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Congress Passes, President Signs Omnibus Funding Bill That Has Reform Advocates Fuming [FEATURE]

The Fiscal Year 2022 Omnibus appropriations bill signed into law by President Biden on Tuesday has drug reform and civil rights groups fuming over both what was left out and what made the final cut. The bill extends class-wide scheduling and harsh criminal penalties for fentanyl-related substances, underfunds harm reduction services, and still includes a rider that bars the District of Columbia from taxing and regulating marijuana sales.

Drug reform and civil rights groups are directing some ire at Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
"We're deeply disappointed in House and Senate leadership for allowing this version of the bill to move forward and neglecting this rare opportunity to advance long overdue reforms," the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) said in a press release after the bill passed Congress last week.

Congress ended up allocating a measly $18 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Infectious Disease and the Opioid Epidemic program that supports needle exchange and overdose prevention program. While the figure is a $5 million increase over the last year, it fails to respond to urgent need to expand harm reduction services.

"With an overdose crisis that claimed more than 100,000 lives in 2021 alone, we urgently need to employ evidence-based services to save lives. Syringe services programs directly reach people at highest risk for overdose, HIV, hepatitis C and other infections, as well as other harms associated with drug use. It's past time that lawmakers prioritize making more of these lifesaving harm reduction services available," said DPA deputy director of National Affairs Grant Smith.

While Congress is not paying enough attention to harm reduction, its move to extend the Trump-era temporary class-wide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances will only increase the harms of criminal justice system exposure for people of color while failing to address the overdose crisis, civil rights advocates said. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 230 national groups, wrote a January letter to the White House opposing the move, and its members are not happy now.

"During the protests calling for police accountability and criminal-legal reform in 2020, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle promised to pursue racial equity. This scheduling policy flies directly in the face of those promises," said Sakira Cook, senior director of the justice reform program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in a press release following the vote. "For too long Black and Brown people and their communities have suffered from under-resourcing and over policing, due in large part to the war on drugs. Congress must stop trying to perpetuate mass incarceration and instead advance policies that actually help our communities navigate the overdose crisis as a public health issue."

"We are disappointed that Congress has continued the temporary class-wide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances instead of preventing opioid deaths through comprehensive legislation," said Marta Nelson, director of government strategy at the Vera Institute of Justice. "We urge Congress to use this time to work on a permanent solution -- one that saves lives through public health measures, narrows the definition of fentanyl-related substances subject to criminal prosecution, and removes mandatory minimum punishments. We must change our current approach to this crisis in a way that addresses public safety needs and the needs of communities of color."

"It's hard to believe Congress extended this 'temporary' policy yet again. Overdoses have only skyrocketed since it came into force. It is time to let this expire now," said Laura Pitter, deputy director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. "Congress already has the tools they need to prosecute cases involving fentanyl-related substances. This cruel, over-broad approach hasn't helped, and continues to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities."

And then, there is the issue of marijuana in the nation's capital. DC residents overwhelmingly approved the Initiative 71 marijuana legalization measure in November 2014, but because the District, as a federal territory, cannot control its own budget, Congress has been able to block the District from being able to implement taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The "Harris rider," named after conservative Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), frustratingly remains intact despite Democratic control of both houses of Congress.

"We are very disappointed that Congress continues to prevent residents of DC from regulating cannabis despite their urgent and repeated requests for reform. Instead, Congress is forcing the District to maintain a gray market in which cannabis can be legally possessed and consumed by adults, but it cannot be legally sold, regulated, or tested, said Toi Hutchinson, President and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project in a press release. "This places consumers at risk, and entrepreneurs who live in this minority-majority community are denied the ability to open businesses that are available in every other legal cannabis jurisdiction."

That's a whole lot of disappointment and frustration with the Democratic leadership of the Congress. There may be more to come. The SAFE Banking Act remains stalled, and even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) proposed marijuana legalization bill doesn't look like it has enough votes to pass. This could end up being a year to forget when it comes to responsible drug policies from Congress.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We've got a real rogue's gallery of crooked cops this week, with a California cop wrecking his car while on meth and fentanyl, a Philadelphia cop extorting sex and selling heroin, and more. Let's get to it:

In Gaffney, South Carolina, a Gaffney police officer was arrested last Wednesday for altering a drug test for a firefighter and unlawfully confiscating marijuana. Charlena Marie Camden Hamrick, 31, went down after the county sheriff sought an investigation into social media posts detailing how she provided a clean urine sample to defeat a firefighter's drug test. The investigation also revealed that she had seized marijuana without turning it in, instead consuming it with her boyfriend. She is charged with misconduct in office and substitution or spiking to defeat a drug test. She is now a former Gaffney police officer.

In Fresno, California, a Fresno police sergeant was arrested last Thursday for stealing drugs, using them, and then crashing his patrol car while driving intoxicated on duty. Sergeant Donnie Dinnell, a 19-year veteran, went down after a 911 caller reported a police car driving erratically in a parking lot. The police car was running over curbs and struck a tree, disabling it. Responding police first thought Dinnell had suffered a medical emergency but then realized his last call before that involved drugs. They also found a bindle containing meth and fentanyl in the patrol car. Dinnell admitted taking the drugs from a woman and letting her go and told investigators he planned to get rid of the drugs but was drifting in and out of consciousness before crashing. He is charged with robbery, possession of meth, and driving under the influence.

In Hanover, Virginia, a Pamunkey Regional Jail guard was arrested on Monday along with eight other people for allegedly bringing drug into the jail. Former Corrections Officer Jaden Robertson, 23, and the others, including several inmates, are facing unspecified drug distribution charges.

In Freehold, New Jersey, a former Long Branch police officer was sentenced last Friday to 10 years in state prison for operating a meth lab in his home. Christopher Walls, 50, had pleaded guilty last November to manufacturing a controlled dangerous substance and to causing a risk of widespread injury. He went down after police responded to a domestic disturbance call and his wife told officers about the basement lab. Police searchers then found the lab, as well as an open, unsecured gun safe with two long guns, four handguns, eight high-capacity magazines and ammunition inside.

In Philadelphia, a former Carlisle police officer and member of the Cumberland County Drug Task Force was sentenced last Friday to 75 months in prison for extorting sexual favors from women in return for not aiding in their prosecution—oh, and distributing heroin. In one case, Christopher Collare, 54, agreed not to appear at an evidentiary hearing in exchange for sex; in another, he took steps to held reduce a potential sentence in return for sexual favors. He also went down for lying to FBI agents about his behavior when he was being interviewed to be an FBI task force member. He pleaded guilty to bribery, drug distribution and making false statements.

CO Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway; US, Russia Clash at CND, More... (3/16/22)

Georgia cops will pay for a misbegotten massive pot bust, the US and Russia criticize each other in remarks at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, and more.

Psychedelics

Colorado Activists Finalize Decision on Psychedelic Reform Initiative. New Approach PAC and state-level activists have decided which of four psychedelic reform initiatives they filed will actually be the subject of a 2022 signature gathering campaign. They have requested permission from the state to begin signature gathering for Initiative 58, the Natural Medicine Health Act. The measure would legalize psilocybin, as well as creating "healing centers" where people could use the drug for therapeutic forces. The campaign will need 124,632 valid voter signatures by August 8 to qualify for the November ballot.

Law Enforcement

"Cartersville 64," All Busted for Less Than an Ounce of Weed, Win Settlement with Cops. Police in Cartersville, Georgia, went to a house on a report of gunshots on New Year's Eve 2017, claimed they smelled marijuana, entered the house without consent or a warrant, found less than an ounce of marijuana, then arrested all 64 people in the house, most of them people of color, for marijuana possession because it within "everyone’s reach or control." Prosecutors dropped the charges within days, but that wasn't the end of it. The Southern Center for Human Rights and a local law firm filed a lawsuit over the bust, and it has now been settled. The defendants — the Cartersville Police Department, Bartow County Sheriff’s Office and the Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force — will pay $900,000 as part of the settlement.

International

US Uses CND Session to Blast Russia, Reiterate Drug Policy Stance. In remarks delivered Monday by Todd D. Robinson, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs") at the 65th meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, the US criticized Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, as well as reiterating the US position combining public health and law enforcement approaches to the drug issue.

"For decades," said Robinson, "the UN Charter has stood as a bulwark to the worst impulses of empires and autocrats. Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is an attack on Ukraine as a UN Member State, on our Charter, and on the UN itself, including the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Russia’s choice for premeditated war is bringing catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. These actions contravene our commitments to protect the health and welfare of mankind, our single greatest purpose in the CND.

"Here, we speak together against those who believe they can violate the law for their own benefit – criminals, corrupt actors, and drug traffickers. How can we continue to speak against these bad actors when one among us is operating with similar lawlessness? We have lost trust in Russia as a UN Member State and CND member, and we will approach its participation in this and other UN bodies with serious skepticism. We must hold Russia accountable. In so doing though we cannot allow our critical work in the CND to be deterred."

Robinson added that the Biden administration's approach to drug policy "includes a focus on primary prevention, harm reduction, evidence-based treatment, and recovery support, and calls for public-private collaboration to remove barriers to high quality care, reduce stigma, and invest in evidence-based public health and public safety approaches," but added that " public health-focused efforts must also be complemented by effective international cooperation and law enforcement measures to reduce illicit manufacture and trafficking of drugs."

Russia Uses CND to Criticize West for Marijuana Legalization, Afghan Heroin, and Complain of Political Attacks. In remarks delivered Monday by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Oleg Syromolotov at the 65th meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Russia criticized its critic for criticizing its invasion of Ukraine and lambasted Western countries that have embraced marijuana legalization.

Referring to criticism from the US, Syromolotov said, "We are bewildered at the insistent attempts of some Member States to politicize the work of the current session. We are adamantly opposed to such black PR campaigns, which are not related to the mandate of the Commission. This approach damages the reputation of this important international body and could erode the trust of the world community in it. Russia is always committed to a constructive, substantive discussion in the Commission."

On marijuana: "It is unfortunate that today we see attempts to shatter this foundation and distort its essence, "said Syromolotov. "Legalization of free distribution of cannabis in such countries as the United States of America and Canada is a matter of serious concern for us. It is worrisome that several Member States of the European Union are currently considering violating their drug control obligations. Such approach is unacceptable. Strict compliance of all State Parties with their obligations under the conventions is the precondition for the smooth functioning of the global drug control regime. Russia is consistently advocating that only those States that are implementing the provisions of the conventions in good faith have the moral right to participate in the activities of the Commission. By applying a different approach, we risk undermining the authority of the Commission which is the policy-making body of the United Nations with prime responsibility for drug control matters."

On Afghanistan, whose opium production supplies a massive wave of heroin addiction in Russia: "Another matter of serious concern to us is the situation in Afghanistan," Syromolotov said. "Freeze on the national financial resources of Afghanistan made illicit opium poppy cultivation and production practically the only viable income source for the population."

What Happens When Cops Plant a GPS Tracker on Your Car Without You Knowing? [FEATURE]

This piece was written for Drug War Chronicle by criminal justice reporter Clarence Walker, [email protected].

What happens if an unsuspecting citizen finds a police-installed GPS tracking device attached beneath his vehicle? As documented in the case of Indiana v. Derek Heuring, things can turn pretty strange.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/clarence-gps.jpg
At first glance, the "tiny box" resembled a bomb -- so the vehicle owner snatched the GPS tracker and tossed it. But should the law then allow the arrest of a person for theft of the GPS? The police thought so, because this bizarre sequence of events happened to suspected drug seller Derek Heuring, a Boonville, Indiana resident.

After they executed a search warrant, the Warrick County Sheriff Department narcotics officers in Heuring's hometown charged him with theft of a GPS tracker, which they had secretly put on his SUV. Heuring never knew who owned the tracker or why the device had been under his vehicle.

A search warrant must clearly show the officers had sufficient probable cause to believe Mr. Heuring had committed a crime to make a theft of the GPS stick. How can people be lawfully charged with theft of property found on one's vehicle, when they didn't know it was there in the first place?

Evansville Indiana criminal attorney Michael C. Keating insisted from the beginning that Heuring did not know what the device was or who it belonged to -- and Keating said his client "had no obligation to leave the GPS tracker on his vehicle."

Desperate to find the GPS, officers executing the search warrant on separate properties owned by the Heuring's family scored a bonus when they recovered meth, drug paraphernalia, and a handgun.

The Indiana Supreme Court Justices threw out the GPS theft charge including the methamphetamine possession charges on February 20, 2020.

"I'm not looking to make things easier for drug dealers," Justice Mark Massa said during arguments on the case. "But something is left on your car even if you know it's the police tracking you, do you have an obligation to leave it there and let them track you -- and if you take it off you're subject to a search of your home?" Massa asked rhetorically.

Deputy Attorney General Jesse Drum answered Massa's question with a resounding "yes".

"The officers did everything they could to rule out every innocent explanation," Drum told the justices, hoping to have the warrants upheld and win the state's case.

This legal groundbreaking story is important for law enforcement authorities, judges, prosecutors, and the public because the charges against Derek Heuring highlight the wide-ranging tactics police often use to justify illegal searches in drug cases, as well as raising broader questions about privacy and government surveillance.

In addition, Heuring's case raises the question of whether the police, even with a warrant, should have the leeway to both place a tracking device on a person's vehicle and forbid the individual to remove it from their vehicle if the person knows the police put it there to watch their every move. For example, if a person discovered a hidden camera in his bedroom should the law require him to leave it there without removing it -- knowing the police are trying to build evidence against them?

Antoine Jones (photo by Clarence Walker)
US vs. Antoine Jones became the first landmark case to be decided by the US Supreme Court involving law enforcement's illegal use of a GPS tracking system. Jones had been sentenced to life in prison without parole on drug conspiracy charges and his conviction was reversed on January 23, 2012. FBI and DEA agents planted a warrantless GPS on Jones' vehicle to monitor his movements thinking he was a Mexican cartel associate responsible for distributing mass amounts of cocaine in the Washington DC area. Jones' case is the standard-bearer that forces law enforcement in America today to first obtain a warrant to track someone with a GPS. Antoine Jones singlehandedly fought the almighty Feds tooth, nail, and claw, and finally won his freedom.

In Heuring's situation, the circumstances show how the narcs used a dubious search warrant to recover a GPS tracker claiming that Heuring had stolen it. The police charged him with the GPS theft without evidence that a theft occurred. They were hoping a bogus theft case would suffice against Heuring whom they suspected of dealing illegal drugs.

In a final ruling against state prosecutors that effectively dismissed the cases altogether, another justice opined, "I'm struggling with how that is theft," said Justice Steven David.

"We hold that those search warrants were invalid because the affidavits did not establish probable cause that the GPS device was stolen. We further conclude the affidavits were so lacking in probable cause that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule does not apply," Justice Loretta Rush wrote.

Thus, under the exclusionary rule, "the evidence seized from Heuring's home and his father's barn must be suppressed."

"We reverse and remand,'' the Indiana Supreme Court Justices wrote.

How It Went Down

Indiana resident Derek Heuring (Facebook)
During summer 2018, Warrick County Sheriff Department narcotic officers Matt Young and Jarrett Busing received information from an informant that Heuring was slinging dope for a living. Officer Young obtained a warrant on July 28 to place the department's GPS tracking devices onto Heuring's Ford Expedition SUV to track his movements for 30 days. This GPS tracker was a black box, about 4 inches by 6 inches with no identification to identify where it came from.

The warrant authorized 30 days of tracking, but the device failed to transmit Heuring's location after the sixth day. Then on the seventh day, the narcs received a final update from the tracker showing Heuring's SUV at his residence. The officers were increasingly puzzled over why they weren't detecting location information three days later. Finally, however, a technician assured the officers that the battery was fully charged but that the "satellite was not reading."

Alarmed over the ensuing problem, Officer Busing decided to check out the happenings with the GPS. Busing drove over to Heuring's father's barn where the SUV was parked. He thought the location of the barn thwarted the satellite signal. Subsequently, the officers saw the vehicle parked away from the barn, and then parked outside of the family's home. Officer Young again contacted a technician "to see if the GPS would track now." The tech informed him, "that the device was not registering and needed a hard reset."

Officers went to retrieve the GPS from the SUV, but it was gone!

The officers discussed how a GPS had previously disengaged from a vehicle by accident, yet still, the device was located because the GPS continued to transmit satellite readings. Convinced the GPS had been stolen and stashed in either Heuring's home or his father's barn, Officer Busing filed affidavits for warrants to search both locations for evidence of theft of the GPS.

With guns drawn, deputies stormed Heuring's home and the barn. Deputies recovered meth, drug paraphernalia, and a handgun. Next, Officer Busing obtained warrants to search the house and barn for narcotics. The officers located the GPS tracker during the second search, including more contraband. Finally, deputies arrested the young man.

Although a jury trial hadn't taken place, Heuring's defense attorney Michael Keating filed a series of motions in 2018 to suppress the seized evidence. Keating challenged the validity of the search warrants under both the Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Keating's motion argued the initial search warrants were issued without probable cause that evidence of a crime -- the theft of the GPS device -- would be found in either his home or his father's barn. Prosecutors argued the opposite, and the trial court judge ruled against Heuring, thus setting the stage for defense attorneys to appeal the trial court adverse ruling with the first-level state appellate court, arguing the same facts about the faulty search warrants. After hearing both sides, the appellate judges upheld the trial court's refusal to suppress the evidence against Heuring.

Despite the trial court and the lower-level court upholding the questionable warrants the Indiana Supreme Court Justices heard oral arguments from the defense attorney and the attorney general on November 7, 2019. The central point of the legal arguments boiled down to the search warrants. Supreme Court justices pinpointed the fallacies of the officer's search warrants by in their opinion.

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Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush
"All of the evidence must be suppressed because the initial warrant was invalid," Justice Rush wrote. "Affidavits filed by the officers in support of the search warrant failed to establish probable cause in two respects; first the warrants lacked information that the person who removed the GPS was aware to get consent from the Sheriff's Department, and second, the affidavits lacked information that there was an intent to deprive the Sheriff's Department of the value or use of the GPS."

The justices concurred, "The affidavits support nothing more than speculation -- a hunch that someone removed the device intending to deprive the Sheriff's Department of its value or use."

"We find it reckless for an officer to search a suspect's home and his father's barn based on nothing more than a hunch that a crime had been committed. We are confident that applying the exclusionary rule here will deter similar reckless conduct in the future", Justice Rush concluded.

Derek Heuring is a free man today. Thanks to common sense judges.

And Another GPS Tracking Case: Louisiana Woman Cold-Busted State Police Planting GPS on Her Vehicle; She Removes It; Police Want it Back

Just last year in March, an alert citizen identified as Tiara Beverly was at home in her gated apartment complex in Baton Rouge, Louisiana preparing to run errands when she noticed something peculiar. She spotted a group of suspicious white men standing near her car. Beverly's adrenaline shot sky-high when she saw one of the cool-acting fellows bend over and placed something under her car.

"I instantly panicked," Beverly told local television station WBRZ. "I didn't "know if it was a bomb, but I found out it was a tracker.

Unsatisfied with Beverly's denial that she didn't have a location on the person they were looking for, the police planted a GPS under her car. Two weeks prior, Louisiana State Troopers visited Beverly's home and harshly questioned her about a personal friend she knew. Again, Beverly vehemently denied knowing the person's whereabouts. Finally, two days later, the officers put the GPS on Beverly's vehicle, Details are sketchy of how the police gathered evidence to arrest Beverly on narcotic-related charges in February 2021. A judge released Beverly on a $22,000 bond.

When Beverly finally determined the GPS was placed on her vehicle by police, she rushed to the local NAACP in Baton Rouge and told her story to NAACP president Eugene Collins. Collins told the reporter he contacted the police on Beverly's behalf and the police immediately demanded Collins and Beverly to return the GPS tracker -- and they threatened her.

"They asked me to return the box, or it could make the situation more difficult for me," Collins recalled.

Civilians are prohibited from possessing or using GPS devices, but they are legal for law enforcement, parole, and probation officers or correctional officials to use, according to Louisiana Revised Statute 14: 222.3.

Police told reporters they had a warrant for the tracking device placed on Beverly's vehicle. However, when the WBRZ reporter asked to see the warrant, the State Trooper's Office declined to produce it, issuing the following statement: "Upon speaking with our detectives, this is part of an ongoing investigation involving Ms. Beverly and a suspect with federal warrants."

The Public Information Officer added, "Further information regarding charges and investigative documents will be available."

"The fact that a young woman can see you doing something like this means you're not very good at it," Collins told WBRZ.

Police in Beverly Tiara's case had a good shot to track her whereabouts, yet they blew it big time. Tiara's case isn't over yet, so we'll be reporting on future developments.

In Derek Heuring's criminal charges, Chief Justice Loretta Rush summed it up best when she said, "There is nothing new in the realization that the Constitution sometimes insulates the criminality of a few to protect the privacy of us all."

Poll Shows Strong Support for Legal Marijuana Banking Access, Police Paying Billions to Settle Misconduct Claims, More... (3/9/22)

The Washington Post has a major piece on police misconduct payouts, an expungement bill advances in California, and more.

A medicinal psilocybin task force bill advances in Hawaii. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Two Thirds of Americans Want Congress to Allow Licensed Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Services. A new poll from Morning Consult conducted on behalf of the American Bankers Association shows strong support for ending federal restrictions that block state-legal marijuana enterprises from accessing financial services. The poll found that 65 percent of respondents "support allowing cannabis businesses to access banking services (e.g., checking accounts, business loans) in states where cannabis is legal." An even higher number -- 68 percent -- said that Congress should pass legislation so those businesses can "access banking services and products in states" where it is legal. Backers of legislation that would do that, the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996), have, though, so far been thwarted by Senate leadership, which is more interested in trying to pass a full-on legalization bill.

California Marijuana Expungement Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would automatically expunge past convictions for marijuana offenses that are no longer illegal if such expungements have not been challenged by prosecutors by January 1, 2023, Assembly Bill 1706, passed out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee Monday. It now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee before heading for a potential Assembly floor vote.

Psychedelics

Hawaii Senate Approves Psilocybin Task Force Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 3160, which would create a working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms and develop a long-term plan to ease access to psychedelics for medicinal use for people 21 and over. The bill passed on a unanimous 25-0 vote. It now goes to the House. "Because the State has a shortage of mental health professionals, the State should actively consider novel, innovative, and safe solutions to treat its residents," the bill says.

Law Enforcement

Cops Paid Out More Than $ Billion in Last Decade to Settle Misconduct Claims, Many for Repeat Offenders. In a major investigative piece, the Washington Post reports that law enforcement agencies across the country have paid out more than $3.2 billion to settle misconduct claims -- with thousands of police officers repeatedly accused of wrongdoing. The Post found more than 7,600 officers whose misconduct resulted in more than one claim, with the cost of those claims from repeat offenders reaching $1.5 billion. More than 1,200 officers were the subjects of at least five settlements and more than 200 had 10 or more. The Post suggested that the pattern of repeat settlements showed a lack of police accountability that costs taxpayers.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Raleigh cop gets caught slinging cocaine from his patrol car, a small-town North Carolina former police chief just got himself in even bigger trouble, and more. Let's get to it:

In Chadbourn, North Carolina, the former Chadbourn police chief was arrested last Thursday after faking his own death to try to avoid prosecution on more than 80 felony charges. Ex-Chief Anthony Spivey, 36, had been due in court last Monday but skipped out and staged his own suicide, only to be caught hiding at his aunt's apartment. He had been chief in the small town until April, when he was slapped with dozens of charges and accused of regularly raiding the police department's evidence locker, destroying evidence, trafficking opium and selling seized weapons to friends and family. He now also has 40 outstanding warrants for failure to appear on those charges. He went down because the State Bureau of Investigation grew curious about why confiscated drugs were not being sent to the state crime lab.

In Washington, DC, a DC correctional officer was arrested last Thursday for allegedly smuggling drugs, knives, and other contraband into the jail in return for cash bribes. Guard Johnson Ayuk, 31, went down after an internal investigation at the jail found that he had been accepting payments from a detainee's girlfriend to bring contraband into the jail. He did so by hiding it beneath compression shorts. He is charged with bribery and providing or possessing contraband in prison.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, a Raleigh police officer was arrested last Thursday for selling cocaine from his patrol car while on duty. Officer Keven Rodriguez, 33, went down after the police department and the DEA developed information that he was distributing controlled substances in the area. Authorities did a controlled buy, with an informant giving Rodriguez $2,600 in cash and Rodriguez then sold him two ounces of cocaine. He now faces one count of distribution of a quantity of cocaine and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of, and using and carrying a firearm during, a drug trafficking crime. He's looking at a mandatory minimum of five years in federal prison and up to life.

SD House Panel Kills Marijuana Legalization Bill, Peru to Try "Kinder, Gentler" Approach to Coca Growers, More... (2/28/22)

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps makes the news in a couple of different ways today, an asset forfeiture reporting bill advances in South Dakota, and more.

Dr. Bronner's Cosmic Engagement Officer David Bronner. His company got a nice profile in the New York Times today.
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota House Panel Kills Marijuana Legalization Bill. If South Dakotans want marijuana legalized -- as they showed by voting to do just that in 2020 -- their only way may be to do it may again be the ballot box. A legislative effort to legalize marijuana that passed out of the Senate last week, Senate Bill 3, was killed Monday by the House State Affairs Committee on an 8-3 vote. That leaves a clear path for a legalization initiative sponsored by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, which is currently in the signature gathering process.

Psychedelics

New York Times Notes Dr. Bronner's Drug Reform Largesse, Psychedelic Philanthropy. In a major profile piece, the Times has published "Dr. Bronner's, the Soap Company, Dips Into Psychedelics," which details Dr. Bronner's CEO (Cosmic Engagement Officer) David Bronner's support of drug reform and psychedelic renaissance efforts over the years. Just since 2015, the company has donated more than $23 million to drug reform and research organizations. (Disclosure: This includes some support to this publication and our parent organization, going back to long before 2015.) The publicly-minded philanthropy has helped support research into the therapeutic benefits of MDMA, various marijuana initiatives, the 2020 Oregon therapeutic psilocybin initiative and local psychedelic decriminalization efforts, as well as broader drug reform efforts. There's much more at the link.

Dr. Bronner's Is Providing Psychedelic Therapy as Employee Healthcare Benefit. Dr. Bronner's, family-owned maker of the top-selling natural brand of soap in North America, has expanded its mental healthcare benefits to include Ketamine Assisted Therapy, as a first step in providing access to Psychedelic Assisted Therapy to employees to promote mental health. This innovative benefit plan is administered by Enthea, a nonprofit healthcare organization responsible for medical policy development, provider network management, and benefit plan administration. Enthea establishes high 'quality of care' standards for the treatments offered, including credentialing and managing a network of specialty providers.

"The health and well-being of our employees is the primary driver in how we think about benefits and compensation. Offering coverage for Ketamine Assisted Therapy is in the interest of providing tools to our workforce to have the best quality of life and best options for mental health care," explains Michael Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner's. "Our family and company are no strangers to depression and anxiety. We are deeply concerned about the mental health crisis society is facing, especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Considering all our advocacy on this issue, this employee benefit is the next logical step," Bronner continued. Coverage for employees began on January 1.

Asset Forfeiture

South Dakota House Approves Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill. Rep. Aaron Aylward's (R-Harrisburg) bill requiring asset forfeiture reporting from law enforcement agencies that makes seizures, House Bill 1328, passed out of the House last Friday and is now set for a hearing later this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill requires seizing agencies to gave the state attorney general an annual report itemizing every item seized and requires that the attorney general make that information available online for public inspection. Agencies that fail to generate the required reports would face a fine of $500 or 25% of the value of the seized goods.

International

Peru Drug Agency Shifts to Voluntary, Sustainable Coca Eradication. Peru's anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, announced last Friday that given the lack of effectiveness of compulsory coca crop eradication, it is proposing a Citizen's Social Pact for voluntary, sustainable reduction of coca crops. The agency is now under the leadership of longtime reform advocate Dr. Ricardo Soberon and instead of resorting to compulsion is moving toward building a commitment between the state and civil society with reciprocal rights and duties. DEVIDA will work with indigenous peoples and agricultural producers so they "voluntarily reduce coca crops for illicit purposes in exchange for timely services from the State." The plan will rely on alternative development and reducing illicit crops in a gradual and sustainable matter.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

This week, we have a trio of jail guards gone bad. Let's get to it:

In Cheshire, Connecticut, a former state prison correctional officer was arrested last Thursday for allegedly selling marijuana to inmates and receiving payments through a Cash App account. The unnamed guard went down after an inmate was found with drugs in January 2021 and an investigation ensued. He is charged with conveying an unauthorized item into a correctional institution. He was released on a $10,000 bond and is scheduled to be arraigned on March 17.

In Dresden, Tennessee, a Weakley County corrections officer was arrested last Friday for allegedly trying to bring unspecified Schedule III drugs to inmates. Guard Robert Quimen, 23, went down after an internal investigation at the jail. Authorities said he brought the substance to the jail with the intent of delivering it to inmates. He is charged with manufacturing/selling/delivering controlled substances (Schedule III) and introduction of drugs or intoxicants into a penal facility.

In Newark, New Jersey, a former federal prison corrections officer was sentenced last Thursday to more than two years in prison for taking bribes to bring drugs in to inmates. Paul Anton Wright, 36, will also have to forfeit the $50,000 he received in bribes as part of the 26-month sentence imposed on Thursday. He had pleaded guilty to a bribery charge in November 2019. He admitted to smuggling in tobacco, synthetic marijuana, and suboxone to the Fort Dix federal prison.

DE Marijuana Legalization Advances in House, AL Fentanyl Test Strip Bill Nears Final Vote, More... (2/22/22)

Bills to end civil asset forfeiture and block "equitable sharing" with the feds are filed in Tennessee, a Delaware marijuana legalization bill advances, and more.

Trucker shortage? 60,000 are sidelined because of testing positive for marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances in House. The House Appropriations Committee last Thursday quietly advanced a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 305. The committee "walked the bill," which allows the bill to advance without a public hearing. The bill has already been approved by the House Health and Human Services Committee. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. The last time a legalization bill got that far, back in 2018, it lost on the House floor by four votes. HB305 would allow legal personal possession of 1 ounce of marijuana for adults ages 21 or older and set up a framework for its taxation and sale. It allocates 30 retail sale licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses, 60 cultivation licenses and five testing licenses to be issued within 16 months of the bill's approval.

Opiates and Opioids

Alabama Bill to Legalize Fentanyl Test Strips Faces Final House Vote. A bill that would legalize fentanyl test strips, Senate Bill 168, has passed the Senate and two House committee votes and now heads for a House floor vote. The bill aims to address the state's opioid overdose crisis by allowing users to test their substances for the presence of the powerful opioid.

Asset Forfeiture

Tennessee Bills Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture, Opt State Out of Federal Program. A pair of Republican lawmakers have introduced companion bills aimed at ending civil asset forfeiture in the state and blocking state law enforcement from evading the law by handing cases off to the federal government under what is known as the "equitable sharing" program. Rep. Jerry Sexton (R) introduced House Bill 2525 and Sen. John Stevens (R) introduced the companion, Senate Bill 2545 earlier this month.

The opt-out from "equitable sharing" is particularly important given that a policy directive issued in July 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions greenlighting the practice remains in effect. The language in the bill on "equitable sharing" is quite direct: "A state or local law enforcement agency shall not transfer or offer for adoption property, seized under state law, to a federal agency for the purpose of forfeiture under the federal Controlled Substances Act, Public Law 91-513-Oct. 27, 1970, or other federal law." The bills are now in committee in their respective houses.

Drug Testing

Expert Blames Marijuana Testing for Drug Drivers as Leading Cause of Driver Shortage. Chris Harvey, the head of equity strategy at Wells Fargo, is blaming drug testing for making a major contribution to the truckdriver shortage that is causing problems in the supply chain and contributing to rising prices. "It's really about drug testing," Harvey said, speaking at an industry conference last week. "We've legalized marijuana in some states but, obviously, not all... What we've done is we're excluding a significant portion of that trucker industry."

More than 60,000 truckers have been sidelined for testing positive for marijuana as of December under industry drug testing policies that have become stricter even as marijuana is broadly legalized. Under a 2020 law, all truck drivers who have failed a drug test must be listed in a federal database to block them from being hired by other companies. Some 110,000 truckers have tested positive, with 56 percent of them for marijuana use. There is currently a shortage of about 80,000 truckers.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Florida deputy goes down for trying to set up an innocent man, an Ohio narc gets ready to head for prison after getting caught in an FBI sting, and more. Let's get to it:

In Fort Myers, Florida, a Lee County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday for conspiring to frame an innocent man on drug charges in return for sexual favors and a trip to Paris. Now former Deputy Niko Irizarry allegedly assisted another man with a grievance against the victim by performing a traffic stop and arresting the man after his coconspirators had planted drugs in his vehicle. He is charged with falsifying an official document.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a Wetumpka police officer was arrested last Friday after police responded to a domestic disturbance call. Officer Jeffrey Hall, 45, is charged with manufacturing a controlled substance and third-degree domestic violence. His wife also faces third-degree domestic violence charges. No further information is available.

In Columbus, Ohio, a former Columbus narcotics officer pleaded guilty last Wednesday to distributing fentanyl and taking bribes to protect cocaine shipments. Marco Merino, 45, was arrested by the FBI in September and accused of distributing approximately 7 1/2 kilograms of fentanyl. He pleaded guilty to drug distribution and to a bribery charge for accepting $45,000 to protect the transit of at least 47 kilograms of cocaine, which was not actually cocaine, but a powder in an FBI sting. Merino is now looking at up to 20 years in federal prison when sentenced. A second officer charged in the case still has a case pending.

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