suggest it may have ceased as a result of the nation's recent scale-back in executions.]

June 27, 2001: A Newsday article titled "Census: War on Drugs Hits Blacks," reports: Black men make up less than 3 percent of Connecticut's population but account for 47 percent of inmates in prisons, jails and halfway houses, 2000 census figures show.

June 27, 2002: In Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, the Supreme Court decides 6-3 to uphold the most sweeping drug-testing policy yet to come before the Court -- a testing requirement for any public school student seeking to take part in any extracurricular activity, the near-equivalent of a universal testing policy.

June 25, 2003: The Superior Administrative Court of Cundinamarca, Colombia orders a stop to the spraying of glyphosate herbicides until the government complies with the environmental management plan for the eradication program and mandates a series of studies to protect public health and the environment.

back to top
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.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School