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Drug War Chronicle #764 - December 20, 2012

1. The Top Ten Drug Policy Stories of 2012 [FEATURE]

In some ways, 2012 has been a year of dramatic, exciting change in drug policy, as the edifice of global drug prohibition appears to crumble before our eyes. In other ways it's still business as usual in the drug war. Here, we look at the biggest drug policy stories of the year.

2. Chronicle Review Essay: What Next for Mexico?

With a new president taking over, Mexico has a chance to rethink its disastrous war on the cartels. Two new books on the Mexican drug wars have a few thoughts about where it's been and where it should go next.

3. How People Are Using Drug War Chronicle

We print a few of the testimonials received this year about what Drug War Chronicle does for the work of all the organizations in the movement.

4. StoptheDrugWar.org Needs Your Support

Nonprofits including those in drug policy reform face continuing challenges in the tough economic environment. That means StoptheDrugWar.org and Drug War Chronicle need your support to do our job in 2013.

5. US Has 330,000 Drug Offenders in Prison

The number of prisoners in America is declining ever so slightly, but there are still 330,000 drug offenders doing time in state and federal prisons.

6. Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearings on Marijuana Policy

Pressure is mounting on the Obama administration to say how it will respond to the marijuana legalization votes in Colorado and Washington. Now, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee is calling for hearings on the issue.

7. Obama Comments Beg the Question on Marijuana Legalization

President Obama said Friday that going after marijuana users in states where it is legal is not a "top priority," but did not address what the federal government will do about taxation and regulation of marijuana commerce.

8. Medical Marijuana Update

Dispensary wars continue in California, a package of restrictive bills passes in Michigan, and DC's long-awaited dispensaries are a step closer to opening.

9. Slim Majority of New Yorkers Say Legalize Marijuana

A new Quinnipiac poll has support for marijuana legalization at 51% in New York state.

10. Michigan Cops Ponder Detroit Marijuana Legalization Vote

Detroit voted to legalize possession of up to an ounce by adults on private property, but local law enforcement is either ignoring the vote or still trying to figure out how to respond.

11. Memphis Officer, Dallas Man Killed in Separate Drug War Incidents

A female Memphis police officer was killed in a raid on a marijuana dealer, and a Dallas man died in an altercation with police investigating a report of drug activity. They are the 63rd and 64th to be killed in the US domestic drug war so far this year.

12. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A small-town Florida department run amok loses its chief -- at least temporarily -- an Alabama cop gets caught delivering weed, four South Texas cops get caught running cocaine, and a Camden, New Jersey, sergeant goes down for a dope squad run amok there.

1. The Top Ten Drug Policy Stories of 2012 [FEATURE]

In some ways, 2012 has been a year of dramatic, exciting change in drug policy, as the edifice of global drug prohibition appears to crumble before our eyes. In other ways it is still business as usual in the drug war. Marijuana prohibition is now mortally wounded, but there were still three-quarters of a million pot arrests last year. The American incarceration mania appears to be running its course, but drug arrests continue to outnumber any other category of criminal offense. There is a rising international clamor for a new drug paradigm, but up until now, it's just talk.

The drug prohibition paradigm is trembling, but it hasn't collapsed yet -- we are on the cusp of even more interesting times. Below, we look at the biggest drug policy stories of 2012 and peer a bit into the future:

1. Colorado and Washington Legalize Marijuana!

Voters in Colorado and Washington punched an enormous and historic hole in the wall of marijuana prohibition in November. While Alaska has for some years allowed limited legal possession in the privacy of one's home, thanks to the privacy provisions of the state constitution, the November elections marked the first time voters in any state have chosen to legalize marijuana. This is an event that has made headlines around the world, and for good reason -- it marks the repudiation of pot prohibition in the very belly of the beast.

And it isn't going away. The federal government may or may not be able to snarl efforts by the two states to tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce, but few observers think it can force them to recriminalize marijuana possession. It's now legal to possess up to an ounce in both states and to grow up to six plants in Colorado and -- barring a sudden reversal of political will in Washington or another constitutional amendment in Colorado -- it's going to stay that way. The votes in Colorado and Washington mark the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition.

2. Nationally, Support for Marijuana Legalization Hits the Tipping Point

If Colorado and Washington are the harbingers of change, the country taken as a whole is not far behind, at least when it comes to public opinion. All year, public opinion polls have showed support for marijuana legalization hovering right around 50%, in line with last fall's Gallup poll that showed steadily climbing support for legalization and support at 50% for the first time. A Gallup poll this month showed a 2% drop in support, down to 48%, but that's within the margin of error for the poll, and it's now a downside outlier.

Four other polls released this month
demonstrate a post-election bump for legalization sentiment. Support for legalization came in at 47%, 51%, 54%, and 57%, including solid majority support in the West and Northeast. The polls also consistently find opposition to legalization strongest among older voters, while younger voters are more inclined to free the weed.

As Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown put it after his survey came up with 51% support for legalization, "This is the first time Quinnipiac University asked this question in its national poll so there is no comparison from earlier years. It seems likely, however, that given the better than 2-1 majority among younger voters, legalization is just a matter of time."

Caravan for Peace vigil, Brownsville, Texas, August 2012
3. Global Rejection of the Drug War

International calls for alternatives to drug prohibition continued to grow ever louder this year. Building on the work of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy and the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the voices for reform took to the stage at global venues such as the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, in April, the International AIDS Conference in Washington in July, and at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

While calls for a new paradigm came from across the globe, including commissions in Australia and the United Kingdom, this was the year of the Latin American dissidents. With first-hand experience with the high costs of enforcing drug prohibition, regional leaders including Colombian President Santos, Guatemalan President Perez Molina, Costa Rican President Chinchilla, and even then-Mexican President Calderon all called this spring for serious discussion of alternatives to the drug war, if not outright legalization. No longer was the critique limited to former presidents.

That forced US President Obama to address the topic at the Summit of the Americas and at least acknowledge that "it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are doing more harm than good in certain places" before dismissing legalization as a policy option. But the clamor hasn't gone away -- instead, it has only grown louder -- both at the UN in the fall and especially since two US states legalized marijuana in November.

While not involved in the regional calls for an alternative paradigm, Uruguayan President Mujica made waves with his announcement of plans to legalize the marijuana commerce there (possession was never criminalized). That effort appears at this writing to have hit a bump in the road, but the proposal and the reaction to it only added to the clamor for change.

4. Mexico's Drug War: The Poster Child for Drug Legalization

Mexico's orgy of prohibition-related violence continues unabated with its monstrous death toll somewhere north of 50,000 and perhaps as high as 100,000 during the Calderon sexenio, which ended this month. Despite all the killings, despite Calderon's strategy of targeting cartel capos, despite the massive deployment of the military, and despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid for the military campaign, the flow of drugs north and guns and money south continues largely unimpeded and Mexico -- and now parts of Central America, as well -- remain in the grip of armed criminals who vie for power with the state itself.

With casualty figures now in the range of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars and public safety and security in tatters, Calderon's misbegotten drug war has become a lightning rod for critics of drug prohibition, both at home and around the world. In the international discussion of alternatives to the status quo -- and why we need them -- Mexico is exhibit #1.

And there's no sign things are going to get better any time soon. While Calderon's drug war may well have cost him and his party the presidency (and stunningly returned it to the old ruling party, the PRI, only two elections after it was driven out of office in disgrace), neither incoming Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto nor the Obama administration are showing many signs they are willing to take the bold, decisive actions -- like ending drug prohibition -- that many serious observers on all sides of the spectrum say will be necessary to tame the cartels.

The Mexican drug wars have also sparked a vibrant and dynamic civil society movement, the Caravan for Peace and Justice, led by poet and grieving father Javier Sicilia. After crisscrossing Mexico last year, Sicilia and his fellow Mexican activists crossed the border this summer for a three-week trek across the US, where their presence drew even more attention to the terrible goings on south of the border.

5. Medical Marijuana Continues to Spread, Though the Feds Fight Back

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and while there was only one new one this year, this has been a year of back-filling. Medical marijuana dispensaries have either opened or are about to open in a number of states where it has been legal for years but delayed by slow or obstinate elected officials (Arizona, New Jersey, Washington, DC) or in states that more recently legalized it (Massachusetts).

None of the newer medical marijuana states are as wide open as California, Colorado, or Montana (until virtual repeal last year), as with each new state, the restrictions seem to grow tighter and the regulation and oversight more onerous and constricting. Perhaps that will protect them from the tender mercies of the Justice Department, which, after two years of benign neglect, changed course last year, undertaking concerted attacks on dispensaries and growers in all three states. That offensive was ongoing throughout 2012, marked by federal prosecutions and medical marijuana providers heading to federal prison in Montana. While federal prosecutions have been less resorted to in California and Colorado, federal raids and asset forfeiture threat campaigns have continued, resulting in the shuttering of dozens of dispensaries in Colorado and hundreds in California. There is no sign of a change of heart at the Justice Department, either.

6. The Number of Drug War Prisoners is Decreasing

The Bureau of Justice Statistics announced recently that the number of people in America's state and federal prisons had declined for the second year in a row at year's end 2011. The number and percentage of drug war prisoners is declining, too. A decade ago, the US had nearly half a million people behind bars on drug charges; now that number has declined to a still horrific 330,000 (not including people doing local jail time). And while a decade ago, the percentage of people imprisoned for drug charges was somewhere between 20% and 25% of all prisoners, that percentage has now dropped to 17%.

That decline is mostly attributable to sentencing reforms in the states, which, unlike the federal government, actually have to balance their budgets. Especially as economic hard times kicked in in 2008, spending scarce taxpayer resources on imprisoning nonviolent drug offenders became fiscally and politically less tenable. The passage of the Proposition 36 "three strikes" sentencing reform in California in November, which will keep people from being sentenced to up to life in prison for trivial third offenses, including drug possession, is but the latest example of the trend away from mass incarceration for drug offenses.

The federal government is the exception. While state prison populations declined last year (again), the federal prison population actually increased by 3.1%. With nearly 95,000 drug offenders doing federal time, the feds alone account for almost one-third of all drug war prisoners.

President Obama could exercise his pardon power by granting clemency to drug war prisoners, but it is so far a power he has been loathe to exercise. An excellent first candidate for presidential clemency would be Clarence Aaron, the now middle-aged black man who has spent the past two decades behind bars for his peripheral role in a cocaine deal, but activists in California and elsewhere are also calling for Obama to free some of the medical marijuana providers now languishing in federal prisons. The next few days would be the time for him to act, if he is going to act this year.

7. But the Drug War Juggernaut Keeps On Rolling, Even if Slightly Out of Breath

NYC "stop and frisk" protest of mass marijuana arrests
According to annual arrest data released this summer by the FBI, more than 1.53 million people were arrested on drug charges last year, nearly nine out of ten of them for simple possession, and nearly half of them on marijuana charges. The good news is that is a decline in drug arrests from 2010. That year, 1.64 million people were arrested on drug charges, meaning the number of overall drug arrests declined by about 110,000 last year. The number of marijuana arrests is also down, from about 850,000 in 2010 to about 750,000 last year.

But that still comes out to a drug arrest every 21 seconds and a marijuana arrest every 42 seconds, and no other single crime category generated as many arrests as drug law violations. The closest challengers were larceny (1.24 million arrests), non-aggravated assaults (1.21 million), and DWIs (1.21 million). All violent crime arrests combined totaled 535,000, or slightly more than one-third the number of drug arrests.

The war on drugs remains big business for law enforcement and prosecutors.

8. And So Does the Call to Drug Test Public Benefits Recipients

Oblivious to constitutional considerations or cost-benefit analyses, legislators (almost always Republican) in as many as 30 states introduced bills that would have mandated drug testing for welfare recipients, people receiving unemployment benefits, or, in a few cases, anyone receiving any public benefit, including Medicaid recipients. Most would have called for suspicionless drug testing, which runs into problems with that pesky Fourth Amendment requirement for a search warrant or probable cause to undertake a search, while some attempted to get around that obstacle by only requiring drug testing upon suspicion. But that suspicion could be as little as a prior drug record or admitting to drug use during intake screening.

Still, when all the dust had settled, only three states -- Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee -- actually passed drug testing bills, and only Georgia's called for mandatory suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. Bill sponsors may have been oblivious, but other legislators and stakeholders were not. And the Georgia bill is on hold, while the state waits to see whether the federal courts will strike down the Florida welfare drug testing bill on which it is modeled. That law is currently blocked by a federal judge's temporary injunction.

It wasn't just Republicans. In West Virginia, Democratic Gov. Roy Tomblin used an executive order to impose drug testing on applicants to the state's worker training program. (This week came reports that only five of more than 500 worker tests came back positive.) And the Democratic leadership in the Congress bowed before Republican pressures and okayed giving states the right to impose drug testing requirements on some unemployment recipients in return for getting an extension of unemployment benefits.

This issue isn't going away. Legislators in several states, including Indiana, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia have already signaled they will introduce similar bills next year, and that number is likely to increase as solons around the country return to work.

9. The US Bans New Synthetic Drugs

In July, President Obama signed a bill banning the synthetic drugs known popularly as "bath salts" and "fake weed." The bill targeted 31 specific synthetic stimulant, cannabinoid, and hallucinogenic compounds. Marketed under brand names like K2 and Spice for synthetic cannabinoids and under names like Ivory Wave, among others, for synthetic stimulants, the drugs have become increasingly popular in recent years. The drugs had previously been banned under emergency action by the DEA.

The federal ban came after more than half the states moved against the new synthetics, which have been linked to a number of side effects ranging from the inconvenient (panic attacks) to the life-threatening. States and localities continue to move against the new drugs, too.

While the federal ban demonstrates that the prohibitionist reflex is still strong, what is significant is the difficulty sponsors had in getting the bill passed. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) put a personal hold on the bill until mandatory minimum sentencing requirements were removed and also argued that such efforts were the proper purview of the states, not Washington. And for the first time, there were a substantial number of Congress members voting "no" on a bill to create a new drug ban.

10. Harm Reduction Advances by Fits and Starts, At Home and Abroad

Harm reduction practices -- needle exchanges, safer injection sites, and the like -- continued to expand, albeit fitfully, in both the US and around the globe. Faced with a rising number of prescription pain pill overdoses in the US -- they now outnumber auto accident fatalities -- lawmakers in a number of states have embraced "911 Good Samaritan" laws granting immunity from prosecution. Since New Mexico passed the first such law in 2007, nine others have followed. Sadly, Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the New Jersey bill this year.

Similarly, the use of the opioid antagonist naloxone, which can reverse overdoses and restore normal breathing in minutes, also expanded this year. A CDC report this year that estimated it had saved 10,000 lives will only help spread the word.

There has been movement internationally as well this year, including in some unlikely places. Kenya announced in June that it was handing out 50,000 syringes to injection drug users in a bid to reduce the spread of AIDS, and Colombia announced in the fall plans to open safe consumption rooms for cocaine users in Bogota. That's still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs unanimously supported a resolution calling on the World Health Organization and other international bodies to promote measures to reduce overdose deaths, including the expanded use of naloxone; Greece announced it was embracing harm reduction measures, including handing out needles and condoms, to fight AIDS; long-awaited Canadian research called for an expansion of safe injection sites to Toronto and Ottawa; and Denmark first okayed safe injection sites in June, then announced it is proposing that heroin in pill form be made available to addicts. Denmark is one of a handful of European countries that provide maintenance doses of heroin to addicts, but to this point, the drug was only available for injection. France, too, announced it was going ahead with safe injection sites, which could be open by the time you read this.  

This has been another year of slogging through the mire, with some inspiring victories and some oh-so-hard-fought battles, not all of which we won. But after a century of global drug prohibition, the tide appears to be turning, not least here in the US, prohibition's most powerful proponent. There is a long way to go, but activists and advocates can be forgiven if they feel like they've turned a corner. Now, we can put 2012 to bed and turn our eyes to the year ahead.

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2. Chronicle Review Essay: What Next for Mexico?

The Fire Next Door: Mexico's Drug Violence and the Danger to America by Ted Galen Carpenter (2012, Cato Institute, 307 pp., $24.95 HB)

Drug War Mexico: Politics, Neoliberalism, and Violence in the New Narcoeconomy by Peter Watt and Roberto Zepeda (2012, Zed Press, 260 pp., $24.95 PB)

As of this month, Felipe Calderon has finished his term as president of Mexico, and while history may prove kinder in the long run, he leaves office known as the man who plunged his country into a drug war. Some 50,000 people, or is it 60,000 or 70,000? -- nobody seems to know for sure -- have been killed in the multi-sided conflict since Calderon, in almost the opening act of his administration, deployed the army against the so-called cartels six years ago.

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Thousands more have disappeared. The Mexican government says it has 9,000 unidentified corpses. The addition of tens of thousands of Mexican army troops and federal police into conflict-ridden cauldrons like Ciudad Juarez or Michoacan where intra-cartel violence ran rampant only seemed to jack up the number of killings. Cartel-linked corruption plagues the police forces and tarnishes the not-so-sterling reputation of the Mexican military.

Calderon's throwing the military into the fray and his strategy of attempting to decapitate the cartels by going after their top leadership have produced some results -- the government proudly says 25 of 37 top capos have been captured or killed -- but have clearly failed to destroy the cartels, stop the traffic of drugs into the US, or reduce the horrendous levels of violence. He -- and the country -- have also paid a disastrous price, not just in terms of lives lost, but in public cynicism and insecurity, loss of confidence, international dismay and disgust, and domestic political capital.

Indeed, only a dozen years after "the perfect dictatorship" of the PRI fell in disgrace at the hands of Vicente Fox and the PAN, Calderon and the PAN are out, and the PRI is back. Calderon's disaster of a drug war and steady increase in violent crime in general while he was preoccupied fighting the cartels certainly deserve credit, if that is the word, for the return of the rejected.

Now, Calderon's successor, the PRIista Enrique Pena Nieto, has a chance to change course, and his administration has made no secret it wants to. Just this week, Pena Nieto's secretary of the interior, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, bitterly attacked Calderon's US-backed strategy for causing violence to increase, saying its decapitation strategy had only fractured the cartels, making them "more violent and much more dangerous." The new government will abandon that strategy and instead concentrate on reducing violent crime affecting ordinary civilians, Osorio Chong and Pena Nieto have said.

But having a smarter drug war is not going to get the job done, argues libertarian-leaning Cato Institute senior fellow for defense and foreign policy studies Ted Galen Carpenter in The Fire Next Door. He rather convincingly makes the case that there is no solution to the Mexican drug war short of ending drug prohibition and sucking the money out the multi-billion dollar black market business in the substances we love to consume north of the border. Only then will the cartels be weakened enough to recede as a threat to Mexico and to the US, which as his subtitle indicates, is the real focus of his concern.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/drug-war-mexico-politics-neoliberalism-and-violence-in-the-new-narcoeconomy.jpg
British academics Peter Watt and Roberto Zepeda are Carpenter's polar opposites in terms of ideological orientation, but in Drug War Mexico, they arrive at some similar policy prescriptions, at least when it comes to drug prohibition itself. "If the illegal narcotics were decriminalized and stringently controlled, it is likely cartel profits would be severely constrained," they write.

But even that would not suffice, they argue. Legalization is probably a pipe dream for now, and even were it to occur, "it would not necessarily on its own present a long-term answer to the institutional corruption and the eruption of violence in the last few years," they write, noting that drug revenues now make up only about half of cartel earnings, and that legalization does nothing in itself to address the broader economic and political problems that allow the illicit drug business to flourish in the first place.

And that's where they part ways with Carpenter. For Watt and Zepeda, Mexico's "narcoeconomy" is a manifestation of its insertion into the global capitalist economic order, which is the main problem. For Carpenter, global capitalism, the free market, neo-liberalism, whatever you want to call it, is just the status quo.

Thus the differences. Carpenter sees legalization as a market-based solution to the problem of Mexico's drug violence, while Watt and Zepeda see the free market as the problem, legalization as no better than a partial solution to Mexico's drug violence, and fundamental social and economic reform as the necessary precondition.

Differences notwithstanding, both Carpenter and Watt and Zepeda provide histories of drug trafficking in Mexico, the complicity of the state and other actors, and the ins and outs of the cartel wars, and both cast a leery eye on US policies toward Mexico and its drug wars. The US has backed Calderon's militaristic approach with hundreds of millions of dollars in mostly military and law enforcement aid under Plan Merida. Carpenter views this as dangerously empowering the military against civilian institutions, while Watt and Zepeda see it as backing a Mexican ruling class strategy of using the military to repress and intimidate political opposition in the guise of the drug war.

Both are valuable contributions to the ever-growing bibliography of Mexico's prohibition-induced dance of death. Carpenter's primary concern is from a US national security perspective, and his examination of the dangers of the violence left unchecked for the US is sobering. His concentration on the US also leads him to focus like a laser on calling for ending prohibition in the US, after which surely others will follow.

Watt and Zepeda do especially well in unraveling the networks of complicity that embed the Mexican drug trade squarely within the larger economy and polity, and make an especially strong case that the Sinaloa Cartel has received favorable treatment from various state actors. They also deserve kudos for clarifying just how exhaustively and effectively the former PRI-state did not so much repress as manage the drug trade during its tenure.

Those "good old days" of Mexican drug trafficking, where the violence was kept within limits, where the occasional exemplary bust of drug lord kept the Americans at bay, where the drugs flowed quietly and the money accumulated in the pockets of policemen, politicians, and army officers, doesn't look so bad now. That's one strong reason we're starting to hear a lot of talk about reaching an accommodation with the cartels or, more pejoratively, appeasement.

Will Pena Nieto and the PRI cut a deal with the cartels? As Carpenter notes, things have changed. The unitary PRI-state is no more; the number of parties and players who would have to be cut in has grown, and whatever deals are done could be undone in the next election. And the US certainly wouldn't approve. Still, Pena Nieto seems to be signaling to the cartels at least a truce of sorts: "You don't mess with us (by killing, kidnapping, and extorting the good people) and we won’t mess with you (by trying to decapitate your leadership).

That would be a very uncomfortable accommodation, but short of ending drug prohibition, it may be the best Mexico can hope for, at least in the short run. Let's see if the crime rate starts to drop, the grisly killings grow less frequent, the "neutralization" of drug bosses less frequent. There will certainly be no public pronouncement.

But that's a bargain with the devil. Perhaps Mexico can live with the tamed cartels and their insidious corruption, but if it's going to get serious about eliminating their wealth and power, the only answer is increasingly clear, whether you're on the left ,the right, or in the middle.

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3. How People Are Using Drug War Chronicle

A few of the testimonials we received this year -- and reasons to support our work with a donation!

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Drug War Chronicle is one of the first resources I suggest to new students getting involved in the drug policy reform movement. There's nothing else out there that covers a wider variety of drug war issues each week. SSDP loves Drug War Chronicle, keep up the great work!
-Stacia Cosner, Associate Director, Students for Sensible Drug Policy

As part of a small staff without any single staff member devoted to research and policy, the Drug War Chronicle is one of the most useful resources I have to stay on top of important developments across the country. I direct a nationwide speakers bureau, and whenever I receive a request from a state I'm not familiar with, one of the first things I do is search my Drug War Chronicle email folder to get a clear summary of the latest updates from that state. Then I am able to confidently bring the speaker up-to-date and help him/her prepare to do a talk that is not only persuasive and credible, but also informed on the current local context, thanks to the DWC. If I didn't have the DWC I'd have to do endless online research and still never be quite sure if what I have is up-to-date. We also encourage all of our speakers to subscribe to stay on top of the most important updates on a weekly basis.-Shaleen Title, Speakers Bureau Director, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

Drug War Chronicle has, for years, provided a vital and unparalleled source of rational, fact based analysis on the US Drug War for readers in the UK and Europe. Congratulations to the team are fully deserved; when the Drug war ends, the role of the Chronicle in its downfall will not be forgotten.
- Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

On behalf of California NORML, I strongly recommend the Drug War Chronicle. DWC consistently provides the most comprehensive, reliable, in-depth coverage of drug issues for the reform community. When Phil Smith calls me, I know that he will accurately report what I have said. DWC is a valuable resource, and I often consult its archives for background research on issues of interest.
- Dale Gieringer, Director, California NORML

Oaksterdam University has long enjoyed sharing the information compiled by Drug War Chronicle with students of the History of Cannabis and Marijuana Prohibition. DWT excerpts are informative and helpful to our Legal, Politics & History classes, as well as Civics, Dispensary Management and Operations, and Advocacy courses. One of the most important services we provide is the ability to bridge to sources of good information, and I have long considered you one of our vital resources. It is simply one of the most comprehensive sources I direct my students towards. Your website and communications are a cornerstone of our Political Science department, and provide important lessons for anyone involved with Cannabusiness or drug policy reform.
- Dale Sky Jones, Executive Chancellor, Oaksterdam University

The West Coast Leaf always looks to the Drug War Chronicle to help us determine the most important stories for our newspaper. Its in-depth coverage is top-notch, providing a well-rounded perspective on the news, along with quotes from drug policy's doers and shakers. At times, we use the stories as well (with all due credit) so the impact of the Chronicle is amplified in print edition. It's a vital resource in activating the masses with relevant information needed to make reform happen.
- Mikki Norris, Publisher and Managing Editor of the West Coast Leaf

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4. StoptheDrugWar.org Needs Your Support

   

Dear reader,

  

I am writing to ask your support as we head into the new year. The nation's continuing economic challenges present nonprofits with continuing challenges, even in drug policy reform despite the excitement of last month's victories. StoptheDrugWar.org, and the widely read, widely put to use Drug War Chronicle newsletter, need your help to continue in strength into 2013. Would you visit our web site today to make a generous donation to our work and the cause?

Of course publishing information is not all that we do here. We also play important roles in generating grassroots support for legislation, recruiting organizations onto legislative sign-on letters to Congress organized by DC-based criminal justice reform coalitions, speaking with the media and more. This fall we held our first member teleconference, featuring representatives of the three legalization initiatives. More of these events will be held in the new year, and other efforts are in the works to address the special needs of this time -- countering the naysaying and misinformation that opponents of marijuana legalization have already begun to spread, and highlighting and bolstering the growing international debate on drug prohibition as a whole.

But I am not exaggerating when I say that it can't continue to happen without your help. So I hope you'll make a generous donation -- tax-deductible supporting our educational work, or non-deductible for lobbying -- online at our web site by credit card or PayPal today.
(Donations can also be made by mail, info below, and we can also accept donations of stock.)

I've mentioned in recent emails that we offer a number of books, videos and other items to our donating members. Some of the older items are available with gifts of as little as $15. The most recent books or videos come with donations of $35 or more. (Note that selecting gifts will reduce the amount of your donation that is tax-deductible.) Of course I hope you will consider donating more than the minimum if you are able, or supplementing your donation with a continuing monthly gift. Or if the gifts are not important to you, I hope you'll consider sending a donation that's just for our work. But we'll be pleased to send you any of our currently in stock items at you request.

At a time like this -- when people are talking about drug policy like never before -- the movement and our part in it are also more important than ever before. So please support our work with a generous donation today. Donations to our organization can be made online at http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate, or they can be mailed to: DRCNet Foundation (tax-deductible), P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036; or Drug Reform Coordination Network (non-deductible for lobbying), same address.

If you wish to donate stock, the information to give your brokerage is Ameritrade, (800) 669-3900), DTC #0188, and account number 781926492 for tax-deductible gifts or 864663500 for non-deductible gifts -- make sure to contact us if donating in this way.

Thank you for standing with us to stop the drug war's cruelties and meet the opportunity this time offers to make a brighter future. As recent events show, Time, and the truth, are on our side!

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

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5. US Has 330,000 Drug Offenders in Prison

The number of people in prison in America declined last year for the second year in a row, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The number of prisoners at the end of 2011 dropped to just under 1.6 million, a 0.9% decrease over the previous year.

More than 330,000 were doing prison time for drugs in the US at the end of 2011. (supremecourt.gov)
Of those 1.6 million prisoners, some 330,000 were doing time for drug offenses, including nearly 95,000 doing federal time.

There were 15,023 fewer inmates at the end of 2011 than a year earlier, but that number is more than accounted for by a single state, California, which reported a decline of 15,493 prisoners due primarily to an incarceration realignment program that has sent what would have been state prisoners to county jails instead. Counting just state prison populations, 2011 saw a decline of 21,164 prisoners, or 1.5%, again with California accounting for 72% of the decrease.

Overall, 26 states reported declines in prison populations, while 24 reported increases. While overall state prison population numbers are declining slightly, the federal prison population continues to increase, largely offsetting the decline in the states. The federal prison population increased by 6,591 prisoners, or 3.1%.

The growth in the federal prison population is largely driven by drug war prisoners. Drug offenders constitute 48% of all federal inmates, or some 94,600 inmates. By contrast, only 7.6% of federal inmates are doing time for violent crimes.

Among state prisoners, drug offenders accounted for 17%, or slightly fewer than one out of five. That means some 235,000 were doing state prison time on drug charges at the end of 2011, bringing the combined state and federal total to 330,000. That's a slight decline over a decade ago, but still represents incalculable human costs, as well as easily calculable financial ones.

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6. Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearings on Marijuana Policy

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in a statement last Thursday that he intends to hold a hearing seeking information about how the Obama administration plans to respond to the successful marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington. Leahy said he expects to hold the hearing when Congress reconvenes early next year.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (leahy.senate.gov)
Leahy also released a letter he sent earlier this month to Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) asking him what recommendations the agency will make to the Justice Department and how, given the fiscal constraints the administration faces, it intends to use federal resources in light of the legalization votes in Colorado and Washington. The veteran Vermont lawmaker also asked Kerlikowske what assurances the administration can give to state officials responsible for the licensing of marijuana retailers to ensure they will face no criminal penalties for carrying out their duties under those state laws.

"The Senate Judiciary Committee has a significant interest in the effect of these developments on federal drug control policy," Leahy wrote. "Legislative options exist to resolve the differences between federal and state law in this area and end the uncertainty that residents of Colorado and Washington now face. In order to give these options full consideration, the committee needs to understand how the administration intends to respond to the decision of the voters in Colorado and Washington.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter."

The Obama administration has yet to formally respond to the legalization votes, but Attorney General Eric Holder said last Wednesday the Justice Department will announce "relatively soon" where it stands on federal enforcement of the pot laws in the two states.

"There is a tension between federal law and these state laws,” Holder said in response to questions after a speech in Boston. "I would expect the policy pronouncement that we’re going to make will be done relatively soon."

A series of public opinion polls this month have found little public support for federal interference with state marijuana laws in states where it is legal, with majorities calling for the feds to keep out of the way. Support for federal non-interference is strongest among key Obama constituencies, including Democrats, independents, and young voters.

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7. Obama Comments Beg the Question on Marijuana Legalization

In an interview last Friday with ABC News' Barbara Walters, President Obama said going after marijuana smokers in states that have legalized it should not be a "top priority" of federal law enforcement, but he failed to address how the federal government would respond to efforts by state governments in Colorado and Washington to implement taxation and regulation schemes for legal marijuana commerce.

President Barack Obama (whitehouse.gov)
Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington were both approved by voters in last month's elections. Their provisions legalizing marijuana possession (and cultivation in Colorado) are already in effect, but officials in the two states are now charged with crafting those taxation and regulation rules.

The looming question is what the federal government will do about that. President Obama's comments Friday did not shed new light on that topic.

"We've got bigger fish to fry" than going after individual pot smokers in Colorado and Washington, Obama said. "It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal."

That is in parallel with the administration's approach to medical marijuana. It has not gone after individual patients, but in the past two years, the Obama Justice Department has vigorously and aggressively targeted medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries for raids, threats of asset forfeiture, and, more rarely, federal criminal prosecutions.

Obama also told Walters that he does not support marijuana legalization "at this point," but he added that shifting public opinion -- polls are now showing majorities in favor of legalization -- and questions about how to allocate limited government resources are good reasons to seek to find a middle ground on dealing with the weed.

The president also said he had asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department to look into how to resolve the conflict between state and federal laws. Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

"I head up the executive branch; we're supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we're going to need to have is a conversation about is how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it's legal?" Obama said.

Holder said last Wednesday that he expected a Justice Department review to be completed "relatively soon."

While Obama notoriously partook of the weed in his youth, being a leading member of the "Choom Gang" of serious recreational puffers, according to biographer David Maraniss, he has downplayed his own use and not favored marijuana legalization. He told Walters Friday he had regrets over his youthful behavior.

"There are a bunch of things I did that I regret when I was a kid," Obama told Walters. "My attitude is, substance abuse generally is not good for our kids, not good for our society. "I want to discourage drug use," he added.

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8. Medical Marijuana Update

Dispensary wars continue in California, a package of restrictive bills passes in Michigan, and DC's long-awaited dispensaries are a step closer to opening.

California

Last Tuesday, a Sacramento dispensary operator pleaded guilty to federal drug charges. Bryan Smith, 28, had operated R&R Wellness Center that was first raided by local law enforcement and then turned over to the feds to prosecute. He and his colleagues got caught with more than 400 marijuana plants and $256,000 in cash. He agreed to a sentence of not less than five years in federal prison.

Also last Tuesday, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said the feds should back off from trying to run Harborside Health Center out of business. The statement came in court filings ahead of a court date set for Thursday.

Last Thursday, two Bakersfield dispensaries sued Kern County, claiming they spent a total of $99,000 to set up under state and local laws, only to have the county fine them $100,000 for doing it. A third dispensary sued earlier, seeking the return of $280,000 in fines.Kern County passed an ordinance in 2009 removing restrictions on where medical marijuana dispensaries could operate. Under the new ordinance, dispensaries could operate anywhere in unincorporated areas except within 1,000 feet of a school. But last year, the county adopted two new ordinances: one banning cultivation of medical marijuana, and the other banning marijuana collectives from unincorporated areas, to take effect 30 days after adoption. The dispensaries want the county to pay for changing the rules on them and they want an end to efforts to ban them.

Last Friday, Murrieta officials shut down the Diamond Star Remedies dispensary for alleged code violations. The dispensary owner, John Szwec, said he had applied for a business license but been denied. Two other dispensaries -- Cooperative Medical Group and Greenhouse Cannabis Club -- that attempted to operate in the city have also since shut their doors.

On Tuesday, LA city officials said a referendum to keep most of the city's dispensaries had enough signatures to go to the voters. The Medical Marijuana Collectives Initiative Ordinance awaits verification of signatures, which could happen as early as January 2. At that point the Clerk will forward the initiative to the City Council, which can vote to make it law, call a special election, or place the matter before voters during the next scheduled election, which is May 21.Another referendum that would allow only 128 dispensaries has already been approved for a vote.

Also on Tuesday, Yuba County supervisors gave final approval to a medical marijuana ordinance. Growing on less than an acre would be limited to 12 mature plants with no more than six growing outdoors, and no more than 18 plants overall. Supervisors and grower advocates said in the long run, the ordinance should push growing out of residential areas and into more rural ones.

Also on Tuesday, the California Supreme Court said it had taken up the appeal of a Temecula dispensary. In City of Temecula v. Cooperative Patients Services Inc., the Riverside-based Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Two, followed its pattern of denying an appeal from the clinic and upholding the city's preliminary injunction against its operation. But unlike others cases from that court, the vote was 2-1.

Colorado

Last Friday, three dispensaries in the town of Dacono sued to stay open. They asked the Weld County District Court to block the city's ban of marijuana-related businesses. Without legal protection, all three will have to shut down at the beginning of the new year. The town council passed a ban in June, but a petition drive will bring the issue to a vote next year. But it won't enable the dispensaries to stay open in the meantime.

On Monday, a medical marijuana grower sued the Larimer County sheriff after his 42 plants were destroyed. Kaleb Young was arrested and his plants and equipment seized during a drug raid even though he was in compliance with state law and had paperwork to prove it. He was acquitted of all criminal charges last year. His attorney, Rob Corry, said he would ask for $5,000 for each destroyed plant, based on sheriffs' estimates of the plants' value when they were seized. "Typically, the agency will preserve the plants as they're required to do under the (Colorado) constitution," Corry said. "Here, they just straight-up cut them down and destroyed them."

Massachusetts

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana evaluation company said it has lost its lease after its landlord received negative feedback from local residents and businesses. California-based CannaMed had announced two weeks earlier that they would open a Framingham office by mid-month, but the building's owner, Jumbo Capital Management, terminated the lease after receiving letters from other tenants objecting to CannaMed moving in.

Michigan

Last Friday, the state legislature passed a package of bills adding restrictions to the state's medical marijuana law. HB 4834 says that registry cards will expire after two years, HB 4856 requires medical marijuana to be transported in the trunk of a car, and HB 4851 puts new limits on when doctors can recommend medical marijuana. Gov. Snyder (R) is expected to sign them, and they will take effect April 1 if he does.

Montana

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors agreed to drop six of eight charges against Chris Williams, who was set to be sentenced to 85 years or more after being convicted of marijuana cultivation and gun charges. Under the deal, the federal government dropped convictions for conspiracy to manufacture and possess with the intent to distribute marijuana; manufacture of marijuana; possession with intent to distribute marijuana; and three counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. His convictions for one count of possessing a firearm in connection with drug trafficking and one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana will stand. He faces a maximum term of five years for the distribution of marijuana charge and a mandatory minimum of five years -- and a maximum of life -- for the firearm-related charge. In return, he waives his right to appeal. He was a partner in Montana Cannabis, which was hit hard by DEA raiders in March 2011.

Washington, DC

On Tuesday, DC officials okayed the occupancy permits for the city's first medical marijuana cultivation center and dispensary. Medical marijuana is coming to the District; it's just taken 14 years since the voters approved it and three years since Congress stepped out of the way.

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9. Slim Majority of New Yorkers Say Legalize Marijuana

A Quinnipiac poll released last Friday has New Yorkers supporting marijuana legalization by a narrow majority. The poll found 51% supported marijuana legalization, with 44% opposed.

That puts New York in line with the rest of the country, where most post-election polls are showing support for legalization at over 50%. Those polls come in the wake of victories for the Amendment 64 and Initiative 502 marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, respectively.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been pushing marijuana decriminalization, but the Quinnipiac poll suggests New Yorkers are ahead of their political leaders on the issue of marijuana reform.

New York City has achieved notoriety as the marijuana arrest capital of the world, with the NYPD arresting tens of thousands of mainly young black and brown men each year. Despite recent reforms, those numbers have yet to significantly decrease.

In a report released last month, Human Rights Watch found that between 1996 and 2011, the NYPD arrested more than 563,000 people for possession of marijuana in public (typically after police intimidate them into emptying their pockets and revealing their baggies), including nearly 100,000 in 2010 and 2011 alone. Neither Mayor Michael Bloomberg nor the NYPD "has ever provided a detailed justification for the high number of marijuana arrests, suggesting only that the arrests improve public safety," the report noted.

But the report also examined the subsequent criminal histories of the 2003 and 2004 cohorts of New York City pot possession arrestees. It found that more than 90% of them had not subsequently been arrested on a felony charge.

The Quinnipiac poll found majority support for legalization in New York City (54%) and its suburbs (50%), and a plurality (49%) for legalization upstate. Majorities supported freeing the weed in every age group except seniors, while majorities of Democrats (56%) and independents (57%) also favored legalization. Only 33% of Republicans did.

Men were more likely to support legalization (56%) than women (47%), while people with college degrees were more likely to support it (58%) than those without (47%). People who identified themselves as belonging to a religious denomination had levels of support ranging from 46% to 48%, while 70% of those who said they had no religion supported legalization.

Gov. Cuomo has been talking decriminalization. Given last month's election results and this month's polling, perhaps he should raise his sights.

The poll contacted 1,302 New York state voters between December 5 and 10 and asked"Do you think that the use of marijuana should be made legal in New York State, or not?" The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percentage points.

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10. Michigan Cops Ponder Detroit Marijuana Legalization Vote

Voters in Detroit overwhelmingly approved legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults on private property in last month's elections, but according to Michigan Live, local law enforcement agencies are either uncertain what to do or are fully prepared to ignore the will of the voters.

Marijuana is legal in the Motor City. Someone tell the cops. (wikimedia.org)
None of the law enforcement agencies contacted by Michigan Live said they had instructed their officers to stop citing or arresting people for pot possession in the city. Some agencies were set to ignore the Detroit ordinance, while others were not sure how they would respond.

State Police spokesman Lt. Mike Shaw said the ordinance would have no impact on its enforcement policies. If state police catch you with marijuana, he said, you will be cited with state misdemeanor possession charges and be looking at up to a year in jail.

"We don’t enforce local ordinances, so nothing has changed for us," Shaw said. "Marijuana is still illegal for us according to state law. Anyone who doesn't have a medical marijuana card will be arrested for state possession."

The Detroit Police Department isn't sure what it will do.

"This legislation is being reviewed by the city of Detroit Law Department," said Sgt. Eren Stephens of the Public Information Office.

Neither is the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.

"We have not developed a policy yet on that issue," said sheriff's spokesman Dennis Niemiec. "It’s being looked at by our training and legal departments."

The Wayne State University Police Department, which patrols the campus and some surrounding neighborhoods hasn't figured out yet how to respond, either.

"We have not come up with an official policy," said Chief Anthony Holt. "It’s a federal law regarding (marijuana possession) so it's probably something we’ll have to get an opinion on. But it's not a real big priority for us now."

And even though the measure passed by a margin of 65% to 35%, Detroit City Council members remain adamantly opposed to implementing the will of the voters.

Possession of marijuana is "still illegal" under state and federal law, Councilwoman Brenda Jones told the Detroit Free Press. "We will not be writing an ordinance that says something that's illegal is legal."

"It was really a waste or our time," said City Council President Charles Pugh.

Perhaps in the next election, Detroit voters will find that reelecting people like Jones and Pugh is a waste of their time.

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11. Memphis Officer, Dallas Man Killed in Separate Drug War Incidents

A Memphis police officer was shot and killed early last Friday morning during a marijuana raid, and, hours later, a Dallas man was shot and killed by police investigating a drug complaint. Memphis Police Officer Martoiya Lang and the as yet unidentified Dallas man become the 62nd and 63rd persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In Memphis, according to the Associated Press, Lang was part of an organized crime unit serving a "drug-related search warrant" when a person in the house opened fire, striking Lang and Officer William Vrooman. Lang died of her injuries, while Vrooman, who was struck multiple times, was in stable condition at a local hospital.

Police returned fire, critically wounding the shooter, who was later identified as Treveno Campbell, 21. He has now been charged with one count of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder. A second man in the house, Willie Braddock, 26, was charged with possession of marijuana and intent to distribute.

In Dallas, according to KDFW Fox 4 News, police had received a complaint about drug activity at an Oak Cliff apartment complex and pulled over two men in a "suspicious" vehicle in the apartment parking lot. Police said a fight broke out between one of the men and an officer, and when that man pulled out a gun, a police officer opened fire and killed him.

Police have not released the names of any of the parties involved.

The dead man in Dallas was later identified as Kenny Ellis, 30.

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12. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A small-town Florida department run amok loses its chief -- at least temporarily -- an Alabama cop gets caught delivering weed, four South Texas cops get caught running cocaine, and a Camden, New Jersey, sergeant goes down for a dope squad run amok there. Let's get to it:

In Bal Harbour, Florida, the Bal Harbour police chief was suspended last Wednesday after a US Justice Department report said the department had misspent millions of dollars in drug money it had seized. Chief Thomas Hunker, 61, has been suspended with pay while an outside law enforcement agency investigates. The Bal Harbour police had developed the habit of conducting undercover operations all over the country to target drug dealers and their cash. Records show the agency doled out $624,558 in payments to informants in less than four years, and ran up $23,704 in one month for cross-country trips with first-class flights and luxury car rentals. The feds have frozen millions that Bal Harbour police helped confiscate, and the Justice Department now wants the village to return more than $4 million. The Justice Department also accused Hunker of professional misconduct for, among other things, conducting unauthorized checks of national criminal records databases for individuals who did not have access to those systems; receiving multiple gifts from people who may have benefited from his influence; allowing a drunk individual to drive a marked police vehicle on a beach, getting a "sweet deal" on his wife's car purchase after the department bought several vehicles from the same dealer; allowing inflated overtime on money-laundering investigations; and improperly paying informants.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a Montgomery police officer was arrested last Wednesday after he was caught delivering more than three pounds of high-grade marijuana to a home in Mobile County. Officer Lyvanh Ravasong is charged with marijuana trafficking. Ravasong went down when he arrived at the residence at the wrong time -- as Mobile County Sheriff's deputies were executing a search warrant at the address. Ravasong is also believed to be associated with a 16-acre pot farm discovered in October near Chunchala. Officer Ravasong is now former officer Ravasong.

In McAllen, Texas, four South Texas lawmen were arrested late last week on charges they accepted thousands of dollars in bribes to guard shipments of cocaine. Mission Police Officer Jonathan Trevino, 29, and Hidalgo County Sheriff's deputies Fabian Rodriguez, 28, and Gerardo Duran, 30, were arrested last Friday, while Mission Police Officer Alexis Espinosa was arrested a day earlier. All four were members of an anti-drug trafficking task force called the Panama Unit, but are accused of instead providing protection for traffickers. Trevino is the son of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Hidalgo. Federal prosecutors said they received a tip in August that task force members had been stealing drugs and set up a sting. The sting resulted in Duran and another task force member escorting 20 kilograms of cocaine north from McAllen, for which they were paid $4,000. The other task force members earned thousands more dollars for escorting four more cocaine shipments in November. It's unclear what the actual charges are, but all four were being held on $100,000 bonds.

In Camden, New Jersey, a former Camden police sergeant was sentenced last Wednesday to eight months in federal prison for his role as the supervising officer of a corrupt anti-drug squad that stole cash, conducted illegal searches, planted drugs and falsified reports. Dan Morris, 49, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deprive others of their civil rights. He admitted that between May 2007 and September 2008, he conducted illegal searches without a warrant or consent, obtained coerced consents to search residences based on threats and undue pressure, stole money during illegal searches and arrests, and allowed officers he supervised to include facts in police reports that were false. Morris is the third Camden officer to plead guilty in the conspiracy, while a fourth was found guilty at trial, and a fifth was acquitted. The FBI probe of the conspiracy has resulted in the reversal of about 200 drug convictions of suspects arrested by the unit between 2007 and 2009, when the cops were arrested. Morris, a city officer since 1986, was the unit’s supervisor during the time of the investigation.

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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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