SWAT/Paramilitarization

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Biden Signs Criminal Justice Reform Executive Order, RI Legislature Approves Marijuana Legalization, More... (5/25/22)

Rhode Island is set to become the 19th legal marijuana state, West Virginia announces a big settlement with drug manufacturers over their role in the opioid crisis, and more.

After congressional inaction, President Biden issues an executive order on criminal justice reform. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Georgia Voters Approve Marijuana Legalization Ballot Question. State voters sent a strong signal to lawmakers Tuesday by overwhelmingly approving a non-binding ballot question on marijuana policy. Voters were asked: "Should marijuana be legalized, taxed and regulated in the same manner as alcohol for adults 21 years of age or older, with proceeds going towards education, infrastructure and health care programs?" A whopping 80 percent of them answered "yes."

Rhode Island Legislature Approves Marijuana Legalization. Both the House and the Senate voted Tuesday to approve a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 2430. Gov. Dan McKee (D) is set to sign it into law today. The law will allow people 21 and over to possess, grow, and purchase limited amounts of marijuana. It also includes expungement and social equity provisions. Once the bill is signed into law, Rhode Island will become the 19th state to free the weed. Look for our feature story on this later today.

Opiates and Opioids

West Virginia Announces Settlement with Opioid Manufacturers. State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Wednesday that the state had reached a $161.5 million settlement with two drug companies over their role in the opioid epidemic. The settlement came as the trial in the state's lawsuit against Allergan and Teva was nearing its end. Morrisey touted the settlement as "record-breaking," saying it was the highest per capita settlement in the country and blasted the two companies as "helping fuel the opioid epidemic in West Virginia by engaging in strategic campaigns to deceive prescribers and misrepresent the risks and benefits of opioid painkillers."

Criminal Justice

President Biden Signs Executive Order to Advance Accountable Policing, Strengthen Public Safety. Marking the second anniversary of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, President Biden on Wednesday issued a broad-ranging executive order to advance accountable policing and enhance public safety. The move comes after Congress largely failed to act on policing reform in the wake of the killing and the mass protests it generated. Among other provisions, the order creates a new national database of police misconduct, restricts the use of no-knock search warrants, bans the use of chokeholds and carotid restraints unless deadly force is authorized, requires new standards limiting the use of force for all federal agencies, restores the Obama administration's restrictions on the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement agencies, requires an updated approach to recruitment, hiring, promotion, and retention of law enforcement officers; requires all federal law enforcement agencies to track data on use of force; directs a government-wide strategic plan to propose interventions to reform the criminal justice system; and requires full implementation of the First Step Act.

Senate Dems Seek Input on Marijuana Legalization Bill, Senate Groups Calls for Police Reform Efforts by Biden, More... (2/11/22)

Chuck Schumer is trying to get his marijuana legalization bill finalized, an Illinois bill would fix a bizarre situation around expungement of past marijuana offenses, and more.

Ten senators have asked the Biden administration to get moving on demilitarizing the police. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Top Senate Democrats Seek Input on Finalizing Marijuana Legalization Bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have sent a letter to their fellow senators inviting them "into the drafting process as we work to finalize this legislation." The senators called on committee chairs and ranking members of relevant committees, as well as senators from legalization states to provide input. The letter comes after Schumer announced this week that he is working to introduce a bill in the spring. He, Booker, and Wyden released a draft of their proposed bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act last July.

Illinois Bill to End Drug Test Requirement for Marijuana Expungement Advances. It is a bizarre situation: In a state where marijuana is legal, people who hope to get their marijuana arrest records expunged must first pass a drug test showing that they are not using marijuana. A bill that would fix that, House Bill 4392, was filed by Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana), and passed out of the House Judiciary Criminal Committee Thursday on a partisan 11-8 vote. However, Ammons plans to hold the bill on second reading and bring it back to the committee when the amendments are ready.

Harm Reduction

Drug Policy Alliances Criticizes Biden Administration Over "Crack Pipe" Kerfluffle. In response to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Office of National Drug Control Policy's statement that they will no longer be allowing federal funding to go towards putting pipes in safer smoking supplies, the Drug Policy Alliance criticized the administration for "backtracking" in the face of rightwing social media firestorm.

"Backtracking on providing critical evidence-based resources that could greatly improve the health of people who consume drugs through smoking is a huge missed opportunity that will disproportionately be felt in Black and Indigenous communities, especially as these communities have experienced some of the sharpest increases in overdose deaths involving fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine," said DPA executive director Kassandra Frederique. "Despite nearly identical rates of drug use in Black and white communities, Black, Indigenous, and communities of color have long been disproportionately criminalized and treated with handcuffs and rap sheets -- as we remember all too well from the 80s and 90s with the 'rack epidemic' -- instead of the public health tools they need to live healthier and more stable lives."

"Health policy must be driven by evidence, not by clickbait," Frederique continued. "We applaud the Biden administration for the steps they have taken to advance harm reduction and advocate for the funding needed to supply needed resources and save lives, but they must stand firm against misinformation and continue the course to deploy all evidence-based solutions, including all forms of safer smoking supplies, to save lives now."

Law Enforcement

Senators Urge Biden to Step Up Efforts to Demilitarize Police. Led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), a group of 10 senators has released a letter urging the Biden administration to step up efforts to demilitarize the police. "We urge you to prioritize the demilitarization of law enforcement by limiting the transfer or purchase of certain military equipment for federal, state, tribal, territorial, and local law enforcement agencies," the senators wrote in their letter to the president. "This should include reforms to the Department of Defense's (DoD) program to transfer surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies -- known as the '1033 program' -- as well as DoD's program to allow law enforcement agencies to purchase military equipment -- known as the '1122 program.' Militarized law enforcement increases the prevalence of police violence without making our communities safer. Now is the moment to make these necessary reforms."

In their letter to the president, the senators cite reports showing that police militarization fails to reduce rates of violent crime or change the number of officers assaulted or killed. Instead, arming police departments with military equipment has led to an increase in officer-involved shootings and civilian deaths.

Rio de Janeiro Drug Raid Massacre, AZ Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill, More... (5/7/21)

Medical marijuana bills are moving in several states, a Minnesota marijuana legalization bill has just won its 11th committee vote (!), the Texas House passes a psychedelic therapeutic study bill, and more.

A favela in Rio de Janeiro. A police raid on a Rio favela left 25 dead this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Law Enforcement Arrested Nearly 5,000 People on Marijuana Charges Last Year. Despite spreading legalization at the state level, federal marijuana prohibition remains in full force, with the DEA reporting seizing over 4 ½ million pot plants and making nearly 5,000 marijuana arrests. The number of plants seized was up by 20% over 2019, while the number of arrests was up only slightly from 2019. Both figures, though, represent substantial decreases from a decade ago, when the DEA seized nearly nine million plants and made 8,500 pot arrests.

Idaho Senate Approves Bill to Ban Marijuana Advertising. The state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would bar commercial advertising for marijuana in the state, a move that could potentially impact ballot initiatives to legalize the drug in the state. The bill was only filed this week and had a public hearing earlier in the day that gave the public little chance to participate. The bill now goes to the House.

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Yet Another House Committee Vote. The omnibus marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, was approved by the House Taxes Committee Wednesday. That was the 11th committee to approve the bill. It still must go before the House Ways and Means Committee before heading for a House floor vote. The bill face dim prospects, though, in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Wisconsin GOP Lawmakers Strip Governor's Marijuana Legalization Proposal from Budget. The Republican-dominated Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 on Thursday to delete Gov. Tony Evers' (D) marijuana legalization proposal from the budget. The move was no surprise, and has led to call from Evers for residents to put pressure on GOP lawmakers to support his agenda.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. With final approval in the House on Thursday, and the Senate approving changes from the House that same day, a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 46, is now headed to the desk of Gov. Kay Ivey (R), who has not indicated whether she will sign it. The bill would allow people suffering from a list of about 20 specified medical conditions to have access to medical marijuana.

Kansas House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Thursday voted 78-42 to approve a medical marijuana bill, House Substitute for SB158. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Tennessee Legislature Approves Limited Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would expand the state's limited CBD program and create a medical marijuana study commission has passed the legislature and now heads for the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R), who is expected to sign it. It would allow patients to possess CBD oil with no more than 0.9% THC but provides no legal means of accessing it within the state.

Psychedelics

Texas House Approves Psychedelic Therapeutic Study Bill. The House on Thursday voted to approve a bill, House Bill 1802, that would mandate the state conduct a study of the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin and MDMA. The measure passed on an overwhelming vote of 134-12. The bill was amended in the House to limit the study to veterans with PTSD instead of the broader study originally envisioned. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Governor Doug Ducey (R) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 2810, which reforms but does not eliminate civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill passed the legislature with strong support.

International

Brazil Drug Raid in Rio Favela Leaves 25 Dead. A massive police operation Thursday against drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela in Rio de Janeiro left one policeman and 24 favela residents dead. The bloody raid is drawing condemnation from human rights groups. "Who are the dead? Young black men. That’s why the police talk about ‘24 suspects.’ Being a young, black favela resident automatically makes you a suspect to the police. They just keep piling up bodies and saying, ‘They’re all criminals,’" said Silvia Ramos, head of the Security Observatory at Candido Mendes University. "Is this the public security policy we want? Shootouts, killings and police massacres?" This isn't the deadliest anti-drug police operation in the country's history: A 2005 raid in the Baixada Fluminense favela left 29 dead. Police in Rio have a reputation for deadliness, and Human Rights Watch reports that they killed 453 in the first quarter of 2021.

Is the Era of the No-Knock Drug Raid Coming to an End? [FEATURE]

In the mass protests over out-of-control and racially biased law enforcement ignited by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police office Derek Chauvin, Floyd's name isn't the only one being chanted by the crowds. There's also Ahmaud Arbery, the Georgia jogger gunned down by white vigilantes. There's Rayshard Brooks, the Atlanta man shot and killed by police after falling asleep in his car in the Wendy's drive-through lane and them tussling with and fleeing from them as he sought to avoid arrest.

And then there's Breonna Taylor. The 26-year-old black EMT and Louisville resident was killed on March 13 as police executing a midnight no-knock drug search warrant at her apartment were greeted by gunfire by her boyfriend.. As the circumstances of her death emerged, she has become the face of the burgeoning movement to radically restrict the police resort to no-knock warrants, which could just as aptly be referred to as home invasion warrants.

That's what it felt like to Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker. Although Louisville police claimed they knocked and announced their presence, they were operating with a no-knock warrant, and that account is disputed by Walker and Taylor's relatives. Walker said he and Taylor were in bed together when the door crashed in and he thought someone was breaking into their home. He said he fired in self-defense. (Here is that fraught zone where the war on drugs encounters the 2nd Amendment.)

Walker's single shot wounded one officer, who returned fire along with two other officers. Breonna Taylor was hit by at least eight bullets and died at the scene. Walker was charged with attempted murder, although those charges have now been dropped. No drugs were found at the apartment. To make matters even worse, the drug suspect the police were looking for was already in custody when the raid went down.

"They executed this innocent woman because they botched the search warrant execution," attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the Taylor family in a lawsuit filed over the killing told the New York Times. "They had the main person that they were trying to get in their custody, so why use a battering ram to bust her door down and then go in there and execute her?"

Outrage over the killing of Breonna Taylor quietly festered as the country hunkered down amidst the coronavirus pandemic, but when the iconic killing of George Floyd finally galvanized the streets, the pain and anger over Taylor's killing became a rallying cry not just in Louisville but across the land. And it's bringing a laser-like focus on a practice more akin to raiding terrorist hideouts in the Middle East than to serving and protecting American citizens, which in turn is leading to a renewed focus on the role of the drug war in all of this.

The war on drugs provided the impetus for no-knock raids from the beginning, and the courts were all too willing to help. The 1963 US Supreme Court case Ker v. California, which gave constitutional imprimatur to forcible police entries, was a drug case where the possibility that evidence could be destroyed carried the day for the cops. When the Supreme Court revisited and refined its no-knock doctrine in the 1990s, the impetus once again was enforcing drug prohibition.

In a case involving small-scale sales of marijuana and meth to an informant, the court ruled in 1995 in Wilson v. Arkansas that police must generally "knock and announce" before kicking in a door with a search warrant, although it allowed for exceptions as per Ker. In another small-time drug sales case, 1997's Richard v. Wisconsin, the court held that police needed to demonstrate "a reasonable suspicion" that announcing their presence before bashing in the door would be dangerous or allow for the destruction of evidence for a no-knock warrant to be permitted.

Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police in a fatally bungled no-knock drug raid in March. (Family photo)
Those rulings left "reasonable suspicion" up to state and local judges, and while little national or even state data exists on the rates at which judges rejected no-knock warrant requests, a pair of local studies suggests they essentially acted as rubber stamps. A recent PBS Newshour report cited a Denver Post analysis of no-knock warrant requests from Denver police in 2000, a year after Mexican citizen Ismael Mena was killed in a no-knock drug raid. The cops got 158 out of 163 requests approved. Similarly, a Washington Post analysis of no-knock warrant requests by policy in Little Rock, Arkansas, between 2016 and 208 had the cops getting 103 out of 105 approved.

Police resort to no-knock raids has gone through the roof in recent decades, according to a 2007 study done by Peter Kraska, a professor with the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. He found that while no-knock or announce and enter raids happened about 1,500 times in the early 1980s, that figure skyrocketed to about 40,000 a year by the turn of the century as the drug war deepened. Kraska estimated the number of such raids at about 45,000 a year by 2010.

The raids are mainly for drugs. A 2014 ACLU report looking at SWAT teams doing no-knock raids found that 62% of them were for drugs. In at least a third of those raids, no drugs were found. In nearly another third of those raids, it's not known if any drugs were seized because police did not report that information.

And they can be deadly -- both for their targets and for the officers undertaking them. The New York Times reported three years ago that between 2010 and 2016 alone, at least 13 police officers lost their lives on such raids, but so did more than seven times as many civilians. The Times put the civilian death toll at 94, with many hundreds more injured. They include such total innocents as 19-month-old "Baby Bou Bou" Bounkam Phonesavanh, who was severely burned by a flash bang grenade thrown by a Georgia SWAT officer in a 2015 no-knock raid.

But now, with the killing of Breonna Taylor in the context of mass mobilizations against police brutality and racial bias, no-knock raids are being challenged like never before. The Democratic congressional response to the upheaval in the streets, the Justice in Policing Act, directly targets no-knock raids. As the Democrats put it, the bill "[b]ans no-knock warrants in drug cases at the federal level and conditions law enforcement funding for state and local governments banning no-knock warrants at the local and state level." (Advocates are calling for amendments to strengthen the bill -- and then passage.)

Kentucky's libertarian-leaning US Senator Rand Paul (R) met with Taylor's family and then introduced the Breonna Taylor Act "to prohibit no-knock warrants." The bill would mandate that federal law enforcement officers must announce their presence and purpose before executing a search warrant and it would condition federal aid to law enforcement agencies to ensure they follow the same rules.

"After talking with Breonna Taylor's family, I've come to the conclusion that it's long past time to get rid of no-knock warrants. This bill will effectively end no-knock raids in the United States," said Paul.

Meanwhile, even Paul's Republican colleagues are climbing on the no no-knock bandwagon, although to a more limited degree than the Democrats. The just introduced Justice Act, largely crafted by the GOP's sole black senator, Tim Scott of South Carolina, wouldn't ban no-knock raids, but would increase federal reporting requirements for no-knock raids and use of force. It would also increase penalties for false police reports.

It's unclear whether any of these bills will pass or whether compromise legislation will emerge, and it's unclear just how strong any language on no-knock raids will end up being. But what is clear is that Congress finally has the issue squarely in its sights.

But law enforcement is largely a state and local matter, and it's going to be up to state legislatures and governors and city councils and mayors to address the issue at the local level. Louisville has already done so. With protests raging in the streets, the city council early this month moved unanimously to ban no-knock raids. Only two states -- Florida and Oregon -- have banned no-knock raids, but that should be about to change, given the tumult in the streets over police misconduct. It should have happened a long time ago.

Amid the Tumult, Congressional Democrats Take on Policing Run Amok [FEATURE]

With mass protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin now morphing into demands to grapple with racism and to confront a police culture where brutality is all too common, and with the anguished words of Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, echoing through the capitol, congressional Democrats this week rolled out their first effort to address the national uprising, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020.

George Floyd's legacy is being created right now. (Prachatia/Creative Commons)
The most comprehensive attempt to reform policing ever, the act would, according to a House Judiciary Committee press release:

  • Prohibit federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious and discriminatory profiling, and mandates training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.
  • Ban chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement.
  • Mandate the use of dashboard cameras and body cameras for federal offices and requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.
  • Establish a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave on agency from moving to another jurisdiction without any accountability.
  • Amend federal criminal statute from "willfulness" to a "recklessness" standard to successfully identify and prosecute police misconduct.
  • Reform qualified immunity so that individuals are not barred from recovering damages when police violate their constitutional rights.
  • Establish public safety innovation grants for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces to help communities to re-imagine and develop concrete, just and equitable public safety approaches.
  • Create law enforcement development and training programs to develop best practices and requires the creation of law enforcement accreditation standard recommendations based on President Obama's Task force on 21st Century policing.
  • Require state and local law enforcement agencies to report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, religion, age.
  • Improve the use of pattern and practice investigations at the federal level by granting the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division subpoena power and creates a grant program for state attorneys general to develop authority to conduct independent investigations into problematic police departments.
  • Establish a Department of Justice task force to coordinate the investigation, prosecution and enforcement efforts of federal, state and local governments in cases related to law enforcement misconduct.

"We have heard the terrifying words 'I can't breathe' from George Floyd, Eric Garner, and the millions of Americans in the streets calling out for change," said House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). "For every incident of excessive force that makes headlines, the ugly truth is that there are countless others that we never hear about. This is a systemic problem that requires a comprehensive solution."

Protesters demanding police accountability at the White House. (Geoff Livingston/Creative Commons)
"What we are witnessing is the birth of a new movement in our country with thousands coming together in every state marching to demand a change that ends police brutality, holds police officers accountable, and calls for transparency," said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-CA). Passage of the act would "establish a bold transformative vision of policing in America," she added. "Never again should the world be subjected to witnessing what we saw on the streets in Minnesota with George Floyd."

But that "bold transformative vision" doesn't directly address one of the main drivers of fraught interactions between law enforcement and the citizenry, especially in minority communities. Police enforcing drug prohibition have arrested more than a million people a year every year since the late 1980s, with the number peaking at nearly two million in 2007 and finally declining to just under a million in 2018. Around 90% of those arrests are for simple drug possession, and around half of them are for simple marijuana possession.

The bill does call for federally banning no-knock raids -- perhaps a better term would be home invasion raids -- like the one in which Louisville police burst through the door of Breonna Taylor's home and riddled the 26-year-old black EMT's body with bullets after her boyfriend opened fire on the intruders coming through the door. Her death helped fuel the rage in Louisville and across the land. Drug law enforcement is the primary reason for federal no-knock raids.

A summary of the bill provided by the House Judiciary Committee notes that blacks are 2 ½ times more likely to be busted for possessing drugs despite using them at the same rate as whites and that they are 3.6 times more likely to be busted for selling drugs even though whites are more likely to do so, but does so only to call for an end to racial and religious profiling. Drug decriminalization, on the other hand, would radically reduce opportunities for discriminatory policing by radically reducing the number of people of all colors subject to being arrested for their choice of substances.

In a statement on the bill, the Drug Policy Alliance said it was "grateful" that the congressional leadership had filed the legislation, but that it does not go nearly far enough.

"[T]his bill fails to fully address issues like police militarization and the use of quick-knock warrants, policing practices that are disproportionately used against people of color in drug investigations," said Maritza Perez, director of DPA's Office of National Affairs. "While the bill places restrictions on programs that facilitate the transfer of military equipment to local police departments, it does not outright put an end to such programs. And while this bill prohibits no-knock warrants for drug cases, it does not outlaw quick-knock warrants which can be just as deadly. Moreover, the bill continues to fund police departments and the war on drugs, rather than shift resources to education, housing, harm reduction services, and other infrastructure that strengthens communities and increases public safety."

The bill needs to be toughened, DPA said, and offered to "work with Congress to improve and strengthen" it.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was also ambivalent, with a press release lauding the bill's provisions banning choke-holds, limiting use of force, and prohibiting racial and religious profiling, but also arguing that it doesn't go far enough in reining in law enforcement.

"The bill introduced today takes significant steps to protect people and ensure accountability against police violence. But the legislation also provides hundreds of millions more to law enforcement, and for the ACLU, that's a nonstarter," said senior ACLU legislative counsel Kanya Bennett.

"While many of the reforms in this bill are laudable and vital, more must be done to change the role of police in our society fundamentally," Bennett continued. "There can be no more Band-Aid or temporary fixes when it comes to policing, which is why we are calling for divestment from law enforcement agencies and reinvestment into the black and brown communities that have been harmed by over policing and mass incarceration. The role of police has to be smaller, more circumscribed, and less funded with taxpayer dollars."

"I Can't Breathe." George Floyd protest in Houston. (2C2K Photography/Creative Commons)
Still, the bill has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights organization, including the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, and the National African American Clergy Network, among others.

"The National African American Clergy Network supports the Justice in Policing Bill. It affirms sacred scripture that everyone is created in the image of God and deserves to be protected by police sworn to value and safeguard all lives. Failure by police to uphold this sacred trust with Black Americans lives, requires systemic changes in policing nationwide," said Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., and Dr. T. DeWitt Smith, Jr., co-convenors of the network.

The Justice in Policing Act will move swiftly toward passage in the House but faces much bumpier prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate. While President Trump has been advocating military crackdowns on protesters, circulating conspiracy theories about senior antifa terrorists and offering himself up as "your law and order president," GOP senators led by Tim Scott (R-SC) -- the party's only black senator -- are working to craft their own version of a police reform bill. As of now, while it acknowledges the need for police reform, which is a significant step for Republicans, it looks to be an even more watered down version of the Democrat's bill.

The pressure from the streets on Congress to get something done so far shows no sign of letting up. Whether the legislative body can actually come to grips with this crisis of confidence in government and policing remains to be seen. But it's already had a very salutary taste of what could be in store if it doesn't.

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

Two Takes on the Global Drug War and Global Drug Cultures [FEATURE]

America shows signs of emerging from the century-long shadow of drug prohibition, with marijuana leading the way and a psychedelic decriminalization movement rapidly gaining steam. It also seems as if the mass incarceration fever driven by the war on drugs has finally broken, although tens if not hundreds of thousands remain behind bars on drug charges.

As Americans, we are remarkably parochial. We are, we still like to tell ourselves, "the world's only superpower," and we can go about our affairs without overly concerning ourselves about what's going on beyond our borders. But what America does, what America wants and what America demands has impacts far beyond our borders, and the American prohibitionist impulse is no different.

Thanks largely (but not entirely) to a century of American diplomatic pressure, the entire planet has been subsumed by our prohibitionist impulse. A series of United Nations conventions, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, pushed by the US, have put the whole world on lockdown.

We here in the drug war homeland remain largely oblivious to the consequences of our drug policies overseas, whether it's murderous drug cartels in Mexico, murderous cops in the Philippines, barbarous forced drug treatment regimes in Russia and Southeast Asia, exemplary executions in China, or corrupted cops and politicians everywhere. But now, a couple of non-American journalists working independently have produced a pair of volumes that focus on the global drug war like a US Customs X-ray peering deep inside a cargo container. Taken together, the results are illuminating, and the light they shed reveals some very disturbing facts.

Dopeworld by Niko Vorobyov and Pills, Powder, and Smoke by Antony Loewenstein both attempt the same feat -- a global portrait of the war on drugs -- and both reach the same conclusion -- that drug prohibition benefits only drug traffickers, fearmongering politicians, and state security apparatuses -- but are miles apart attitudinally and literarily. This makes for two very different, but complementary, books on the same topic.

Loewenstein, an Australian who previously authored Disaster Capitalism and Profits of Doom, is -- duh -- a critic of capitalism who situates the global drug war within an American project of neo-imperial subjugation globally and control over minority populations domestically. His work is solid investigative reporting, leavened with the passion he feels for his subject.

In Pills, Powder, and Smoke, he visits places that rarely make the news but are deeply and negatively impacted by the US-led war on drugs, such as Honduras. Loewenstein opens that chapter with the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres, which was not directly related to the drug war, but which illustrates the thuggish nature of the Honduran regime -- a regime that emerged after a 2009 coup overthrew the leftist president, a coup justified by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and which has received millions in US anti-drug assistance, mainly in the form of weapons and military equipment.

Honduras doesn't produce any drugs; it's only an accident of geography and the American war on drugs that we even mention the country in the context of global drug prohibition. Back in the 1980s, the administration of Bush the Elder cracked down on cocaine smuggling in the Caribbean, and as traffickers sought to evade that threat, Honduras was perfectly placed to act as a trampoline for cocaine shipments taking an alternative route through Mexico, which incidentally fueled the rise of today's deadly and uber-wealthy Mexican drug cartels.

The drug trade, combined with grinding poverty, huge income inequalities, and few opportunities, has helped turn Honduras into one of the deadliest places on earth, where the police and military kill with impunity, and so do the country's teeming criminal gangs. Loewenstein walks those mean streets -- except for a few neighborhoods even his local fixers deem too dangerous -- talking to activists, human rights workers, the family members of victims, community members, and local journalists to paint a chilling picture. (This is why Hondurans make up a large proportion of those human caravans streaming north to the US border. But unlike Venezuela, where mass flight in the face of violence and economic collapse is routinely condemned as a failure of socialism, you rarely hear any commentators calling the Honduran exodus a failure of capitalism.)

He reexamines one of the DEA's most deadly recent incidents, where four poor, innocent Hondurans were killed by Honduran troops working under DEA supervision in a raid whose parameters were covered up for years by the agency. Loewenstein engaged in extended communication with the DEA agent in charge, as well as with survivors and family members of those killed. Those people report they have never received an apology, not to mention compensation, from the Honduran military -- or from the United States. While the Honduran military fights the drug war with US dollars, Loewenstein shows it and other organs of the Honduran government are also deeply implicated in managing the drug traffic. And news headlines bring his story up to date: Just this month, the current, rightist president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, of meeting with and taking a bribe from a drug trafficker. This comes after his brother, former Honduran Senator Juan Antonio Hernández, was convicted of running tons of cocaine into the United States in a trial that laid bare the bribery, corruption, and complicity of high-level Hondurans in the drug trade, including the president.

Loewenstein also takes us to Guinea-Bissau, a West African country where 70 percent of the population subsists on less than $2 a day and whose biggest export is cashews. Or at least it was cashews. Since the early years of this century, the country has emerged as a leading destination for South American cocaine, which is then re-exported to the insatiable European market.

Plagued by decades of military coups and political instability, the country has never developed, and an Atlantic shoreline suited for mass tourism now serves mainly as a convenient destination for boatloads and planeloads of cocaine. Loewenstein visits hotels whose only clients are drug traffickers and remote fishing villages where the trade is an open secret and a source of jobs. He talks with security officials who frankly admit they have almost no resources to combat the trade, and he traces the route onward to Europe, sometimes carried by Islamic militants.

He also tells the tale of one exemplary drug bust carried out by a DEA SWAT team arguably in Guinean territorial waters that snapped up the country's former Navy minister. The DEA said he was involved in a "narco-terrorist" plot to handle cocaine shipments for Colombia's leftist FARC guerillas, who were designated as "terrorists" by the administration of Bush the Junior in a politically convenient melding of the wars on drugs and terror.

It turns out, though, there were no coke loads, and there was no FARC; there was only a DEA sting operation, with the conspiracy created out of whole cloth. While the case made for some nice headlines and showed the US hard at work fighting drugs, it had no demonstrable impact on the use of West Africa as a cocaine conduit, and it raised serious questions about the degree to which the US can impose its drug war anywhere it chooses.

Loewenstein also writes about Australia, England, and the United States, in each case setting the historical and political context, talking to all kinds of people, and laying bare the hideous cruelties of drug policies that exert their most terrible tolls on the poor and racial minorities. But he also sees glimmers of hope in things such as the movement toward marijuana legalization here and the spread of harm reduction measures in England and Australia.

He gets one niggling thing wrong, though, in his chapter on the US. He converses with Washington, DC, pot activists Alan Amsterdam and Adam Eidinger, the main movers behind DC's successful legalization initiative, but in his reporting on it, he repeatedly refers to DC as a state and once even mistakenly cites a legal marijuana sales figure from Washington state. (There are no legal sales in DC.) Yes, this is a tiny matter, but c'mon, Loewenstein is Australian, and he should know a political entity similar to Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory.

That quibble aside, Loewenstein has made a hardheaded but openhearted contribution to our understanding of the multifaceted malevolence of the never-ending war on drugs. And I didn't even mention his chapter on the Philippines. It's in there, it's as gruesome as you might expect, and it's very chilling reading.

Vorobyov, on the other hand, was born in Russia and emigrated to England as a child. He reached adulthood as a recreational drug user and seller -- until he was arrested on the London Underground and got a two-year sentence for carrying enough Ecstasy to merit a charge of possession with intent to distribute. After that interval, which he says inspired him to write his book, he got his university degree and moved back to Russia, where he picked up a gig at Russia Today before turning his talents to Dopeworld.

Dopeworld is not staid journalism. Instead, it is a twitchy mish-mash, jumping from topic to topic and continent to continent with the flip of a page, tracing the history of alcohol prohibition in the US at one turn, chatting up Japanese drug gangsters at the next, and getting hammered by ayahuasca in yet another. Vorobyov himself describes Dopeworld as "true crime, gonzo, social, historical memoir meets fucked up travel book."

Indeed. He relates his college-boy drug-dealing career with considerable panache. He parties with nihilistic middle-class young people and an opium-smoking cop in Tehran, he cops $7 grams of cocaine in Colombia and tours Pablo Escobar's house with the dead kingpin's brother as a tour guide, he has dinner with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's family in Mexico's Sinaloa state and pronounces them nice people ("really chill"), and he meets up with a vigilante killer in Manila.

Vorobyov openly says the unsayable when it comes to writing about the drug war and drug prohibition: Drugs can be fun! While Loewenstein is pretty much all about the victims, Vorobyov inhabits the global drug culture. You know: Dopeworld. Loewenstein would bemoan the utter futility of a record-breaking seizure of a 12-ton load of cocaine; Vorobyov laments, "that's 12 tons of cocaine that will never be snorted."

Vorobyov is entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and he brings a former dope dealer's perspective to bear. He's brash and breezy, but like Loewenstein, he's done his homework as well as his journalistic fieldwork, and the result is fascinating. To begin to understand what the war on drugs has done to people and countries around the planet, this pair of books makes an essential introduction. And two gripping reads.

Dopeworld: Adventures in the Global Drug Trade by Niko Vorobyov (August 2020, St. Martin's Press, hardcover, 432 pp., $29.99)

Pills, Powder, and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs by Antony Loewenstein (November 2019, Scribe, paperback, 368 pp., $19.00)

Chronicle AM: NJ Legal Pot Vote on Monday, Houston Police Tighten No-Knock Warrants, More... (3/22/19)

New Jersey legislators will vote on pot legalization on Monday, but the votes aren't quite there yet; Illinois legislators want to slow down on pot legalization, Houston cops restrict no-knock search warrants, and more.

In the wake of a deadly drug raid, Houston police are restricting the use of no-knock search warrants. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois House Majority Wants to Slow Down on Legalization. A majority of House members have signed on as cosponsors of a resolution to slow down the process of legalizing marijuana in the state. Sixty of 118 House members signed on to the resolution, which calls for more time to study the social impact of legalization and results from other states. A legalization bill will likely be introduced next month and could be voted on as early as May.

Montana Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization.  A University of Montana big Sky poll has support for marijuana legalization at 51%. About 80% of Democrats supported it, but only 33% of Republicans did.

New Jersey Legalization Vote Count Goes Down to Wire. The legislature is set to vote on a legalization bill, A 4497/S 2703, on Monday, and it's not clear yet whether it will pass. As of today, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders say they are still a handful of votes short, but expect heavy lobbying to be going on between now and Monday morning.

Law Enforcement

Houston Police Announce Restrictions on No-Knock Search Warrants. In the wake of a February drug raid that left two civilians dead, the Houston Police have announced that any no-knock drug warrants must be signed off on by a district court judge. That would be after the request for the warrant is approved by the police chief or his designated representative, and only SWAT team members will execute those warrants.

Chronicle AM: FBI to Investigate Fatal Houston Drug Raid, NH Legal Pot Bill Advances, More... (2/21/19)

The fallout from that fatal January Houston drug raid continues, a New Hampshire pot legalization bill advances, so does a Florida bill to allow smokable medical marijuana, and more.

This could be legal soon in New Hampshire if that marijuana legalization bill keeps moving. (IRIN)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Governor Uses Budget Address to Call for Legalization. As he unveiled his first annual budget Wednesday, Gov. J,B. Pritzker called for marijuana legalization and taxation to help pay for $1.1 billion in new spending. He also called for the legalization and taxation of sports betting, as well as raising money with new taxes on plastic bags, e-cigs, and raising the cigarette tax.

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Narrowly Wins House Committee Vote. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 10-9 to recommend passage of HB 481, which would legalize up to an ounce for adults and create a system of taxed and regulated sales. Adults could also grow up to six plants. The narrow margin of victory in committee suggests a tough fight to pass it on the House floor.

North Dakota Decriminalization Bill Narrowly Defeated. A bill that would have decriminalized the possession of up to ounce was defeated on a 47-43 vote in the House Wednesday. HB 1155’s defeat means legalization proponents in the state will gear up for a legalization initiative next year.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona House Committee Approves Bill to Protect Edibles, Extracts. The House Committee on Public Safety voted 5-2 Wednesday to approve HB 2149. The measure would specify that the 2010 voter-approved medical marijuana law also includes any products made from its resins. In a case pending before state courts, the state has argued that edibles and hashish are not included in the law.

Florida Bill to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana Heads for Senate Floor Vote. The Senate Rules Committee voted Wednesday to approve SB 182, which would end the state’s ban on smokable medical marijuana. That means the measure will head for a Senate floor vote weeks ahead of a March 15 deadline set by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has threatened litigation if the legislature doesn’t act.

Michigan Appeals Court Rules Against Worker Not Hired for Medical Marijuana Use. The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday against a woman who had a job offer rescinded because she tested positive for marijuana—even though she had a medical marijuana card. The ruling is a boon for employers who apply zero-tolerance substance abuse policies.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota House Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill. The House on Wednesday approved a civil asset forfeiture reform bill on a 57-33 vote. HB 1286 would not end civil asset forfeiture, but would raise the standard of proof from "a preponderance" of the evidence to "clear and compelling evidence." It would also require a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture could proceed. The bill now goes to the Senate, which defeated similar legislation in 2017.

Law Enforcement

Two House Republicans Urge State Department to Label Cartels as Terrorist Organizations. A pair of conservative House Republicans, Reps. Mark Green (TN) and Chip Roy (TX), sent a letter Wednesday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking the State Department to label drug cartels as terrorist organizations. The proposal would "further stigmatize these groups both at home and abroad," the pair wrote. "These cartels have utilized barbaric tactics including those adopted by [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] ISIS and al Qaeda – murdering and torturing innocents, destabilizing countries and assassinating members of law enforcement," Green added in a statement. Drug cartels differ from terrorist organizations, though, in that they have no political agenda (other than being left alone to go about their business), a key component of the definition of terrorism.

FBI Opens Civil Rights Investigation into Deadly Houston Drug Raid. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into a January drug raid in Houston that left two people dead and five police officers wounded. The raid was based on falsified search warrant affidavits claiming informants had bought heroin at the house, but the homeowners, who were killed, possessed no heroin at all—only small, personal use amounts of marijuana and possibly cocaine. The fallout from the case has already resulted in one officer being suspended, an end to no-knock raids in the city, and the review of more than 1,400 cases linked to the lying officer. 

Chronicle AM: Good MD, NJ Pot Polls; Bad Houston Drug Raid; WV MedMJ Banking Bill, More... (2/19/19)

Good pot polls from the Mid-Atlantic, New Jersey edges closer to passing a pot legalization bill, the West Virginia House passes a medical marijuana banking bill, asset forfeiture reform advances in Michigan, and more.

Maryland and New Jersey residents are ready to free the weed, new polls say. (ShantisFavorites/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Goucher College poll released Monday has support for marijuana legalization in the state at 57%. Only 37% were opposed.

New Jersey Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Monmouth University poll released Monday has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. The poll comes as the governor and legislative leaders are reportedly on the verge of agreement on legalization legislation.

New Jersey Governor and Senate Leader Reach Agreement on Legalization Framework. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) have found a compromise that could see a legalization bill voted on this month. The compromise centers on a new means of taxing legal pot. Instead of just levying a sales tax on purchases, the state would impose a flat rate of $42 an ounce. The other agreement would strengthen the governor’s control over the Cannabis Regulatory Commission.

Wisconsin Governor Calls for Pot Decriminalization. Gov. Tony Evers (D) is proposing in his state budget to decriminalize the possession, cultivation, and distribution of up to 25 grams of marijuana, as well as creating a state-regulated medical marijuana program. The proposal would also expunge the convictions of people convicted of marijuana offenses involving 25 grams or less.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Expungement Bill for Medical Marijuana Patients Advances. The House Special Committee on Criminal Justice last Thursday approved HB341, which would provide for the expungement of past misdemeanor marijuana convictions from the records of registered medical marijuana patients. The legislation comes after voters last November approved medical marijuana.

North Dakota House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill Package. The House on Monday approved a package of four bills amending the state’s medical marijuana law, including one that would add 13 new conditions to the state’s list of approved medical conditions. Another bill would allow physician assistants to recommend medical marijuana, while yet another would allow a patient or caregiver to purchase “an enhanced amount” of medical marijuana beyond the 2.5 ounces every 30 days limit. The last bill would add marijuana edibles to the list of medical marijuana products available for purchase. The package now heads for the Senate.

West Virginia House Passes Medical Marijuana Banking Bill. The House passed a medical marijuana banking bill with no debate and no floor speeches last Friday. The measure, HB 2538, creates two state funds, one to received license fees, penalties, and taxes associated with the medical marijuana program, and the other to receive all fees charged to the financial institution by the treasurer. The vote was 89-7. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Senate Passes Bill to End Most Civil Asset Forfeiture. The Senate last Friday approved a bill that would bar asset forfeiture in most cases unless there is also a criminal conviction. The bill, SB 0002, would require a criminal conviction before law enforcement could seize through forfeiture any amount of goods or money valued at less than $50,000. Similar asset forfeiture reform bills are still in committee in the House, but House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) supports civil asset forfeiture reform and introduced a bipartisan reform bill on the first day of the new session.

Drug Testing

Utah Bill to Criminalize Drug Test Cheating Passes House. The House voted 61-8 last Friday to approve HB 16, which would make it illegal to use synthetic urine to pass a drug test. Using either fake urine or someone else’s urine to pass a test would be an infraction. The state currently has no law against using such materials to pass drug tests.

Law Enforcement

Houston Narcotics Division Under Investigation After Officer’s Search Warrant Lies About Drug Dealing Got Two People Killed. The entire 175-person Houston Police Department Narcotics Division will be subjected to an “extensive audit” after a Houston couple and their pit bull were killed in a raid that was based on a fraudulent search warrant. A veteran narcotics officer, Detective Gerald Goines, is accused of lying about using two separate confidential informants to purchase heroin from the couple and will likely be charged with a crime, said Police Chief Art Acevedo. Another officer is accused of retrieving heroin from a police car and giving it to Goines, who claimed it matched heroin purchased during what turned out to be an imaginary drug buy. 

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