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Pell Grants for Prisoners Are Coming Back Next Year, OK Legal Pot Initiative Signature-Gathering Begins, More... (5/3/22)

Signature-gathering for a marijuana legalization inititiave is underway in Oklahoma, the courts block a San Francisco effort to enact broad bans on alleged drug dealers in the Tenderloin, and more.

San Francisco. The courts are blocking the city's effort to ban alleged drug dealers from the Tenderloin. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Files Preemptive Lawsuit Over Whether It Will Appear on November Ballot. Anticipating an effort by Republican lawmakers to keep their marijuana legalization initiative off the November ballot, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed a lawsuit last Friday to block the expected move. Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) submitted petitions to the legislature on January 28, giving it until May 28 to approve the petitions calling for legalization, after which, the coalition could then do another round of signature-gathering to put the question directly before voters in November. But Republican legislative staffers have argued that because the petitions were not submitted to the legislature 10 days before the start of the session, as required by the state constitution. But the preemptive lawsuit argues there is state Supreme Court precedent for allowing a November vote.

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Begins Signature-Gathering. Marijuana legalization advocates have begun signature gathering for State Question 820, which would legalize adult use marijuana and levy a 15 percent excise tax on retail purchases to fund the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. Campaigners will need 95,911 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot and have until August 1 to do so. Another pair of initiatives could also appear on the ballot. State Question 818 would create a State Cannabis Commission that would replace the OMMA and guarantee patients' medical cannabis access in the Oklahoma Constitution, while State Question 819 would legalize adult-use marijuana and guarantee medical and adult-use marijuana access in the Constitution. Because these two questions would change the state constitution, they face a higher signature-gathering threshold than State Question 820, which would only make statutory changes. The threshold for constitutional questions is 177,958 valid voter signatures.

Drug Policy

California Appeals Court Blocks San Francisco Bid to Ban Drug Dealers from Tenderloin, SOMA. In a case that began when the city sued 28 alleged drug dealers in the Tenderloin and South of Market (SOMA) neighborhoods and banned them from a 50-square-block area in those neighborhoods, which are rife with open drug dealing and drug use, a state appeals court has upheld a lower court decision last year blocking the bans from taking effect. In its ruling last Friday, the 1st District Court of Appeals held that while local governments may be entitled to narrowly target ban orders in some limited circumstances, but not such a broad one. The lower court decision held that the ban was so broad it would violate the constitutional right to travel, and that state law did not appear to authorize it.

The appeals court largely agreed: "We are mindful of, and sympathetic to, the challenges faced by the city in addressing the issues of illegal drug sales, drug use, and the drug-related health crisis and its effects on the people who live and work in the neighborhood," Justice Marla Miller wrote in Friday's 3-0 ruling. But, she continued, "although the city contends these defendants have no reason to ever even be in the 50-square-block Tenderloin neighborhood except to sell drugs there was evidence that many community resources and government agencies are located in the Tenderloin." The lower court judge was entitled to believe statements from the four people "that they were interested in taking advantage of the employment, treatment, housing, and health services available in the 50-square-block neighborhood," the appeals court added. The city said it was "disappointed" with the ruling, but had yet to decide whether to appeal.

Education

Pell Grants Will Be Available for Prisoners Again Beginning Next Year. Once upon a time, incarcerated Americans were able to try to advance themselves by using Pell Grants to pay for college tuition and textbook costs -- just like other students -- but when Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, it barred prisoners from accessing that financial aid. In 2020, though, Congress restored the eligibility for both state and federal prisoners. In the fall of 2021, the Department of Education begin developing rules for the expansion of Pell Grants to prisoners and has now announced that application forms for imprisoned students will be available on October 1 for the 2023 academic year.

International

British Virgin Islands Premier Asserts Immunity in Cocaine Case, Demands Immediate Release. British Virgin Islands (BVI) Premier Andrew Fahie, who was arrested last week in a US government sting in Miami, argued in court Monday that as the elected head of government, he is immune from prosecution and should be released immediately. No word yet on when a federal judge will decide that question, and in the meantime, Fahie remains in custody. Fahie and his ports director, Oleanvine Maynard, were busted at the Miami airport where they met what they thought were Mexican drug traffickers but were actually DEA agents seducing them into a scheme to import cocaine from South America through the BVI. Back home, Fahie already faced allegations of deep corruption, and his arrest may help propel a push to temporarily suspend the constitution and return to rule from London in an effort to clean up the government. Busting a head of state is a big deal and would have required approval at the highest levels of the Justice and State departments.

White House Drug Strategy Embraces Harm Reduction, But Prohibitionist Impulse Remains Strong [FEATURE]

The Biden White House sent its first National Drug Control Strategy to Congress on April 21. It breaks positive new ground by explicitly acknowledging harm reduction measures to prevent overdose and blood-borne diseases among drug users. At at the same time, though, it also relies heavily on the destructive and counterproductive pursuit of failed prohibitionist drug policies -- and funds more law enforcement much more heavily than harm reduction.

The strategy comes out just weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that drug overdose deaths hit an all-time high of 106,000 in the year ending last November. The administration is responding with what it calls a "whole of government" approach to the crisis.

"The strategy focuses on two critical drivers of the epidemic: untreated addiction and drug trafficking," the White House said. "It instructs federal agencies to prioritize actions that will save lives, get people the care they need, go after drug traffickers' profits, and make better use of data to guide all these efforts. Saving lives is our North Star, and the 2022 National Drug Control Strategy calls for immediate actions that will save lives in the short term and outlines long-term solutions to reduce drug use and its associated harms, including overdose."

While the strategy includes long-familiar categories such as drug treatment, prevention, supply reduction, and criminal justice and public safety, it also emphasizes an evidence-based approach, "building a recovery-ready nation," and for the first time, harm reduction.

"The Biden-Harris Administration's efforts focus on meeting people where they are and building trust and engagement with them to provide care and services," the White House said. "Specifically, the strategy calls for greater access to harm reduction interventions including naloxone, drug test strips, and syringe services programs. It directs federal agencies to integrate harm reduction into the US system of care to save lives and increase access to treatment. It also calls for collaboration on harm reduction between public health and public safety officials, and changes in state laws and policies to support the expansion of harm reduction efforts across the country."

The strategy calls for "the coordinated use of federal grant funds for harm reduction," and the administration last year broke new ground with a $30 million grant program for harm reduction providers. But in a sign of continued reliance on traditional law enforcement priorities, the strategy also envisions a $300 million increase for Customs and Border Patrol and another $300 million increase for the DEA. Those figures were released as part of the White House's FY 2023 budget released last month.

"Responding effectively to the illicit production, trafficking, and distribution methods of domestic criminal organizations and Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) is a significant challenge and remains a Biden-Harris Administration priority," the White House said.

That kind of talk suited mainstream Democrats just fine.

"Illicit drugs cause immeasurable pain and loss in our communities. As the Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, I've pressed for an updated federal plan to tackle them," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). I've been clear that the plan must include a more coordinated approach to cracking down on drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations, especially the ways in which they launder and protect their ill-gotten gains using US rule of law and financial networks; and more and better cooperation with our international partners to reduce the supply of precursor chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs and to levy tougher sanctions against transnational drug syndicates. I'm pleased to see my priorities reflected in this new strategy, and I look forward to working with the Biden administration to deliver on those priorities."

Whitehouse also lauded the strategy's "tearing down barriers to treatment, including expanding access to life-saving naloxone and medication-assisted treatment; improving our data collection systems to better understand the effects of our intervention efforts."

Reform advocates offered praise -- sometimes lukewarm -- for the administration's tentative embrace of harm reduction, but blasted its reliance on tired, failed drug war paradigms.

In its analysis of the strategy, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) called it "a major step forward" and lauded the administration for "focusing on ensuring access to treatment for substance use disorders and highlighting the crucial role of harm reduction services." But WOLA also noted that, "when measured against the scale of the nation's overdose problems and the urgency of the needs, Biden's new plan appears quite timid."

WOLA also warned that the strategy's "positive innovations regarding investment in treatment and harm reduction strategies risk being undermined by a continued commitment to the kinds of policies that have exacerbated the present crisis and that continue to absorb the lion's share of resources, namely, drug criminalization at home and wildly exaggerated expectations for what can be achieved through supply control efforts abroad."

Similarly, the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute called the attention to harm reduction a "positive," but noted steps that it did not take, such as making the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone available over-the-counter and repealing the so-called Crack House Statute that stands in the way of federal approval of safe injection sites.

"On a negative note," Cato observed, "the remainder of the new report calls for doubling down on interdiction, border control, and other law enforcement measures aimed at curtailing the supply of illicit drugs -- as if repeating the same failed strategies of the past half century, only with more gusto, will somehow work."

So there it is: The Biden administration's first crack at a national drug strategy deserves kudos for its embrace of harm reduction and evidence-based approaches, but beyond that, it is pretty much more of the same old same old.

"Weed Like Change" Campaign Aims to Point Consumers Toward Eco-Friendly Marijuana [FEATURE]

A campaign to promote the regenerative organic cultivation of marijuana is now underway in California and Oregon. Calling itself Weed Like Change, the campaign is bringing together a coalition of more than 50 regenerative organic cannabis farmers and brands, dispensaries, allied businesses, and advocacy groups to target and educate pot consumers about the benefits of such cultivation practices and the need to support small-scale legacy farmers in the face of cannabis corporatization.

Sonoma Hills Farm, an organic, regenerative hemp operation in Northern California. (sunandearth.org)
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, regenerative agriculture is a set of holistic practices that aims to maintain and restore ecosystem health by working in harmony with nature, as opposed to exploiting it. When it comes to organic marijuana cultivation, that means not only no artificial inputs -- no pesticides or chemical fertilizers -- but also such techniques as mulching and composting, use of cover crops, inter-cropping, and adding to soil fertility; in general, working with the local environment, not struggling against it.

The campaign is being led by the two-year-old nonprofit Sun+Earth Certified, which, according to its web site, "certifies that cannabis brands are holistically, responsibly, and regeneratively grown for the well-being of all people, farmers, and the planet" and "sets the standard above and beyond organic." Sun+Earth currently has 42 certified growers, primarily in California and Oregon, but also with outposts in Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, and Washington.

"The multi-billion dollar cannabis industry has an important obligation to shift away from high levels of energy consumption and chemical-intensive farming practices, and Sun+Earth has the blueprint for how to do that," said Sun+Earth Executive Director Andrew Black.

Given the ever-greater impacts of man-made climate change, there is a dire need for the marijuana industry to really go green. An academic study published in April by researchers at Colorado State University found that moving from indoor grow operations to outdoor farms would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state's marijuana sector by a whopping 96 percent, shaving more than one percent off the state's total emissions.

A Sun+Earth certified grow in California. (sunandearth.org)
That funding builds on a 2012 academic report from UC Berkeley found that all cannabis grown in the US uses at least one percent of all electricity consumed in the country at a cost of $6 billion per year. A report from New Frontier Data that found that indoor cultivation in the US produces 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide or one pound of carbon emissions for each gram of harvested flower. The same report found that growing indoors uses 18 times more electricity and produces nearly 25 times more carbon than outdoor farms.

"We're thrilled to be participating in the Weed Like Change campaign," said Casey Branham, co-founder of Phoenix Rising Farm, situated on the banks of the Little Applegate River in southern Oregon. "As the real stewards of this cottage industry in Oregon, small family farms like ours provide opportunity in local communities and produce craft cannabis that is recognized nationwide," he continued. "Regenerative organic cannabis is not only better for the consumer by being more cannabinoid and terpenoid-rich, but it's also better for the environment, as it emphasizes soil health, water management, and the enhancement of the overall ecosystem in its production, as well as being free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers."

The Weed Like Change campaign is also being supported by Dr. Bronner's soaps as part of its commitment to regenerative organic agriculture and drug policy reform. The natural soap maker, which has put millions into drug reform efforts over the years, has produced a special Weed Like Change! label on a limited edition run of its 4oz. Castile Liquid Soap bottles, which will be distributed at campaign education events throughout California and Oregon.

Dr. Bronner's Cosmic Engagement Officer David Bronner. (drbronner.com)
"Small-scale legacy cannabis farmers fear they are at risk of extinction. To keep these farmers in business as well as for the broader health of people and planet it is imperative for cannabis consumers to choose sun-grown regenerative organic cannabis," said David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer of Dr. Bronner's. "We need to transition the global food system and the cannabis industry to regenerative organic agriculture and away from the dominant carbon intensive industrial model that threatens the livelihoods of small-scale farmers."

Ethically responsible pot smokers have choices to make about the kinds of growing methods they support with their dollars. Weed Like Change aims to help them make the right choice -- for the small farmers who were the traditional backbone of marijuana cultivation, for the communities in which both farmers and consumers live, and for the sake of the planet and our place on it.

NJ AG Says Cops Can Smoke Pot (But Not on Duty), ME Good Samaritan Improvement Bill Advances, More... (4/18/22)

New York issues its first marijuana grower licences, a Florida drug treatment provider is convicted of a massive drug testing fraud, and more.

There's money to be made growing weed, and in New York, equity applicants are getting the first crack at it. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Attorney General Says Police Can Use Marijuana Off-Duty. Marijuana use is now legal for adults in the state, and that includes police officers, Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin wrote in a memo last Thursday. The memo said it is critical for police to be clear-headed on the job, but they cannot be punished for engaging in a legal activity as long as it does not affect their work. Maybe we will see cops in line at pot shops later this week; retail sales begin on Thursday.

New York Issues First Marijuana Grower Licenses. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced last Friday that the state's Cannabis Control Board has approved the first legal marijuana grower licenses in the state. The state has approved 52 Adult-Use Cannabis Conditional Cultivator licenses out of a pool of 150 applicants since March 15. The Office of Cannabis Management will continue to review applications and issue more licenses as quickly as possible. These first licenses went to "equity entrepreneurs" who qualify by having either a past marijuana conviction or one in their family and who have experience operating a successful business in the state.

Drug Testing

Florida Drug Rehab Facility Owner Guilty in Multimillion Dollar Drug Testing Fraud. Carie Lyn Beetle, the owner of Florida drug treatment center, was found guilty last Friday of running a $58 million insurance fraud scheme in which she recruited patients by offering free or discounted rent and free travel to Florida to stay in her sober houses, then tested them as often as three times a week, for which she would submit insurance claims. The frequency of the testing, for which she could bill as much as $5,000 each time, was considered unnecessary, and the results were not studied by treatment professionals. Sometimes the tests were never even conducted, but still billed for. Her center, Real Life Recovery, would also often bill for counseling and treatment services that were not actually conducted, and employees testified that they would regularly forge patient signatures to show they had attended counseling when they had not. For turning her treatment program into a racket, Beetle is now looking at up to 30 years in prison.

Harm Reduction

Maine Senate Approves Strengthened Good Samaritan Law. The Senate last Friday approved a bill to strengthen the state's Good Samaritan law, which is designed to protect people suffering from overdoses and those seeking to help them from prosecution. The bill, LD 1682, would change the existing law so that any person at the scene of an overdose who makes a good faith effort to call for assistance is protected from arrest or prosecution. The bill would include immunity for bail and probation violations, while exempting sex crimes, crimes involving children, and arson, among other crimes. It now heads to the House. 

Lawmakers Press Drug Companies on Over-the-Counter Naloxone, Dem Voters Say Legal Pot a Priority, More... (4/13/22)

New polls of American and European voters show support for marijuana legalization, Massachusetts prisoners are suing over unreliable drug tests, and more. 

The opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. Lawmakers want drug companies to seek over-the-counter status for it.
Marijuana Policy

Majority of Democrats Say Marijuana Legalization Should Be a Top Priority for Congress. A new poll from Morning Consult and Politico finds that more than half (52 percent) of Democratic voters say marijuana legalization should be a top or important priority for Congress. Only 29 percent of Republican voters felt the same. Overall, 41 percent of voters now see marijuana legalization as a top or important congressional priority. The poll comes with the House having already passed a marijuana legalization bill and with the Senate waiting on Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Meanwhile, desperately needed interim measures, such as providing industry access to financial services, languish.

Drug Testing

Massachusetts Prisoners Sue Over Prison System's "Unreliable" Drug Tests Despite Court Order. Attorneys representing state prisoners have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Correction charging that it continues to use an unreliable drug test to screen prisoners' mail, violating an earlier court order. The lawsuit alleges that prisoners have been punished for sneaking drugs through the mail based on dubious drug tests and that some of the mail improperly seized as containing drugs were sent by the prisoner's own attorneys, the courts, and the attorney general's office. A judge last December ordered the department to quit using the NARK II drug test device. The attorneys are asking a judge to hold the department in contempt of court. A hearing is set for next Tuesday. "The DOC's actions were not only interfering with the attorney-client relationships of the people whose mail was seized and photocopied, but were chilling the ability of all incarcerated people to communicate with counsel for fear of being subjected to this arbitrary and severe punishment," the complaint said.

Harm Reduction

Bipartisan Lawmakers Call on Drug Makers to Apply to FDA to Make Overdose Reversal Drugs Available Over-the-Counter. Some 30 members of the House and Senate have sent a letter to drug companies who manufacture the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone calling on them to apply to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for over-the-counter status for their products. The move comes amidst a raging opioid overdose epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans each year. "It has never been more important to adopt opioid overdose prevention and reversal strategies on a wide scale," the letter said. This includes "steps to increase access to affordable naloxone, which is a proven, effective tool to reduce medical emergencies, drug overdoses, and deaths." Signatories included Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

International

Poll Found Majority of Europeans Support Marijuana Legalization. A poll from  London-based Hanway Associates that surveyed eight different European countries found majority support for marijuana legalization, with 55 percent favoring it and only 25 percent opposing it. Italy led the way with support at 60 percent. Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, and the United Kingdom all polled between 55 and 59 percent, while Germany came in at 50 percent. Surprisingly, the Netherlands, which has allowed legal retail sales for more than 30 years, had the lowest level of support, at 47 percent. 

LA House Passes No Pot Smoking in Vehicle Bill, Fight Over Drug Decriminalization Thresholds in BC, More... (4/7/22)

With a medical marijuana bill pending, a North Carolina poll show it has strong support; a Colorado bill to create a psychedelic review panel is dropped by its sponsor who says let voters decide at the polls in November, and more.

You might not want to do this in Louisiana if a bill that is moving through the legislature passes. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana House Passes Bill to Make Smoking Marijuana in a Vehicle a Stoppable Offense. The House on Thursday approved a measure, House Bill 234, that would make smoking marijuana in a vehicle a primary offense, meaning that police could use that to pull over anyone suspected of a violation. Bill sponsor Rep. Laurie Schlegel (R-Metaire) said the bill was a highway safety measure, but opponents said they feared it would lead to unwarranted traffic stops and that police could mistake a cigarette or vaping device for marijuana and pull over vehicles. But the bill passed by a greater than two-to-one margin in the House and now heads to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana, Not Quite a Majority for Legalization. A WGHP/The Hill/Emerson College poll has found that 68 percent of North Carolinians believe medical marijuana should be legal, but only 46 percent think recreational marijuana should be legal. The poll comes as the legislature is grappling with a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 711, would legalize medical marijuana to help ease pain and nausea associated with several illnesses and diseases. The bill saw some action last year, but has yet to move this year.

Psychedelics

Colorado Bill to Legalize MDMA Prescriptions with Federal Approval Advances, But Psychedelic Review Panel Killed. The House Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services Committee voted Tuesday to advance House Bill 1344, which would adjust state statutes so that legal MDMA prescriptions could occur if and when the federal government allows such use. But the same committee voted down a bill that would have created a psychedelic review committee to make recommendations on possible policy changes, House Bill 1116, after its sponsor asked for it to "kill my bill" given that voters will have a chance of weighing in on psychedelic reform initiatives likely to appear on the November ballot.

International

Health Canada Proposes Lower Thresholds for British Columbia Drug Decriminalization; Activists Cry Foul. The province has applied with Health Canada for an exemption to the country's drug laws in order to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs, and BC Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said Wednesday that the federal agency is considering a lower threshold for the amount of drugs a person can carry than what the province or activists say it proper. The province requested a cumulative threshold of 4.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine, but Malcolmson said Health Canada is considering a threshold of 2.5 grams. "Everybody who is an advocate was horrified by this," said Leslie McBain, cofounder of Moms Stop the Harm. "If the thresholds are too low, it exposes them to more increased police surveillance, it exposes them to having to buy smaller quantities and so accessing the illegal market more often," said Donald MacPherson, director of advocacy group the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. Health Canada says no final decision has been reached. 

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.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/justice-loretta-rush.jpg
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."

SD Not Legalizing, Israel Decriminalizing, TN Fentanyl Test Strip Bill Advances, More... (3/7/22)

Bills to produce marijuana-consuming workers advance in Illinois and DC, an Idaho bill to require drug tests for substitute school teachers is killed, and more.

Legislation legalizing fentanyl test strips as an overdose prevention measure is moving in several states.
Marijuana Policy

Illinois House Approves Workplace Protections for Marijuana Users. The House last Thursday approved a bill that would bar most employers from firing workers or refusing new hires merely for testing positive for marijuana use. House Bill 4116 now moves to the Senate. "If we're going to legalize the substance, you should talk about individual liberties and what people want to do on their weekends," the bill's sponsor, Rep. Bob Morgan (D) said. "We should allow people to make good choices and not be discriminated against in the workplace because of those choices as long as it's not affecting the workplace."

South Dakota House Kills Marijuana Legalization Bill (Again). The House on Thursday killed a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 3, that had been revived via a procedure called a smokeout earlier in the week. The bill had already passed the Senate, only to be killed by the House State Affairs Committee last Monday. But 24 members rose last Tuesday to revive the bill, only to see the House kill it once and for all. That clears the way for a marijuana legalization initiative campaign that is already in the signature gathering process.

Washington, DC, Council Committee Approves Bill to Ban Most Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing. The DC Council's Labor and Workplace Development Committee voted unanimously last Thursday to approve a bill to ban most workplaces from subjecting job applicants to pre-employment marijuana testing. This is an important step towards eliminating historic inequities of cannabis use and ensuring that those who use cannabis medically or recreationally are not penalized in their workspaces [for what they do] on their private time," said bill sponsor Councilmember Trayon White (D). The bill now heads before the full Council.

Drug Testing

Idaho Bill to Drug Test Substitute Teachers Killed. A bill that would have required that substitute teachers be drug tested, House Bill 651, died in a House floor vote last Thursday. Bill sponsor Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) was worried that substitute teachers would either use drugs or sell them to children. "Substitutes come and go. Most districts have no qualifications other than, you're 18, you want to sub, let's go for it. This provides a horrid opportunity for people who want to either solicit drugs to our children or are on drugs themselves." The bill advanced to the House floor despite the opposition of school districts and educators only to be shot down on a 38-31 vote.

Harm Reduction

Tennessee Senate Approves Fentanyl Test Strip Bill. The state Senate has approved legislation legalizing the use of fentanyl test strips, HB2177, in a bid to reduce overdoses in the state. The test strips are currently banned as drug paraphernalia, but this bill removes them from that classification. The bill was supported by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and now heads to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R).

International

Israel Moving to Decriminalize Marijuana as Legalization Stalls in Knesset. With marijuana legalization stalled in the Knesset, Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced Sunday that the government is considering decriminalizing recreational marijuana use and expunging the criminal records of those convicted of personal possession or use of marijuana. Sa'ar is expected to sign regulations putting the move into effect in coming days, with approval at the Knesset expected shortly thereafter. The change would go into effect immediately upon approval by the Knesset.

SD Legal Pot Bill "Smoked Out" and Revived, UT Therapeutic Psychedelic Task Force Bill Passes, More... (3/2/22)

A coalition of marijuana and civil rights groups is demanding a House floor vote on a marijuana legalization bill, the Transportation Department is moving toward approval oral drug testing for truckers, and more.

A South Dakota marijuana legalization bill got "smoked out" Tuesday, but not like this. (IRIN)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana, Civil Rights Groups Demand House Vote on Legalization Bill This Month. A coalition of marijuana reform and civil rights groups convened by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Justice Coalition, sent a letter to House leadership Tuesday seeking a floor vote this month on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617). Sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, the MORE Act passed the House in the last Congress and has passed out of the committee in this Congress in September, but has been stalled since then. "Given that nearly every minute one person in this country is arrested for a minor marijuana crime, the public deserves to know if members of the 117th Congress stand on the side of justice and against the outdated and cruel policy of prohibition and criminalization of marijuana," the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Bill Back from the Dead After Being "Smoked Out." Just one day after a House committee voted to kill the legalization bill, Senate Bill 3, it has been revived using a legislative procedure known as a "smoke out." Under that procedure, legislative leaders can poll lawmakers and if a majority signal they are in favor of proceeding with the bill, the bill can proceed to a House floor vote. "We just smoked out a weed bill," House Speaker Spencer Gosch (R) quipped when enough members stood to be counted. Voters had approved a marijuana legalization initiative in 2020 only to see it overturned by the state Supreme Court, and the activists behind that initiative are currently in the midst of a signature gathering campaign to put the issue on the ballot this year if the legislature fails to pass the bill.

Psychedelics

Utah Legislature Overwhelmingly Approves Psychedelic Therapeutic Study Bill. With a final Senate vote last Friday, the state legislature has approved a bill to set up a task force to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, House Bill 167. The House had passed the bill back on February 10. In each chamber, only one no vote was registered. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Spencer Cox (R) but has a veto-proof majority in case he balks. The bill would create a task force to "provide evidence-based recommendations on any psychotherapy drug that the task force determines may enhance psychotherapy when treating a mental illness."

Drug Testing

US Department of Transportation Publishes Proposed Rules for Oral Fluid Drug Testing. The Department of Transportation last Friday a notice of proposed rulemaking for oral fluid drug testing of transportation employees covered by federal regulations. DOT said that including oral testing would help employers combat cheating on urine drug tests. Oral testing to detect the presence of marijuana only has a 24-hour window, while urine testing can detect marijuana metabolites for days or weeks. Comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking should be submitted by March 30, 2022.

J&J and Drug Distributors Settle Opioid Lawsuits, SD Gov Cool to MJ Legalization Bill, More... (2/25/22)

An Idaho legislator worried that substitute teachers are selling drugs to kids gets a teacher testing bill out of committee, Tennessee is the latest state to see a fentanyl test strip legalization bill, and more.

Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Governor Suggests Possible Veto of Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) sounded skeptical of a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 3, which has just passed the Senate, at a Wednesday press conference. Noem did not give a direct answer when asked about the issue, saying "it's hard to talk in hypotheticals," and she's "not in favor of recreational marijuana." She added that, "I still believe I haven't seen anybody get smarter from smoking dope." Voters approved marijuana legalization in 2020, only to see their decision overturned by the state Supreme Court. The activists behind the 2020 campaign are now signature gathering for a new initiative, but say they will desist if a workable legalization bill becomes law.

Opiates and Opioids

Johnson & Johnson, Drug Distributors Reach Settlement Over Opioid Lawsuits. Three of the country's largest drug distributors -- McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen -- and drug maker Johnson & Johnson announced Friday that they had reached a settlement with the vast majority of states and localities that had sued them over their role in the nation's early-century opioid crisis. The companies have agreed to pay out $26 billion to settle those thousands of claims, with the first checks set to go out in April with at least 85 percent of the payments dedicated to addiction treatment and prevention services. The distributors and Johnson & Johnson released statements Friday morning, noting that the deal is not an admission of wrongdoing and that they strongly dispute the allegations. The distributors said in a joint statement that they believed that "the implementation of this settlement is a key milestone toward achieving broad resolution of governmental opioid claims and delivering meaningful relief to communities across the United States that have been impacted by the epidemic."

Drug Testing

Idaho House Committee Advances Bill Requiring Drug Testing for Substitute Teachers. Ignoring the objections of state school officials, the House Education Committee voted 8-7 Thursday to approve a bill requiring mandatory pre-employment drug testing of all substitute teachers, at a time when school districts are scrambling for substitute teachers. School officials called the proposed law unworkable and noted that districts already have their own drug testing policies. "It is unnecessary, and further, we have a policy at the local level," Karen Pyron, superintendent of the Butte County School District, told the committee. "It adds cost and inconvenience and an additional burden to our rural schools," she said. But bill sponsor, Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) retorted that she had "tremendous concerns." Substitute teaching "is a very easy way to access children and sell drugs to them," she claimed. Her reasoning prevailed in the narrowly divided committee, and House Bill 651 now heads for a House floor vote.

Harm Reduction

Tennessee Fentanyl Test Strip Bill Filed State Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) has filed a bill to legalize fentanyl testing strips, Senate Bill 2427. They are currently considered drug paraphernalia under state law. "SB 2427 is very important for Tennessee, especially East Tennesse, where we've had a very large number of deaths from drug overdoses," said Briggs. "This bill legalizes a tool that can help save lives from drug overdoses in our state." The bill would sunset after three years unless it was renewed. The House Criminal Justice Committee is set to discuss the bill on March 2.

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