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House Progressives File Resolution Condemning Police Brutality, Racial Bias, War on Drugs [FEATURE]

As protests erupted across the country after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a dozen progressive Democratic House members filed a resolution May 29th condemning police brutality not only in the case of Floyd but also in the case of Breonna Taylor, the black, 26-year-old Louisville EMT who was gunned down in her own home by cops on a misbegotten no-knock drug raid.

George Floyd's death at hands of white Minneapolis police officers (Wikipedia)
Those House members leading the resolution are Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA. Additional cosponsors include Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), James McGovern (D-MA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

"For too long, Black and brown bodies have been profiled, surveilled, policed, lynched, choked, brutalized and murdered at the hands of police officers," Congresswoman Pressley said in a statement announcing the resolution. "We cannot allow these fatal injustices to go unchecked any longer. There can be no justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or any of the human beings who have been killed by law enforcement, for in a just world, they would still be alive. There must, however, be accountability."

"From slavery to lynching to Jim Crow, Black people in this country have been brutalized and dehumanized for centuries," said Congresswoman Omar. "The war on drugs, mass criminalization, and increasingly militarized police forces have led to the targeting, torture and murder of countless Americans, disproportionately black and brown. The murder of George Floyd in my district is not a one-off event. We cannot fully right these wrongs until we admit we have a problem. As the People's House, the House of Representatives must acknowledge these historical injustices and call for a comprehensive solution. There are many steps on the path to justice, but we must begin to take them."

The resolution has broad support from racial and social justice organizations, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Action Network, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, ACLU, ACLU of Massachusetts, ACLU of Minnesota, the Justice Collaborative, Color of Change, the National Urban League, Lawyers for Civil Rights, Black and Pink, Boston Chapter, Center for Popular Democracy, Moms Rising, the Drug Policy Alliance, New Florida Majority, PolicyLink, the National Black Police Association, and The Vera Institute of Justice.

The unjustifiable deaths of African-Americans Floyd and Taylor at the hands of white police are, though, just the tip of an iceberg of official oppression and heavy-handed, militarized policing whose brunt is felt most keenly in the country's black and brown communities, but whose breadth encompasses almost all of us. And while protesters shout the names of Floyd and Taylor, the demand for unbiased, accountable policing goes far beyond these latest manifestations of cop culture run amok.

The prosecution of the war on drugs, with its racially biased arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of people of color and its devastating impact on minority communities, is a major driver of fear and loathing for and distrust of police, the resolution cosponsors argued.

"[T]he system of policing in America, and its systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of color, particularly Black people, stems from the long legacy of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, and the War on Drugs in the United States and has been perpetuated by violent and harmful law enforcement practices," they wrote. "[P]olice brutality and the use of excessive and militarized force are among the most serious ongoing human rights and civil liberties violations in the United States and have led to community destabilization, a decrease in public safety, and the exacerbation of structural inequities."

Contemporary police practice, with its emphasis on low-level enforcement (such as arresting more than a million people a year for simple drug possession), along with the militarization of police "has led to mass criminalization, heightened violence, and mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people," they note.

The toll from law enforcement malpractice is staggering, the representatives argued: "[P]olice brutality and the use of excessive force have robbed countless communities of precious lives, have inflicted intergenerational harm and trauma to families, and are intensifying our Nation's mental health crisis." And, they charge, the cops are literally getting away with murder: "[P]olice in the United States, through acts of brutality and the use of excessive force, kill far more people than police in other comparable nations and have been historically shielded from accountability."

The resolution "condemns all acts of brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive force by law enforcement and calls for the end of militarized policing." It also "supports strengthening efforts to eliminate instances of excessive use of force, and conduct stringent oversight and independent investigations into instances of police brutality, racial profiling, and excessive use of force, and hold individual law enforcement officers and police departments accountable."

Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police in a fatally bungled no-knock drug raid in March. (family photo)
To that end, the resolution calls on the Justice Department to return to its once proactive role in investigating incidents of police brutality, violence, and racial profiling and police departments that have a pattern of civil rights violations -- a feature of the Obama administration Justice Department that was overturned under Trump.

That would include having the DOJ actively challenge courts "to reconsider decisions that permit unreasonable and excessive police practices," effectively enforce consent decrees with police departments that have been caught misbehaving, and establish civilian review boards that are not mere paper tigers.

"Over the last few months, we have witnessed heightened violent acts of white supremacy, police brutality and targeted harassment because we were simply living while Black," said Congresswoman Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. "And over and over again, offenders go unpunished, allowing this vicious cycle to continue with impunity. We cannot move forward as a nation until what has broken is fixed."

"George Floyd's tragic murder shows how much work we have to fix the relationships between law enforcement and black and brown people," said Congresswoman Lee. "We have seen far too many young men and women of color murdered by police, for as little as driving their car, riding public transportation, having a cell phone, or just being in their own homes. Police officers are supposed to defuse violence -- not inflict it on black and brown communities. While the majority of police officers approach their job in a professional manner, we cannot allow black and brown bodies to be targeted, attacked, and killed with impunity. It's going to take a lot of work and a serious reckoning with our society's ingrained racial biases to stop this violence. We need to restore the proper role of police in our community -- as public servants who are here to protect everyone, not just those they deem worthy of protection. Being Black in America should not be a death sentence."

If the House adopts this resolution, it puts itself squarely on the side of the growing clamor to rein in out of control police. The resolution now has a number, House Resolution 988, and in the days since it was introduced, the number of cosponsors has jumped to 50. That's a start. Now, it's up to the House leadership to see that it moves -- and to show that Congress is finally beginning to grapple with an epidemic of racially-biased, drug war-fueled police thuggery.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: FL Hemp Law Screwing Up Marijuana Prosecutions, Traffic Stops Drop With Legalization, More... (7/26/19)

Traffic stops in Vermont's largest city declined precipitously after marijuana legalization, a broad coalition urges the FDA to limit a ban on felons participating in the hemp industry, Florida's hemp legalization law is making it almost impossible to prosecute marijuana possession offenses, and more.

Burlington, VT, is the latest jurisdiction to report massive declines in traffic stops after marijuana legalization. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

FDA Again Rejects Petition to Further Restrict Marijuana. For the second time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rejected an effort by a prohibitionist group to classify marijuana and THC as "negative monographs," which is a classification for substances the agency considers not "generally recognized as safe and effective." Such substances are illegal to market. Drug Watch International's petition was rejected by the FDA in July 2018, but the group appealed that decision. Now, the FDA has shot down that appeal.

Burlington, Vermont, Traffic Stops Dropped 70% After Legalization. The Burlington Police Department, the state's largest local police force, is reporting that traffic stops in the city declined by 70% since the state legalized marijuana. Police officials are saying that legalization is the cause of the decline. The decline in traffic stops held true for all races.

Hemp

Coalition Urges USDA to Limit Hemp Industry Felon Ban. A coalition of farmers, drug policy organizations, and state agricultural officials are urging the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to limit the scope of a ban on people with felony drug convictions from participating in the legal hemp industry. Under the language of the 2018 Farm Bill, the ban only stands for 10 years from the date of conviction, but the coalition says it is concerned that the language could be read to bar such people from any hemp-related occupation while the congressional intent was to only have it applied to people seeking a license to actually grow hemp.

Florida's Hemp Law Is Screwing Up Marijuana Prosecutions. The state law legalizing hemp, which took effect July 1, has effectively stopped enforcement of marijuana possession laws in their tracks, police and prosecutors are complaining. The law legalized cannabis plants containing 0.3% THC or less; the problem for law enforcement is that police field drug tests can identify plant matter as cannabis, but can't measure THC levels to determine whether it is hemp or marijuana. As the Leon County Sheriff's Office noted in a legal bulletin, "the current tests kits in use by law enforcement do not have the capability to distinguish between legal hemp and illegal cannabis, and thus cannot be used to determine probable cause." As a result, some jurisdictions have already decided to stop prosecuting minor marijuana cases.

Chronicle AM: Trump Calls for "Stop and Frisk" in Chicago, Bangladesh's Bad New Drug Law, More... (10/9/18)

Efforts to establish safe injection sites in Philadelphia and San Francisco hit some bumps in the road, President Trump calls for "stop and frisk" policing in Chicago, and more.

President Trump calls for "stop and frisk" policing in Chicago -- after the city agreed to stop it. (Creative Commons)
Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Governor Rejects Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Proposal. Even though Philadelphia officials are moving ahead with plans for a safe injection site, having formed a nonprofit last week to oversee the project, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is not behind the plan. "It's not a workable solution to this problem," he said. "The course that I think we ought to take, and what I'm doing at the state level, is to figure out ways to get people to stop wanting to use those drugs. I would not want to be guilty of spending any public money to give people the sense that this is something that's OK. I just don't think that's a good idea." He and Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro worry about conflicting with a 1986 law, the federal "crack house" law that bars the use of a facility "for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance."

San Francisco Mayor Still Weighing Safe Injection Sites, Despite Veto of State Bill. Mayor London Breed (D) is now pondering the city's way forward with a safe injection site after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last week vetoed a bill that would have put the state of California fully behind the effort. Breed is said to be concerned about threats of possible federal prosecution if the plan moves toward fruition.

Law Enforcement

President Trump Calls for Police "Stop and Frisk" Tactics in Chicago. Speaking to the International Association of Police Chiefs in Orlando Monday, President Trump called on Chicago police to embrace "stop and frisk" policing as a tool to reduce violence in the country's third-largest city. "Stop and frisk" was embraced for years by the New York City police department, but was widely criticized as overwhelmingly aimed at minority populations and ultimately ruled unconstitutional as carried out by the NYPD. "Gotta be properly applied, but stop-and-frisk works," said Trump. The city of Chicago reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois in 2015 to curb stop-and-frisk procedures after the ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit over the issue. A spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) blasted Trump for his "clueless" criticism. "Even someone as clueless as Donald Trump has to know stop-and-frisk is simply not the solution to crime," Matt McGrath said in an emailed statement.

International

Bangladesh Moving to Impose Death Penalty for as Little as Five Grams of Meth. The cabinet has approved in principle a draft of the Narcotics Control Act of 2018 that introduces the death penalty for anyone producing, smuggling, distributing, or using more than five grams of methamphetamine. The draft also sets life in prison as the mandatory minimum sentence for such offenses. Less than five grams of meth would merit a sentence of up to 15 years, with a mandatory minimum of five years. The new law also would mandate the death penalty for more than 25 grams of heroin or cocaine.

Chronicle AM: Senate Passes Opioid Bill, CA Cops Face Racial Profiling Charges, More... (10/4/18)

Congress sends an omnibus opioids bill to the president's desk, the DEA has another Colombia scandal, the San Francisco police and Los Angeles sheriff's deputies face charges of racial profiling, and more.

Congress has sent an omnibus opioids bill to the president's desk. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Blocks Medical Marijuana License Process. A Tallahassee judge Wednesday agreed to block state health officials from moving forward with the application process for medical marijuana licenses. Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson two months ago had found the state's licensing cap "directly contradicts" the amendment legalizing medical marijuana in the state and had set a Wednesday deadline for either health officials or the legislature to resolve deficiencies in the law. When that didn't happen, Dodson issued a verbal order halting the application process.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers Reach Deal With Legislative Leaders, LDS Church Representatives, and Utah Medical Association. Backers of the Utah medical marijuana initiative joined other organizations and lawmakers at a press conference Thursday to announce they have reached an agreement on an alternative medical cannabis law that will be enacted in a special session following the election. Proposition 2 will still appear on the 2018 ballot, but it will no longer determine the final outcome for Utah medical cannabis patients. Instead, a compromise medical marijuana bill will be enacted during a special session after the 2018 election,

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Sweeping Opioids Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved a sweeping opioids package on a 98-1 vote. The bill now goes to the desk of President Trump. The omnibus opioids bill combines dozens of smaller proposals and expands and reauthorizes programs and policies across the federal government, as well as creating new programs aimed at treatment, prevention, and recovery. One portion of the bill likely to have a big impact requires US postal inspectors to screen packages shipped from overseas -- mainly from China -- for fentanyl. The bill passed the House last week.

Law Enforcement

DEA Colombia Staff Facing Three Separate Misconduct Probes. At least three DEA agents based in Bogota have left in recent months amid separate investigations into alleged misconduct. One is accused of using government resources to hire prostitutes. Ironically, that agent, Robert Dobrich, the agency's top-ranking official in Latin American, was brought in in 2015 in the wake of a scandal about agents participating in sex parties with prostitutes. A former DEA agent assigned to Colombia, Jose Irizarry, is being investigated for passing information on to drug cartels. Irizarry resigned after his activities in Cartagena were curtailed earlier this year. Meanwhile, Dobrich's deputy, Jesse Garcia, is accused of having a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

ACLU Sues San Francisco Police Over Racially Motivated Drug Arrests. The ACLU of Northern California has filed a lawsuit on behalf of six black people arrested during anti-drug operations in the Tenderloin between 2013 and 2015. The six were among 37 arrested in the stings -- every one of whom was black -- and federal public defenders raised concerns over selective enforcement. The lawsuit cites a survey of Tenderloin drug users that found about half were black, but 20% were Latino and 17% were white. Charges against 12 of those arrested were dropped in January 2017 after a judge found there was "substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement, but the dropping of the charges meant a full accounting of police misconduct never happened.

Los Angeles County Deputies Accused of Racially Profiling Hispanics in I-5 Traffic Stop Drug Searches. LA County deputies stopped thousands of Latinos on the I-5 freeway in hopes of making their next drug bust, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. The sheriff's Domestic Highway Enforcement Team seized lots of drugs, but it also searched the vehicles of more than 3,500 drivers who had no drugs or other illegal items, the overwhelming majority of them Latino. Some of the teams' drug busts have been thrown out of federal court as the credibility of deputies came under fire and judges found they violated the rights of motorists by conducting unconstitutional searches. The Times examined data from every traffic stop done by the team from 2012 through 2017 -- more than 9,000 of them -- and found that Latinos accounted for 69% of stops, and that two-thirds of Latinos had their vehicles searched, compared to less than half of other drivers. Though Latinos were much more likely to be searched, deputies found drugs or other illegal items in their vehicles at a rate that was not significantly higher than that of black or white drivers. The sheriff's department said racial profiling "plays no role" in the deputies' work.

International

Canada Drug User, Advocacy Groups Call for Opioid Decriminalization. Some 93 groups representing drug users assembled in Edmonton this week have called for the federal government to move toward decriminalizing opioids. The coalition is calling for Ottawa to expand legal access to safe drugs for people with substance use disorder, decriminalize possession of all drugs for personal use, and expand the availability of harm reduction services.

How Bigoted Pennsylvania Drug Warriors Turned This New York Man's Life into a Living Hell [FEATURE]

In June, 2014, Wilfredo Ramos was driving back to his Brooklyn home after visiting his mother in Lancaster, Pennsylvania when two Pennsylvania State Police troopers detoured him into a Kafkaesque nightmare from which he emerged only five months later.

The traffic stop from hell happened to Wilfredo Ramos -- and happened, and happened. (Sonoma County Sheriff's Office)
In the meantime, Ramos rotted in jail on bogus charges, losing his job, his car, and his apartment. Now, in a small gesture of redress, the State Police have agreed to pay Ramos $150,000 for his travails in a taxpayer-funded settlement, but the cops still admit no fault or liability.

According to the lawsuit that ended in the settlement, Ramos' nightmare began when he was pulled over by Troopers Justin Summa and Kevin Vanfleet on June 6, 2014. Neither trooper said why they stopped Ramos, and the suit alleged they were engaged in racial profiling because Ramos is Hispanic and was driving a car with New York plates.

Summa claimed he smelled alcohol, and Ramos replied that he had not been drinking. Summa then challenged Ramos, citing his ethnicity and place of residence. "We know you have drugs," Summa told him, "just tell us where they are." Ramos denied possessing any drugs.

Summa then administered a Breathalyzer test, which came back negative for alcohol, and ordered Ramos to perform field sobriety tests, which he completed without any problem. The encounter should have ended at that point, with Ramos being thanked for his cooperation and sent on his way, since there was no evidence he had committed any crime.

But that's not what happened. Instead, although Ramos had cleared all the tests and although they lacked probable cause, Troopers Summa and Vanfleet arrested Ramos for driving under the influence, giving them a pretext to search his vehicle in their quest to make a drug bust. Their search turned up nothing.

The troopers then took Ramos to state police headquarters where they administered yet another Breathalyzer test, which they described as "inconclusive." The next stop was the Lehigh County DUI center, where Ramos consented to have his blood drawn to be tested.

According to the lawsuit, typical practice in Lehigh County is that people arrested under suspicion of drunk driving who have no prior drunk driving arrests and where there was no accident or injuries are released pending blood test results. That didn't happen with Ramos. Instead, he was held under $10,000 cash bail -- an amount he could not raise.

As Ramos rotted in jail, his blood sample was tested twice by the Lehigh Valley Health Network Laboratory, which found on June 18, 2014, that it contained no drugs or alcohol. Trooper Summa then ordered a third test of the sample, this time for a broader spectrum of substances, but again the results were negative.

On the same day the test results came in, Summa testified in a preliminary hearing on Ramos' case that the results were not yet in. He did not tell the court about the negative test results. Ramos remained in jail for 158 days until he was found not guilty in Lehigh County Court after blood tests showed no illegal substances or alcohol in his system.

While Ramos was jailed, he was fired from his job and lost his home. He lost his car, too: The tow truck operator notified Ramos by mail about a deadline to retrieve his vehicle, but because Ramos was in jail, no one was at his residence to receive the letter.

Ramos' lawsuit charged that Troopers Summa and Vanfleet conspired to falsely arrest him despite finding no evidence that he was impaired or had drugs in his car. The lawsuit also named five state police supervisors, from the troop commander to former state police Commissioner Francis Noonan, as liable for racially motivated misconduct, unlawful seizure, violations of due process of law, denial of equal rights, conspiracy to interfere with civil rights, and other Civil Rights Act violations.

While the State Police admitted no fault or liability, their willingness to settle the case speaks for itself.

Attorney Joshua Karoly, who represented Ramos in the lawsuit, was magnanimous after the settlement was announced. "It was a mistake that this happened, and this resolution is going to go a long way toward getting his life back on track to where it was before this happened," Karoly told the Lancaster Morning Call. "It makes mistakes like that much less likely when they're brought to the public's attention."

Not One Step Back: Drug Policy Reformers and African American Academics Convene in the South

This article was published in collaboration with Alternet and first appeared here.

Hundreds of members of the Atlanta community and dozens of the nation's leading advocates for drug policy reform gathered in a groundbreaking meeting over the weekend. The meeting aimed at building alliances with the African American community to both advance smart public health approaches to drug policy and maintain and protect existing reforms in the face of hostile powers in Washington.

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Rep. Maxine Waters, asha bandele
Sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, Georgia State University's Department of African American Studies, the Morehouse School of Medicine, Amnesty International, The Ordinary People's Society, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Peachtree NORML, "Not One Step Back" marked the first time the drug reform movement has come to the historically black colleges of the South and signals the emergence of a powerful new alliance between black academics and reform advocates.

The event included a series of panels filled with activists, academics, and public health experts, including Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrice Cullors and VH1 personality and best-selling author Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, and was highlighted by a keynote address by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).

To the delight of the audience, "Auntie Maxine" slammed the drug war as aimed only at certain communities while those making fortunes at the top of the illegal drug trade go untouched. The representative from South Central reached back to the days of the crack cocaine boom to make her case.

"The police did everything you think wouldn't happen in a democracy," she said, citing illegal raids and thuggish behavior from the LAPD of then-Chief Darryl Gates, the inventor of the SWAT team. But if low-level users and dealers were getting hammered, others involved went scot free.

"Something happened to devastate our communities," she said, alluding to the arrival of massive amounts of cocaine flowing from political allies of the Reagan administration as it waged war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. "The CIA and DEA turned a blind eye," Waters argued. "If you're the CIA and DEA, you know who the dealer is, but they take the lower-level dealers and let the big dealers keep selling drugs."

"Ricky Ross did time," she said, referencing the South Central dealer held responsible for unleashing the crack epidemic (with the help of Nicaraguan Contra connections). "But those big banks that laundered all that drug money -- nobody got locked up, they just have to pay fines. But for them, fines are just a cost of doing business. Even today, some of the biggest banks are laundering money for drug dealers," Waters noted.

"We have to defend our communities; we don't support drugs and addiction, but you need to know that people in high places bear some responsibility. One of the worst things about the drug war is that we never really dealt with how these drugs come into our communities," Waters added.

The selection of Atlanta for the conclave was no accident. Georgia is a state that incarcerates blacks for drug offenses at twice the rate it does whites. While blacks make up only a third of the state's population, they account for three-quarters of those behind bars for marijuana offenses.

The state has the nation's fourth-highest incarceration rate, with a prison population on track to grow 8% within the next five years, and one out of every 13 adults in the state are in prison or jail or on probation or parole.

Atlanta is also the powerhouse of the South -- the region's largest city, and one that is increasingly progressive in a long-time red state that could now be turning purple. And it is the site of the Drug Policy Alliance's International Drug Policy Reform Conference -- the world's premier drug reform gathering -- set for October. What better place to bring a laser focus on the racial injustice of the drug war?

"The drug war is coded language," said Drug Policy Alliance senior director asha bandele. "When the law no longer allowed the control and containment of people based on race, they inserted the word 'drug' and then targeted communities of color. Fifty years later, we see the outcome of that war. Drug use remains the same, and black people and people of color are disproportionately locked up. But no community, regardless of race, has been left unharmed, which is why we are calling everyone together to strategize."

And strategize they did, with panels such as "Drug Reform is a Human Rights Issue," "This is What the Drug War Looks Like: Survivors Speak," "Strength, Courage, and Wisdom: Who We Must Be in These Times," and "Dreaming a World: A Nation Beyond Prisons and Punishment."

While denunciations of white privilege were to be expected, the accompanying arguments that capitalism plays a role in perpetuating oppression and inequality was surprisingly frank.

"We have to dismantle both white supremacy and capitalism," said Eunisses Hernandez, a California-based program coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We need to reach a place where trauma is dealt with in a public health model. The current system of law enforcement, prisons, and jails doesn't do anything for us."

"We're in agreement here," said Dr. Hill. "We have to eliminate white supremacy and capitalism."

That's not something you hear much in mainstream political discourse, but in Atlanta, under the impetus of addressing the horrors of the war on drugs, the search for answers is leading to some very serious questions -- questions that go well beyond the ambit of mere drug reform. Something was brewing in Atlanta this weekend. Whether the initial progress will be built upon remains to be seen, but the drug reformers are going to be back in October to try to strengthen and deepen those new-found bonds.

Atlanta, GA
United States

License Plate from a Marijuana State? That's No Reason to Stop and Search, Fed Court Says

Drivers from pot-friendly West Coast states have long complained of "license plate profiling," claiming state troopers more interested in drug interdiction than traffic safety perch like vultures along the nation's east-west interstate highways pull them over on pretextual traffic stops -- going 71 in a 70 mph zone, failing to wait two full seconds after signaling before making a lane change, weaving within a lane -- because their plates make them suspected marijuana traffickers.

Since Colorado blossomed as a medical marijuana state around 2008 (and ever more so since it legalized weed in 2012), drivers bearing the state's license plates have been complaining of getting the same treatment. The practice is so common and well-known along the I-80 corridor in Nebraska that Omaha lawyers advertise about it.

Now, one Colorado driver has managed to get something done about it. Peter Vasquez sued a pair of Kansas Highway Patrol officers over a stop and search on I-70 that turned up no drugs and resulted in no arrest, and on Tuesday, a federal appeals court vindicated him.

On a 2-1 vote, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that the two troopers violated Vasquez's constitutional rights by stopping and searching him based primarily on the fact that he came from a state that was a "known drug source."

Cops can't do that, the court ruled bluntly. To allow such a practice would justify searching drivers from the 25 states that allow medical or fully legal marijuana.

"It is time to abandon the pretense that state citizenship is a permissible basis upon which to justify the detention and search of out-of-state motorists, and time to stop the practice of detention of motorists for nothing more than an out-of-state license plate," Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero wrote in the opinion. "Absent a demonstrated extraordinary circumstance, the continued use of state residency as a justification for the fact of or continuation of a stop is impermissible," he added.

And the troopers didn't really have much other basis for suspicion, the court noted. The troopers said their basis was that Vasquez was driving alone, at night, on a "drug corridor," from "a known drug source area," he had a blanket and a pillow in his car, the blanket might have obscured something, and he seemed nervous.

"Such conduct, taken together, is hardly suspicious, nor is it unusual," Lucero noted.

Vasquez was originally pulled over because the troopers "could not read Vasquez's temporary tag," and when that issue was dealt with, they issued him a warning ticket. What the law required, the court said, was that the troopers then end their contact with him and allow him to go on his way.

But instead, they asked him to submit to a search of his vehicle, and he declined. They then detained him for 15 minutes until a drug dog could be summoned -- another drug war tactic the US Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional in April. The drug dog found nothing, and Vasquez was then released.

The troopers may have been done with Vasquez, but he wasn't done with them or what he saw as their unlawful conduct. He filed a civil lawsuit against the two troopers, Richard Jimerson and Dax Lewis, for violating his 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The case had been thrown out in federal district court, but Tuesday's decision revives it. It also sets legal precedent for the entire 10th Circuit, meaning that cops in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming can't pull you over and search you just because you have a pot-state license plate.

Kansas officials say they plan to appeal to the 10th Circuit's full bench, though, but for now, at least, it's the law.

Denver, CO
United States

Chronicle AM: Obama Commutes More Drug Sentences, Boston's First MedMJ Shop Opens, More... (8/3/16)

Obama commutes more drug sentences, Boston gets its first dispensary, more signs of how horrid South Dakota is on marijuana, Utah SWAT deployment data, and more.

Utah SWAT is aimed mostly at drug offenders. (Wikipedia/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon US Attorney Prosecuting Black Teen Over One Gram of Weed. In the first federal marijuana possession prosecution in the state in five years, teenager Devontre Thomas has been charged over a gram of pot found in another student's backpack at the federal Indian School they both attended. The other teen claimed he got the weed from Thomas, and that's enough for US Attorney Billy J. Williams to charge Thomas with "knowingly and intentionally possessing marijuana." Williams is getting blowback from many, including US Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who said "situations like this are best handled by the state."

South Dakota to Prosecute Consultants for Aborted Indian Tribe Pot Grow. Attorney General Marty Jackley announced Wednesday that two men who consulted with the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in its effort to grow marijuana have been indicted on a range of marijuana possession charges. The tribe began to grow after the federal government signaled that tribes could do so, but destroyed its crop after federal officials raided other tribes than had entered the business and after state officials threatened to arrest non-Indians who used marijuana there. One of the consultants was hit with felony possession and is looking at up to 7 ½ years in prison, while the other, who cooperated with authorities, only got a misdemeanor charge.

Medical Marijuana

Boston Gets Its First Dispensary. The Patriot Cares dispensary is open on Boston's Milk Street as of today. The company says it's ready for 150 patients a day and that 200 patients have already registered.

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Supporters Sue Over Signatures. The secretary of state's office said petitions from the South Dakota Coalition for Compassion came up short on signatures, blocking the measure from going to the voters, and now, the coalition has filed a complaint alleging that signatures were not properly counted. The coalition is seeking to have the secretary of state's decision thrown out and that a local judge will order the initiative placed on the November ballot.

Law Enforcement

Utah SWAT Used Overwhelmingly for Drug Crimes. Utah is the only state to currently require reporting on SWAT deployments, and the 2015 report has just been released. SWAT was deployed 457 times in 2015, including 281 forced entries into private residences. Three-quarters of those forced entries were drug raids. The data also showed that police were more likely to use "no-knock" search warrants against drug suspects than against violent crime suspects. Go figure.

Pardons and Clemency

Obama Frees More Federal Drug Prisoners, But Time is Running Out. Some 214 federal drug war prisoners saw their prison sentences commuted Wednesday as President Obama took another step toward fulfilling his administration's pledge to use his pardon power to cut draconian drug sentences and free prisoners serving decades-long stretches for non-violent drug crimes.Those whose sentences were commuted Wednesday will walk out of prison on December 1. With Wednesday's commutations, Obama has now commuted the sentences of 562 men and women sentenced under harsh federal drug laws, including 197 people doing life for drug offenses. That's more commutations than the last nine presidents combined.

Chronicle AM: OH Votes on Legalization Today, New Big Bucks CA Init Unveiled, More (11/3/15)

It's election day in Ohio, a big money California legalization initiative rolls out, there's another national poll with a majority for marijuana legalization, Ireland takes big steps toward harm reduction, Germany gets set to deal with medical marijuana, and more.

Will Ohioans vote for Buddie and Issue 3? The polls close in a few hours. (responsibleohio.com)
Marijuana Policy

Another National Poll Has a Majority for Legalization. A new Morning Consult poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide. That's in line with other recent polls showing a majority for freeing the weed, including Gallup (58%), CBS News (53%), and Pew (53%). Click on the link for more details and methodology.

California Initiative With Big Bucks, Key Backers Rolls Out. A legalization initiative backed by tech philanthropist Sean Parker, other deep-pocketed funders, and leading state political figures such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) was filed Monday. The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act is the latest of a half-dozen initiatives filed in the state. At this early point, it stands the best chance of making the 2016 ballot, given the financial and political clout behind it. Look for a Chronicle feature article later this week.

Ohio Votes on Legalization Today. Voters go to the polls today to vote for or against the controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, which would create a 10-grower oligopoly on commercial cultivation, owned by the backers of the initiative. Voters will also have a chance to vote on Issue 2, which is designed to negate the initiative and future monopoly or oligopoly initiatives in the future. Late polls had the legalization initiative in a dead heat. Look for a Chronicle story once we have election results.

Vermont Senate Committee to Hold Legalization Hearing Next Week. The Senate Government Operations Committee will take testimony next Tuesday on proposals to legalize marijuana. The hearing is expected to seek answers to questions about how legalization would work. The legislature will consider legalization in the coming session.

Drug Policy

Hillary Clinton Calls for Criminal Justice Reforms. In a speech last Friday, Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton called for a series of criminal justice reforms, including a ban on racial profiling, a ban on pre-employment questions about criminal histories, and the elimination of the remaining sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Bernie Sanders responded that criminal justice reform needs to include marijuana legalization, which he has endorsed.

International

Group of Studies Shows Mass Incarceration for Drugs Growing in Latin America. The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law today released a series of new studies showing that mass imprisonment for drug offenses has increased across the region. You can read the reports here.

Ireland to Open Supervised Injection Sites, Looks Toward Drug Decriminalization. Irish drugs minister Aodhan O'Riordain said today that the government will open an injection site in Dublin next year, followed shortly by Cork, Galway, and Limerick. He also said he plans to push for the decriminalization of drug possession as part of a "radical cultural shift" in dealing with drug use.

Germany to Set Up Medical Marijuana Agency. The Ministry of Health has authored a draft bill that would allow sick Germans to use medical marijuana, with the substance to be prescribed and to be paid for by health insurers. The bill would not allow patients to grow their own. "It is our goal that in the future, more people in Germany will be able to receive cannabis as medicine than has been the case until now," said federal drugs commissioner Marlene Mortler. She said she wanted the bill pushed through the Bundestag by year's end, so the new law could go into effect next year.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. 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: Delaware Decriminalizes, Supremes Make Synthetic Convictions More Difficult, More (6/19/05)

The marijuana reform bandwagon rolls through Delaware, federal bills on opiates and racial profiling get filed, the Supreme Court issues an interesting decision on synthetic drug sales, and more.

The Supreme Court clarifies that criminal intent matters. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession. With the signature of Gov. Jack Markell (D) Thursday night on House Bill 39, Delaware becomes the 20th state to either decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana or make it legal for adults. The new law, which goes into effect in six months, removes the criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce by an adult, replacing them with a civil infraction punishable by a maximum $100 fine. For those between 18 and 21, a first offense would be a civil infraction, while any more would be misdemeanors. For people under 18, possession would remain a misdemeanor. Public use would be a misdemeanor punishable by a $200 fine and up to five days in jail. That includes moving vehicles, public areas, and outdoors on private property within 10 feet of street, sidewalk, or any other areas generally accessible to the public.

Missouri Cannabis Conference Next Weekend. Missouri advocacy groups Show Me Cannabis and Missouri NORML are holding a joint conference beginning next Friday in Kansas City. Click on the title link for all the details.

Heroin and Opiates

Federal Bill to Deal With Opiate Use Filed. A bipartisan group of six House members Thursday filed HR 2805 as a multi-pronged effort to grapple with opiate and heroin use. Several other bills on the topic have already been filed. This one would increase prescription monitoring requirements, create an inter-agency task to develop best practices for pain management, create a grant program to increase the number of first responders carrying the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone, and direct the drug czar's office to establish a public awareness program.

New Synthetic Drugs

Supreme Court Rules People Can't Be Convicted for Selling Synthetic Drugs If It's Not Clear They're Illegal. A unanimous US Supreme Court ruled Thursday that people cannot be convicted for selling synthetic drugs unless prosecutors prove they knew the drugs were prohibited by law. Stephen McFadden had been convicted of violating the Controlled Substance Analog Enforcement Act for selling "bath salts," and a federal appeals court ruled that trial court jury instructions saying he could be convicted if the jury found he intended the drugs for human consumption. But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying prosecutors must prove the defendant knew the substance was either a controlled substance or an analog. The case is McFadden v. United States.

Law Enforcement

Federal Racial Profiling Bill Introduced. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) Thursday filed S 1610, which would eliminate racial profiling by police officers and promote accountability for state and local law enforcement. The bill also has provisions to eliminate sentencing disparities and promote reentry programs. It has not yet been assigned to a committee.

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