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Chronicle AM: Support for Drug Decrim at Dem Debate, PA Legalization Bill Filed, More... (10/16/19)

A pair of Pennsylvania state senators have filed a marijuana legalization bill, the Mexican Senate prepares to vote on marijuana legalization, Amnesty International rips the Philippine drug war, and more.

Andrew Yang and Beto O'Rourke both came out in support of drug decriminalization at Tuesday night's debate. (CNN screen grab)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Officials Move to Ban Three Marijuana Vaping Additives. The Marijuana Enforcement Division held a public hearing Tuesday as its moves to finalize a ban on three additives in marijuana vaping products that have been linked to the outbreak of lung illnesses among vapers. Those additives are Polyethylene glycol (PEG), Vitamin E Acetate, and Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT Oil). The proposed rules will be sent to the State Licensing Authority for approval and signature. Provided the changes are approved, they would go into effect on January 1.

Pennsylvania Senators File Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Sharif Street (D) have filed SB 350 to legalize marijuana. Under the bill, anyone 21 or over could consume the substance, consumption lounges would be allowed, and people would be allowed to grow up to 10 plants at home as long as they register and pay a $50 annual fee. Similar legalization legislation has already been introduced in the House.

Drug Policy

Two Presidential Candidates Voice Support for Drug Decriminalization at Democratic Debate. Democratic presidential contenders Andrew Yang and Beto O'Rourke both came out in favor of decriminalizing opioids during the Democratic debate Tuesday night. "We need to decriminalize opioids for personal use. We need to let this country know this is not a personal failing, this was a systemic government failing," Yang said in response to a panelist's question. "Then we need to open up safe consumption and safe injection sites around the country because they save lives." When O'Rourke was asked whether decriminalization is part of the solution to the opioid crisis, he responded: "Yes it is. For many of the reasons that Mr. Yang just described."

Foreign Policy

White House Extends Long-Lived National Emergency on Colombia Drug Trafficking. President Trump has continued a 1995 executive order declaring a national emergency regarding Colombian drug trafficking for another year. "The actions of significant narcotics traffickers centered in Colombia continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States and cause an extreme level of violence, corruption, and harm in the United States and abroad," he wrote in his notice. "Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to significant narcotics traffickers centered in Colombia declared in Executive Order 12978."

International

Mexico Senate Could Vote on Marijuana Legalization in Next Few Days. A key lawmaker has told Reuters the Senate will vote on a bill to legalize marijuana in the next few days. Sen. Ricardo Monreal, the Senate leader for the ruling MORENA Party, said the bill would regulate personal use and marijuana sales, as well as research into the plant. The bill also contemplates the creation of marijuana growing cooperatives. "The end of the prohibitionist policy is good for the country," Monreal said. Under a Mexican Supreme Court ruling, the government has until October 24 to legalize marijuana. If and when the measure passes the Senate, it then goes to the House, which is also controlled by the MORENA Party.

Philippine Drug War Should End Following Police Chief's Resignation, Amnesty International Says. Philippines National Police head Gen. Oscar Albayalde was forced to resign over corruption in the National Police, the lead agency prosecuting the country's bloody drug war, and now Amnesty International is calling for that campaign to end. Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia, said: "General Albayalde's resignation is the last blow to the credibility of the so-called 'war on drugs'. The Philippines authorities must ensure that justice is done and that this lawless and murderous campaign ends now. President Duterte has said that due process of law will be afforded to Albayalde -- the very rights that his government has denied to thousands of people suspected of using or selling drugs, who have been unlawfully killed by the police acting as judge, jury and executioner. This scandal shows that impunity is entrenched in the institutions supposed to uphold human rights and the rule of law. The authorities must urgently expand their probe into General Albayalde to cover the wide-ranging police abuses that continue up to this day."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Does This State Have the Worst Drug Policies in America? [FEATURE]

With endless miles of farmland shading into ever higher and drier terrain as one moves west, crossing the Missouri River and then on to the Badlands and the Black Hills, South Dakota has a certain austere beauty. Not so in its approach to drugs. When it comes to drug policy, it is one of the ugliest places in the country.

South Dakota's Badlands. The state is a pretty bad land for drug users, too. (Creative Commons)
The staunchly conservative state holds the dubious distinction of being the only state to twice defeat a medical marijuana initiative. (Activists are giving it another shot this year -- and a more wishful legalization initiative, too.) And it is being sued by the state ACLU over the forced drug testing of toddlers and arrestees alike.

South Dakota also boasts the nation's only law making ingestion -- not possession -- of a controlled substance a felony, which helps explains the reflex resort to drug testing arrestees: A positive drug test becomes a prosecutable offense. While 10 other states have ingestion laws on the books, none of them makes it a felony.

And now, a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative finds that "South Dakota jails more people per capita than any other state," that almost "half of all arrests are drug or alcohol related, compared to just 29 percent nationally," and that people of color -- in this case, primarily Native Americans -- are disproportionately arrested at a rate far above the national average.

According to the report, South Dakota jailed 2,888 people per 100,000, nearly twice the national average of 1,506, and narrowly edging out Mississippi, which had 2,814 per 100,000. (Other states that jailed more than one out of 50 of their residents were Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.)

But jail is just the gateway to the incarceration complex, and when it comes to long-term stays behind bars, South Dakota displays the same sort of worrying numbers. According to the ACLU of South Dakota, the state's prison population has increased more than five-fold since 1980, a decade after the drug war began. And despite 2013 reforms designed to reduce the prison population, it stubbornly stays near an all-time high reached in 2017.

In fact, new prison admissions spiked upward by 49 percent between 2015 and 2018. These numbers are largely attributable to drug prosecutions, with nearly one in three prisoners doing time for drugs in 2019, up from one in four in 2014.

As the ACLU noted, "This increase was driven almost entirely by a rise in the number of people whose most serious offense was unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance."

That's right -- South Dakota is spending millions of dollars to incarcerate people not for drug dealing, not even for drug possession, but for having used drugs and still having traces of them in their system.

And it's doing so in an alarmingly racially disproportionate manner. Native Americans make up only 7 percent of the state's population but constitute nearly one-third (31 percent) of the state prison population. Similarly, the state has a tiny African American population (2 percent), but black South Dakotans made up 8 percent of the prison population. The imprisonment rate for both African Americans and Native Americans was seven times that of the state's overwhelmingly white population. For the state's Latino population, the imprisonment rate was twice that of whites.

In a press release last month, the state ACLU reported that it's just as bad in the state's jails, with Native Americans making up roughly half of all jail admissions and accounting for the majority of all drug- and alcohol-related arrests in the state. The group noted that "Native Americans between ages 15 and 64 are incarcerated at 10 times the rate of white people in South Dakota."

"It's time to come to terms with the significant racial disparities that are so ingrained in our criminal legal system," said Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota policy director. "This is not something that can be mitigated by solely reducing the number of arrests in South Dakota. Our elected officials need to acknowledge the realities of these racial disparities and commit to tackling them head-on."

State leaders grasp that there is a problem here. The state legislature has set up an interim study group to examine the state's approach to drug offenses, which met for the first time in August. The group includes legislators, law enforcement, court administrators, the South Dakota attorney general and the secretary of the Department of Corrections, but not public health officials or actual drug users.

The panel heard even more disturbing numbers about drug prosecutions. There were 2,104 people convicted of drug possession statewide so far this year, a more than four-fold increase from 2009, even though drug use levels have remained relatively stable over that period. That is leading panel members to wonder about the role of local prosecutors in generating such large increases in prosecutions.

"Though drug use is undoubtedly a serious issue, we can't incarcerate our way out of addiction," said the ACLU's Skarin. "The enormous amount of money South Dakota spends on jailing people for drug-related offenses is disproportionate and causes more harm than good to individuals struggling with addiction, their families and their communities."

It is for this reason that the ACLU says it is supporting initiatives such as "reclassifying ingestion as a misdemeanor."

Skarin explained, "Reclassifying ingestion as a misdemeanor and investing the resulting savings of state funds in diversion and treatment programs designed to combat addiction would go a long way in helping to solve the underlying problems leading to drug abuse."

Pennington County (Rapid City) public defender Eric Whitcher is on the same page as the state ACLU. He told the interim panel that 73 of his last 100 drug possession cases involved only trace or immeasurable amounts of drugs and that if such cases were not charged as felonies, his office could operate with significantly fewer felony prosecutors.

"We are an outlier," said Whitcher, speaking about South Dakota. "We are creating more felonies for the same conduct than our neighboring states. What impact does that have on their lives?"

Dropping ingestion from a felony to a misdemeanor would be a step in the right direction, but it's an awfully small step. South Dakota has a long, long way to go to get on the right side of drug policy, and no natural beauty can hide that.

Chronicle AM: Scottish Political Party Calls for Drug Decrim, Cannabis Cafes in Alaska, More... (10/14/19)

California will see a batch of new marijuana-related laws, Scotland's largest political party calls for drug decriminalization, and more.

Amsterdam cannabis cafe (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill but Vetoes Cannabis in Hospitals. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law a number of marijuana-related bills, including one -- AB 37 -- that will let state-legal businesses use more tax deductions, but he vetoed a bill that would have allowed patients to use medical marijuana in hospitals and other health care facilities.

Anchorage, Alaska, to Vote on Allowing Cannabis Cafes. The Anchorage Assembly voted last week to let voters decide whether the city should allow people to smoke pot in retail locations around town. The question will be on the April 7, 2020, municipal ballot.

International

Philippines National Police Chief Resigns Amidst Drug Scandal. Gen. Oscar Albayalde, chief of the Philippines National Police, has stepped down amidst allegations that he intervened as a provincial police chief to prevent his officers from being prosecuted for allegedly selling a huge quantity of seized drugs. The National Police have led enforcement of the Philippines' bloody drug war.

Scottish National Party Formally Endorses Drug Decriminalization. Scotland's largest political party has formally endorsed the "decriminalization of possession and consumption of controlled drugs," and called on the British government to allow Scotland to make drug policy decisions for itself. The resolution was introduced at the party's annual convention, and passed unanimously.

Chronicle AM: New Federal Opioid Tapering Guidelines Urge Docs to Go Slow, More... (10/10/19)

HHS comes out with new guidelines for physicians on tapering patients off opioids, marijuana social equity advocates keep the pressure on Congress, Tulsi Gabbard calls for decriminalization of drug use, and more.

Marijuana social equity organizations are keeping the pressure on Congress to not stop with merely a banking bill. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, representing more than 200 organizations, sent a letter to lawmakers Tuesday calling on lawmakers to cosponsor a bill that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. That bill is the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884), filed by Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The letter comes as the Leadership Conference says earlier passage of a marijuana banking bill wasn't enough. That bill was "an incremental step toward rolling back the federal war on marijuana," but that "it lacks provisions to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States' punitive drug laws," the letter said.

California Awards Cities $10 in Social Equity Marijuana Grants. The state Bureau of Cannabis Control has awarded $10 million to 10 cities to help build social equity programs. The two biggest recipients are Los Angeles and Oakland, which will split $3.5 million.

Drug Policy

Tulsi Gabbard Suggests Decriminalizing Drugs Like Cocaine and Heroin. Democratic presidential contender Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) suggested in an interview Tuesday that she would support the legalization of drugs such as cocaine and heroin. When asked whether sales of such substances should be illegal, she said removing criminal penalties for users is "the direction that we need to take while still criminalizing those who are traffickers and dealers of these drugs."

Sentencing Policy

California Governor Signs Sentencing Reform Bill. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law the RISE Act (SB 136), which removes a sentencing enhancement that added an extra year to an individual's base sentence for each of their prior prison or felony jail terms.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New Federal Guidelines on Tapering Tell Doctors to Go Slow. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued new guidelines for doctors on how, when, and whether to taper opioid-using patients off the drugs. The main thrust of the new guidelines is that doctors should be slow, cautious, and deliberate in reducing dosages and that they should consult with patients about how they are tolerating the process. The guidelines come after years of reaction to the prescription opioid crisis that resulted in a severe tightening of access to opioid pain medication. Many chronic pain patients and others have complained that they can no longer receive sufficient opioids for their medical needs.

International

Panama Lawmakers Debate Legalizing Medical Marijuana. Two years into a legislative effort to legalize medical marijuana, the congressional Commission on Work, Health, and Social Development took up the measure Wednesday. It still faces several legislative hurdles before becoming law. If it does, it would become the first Central American country to do so.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Mexico MJ Legalization Vote This Month, MA Governor Pushes High Driving Bill, More... (10/8/19)

Mexico is moving rapidly toward marijuana legalization, Scotland's largest political party is set to embrace drug decriminalization, and more.

Mexico's congress is set to vote on a marijuana legalization bill this month. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Governor, Cops Push High Driving Bill. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) on Monday pushed for passage of his administration's impaired driving bill. Introduced earlier this year, the bill aims to make it easier for law enforcement to crack down on people driving under the influence of marijuana. The bill would allow police to seek electronic search warrants and punish drivers who refuse drug tests. It would also bar open or loose pot packages in vehicles. Law enforcement officials who appeared with Baker also supported the bill.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania ACLU Sues County for Prohibiting Probationers from Using Medical Marijuana. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit against Lebanon County's policy prohibiting people who are on probation and who are registered medical marijuana patients from using their medication. The action will take the form of a class action lawsuit involving more than 60 people in the county who are on some form of community supervision and are medical marijuana patients. Although medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2016, a Lebanon County judge ruled that medical marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, and county officials used that rationale to institute the policy. "The plain language in the medical marijuana law shows that the legislature intended to protect all patients, including those on probation," said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Judges may not agree with the Medical Marijuana Act or may not support people using marijuana for any reason, but they must follow the law."

International

Mexico Senate Leader Says Lawmakers Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization by Month's End. Sen. Ricardo Monreal, Senate leader of the ruling MORENA Party, said Monday that the Senate is just about done crafting a marijuana legalization bill after weeks of public forums and open-session debates and that a vote would come soon. "We're thinking that we'll bring the law out, approve it, at the end of October," Monreal said. "That's the schedule we have."

Scottish National Party Set to Back Drug Decriminalization. Scotland's largest political party, the Scottish National Party (SNP) is set to adopt a platform plank calling for drug decriminalization. The move to support relaxing laws against possession and consumption of drugs is expected to be passed at the party's annual conference in Aberdeen this weekend. The move comes as the country grapples with an overdose death crisis.

Court Finds Prosecutorial Misconduct Led to a Drug Conspiracy Conviction, But Lets 30-Year Sentence Stand Anyway [FEATURE]

This article is part 11 of Drug War Chronicle's occasional series on prosecutorial misconduct in drug cases written by investigative journalist Clarence Walker.

The federal prison in Gilmer, WV. Oscar Sosa's home for the next quarter-century, unless he wins on appeal. (BOP)
On October 7, 2016, a jury in Brownsville, Texas, convicted Oscar Sosa, then 32, of conspiracy to possess and possession with intent to distribute three kilos of methamphetamine. On April 24, 2017, Southern Texas Federal District Judge Andrew Hanen hammered Sosa with 30 years in federal prison followed by five years of supervised release.

Sosa appealed, claiming prosecutors committed three errors in the case, rendering the trial unfair. Sosa's appeal alleged the government erred when prosecutors improperly introduced drug profiling evidence by a DEA agent to connect their client into the conspiracy. Sosa also alleged that the prosecutor unfairly bolstered witnesses' purported credibility by indicating Sosa was part of the conspiracy, even though there were no tape-recorded conversations or written documents to prove with certainty that Sosa participated in the trafficking of illegal drugs, nor was he ever caught with any drugs.

With no drugs and no surveillance or documentary evidence, Sosa was in essence convicted by the testimony of cooperating witnesses who faced the possibility of life in prison on drug charges if they didn't help the prosecution. All three cooperating witnesses received prison sentences ranging from six to seven years each for their role in the dope deal.

When the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals took up his case, it found that prosecutorial misconduct had indeed occurred, but rejected his bid for a new trial because his federal defender had failed to object during his original trial.

"Today's outcome is the same as many of our prior decisions addressing drug profiling testimony and bolstering of witnesses' testimony," the court held in its July 25, 2018, ruling. "We find the government engaged in misconduct but nonetheless the court concludes the defendant cannot meet the heavy burden of obtaining reversal for error that he did not object to during trial."

And the court implicitly chided prosecutors more interested in winning than in justice. "If the ultimate end of prosecution is securing convictions it may not be surprising this trend has not deterred improper trial tactics," the court noted.

"It leaves a bad taste to know Oscar Sosa will spend the next 30 years in prison because his defense attorney failed to object to the prosecutorial misconduct," said attorney John T. Floyd, a Harris County Texas federal and state law criminal defense attorney.

"So when a lawyer fails to object it's likely harmless error because over the years the US Supreme Court has watered down all of the amendments in favor of the government," said criminal law veteran Cheryl Irvin, who has tried numerous drug cases including drug related murders.

Although concessions that prosecutorial misconduct unfairly influenced the jury should have resulted in the appeals court granting Sosa a new trial, the appellate jurists -- Justices James Yue-Ho, Gregg Costa and Jennifer Walker Elrod -- made it clear why Sosa's conviction wasn't overturned: "Troubled as we are by the continued use of these improper tactics we do not find that Sosa has met his burden of showing that the errors substantially affected the outcome of the trial," they wrote.

In other words, while prosecutors' conduct in the case was wrong, it wasn't wrong enough to win him a new trial.

Conspiracy dope cases in the federal courts under the statute (21 U.S.C. 846) are inherently dangerous for an individual accused of complicity with other defendants, especially when the evidence is considerably circumstantial and undeniably weak.

To prove a federal drug conspiracy charge the prosecutor must prove:

  • Two or more people conspired to commit an illegal act.
  • A person(s) intentionally or knowingly participated in the conspiracy.
  • A person(s) acted beyond the initial agreement in furtherance of carrying out the crime.

Thus, someone can be prosecuted and convicted in a drug conspiracy case even if he is never caught with drugs in his possession. This is known as a "dry conspiracy."

Dry conspiracies usually start off with one or more individuals who got caught with drugs by police. They then decide to cooperate with the feds, giving up the names of others allegedly involved in the conspiracy in return for much lighter sentences. They will also provide inside information on drug offenses committed, such as how money was laundered, how much drug weight was trafficked, and how much money was paid to couriers, among other things.

Oscar Sosa went down in a dry conspiracy. No drugs, no hard evidence, just the word of cooperating witnesses was enough to put him away -- that and prosecutorial misconduct and a pinch of public defender neglect. After Sosa got slammed with 30 years, his new court-appointed attorney filed an appeal alleging that Assistant US Attorneys Karen Betancourt and Jody Young, committed serious misconduct that should be grounds for the conviction to be reversed.

Going After Sosa

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/oscar-sosa.jpg
Oscar Sosa (Facebook)
The case against Sosa unfolded after DEA agents and sheriff's deputies arrested two drug couriers, Juan Sarmiento and Jose Galvan, while carrying three kilos of meth at a bus station in Harlingen, Texas. When confronted by agents acting on a tip, the pair consented to be searched, and the lawmen found six bundles of meth sewn into Sarmiento's jacket lining and four more in Galvan's pockets.

DEA agents received a tip about the men headed to a gas station which also served as a bus stop. When law enforcement officers confronted Sarmiento and Galvan they panicked and gave officers consent to search them and their luggage, whereupon the lawmen discovered six bundles of crystal meth sewn into Sarmiento's jacket lining. Four more bundles were found in Galvan's pockets.

During questioning the men gave agents conflicting statements about the origin of the drugs. Eventually, though, the men admitted they'd planned to take the meth to a man named 'Oscar' in Plant City, Florida. The men also identified two women "Betty and Patti" as the owner or managers of the narcotics they were carrying.

DEA later identified the women as Mexican nationals Patricia Sosa and Bertha Sosa. Patricia allegedly was either Oscar's aunt or mother and Bertha was an aunt or cousin. Also implicated and charged in the scheme was Genaro Luera, who was also identified as a possible in-law relative connected to Patricia and Bertha.

On appeal, Sosa's attorney identified three examples of prosecutorial misconduct, arguing that the cumulative effect of the errors should cause the conviction to be overturned. While the 5th Circuit jurists agreed that the prosecution erred, it refused to annul the verdict.

"The first error is when the government introduced impermissible profiling testimony by having a DEA expert witness not only describe typical aspects and behavior of a drug trafficking organization, but, also tell the jury where Sosa fit into that structure," the court noted, citing U.S. vs Gonzalez-Rodriguez (621 F. 3d 354), to explain the problem with the profiling testimony.

Here's the exchange between the prosecutor and the DEA agent that unfairly used profiling to bolster the case that Sosa was a drug dealer:

Prosecutor: "When you're looking at (Sosa's records) and you're not finding any assets in Mr. Sosa's name, is that somehow strange he doesn't have any assets in his name, that tells me what?

DEA Agent Jason Bradford: "Yes, we consider that conduct common of drug traffickers.

Prosecutor: "And why is that?"

DEA Agent Bradford: "Because they don't want to leave a trail for their assets."

The appeals court found that the prosecutor erred by eliciting that testimony from the DEA agent. While Sosa had no property or assets in his name, that didn't make him a drug dealer, and it was up to the jury -- not the prosecutor and the DEA agent -- to make that determination.

"When stated in general terms, such testimony may help the jury understand the significance and implications of certain conduct," the court held. "But the ultimate responsibility of linking a defendant's conduct with the characteristics of drug trafficking must be left to the jury."

Sosa's second ground for appeal was that prosecutors committed error by stating in open court that the witnesses' testimony had already been determined to be true, or, worse yet, that they falsely alleged that the judge in the case has concluded the witnesses' testimony was truthful.

The appeals court agreed with that claim, too: "Sosa's claim the government improperly bolstered the credibility of the cooperating witnesses (Sarmiento and Galvan) has merits," it held, citing US vs Gracia (522 F. 3d 597).

In that case, the appellate judges reversed Gracia's conviction for possession of 50 kilos of cocaine based on the prosecutor's bolstering of the witness's testimony. The appeals court pointed out how the prosecutor told the jury that the agents in the case were "very, very credible witnesses" and went far as to ask the jury if they thought an agent, a man with a family, would lie under oath to convict Gracia.

"A personal assertion by a prosecutor of government witnesses' credibility is impermissible," the 5th Circuit explained. "Improper bolstering occurred" in Sosa's case, the judges agreed, when the prosecutor claimed the judge's stamp of approval of the witnesses' credibility.

Credibility of a witness's testimony must always be determined by the jury, and it is not the prosecutor's position that the judge declared such testimony by the cooperating witnesses to be true.

Despite these grave errors, Sosa's attorney, Raquel Munoz, failed to object and have the errors corrected and preserved for appeal.

5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod dissented, arguing prosecutorial misconduct must be punished.
Sosa's third appellate issue argued that a confrontation clause violation occurred when DEA agent Jason Bradford mentioned a tip implicating Patricia Sosa, Sosa's mother or aunt. Prosecutor asked Bradford how DEA determined Patricia Sosa was involved in dealing drugs from Mexico.

Bradford explained how he received an Automated Alert about other agents that were investigating the woman. Bradford further said a Houston undercover agent confirmed Patricia Sosa had sought to find couriers to transport drugs from Mexico into the Houston area. The 5th Circuit ruled against Sosa on this point by stating the tip about Patricia Sosa was something the jury already knew about. "As a result, there was no clear confrontation violation," the justices concluded.

The appeals court found two clear instances of prosecutorial misconduct in Sosa's case, but found that because his defense attorney failed to object in a timely fashion, his conviction should stand, in effect condoning the behavior.

5th Circuit Justice Jennifer Walker disagreed. "I do not condone prosecutorial misconduct here," she wrote in her dissent. "And as the Supreme Court suggested, we should continue to discourage it."

The next step for Oscar Sosa to possibly get a crack at a new trial is to petition for one at the US Supreme Court. Meanwhile, he remains behind bars at FCI Gilmer Unit in West Virginia with more than 25 years to go.

Reach Investigative Criminal Justice Journalist Clarence Walker at [email protected]

Chronicle AM: Beto Says Use MJ Taxes for Drug War Reparations, Yang Says Decriminalize Opiates, More... (9/19/19)

Democratic presidential contenders make dramatic policy proposals, DC loosens up on marijuana, Michigan lawmakers move toward sentencing reform, and more.

Beto O'Rourke wants to legalize marijuana and use the taxes to pay drug war victims. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Beto O'Rourke Proposes Drug War Reparations Funded by Marijuana Taxes. Democratic presidential contender Beto O'Rourke on Thursday proposed legalizing marijuana and using the tax revenues to make direct payments for former drug war prisoners through a "Drug War Justice Grant" program. "We need to not only end the prohibition on marijuana, but also repair the damage done to the communities of color disproportionately locked up in our criminal justice system or locked out of opportunity because of the War on Drugs," ​O'Rourke said in a press release.​ "These inequalities have compounded for decades, as predominantly white communities have been given the vast majority of lucrative business opportunities, while communities of color still face over-policing and criminalization. It's our responsibility to begin to remedy the injustices of the past and help the people and communities most impacted by this misguided war."

DC City Employees Free to Use Marijuana on Own Time. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) issued a mayoral order Wednesday notifying District municipal workers that marijuana use can no longer prevent either getting a government job or keeping one. Some safety-sensitive workers, such as police, are still barred from using marijuana, but now, city agencies can no longer create their own policies and instead must restrict marijuana use only by employees who fit into such categories.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire is One Step Closer to Legalizing Medical Home Growing. The state House voted Wednesday to override Gov. Chris Sununu's (R) veto of HB 364, which would allow qualified patients to grow up to three mature plants and 12 seedlings. The Senate was expected to take up the issue Thursday.

Medical Marijuana Patients Will Be Able to Get Treatment in DC Schools Under Emergency Legislation. The DC city council on Tuesday passed emergency legislation to allow students enrolled in District schools to use medical marijuana at school. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) plans to sign the bill shortly. The emergency legislation would take effect for 90 days after the Mayor's signature.

Drug Policy

Andrew Yang Calls for Decriminalization of Opiates. Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang said Wednesday he would decriminalize the possession of opiates for personal use if elected president. "In addition to decriminalizing marijuana, I would decriminalize opiates for personal use," Yang said, noting that this would include heroin. [Ed: One way that criminalization of opiates increases harm is that when addicted users are incarcerated and then get out, some of them return to using, but with lower tolerance levels than they had before. If they don't realize that, they may take doses that their bodies could handle before, but can kill them now.]

Sentencing Policy

Michigan Sentencing Reform Package Rolled Out. Lawmakers and ACLU officials stood together Wednesday to roll out a new bipartisan plan for sentencing reform. The proposed bill package, introduced by state Sen. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington), state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), is aimed at overhauling the state's mandatory minimum sentencing laws "It's quite simple: We don't have a problem with crime. We have a problem with incarceration," Santana said. The number of inmates in the state increased by 13,000 during the administration of former Gov. John Engler (R).

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: OR Psilocybin Initiative Advances, Kamala Harris Rolls Out Criminal Justice Platform, More... (9/9/19)

An Oregon initiative to allow the therapeutic use of magic mushrooms is set to begin signature gathering, an Arizona initiative to legalize marijuana is going to get some minor tweaks, and more.

These psilocybin mushrooms could become available for therapeutic purposes if an Oregon initiative passes. (Creative Commons)
Arizona Legalization Initiative Will Move Forward with Minor Changes. The organizers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act are moving to make "minor" changes to their proposed initiative after changes were recommended by the Legislative Council. Most of the changes are stylistic or grammatical to make the measure consistent with how bills are drafted in the legislature, but one gap identified -- where funds from civil penalties and fines for violations of the act will go -- will be addressed. Backed by medical marijuana operators in the state, the initiative would legalize the personal possession of up to an ounce of pot but would limit retail sites mainly to existing medical marijuana dispensary locations. Retail sales would be taxed at 16%, with most revenues directed toward community colleges and public safety.

Psychedelics

Oregon Psilocybin Initiative Certified for Signature Gathering. Oregon officials certified the ballot title for the Psilocybin Service Initiative, or Initiative Petition #34, last Friday, opening the way for signature gathering to begin. The measure does not generally decriminalize magic mushrooms and their psychoactive ingredient, but instead would allow "manufacture, delivery, administration of psilocybin at supervised, licensed facilities." Backers of the initiative have until July 2, 2020, to get 112,020 valid voter signatures to get the measure on the November 2020 ballot.

Criminal Justice

Kamala Harris Rolls Out Criminal Justice Platform. California senator and Democratic presidential contender Kamala Harris on Monday unveiled a proposal for sweeping reforms in the criminal justice system to end mass incarceration, help felons reintegrate into society, and increase oversight of police and prosecutors. She called for marijuana legalization, the end of the death penalty for federal crimes, the end of mandatory minimum sentencing, scrapping the cash bail system, and ending the use of private prisons, among other planks. Rivals for the Democratic nomination, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker, have released similar plans.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: NY Governor Faces Protest over Lack of Progress on NYC Safe Injection Sites, More... (8/29/19)

New York's reformed marijuana decriminalization, which will end arrests for public possession or smoking, is now in effect, and more.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo hit by protest over stalled NYC safe injection sites. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York's Marijuana Decriminalization Reform Now in Effect. A bill deepening the state's decriminalization went into effect today. Now, people can publicly possess up to two ounces of marijuana or smoke it without criminal penalties. That's because the new law changes Marijuana Possession in the Fifth Degree from a low-level misdemeanor to a non-criminal violation, meaning police cannot arrest offenders, only ticket them. Although the state decriminalized possession in the 1970s, police in New York City arrested tens of thousands of people for public smoking or possession using that charge -- including people whose marijuana only went into public view after police ordered them to show it.

Harm Reduction

Protest at New York Governor's Manhattan Office Over Slow Progress on Safe Injection Sites. Dozens of harm reduction activists blocked entrances to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) midtown Manhattan office on Wednesday as they demanded he approve a city plan to open four "overdose prevention centers" (safe injection sites). The city had announced the plan more than a year ago but it seems stalled, and activists lay most of the blame on Cuomo, whom they accuse of intentionally delaying a mandated review of the program by the state Department of Health. Thirteen people were arrested amid chants of "Cuomo lied, people died."

Chronicle AM: Mexico Court Okays Personal Cocaine Use, Elizabeth Warren Criminal Justice Policy, More... (8/21/19)

Elizabeth Warren rolls out her criminal justice and drug policy platform, a Mexico City court rules that two petitioners can legally possess and use cocaine, and more.

A court in Mexico City has ruled that two petitioners can legally use cocaine, but it's not a done deal yet. (Pixabay)
Criminal Justice

Elizabeth Warren Unveils Criminal Justice Platform. Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren has rolled out her criminal justice platform aimed at rethinking public safety to reduce mass incarceration and strengthen communities. She is calling for the repeal of the 1994 crime bill, investments in diversion programs for people with substance abuse issues, as well as supporting safe injection sites and needle exchange programs. Warren would also legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions and eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. In planks aimed at the decriminalization of poverty, she would end cash bail, restrict pre-trial fines and fees, and eliminate expensive fees for prisoners, such as for phone calls and bank transfers.

Harm Reduction

Illinois Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Needle Exchanges Statewide. Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) has signed into law a bill that legalizes needle exchange programs throughout the state. The state currently only has six exchanges, three of which are in Chicago. Under the new law, individuals and groups that meet state criteria can establish needle exchange programs under the supervision of the Department of Public Health.

International

Mexico Court Allows Personal Cocaine Use in Landmark Decision. A judge in Mexico City has ruled in favor of two people seeking permission to use cocaine non-medically. The decision is now being reviewed by a higher court at the government's request. The ruling allows the petitioners to "possess, transport, and use cocaine" but not sell it. The case was backed by Mexico United Against Crime, which is dedicated to ending drug prohibition in the country. The ruling actually came in May, but only came to light after the country's national health regulator, which was ordered to authorize the use, instead moved to block it, saying such an authorization would be outside its legal remit. If upheld, the ruling would only apply to the two petitioners, but Mexico United said it would be a building block toward proving that "prohibition has failed and alternative approaches can work better."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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