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Bad Precedent: When the Fourth Amendment Doesn't Apply [FEATURE]

Criminal Court & Legal Affair Investigative Journalist Clarence Walker can be reached at [email protected].

The Fourth Amendment should have protected suspected Indianapolis methamphetamine dealer Paul Huskisson when DEA agents without a search warrant and without any exigent circumstances, such as fear of imminent danger or injury to officers, flight of the suspect, or destruction of evidence, raided Huskisson's home, discovered pounds of meth, and arrested him for it.

Under the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary ule, when such evidence is unlawfully gathered the evidence cannot be used by the government in criminal cases.

But in a stunning blow to the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, that same unlawful seized evidence was indeed used in court against him, and Huskisson now sits in federal prison serving a 20-year sentence in FCI Lexington Kentucky.

In a 2019 decision, a three-judge panel of the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago; two of the justices, appointed by Clinton, including one appointed by Donald Trump, invoked a rarely used legal argument known as independent source doctrine to get around the Fourth Amendment violation, creating a floodgate of legal implications that has defense attorneys and legal scholars concerned.

WSNC 90.5 radio host of 'The Public Morality Show,' Byron Williams, condemned the decision in Huskisson's case in a scathing article published in the Winston-Salem Journal.

"Do we want to become a nation where obtaining a warrant before entering someone's home is optional?"

"The ends cannot justify the means," Williams said.

Here's how we got here:

The Bust

According to court documents and case testimony, the raid on Paul Huskisson had its genesis in the February 5, 2016 arrest by DEA agents of one Anthony Hardy on assorted meth charges, including conspiracy. Desperate to cut a deal, Hardy confessed his role in a dope smuggling scheme, even leading DEA agents to a cache of drugs and guns. Hardy implicated two other men, one of whom was Huskisson, who was previously unknown to the DEA.

And Hardy had plenty to say about Huskisson. He told DEA agents that he had scored substantial amounts of meth from him at least six times in the previous five months for $8,000 a pound, that he had purchased meth both at Huskisson's house and at a business owned by one of Huskisson's family member called 'No Limit' LLC, and that Huskisson was expected to receive a shipment of "10 to 12 pounds" the following day.

Hardy then took his snitching to the next level by volunteering to do a controlled buy for the DEA. DEA Special Agent Michael Cline prompted Hardy to call Huskisson on a recorded phone call to set up a buy to ensure Huskisson would sell dope to him, and Huskisson agreed to sell "10 to 12 pounds." After several more recorded calls, the pair agreed to meet at night on February 6, at Huskisson's place.

With undercover DEA agents already in place near Huskisson's house, Agent Cline tailed Hardy's car as he drove to 612 Laclede Street, where Huskisson lived, arriving 5:30 or 5:45 p.m. Hardy went into the house, and the assembled DEA agents waited. Half an hour later, Cline spotted a car pull into Huskisson's driveway and watched two men (later identifed as Jezzar Terraz-Zamarron and Fred Aragon) exit the visible vehicle carrying a cooler and enter the house.

Ten minutes later, a nervous Anthony Hardy came out the door and gave a prearranged signal to DEA Agent Cline to indicate he'd seen the meth. On that signal, DEA agents armed with high-powered weapons stormed the home, forcing the men inside onto the floor. Meanwhile Cline faked arresting Hardy to disguise Hardy's role as an informant. While milling around in Huskisson's home like characters readying for the next act, DEA agents and Indiana State Police investigators observed in the kitchen in plain sight an open cooler with 'ten saran-wrapped packages of meth.

All three men were arrested.

Paul Huskisson was subsequently indicted for possession with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine in violation of the federal statute 21 U.S.C. 841(a).

When those DEA agents entered Huskisson's home and found the meth they had no search warrant whatsoever that allowed them to legally be there. They didn't bother to get one "until later," Cline testified at trial.

An Effort to Have the Evidence Thrown Out

Before going to trial, Huskisson's attorney filed a motion to suppress the drug evidence, arguing the drugs were found only after the DEA entry team entered Huskisson's house without a search warrant and without any exigent circumstances -- a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment's requirement for lawful searches. He also argued that DEA agents had included that tainted evidence, that fruit of the poisonous tree, into the affidavit for the search warrant that they obtained after the fact from a judge, "an hour or so later."

DEA agent Michael Cline was unable to testify at the motion hearing, so Indiana State Police investigator Noel Kinney substituted for Cline. Pertaining to the warrant obtained after agents rushed into the house, Kinney testified inconsistently regarding the ex post facto warrant, contradicting himself badly about the intent of the search and other government evidence.

Under questioning by defense attorney John L. Tompkins, Kinney first testified the task force's original plan was to apply for a warrant even if Huskisson refused consent to search, and no matter whether law enforcement saw evidence of drug activities in the house.

"Depending on the conversation with Mr. Huskisson, and, if he granted consent to search, we would continue the search of the residence," Kinney testified.

"What would've happened if Mr. Huskisson hadn't given consent," defense attorney Tompkins, asked.

"If he didn't give consent, we would've secured the residence and obtained a search warrant," Kinney said.

This testimony strongly suggests that DEA agents intended to enter the house and search for drugs without a warrant.

Belatedly realizing the incriminating implications of his testimony, Kinney then offered another alternative, claiming the plan was to apply for a warrant only if the DEA found meth in Huskisson's home -- and if Huskisson had refused consent to search.

At this point, Huskisson's attorney seized the moment to pounce on Kinney.

"So, if you didn't get consent you was going to start the process of obtaining a warrant?" Tompkins asked incredulous.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/judge-jane-magnus-stinson.jpg
Judge Jane Magnus Stinson
"Yes," Kinney replied.

"So, no part of the plan was to obtain a warrant prior to entry into Huskisson's residence?" Thompson asked, again.

"That's correct, yes," the investigators' replied.

Despite the testimony about the warrantless search, US District Court Judge

Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled against throwing out the evidence against Huskisson, holding that independent source doctrine in essence trumped the Fourth Amendment.

On Appeal

Based in part on the evidence developed through the warrantless search, Huskisson was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in 2017. Both men arrested with Huskisson on February 6, 2016, were also convicted and sent to prison. Huskisson's lawyers immediately appealed his conviction.

Filing a counter appeal, government prosecutors argued that the issuance of the warrant after the illegal entry of Huskisson's home by (DEA Agents) was based on an independent source for the meth evidence, thus making independent source doctrine applicable. Independent source doctrine in criminal cases creates an exception to the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary rule.

Independent search doctrine and the exception to the exclusionary rule was created in a 1988 US Supreme Court case, Murray v. United States (487 U.S. 533), with the opinion authored by arch-conservative jurist Justice Antonin Scalia. In that case, police in Boston had probable cause to stop two vehicles carrying marijuana as they exited a warehouse. Police then forced entry into the warehouse without a warrant and saw several wrapped bales that they suspected were drugs.

After seeing the bales, the officers left the warehouse and got a warrant based on their suspicion that more drugs were stored in the building. But in the affidavit for that search warrant, the police never mentioned that they had already entered the warehouse without a warrant and saw only stacked bales.

Still, Scalia ruled for the police, holding that the Fourth Amendment doesn't require the exclusion of evidence found during a warrantless illegal search if that evidence is also found during a later search with a valid search warrant.

Another case, this one on probable cause for searches, also came into play as appeals court judges pondered the issues before them in Huskisson's case. In 2010, judges of that same 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals held in a case involving drugs stored in an apartment, United States v. Etchins that's even though police illegally entered the apartment without a warrant and without the consent of the resident and remained in the apartment until a warrant was issued hours later, that "because the officers' search relied on a later-arriving warrant based on information sufficiently unrelated to the initial entry, the evidence discovered in Etchin's apartment was untainted by the officers' illegal behavior. "We therefore conclude that the district court properly denied the defendants' motions to suppress and, finding no error in the sentences imposed, we affirm."

Even as it denied Etchins' appeal, the appeals court conceded that "we do not doubt that the officers' warrantless entry violated the Fourth Amendment, but probable cause existed to search Etchins' apartment when officers unlawfully entered the first time. Therefore, the evidence discovered in Etchins' apartment was untainted by the officers' illegal behavior."

Relying mostly on Murray, but also on Etchins, on June 5th 2019, the 7th Circuit found that although Drug Enforcement (DEA) agents should've obtained a search warrant prior to entering Huskisson's home to get the dope, yet the panel insisted the unlawful evidence was still admissible under independent source doctrine, and that prior probable cause had already been established, tilting their decision in favor of the police.

The 7th Circuit concluded that prior evidence of police informant Anthony Hardy's initial admissions to DEA agent Michael Cline about his drug-dealing history with Huskisson, including Hardy's nine phone calls to Huskisson to set up the meth deal including Hardy's pre-bust signal to Cline at the scene were sufficient for probable cause prior to the officers entering Huskisson's home.

Paul Huskisson, currently serving 20 years at FCI Lexington. (Facebook)
Another key point the justices took into consideration was Hardy's story of drugs he saw in Huskisson's house after Hardy arrived, which, taken together, justified the resort to independent source doctrine because the DEA had already established probable cause against Huskisson without a warrant in hand.

"Though the government should not profit from its bad behavior, neither should it be placed in a worse position than it would otherwise have occupied," the panel held.

These same judges weren't even swayed by the glaringly inconsistent statements made by the police sergeant who testified agents planned to search Huskisson's house without a warrant even if he refused to consent to a search. Rejecting

Huskisson's appeal, the justices affirmed his conviction on federal drug charges in Indianapolis as result of the DEA investigation.

In effect, the appeals court held that police had established probable cause that Huskisson was dealing drugs, so the illegal search was okay. But probable cause should only give law enforcement the ability to obtain a search warrant, not give the police automatic permission to enter someone's home without one.

Still, the panel was critical of the DEA. "We do not condone this illegal behavior by law enforcement; the better practice is to obtain a warrant before entering a home. Ordinarily, the evidence found here would be excluded. But, because the government had much other evidence of probable cause, and had already planned to apply for a warrant before the illegal entry; therefore, the evidence is admissible."

Troubling Precedents

Legal scholars and defense attorneys are troubled by the line of cases that resulted in allowing illegally seized evidence to be used in criminal prosecutions.

"There are so many examples of police taking advantage of loopholes in Supreme Court doctrines that it must be incentivizing police in some cases to conduct illegal searches where they would otherwise seek a warrant," Ryan W. Scott, professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, told the Chronicle.

Washington, DC-based criminal defense attorney and appellate expert Steve Leckar, explained how the problem is rooted in the 1988 Supreme Court decision in Murray.

"Here's the problem," Leckar told the Chronicle. "In Murray, the US Supreme Court said independent source doctrine can be used."

Professor Scott concurred in pointing to Murray.

"The Supreme Court's answer in Murray was that police ( like the agents in Huskisson's case) still should prefer to obtain a warrant up front because then the police wouldn't have to bear the additional burden of establishing that both the showing of probable cause and their decision to seek a warrant were totally independent of the evidence the police recovered," he said.

Attorney Leckar said the line of decisions is deeply concerning. "This ruling gives police a green light to enter homes unannounced without a warrant, with the risk of confronting armed citizens," he noted. "Decisions like this allow the police to bust into people's homes' willy-nilly with little fear of being held accountable in a civil lawsuit," Leckar added.

He also worries that as officers become more aware of how independent source doctrine can be used to get around the exclusionary rule, they may be incentivized to create a story filled with half-truths to create questionable probable cause in order to make a warrantless entry into a person's residence or place of business.

Leckar was also critical of the appeals court panels' reasoning. "The problem with this court's decision is the belief the police shouldn't be put in a worse position, but the fact of the matter is the officers identified no reason that prevented them from getting a warrant within a timely manner," he argued. "They said they were going to get a warrant, but that's easy to say. What evidence was there of that?"

"Why bother getting a warrant right away if you can just conduct the search illegally, confirm that you were right, and then get the evidence admitted anyway?" Professor Scott added. "To be clear, independent source doctrine affects only the admissibility of evidence; it doesn't mean the police are legally free to enter the homes of suspected drug dealers without a warrant," he explained.

Huskisson is appealing to the US Supreme Court. Its his last hope, but his prospects there are cloudy at best.

Journalist Clarence Walker Jr. wishes Drug War Chronicle readers and everyone a safe, wonderful, blessed Christmas and prosperous New Year in 2020.

Any comments? Reach Clarence Walker at: [email protected]

Chronicle AM: Houston Police Get New Dope Squad, MA Vaping Ban Upheld, More... (10/22/19)

A Massachusetts judge has upheld the Republican govenor's ban on vaping product sales, Houston police get a new dope squad in the wake of a botched fatal drug raid, a key Mexican lawmaker calls for drug legalization as a means of reducing violence, and more.

No vaping products for Massachusetts, a state judge rules, upholding the governor's ban. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Judge Upholds Marijuana, Tobacco Vaping Ban. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled on Monday that the state's four-month ban on all vaping products can stand as legal challenges work their way through the courts. Wilkins wrote that lifting the ban "would contravene the public interest." Gov. Charlie Baker (R) last month announced a statewide ban on the sale of vaping products in response to lung illnesses and deaths attributed to the use of e-cigarette products.

Law Enforcement

Houston Police Get New Dope Squad in Wake of Scandal. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has announced that the department has created a new drug squad to handle high-risk warrants. The move comes months after a botched drug raid that ended with two civilians dead and one officer charged with murder. The new unit, which begins operations next month, will handle all of the narcotics division's search warrants and will assist other divisions, Acevedo said. The new unit will not handle so-called "no-knock warrants," which will be reserved for the SWAT team.

International

China Warns Citizens Living in Canada Against Consuming Legal Cannabis. The Chinese government has warned citizens living in Canada to be wary of legal marijuana. A statement released by the consulate in Calgary does not bar Chinese citizens from buying or using marijuana, but it tells them to "fully understand the harmfulness of cannabis products."

Key Mexican Lawmaker Proposes Legalizing All Drugs to Combat Cartel Violence. Mario Delgado Carrillo, the leader of the ruling MORENA Party in the Chamber of Deputies -- the Mexican equivalent of Nancy Pelosi -- has suggested that the country should legalize all drugs in order to reduce cartel-related violence. The move comes days after cartel gunmen forced the government to release the son of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa, in a series of shootouts that left eight people dead. "I think that from the events we saw in Culiacán, it is urgent to enter a process to regularize drugs -- we should start with cannabis -- make a legal framework for its regulation and legalization, and reduce this black market," Delgado Carrillo said. "It would be necessary to enter now to regularize the drug market, to eliminate these markets that give so much power to organized crime," he said.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Houston narc gets hit with a murder charge for lying to a judge to get a no-knock search warrant in a fatal drug raid, Detroit police raid themselves to gather evidence of corruption in their now disbanded dope squad, and more.

In Detroit, police investigators seized records and computer data last Thursday -- from their own department. The raid was part of an ongoing internal probe into corruption allegations aimed at the department's drug operations. This latest investigation into the Narcotics Section, which was shuttered in 2014 because of rampant corruption, comes after a large shipment of drugs that had been seized in Detroit was switched for another substance by the time it got to Chicago for a court hearing, Craig said. That same day, a longtime narcotics officer, Michael Mosley, was indicted in federal court Thursday on charges related to allegations that he took a bribe from a drug dealer, who left the cash in the backyards of abandoned Detroit houses.

In Houston, a former Houston Police narcotics officer was arrested last Friday on murder charges over his central role in a drug raid that left two innocent homeowners dead and five police officers wounded. Gerald Goines is accused of lying to a judge about an informant buying heroin at a house where the raid occurred so he could obtain a no-knock search warrant. Goines has admitted in court documents there was no informant. No heroin was found at the home of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, who were both shot multiple times after Tuttle confronted the intruders with a weapon.

In Chesapeake City, Maryland, a Curtis County jail deputy was sentenced Monday to 2 ½ years in federal prison on charges he smuggled heroin, cocaine, cellphone batteries, electronic cigarettes and superglue into the jail. Deputy Jenis Leroy Plummer Jr., 34, went down after jail officials grew suspicious and placed him under surveillance. They then saw him pick up a package containing electronic cigarettes, two baggies of white powder, and a container of KrazyClue. In all, Plummer smuggled about an ounce of heroin and an ounce of cocaine into the jail, netting himself about $6,500.

Chronicle AM: Houston Narc Charged With Murder in Bogus Drug Raid, DEA Moves on Pot Research, More... (8/26/19)

The DEA finally moves on expanding marijuana research opportunites, a former Houston cop who led a lethal bogus drug raid is charged with murder, a Florida poll shows strong support for marijuana legalization, and more.

The DEA is finally moving to expand researchers' ability to grow their own marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Government to Expand List of Marijuana Research Growers. The DEA said Monday it would move to expand the number of growers allowed to grow marijuana for research purposes. The move comes three years after DEA began accepting applications from researchers, but it had yet to act on any of them, and weeks after researchers filed court papers asking a judge to force the DEA to process their applications.

Florida Poll Has Two-Thirds Support for Legalization. A new poll by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates has support for marijuana legalization at 67% among likely Florida voters. Only 29% opposed legalization. The poll comes as two legalization initiative campaigns seek to position themselves to appear on the 2020 ballot.

New Jersey Governor Vetoes Pot Expungement Bill. Gov. Phil Murphy (D), a proponent of marijuana legalization, has vetoed a bill that would have allowed people with small-time pot convictions to get their records expunged. Murphy said the expungement process in the bill was too cumbersome and he wanted it to be easier. "Nobody that I know -- certainly not me -- is opposed to automatic expungement. That's something we would all like to be able to flip a switch and you're expunged," Murphy said earlier this year.

Law Enforcement

Former Houston Cop Who Led Deadly Bogus Drug Raid Charged with Murder. Prosecutors have charged the former Houston police officer who led a February raid that left two innocent homeowners dead and five officers injured has been charged with murder after authorities said he lied to obtain a search warrant for the raid. Gerald Goines, a 35-year veteran, faces two murder counts in the deaths of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle. A second former officer, Steven Bryant, is charged with tampering with evidence. Gaines falsely told a judge an informant had purchased heroin at the home and that the man selling drugs was armed so he could obtain a no-knock warrant. Police found no heroin at the home; only personal use amounts of marijuana and cocaine.

International

Mexican Bishop Calls for Dialogue Between Government and Armed Groups, Including Drug Cartels. A bishop in the country's opium farming heartland is urging the federal government to hold talks with armed groups, including drug cartels, saying that many in the drug business now can't make ends meet and are "seeking an exit." Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoze of Chilpancingo-Chilapa (Guerrero state) commented after Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero said last week that the government was in talks with armed groups such as so-called community police and self-defense militias, but not the cartels. "If the government wants to dialogue with these criminal groups and, above all, wants to talk with these community police forces, I think that's good," Bishop Rangel said. "To get peace you have to dialogue, even with Satan, with whomever it might be to get peace. But they have this point of view that we don't want to talk because they break the law. At least you have to listen to them." Rangel added that the opium economy had collapsed because of the rise of fentanyl and now some cartel leaders "no longer want to fight because it doesn't make sense. What are they fighting over? … Now, nothing."

Chronicle AM: CT Legalization Could Get Vote Soon, Chinese Fentanyl Will Keep Coming, More... (5/16/19)

A federal bill to protect immigrants working in the marijuana industry gets filed, the Oregon Senate approves a marijuana interstate commerce bill, the San Antonio DA is no longer prosecuting picayune drug possession cases, RAND says China will have a hard time stopping fentanyl, and more.

A deadly dose of fentanyl. China won't be able to stop exports, a RAND report says. (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Congressional Bill Aims to Resolve Marijuana Industry Border Issues. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) on Tuesday filed a bill which would clarify that using marijuana in compliance with state or foreign law, or working in the legal industry, wouldn't disqualify people from entering the US. The legislation, the Maintaining Appropriate Protections for Legal Entry (MAPLE) Act, updates a bill Blumenauer filed in December to protect Canadians working in the marijuana industry from being denied entry to the US. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Connecticut Could See Marijuana Legalization Vote in Next Three Weeks. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said Wednesday that the legislature could vote on legalizing marijuana in the next three weeks instead of pushing it into a special session. The regular session ends on June 5. Aresimowicz said the General Law Committee is making progress is melding together multiple bills into a single measure. "It looks as though we may have a bill that could be ready for action," Aresimowicz said. "We have the entire next week to do all these major bills and get them up to the Senate in a time that would be appropriate for action."

Oregon Senate Approves Marijuana Interstate Commerce Bill. The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow the governor to negotiate agreements with other states to export and import marijuana products across state lines. SB 582 now goes to the House.

Hemp

Texas Senate Unanimously Approves Hemp Bill. The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved HB 1325, which would legalize the farming of industrial hemp in the state. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Higher Education

Senate Democrats File Bill to Protect Students with Drug Convictions from Losing Federal College Aid. Four Senate Democrats, including presidential contenders Cory Booker (NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) have filed a bill to streamline the federal student financial aid application process, which would also remove the question about prior drug convictions. The drug conviction question has cost thousands of students access to loans and grants since it was added to the form in a 1998 reform of the Higher Education Act.

Law Enforcement

Houston Police Investigation into Fatal Botched Drug Raid Now Goes to Prosecutors. The Houston Police Department has ended its investigation into a January drug raid that left a middle-aged couple dead after a Houston narcotics officer apparently lied on a search warrant that a heroin buy had taken place at their home. Police found no heroin, and only personal use amounts of marijuana and cocaine. Two of the officers involved have already resigned. "The Houston Police Department has completed the criminal investigation and the officer-involved shooting investigation regarding the incident at 7815 Harding Street on January 28, 2019," Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "Today, each of these separate investigations have been turned in to the Harris County District Attorney's Office."

San Antonio DA Has Quit Prosecuting Miniscule Drug Possession Cases. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzalez has confirmed that his office is no longer prosecuting drug possession cases where the amount involved is less than a quarter gram. The policy has been in place since early this year. "I've got to make the decision as the top law enforcement officer in this county to make the best uses of the manpower that I have and the limited resources that I have," said Gonzales.

International

China Unlikely to Curb Fentanyl Exports in Short-Term. A new RAND Corporation report that examines China's pharmaceutical industry warns that it is unlikely to be able to curb fentanyl exports in the near future. "China's leaders recognize that they have a problem and appear committed to seeking solutions," report coauthor and Rand analyst Bryce Pardo said. "But it is unlikely that they can contain the illicit production and distribution of fentanyl in the short term because enforcement mechanisms are lacking. Producers are quick to adapt, impeding Chinese law enforcement's ability to stem the flow to global markets."

Mexican Drug Cartels Now Make Their Own Cocaine, Colombia Says. Colombian police report that drug traffickers are now exporting not just refined cocaine but also cocaine base, which they say means Mexican drug cartels must be operating their own laboratories to refine the drug themselves. The move comes after the Colombian government imposed tighter restrictions on precursor chemicals for refining raw coca into cocaine. Mexican authorities say they have seen no evidence of cocaine labs, though.

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

Chronicle AM: TX CBD Expansion Bill Advances, New Zealand to Vote on Marijuana Legalization, More... (5/7/19)

A man who has done 39 years in federal prison for pot gets out tomorrow and faces an uncertain future, Arizona activists lay plans for a 2020 legalization initiative, so does the New Zealand government, and more.

A CBD expansion bill advances in the Texas House.
Marijuana Policy

Nation's Longest-Serving Marijuana Prisoner to Be Freed Tomorrow. A Cuban national who has served more than 39 years in federal prison on marijuana trafficking charges is set to be freed Wednesday -- but then faces possible deportation. Antonio "Tony" Bascaro had been trained in aviation by the CIA as it worked with rightist Cuban exiles to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro and later turned his skills to marijuana smuggling. He's hoping his time aiding the CIA will help him avoid deportation.

Arizona 2020 Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Gearing Up. Marijuana activists are gearing up with another initiative effort after one in 2016 narrowly failed. Strategies 360, which is running the campaign, says it plans to launch signature-gathering in July. The group has a 12-month window to gather 237,645 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Texas House Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The House voted Monday to advance HB 1365, which would add Alzheimer's, Crohn's disease, muscular dystrophy, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and a bevy of other illnesses to an existing state program that currently applies only to people with intractable epilepsy who meet certain requirements. The bill would also increase the number of dispensaries the state can authorize from three to 12, as well as authorizing marijuana testing facilities. The state's medical marijuana law allows only for the use of CBD. The bill still needs one final House housekeeping vote before heading to the Senate.

Sentencing

Justice Department Fights Compassionate Release of Terminally Ill Inmate Because He's Not Dying Fast Enough. A federal drug prisoner with terminal brain cancer has won early compassionate release under a provision of the First Step Act, but only after the Bureau of Prisons twice denied it and federal prosecutors argued against it. Steve Brittner, 55, who is wheelchair-bound, was diagnosed with the cancer in January 2018 and his oncologist described his prognosis as "poor," recommending he begin hospice care in November 2018. But prosecutors argued he wasn't dying fast enough to qualify for early release. "This is a very telling case," said Families Against Mandatory Minimums president Kevin Ring. "On one hand, the First Step Act's reforms to compassionate release worked as intended and this family prevailed. On the other hand, it blows my mind that the Justice Department and BOP still fought tooth and nail to keep a low-level drug offender who is dying of brain cancer and bound to a wheelchair away from his family for the final weeks of his life. They'll say they were just doing their jobs, but their job is to do justice."

International

Brazil Police Kill Eight in Rio Drug Raid as Police Killings Jump Dramatically Under Bolsonaro. At least eight people were killed Monday in a police raid aimed at drug trafficker in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. The raid triggered a massive shootout between police and suspected gang members. Police said all the dead were gang members. It's only the latest of hundreds of killings by police since Rio Governor Wilson Witzel, an ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, took over on January 1. Since then 434 people have been killed by Rio police, an 18% increase from last year and the highest figure recorded since state records began in 1998.

New Zealand to Vote on Marijuana Legalization Next Year. The three political parties that make up the country's governing coalition announced Tuesday that they had agreed on the basic elements of a binding referendum on marijuana legalization to be held during the 2020 elections. "Officials are now empowered to draft the legislation with stakeholder input, and the Electoral Commission will draft the referendum question to appear on the ballot," Justice Minister Andrew Little said.. "The voters' choice will be binding because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome. We hope and expect the National Party will also commit to respecting the voters' decision," he said, referring to the leading opposition party that is not part of the governing coalition.

Chronicle AM: Houston Drug Cases Dismissed as Scandal Grows, WA Hemp Bill Becomes Law, More... (4/29/19)

A fatal botched drug raid continues to reverberate in Houston, hemp bills advance in Louisiana and Washington, North Dakota legislators vote to lower penalties for marijuana possession, and more.

Small amounts of marijuana would be effectively decriminalized under a bill that passed the North Dakota legislature. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Regulators Approve Home Deliveries. The state Cannabis Control Commission voted 4-1 last Friday to give preliminary approval for home delivery of marijuana. Under the plan, for the first two years, delivery businesses would be limited to social equity and economic empowerment applicants -- those who are from areas of the state that were disproportionately impacted by marijuana enforcement and criminalization.

North Dakota Legislature Lowers Penalties for Possession. On the last day of the legislative session last Friday, lawmakers approved HB 1050, which would make possession of up to a half ounce an infraction, which requires a court appearance but no jail time. Possession of up to 500 grams would be a Class B misdemeanor, while possession of more than 500 grams would be a Class A misdemeanor. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Doug Burgum (R).

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. As the legislative session ended Saturday, the Senate gave final approval to a medical marijuana expansion bill, HF 732. The bill removes the 3% cap on THC and replaces it with a 25-gram limit per patient every 90 days. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Kim Reynolds (R).

Utah Will Limit Number of Growers to Ten. Regulators announced last Friday that they will only allow 10 growers to be licensed to produce medical marijuana. Each grower will be limited to growing no more than four acres outside or 100,000 square feet indoors. Dispensaries are set to open in the state next year.

Hemp

Louisiana Hemp Bill Advances. A bill that would let farmers in the state grow industrial hemp was unanimously approved last Thursday by the House Agriculture Committee. HB 491 now heads for a House floor vote.

Washington Hemp Bill Signed into Law. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) last Friday signed into law SB 5276, which will establish a licensing and regulatory program to allow hemp production in the state.

Law Enforcement

Houston Drug Cases Linked to Officers in Botched Fatal Drug Raid Dismissed. The Harris County DA is dismissing dozens of drug cases involving former Houston Police narcotics officers Steven Bryant and Gerald Goines. The pair are under investigation for lying about the circumstances of a January drug raid that left a Houston couple dead and five officers injured. Last Friday, prosecutors sought dismissal of more than two dozen criminal cases in addition to another five dismissed earlier. Goines is accused of lying about an informant buying heroin at the house raided. After homeowner Dennis Tuttle and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, were killed, police found only personal use amounts of marijuana and cocaine.

Chronicle AM: Louisiana Cannabis Poll, Feds Raid Appalachian Opioid Prescribers, More... (4/18/19)

A new poll finds Louisianans are ready to free the weed, Georgia medical marijuana patients will soon be able to access CBD cannabis oils, a Peruvian clash that left two coca-growers dead raises international concern, and more.

A new Louisiana poll suggests the Bayou State is ready to legalize marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Poll Has Majority Support for Legalization. A new Louisiana State University poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55%. Four out of five (80%) of 18-29-year-olds were down with it, as well as two-thirds (67%) of people aged 30 through 49. Only people over 65 were opposed, with 69% rejecting legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Governor Signs Bill Improving Access to CBD Cannabis Oil. Gov. Brian Kemp has signed into law HB 324, which makes it legal to possess CBD cannabis oil and bring it across state lines. The bill also sets up a framework for the growth and sale of CBD cannabis oil in the state. Currently, state law allows the use of CBD oil, but there is no way for patients to obtain it.

Pennsylvania Patient Loses Bid to Gain Section 8 Housing. An Indiana County medical marijuana patient whose Section 8 housing voucher was previously denied because of her medical marijuana use lost again in Common Pleas Court Wednesday, even though the judge in the case expressed sympathy for her plight. He acknowledged that medical marijuana is legal under state law, but said federal law doesn't allow the use of federally illegal drugs in federal housing programs. The patient will now appeal to the Commonwealth Court.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Conducts Massive Raids Against Appalachian Opioid Prescribers. Federal agents led by the DEA raided doctors' offices and pharmacies across five Appalachian states Wednesday, arresting 60 people, including 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners, and seven other licensed medical professionals. They are accused of writing or fulfilling more than 350,000 illegal prescriptions to 24,000 people in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia.

The DEA press release says that resources are available to help patients caught up in the situation, but for most of the states included in the listings, only addiction services are listed, not physicians or clinics with expertise in pain control, much less who are willing to provide it to patients so close to an alleged criminal situation.

Reporting notes that the indictments allege physician misconduct including performing unnecessary dental work to justify prescribing opioids, and exchanging prescriptions for sex. But there is no detail yet available for assessing whether the charges are justified, whether conduct of that type has been alleged for all the professionals targeted in the indictments, or how many people receiving prescriptions may be actual pain patients.

International

Human Rights, Policy Groups Call for Transparent Investigation of Peru Coca Farmer Killings. In a letter to Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra and anti-drug agency leader Ismael Ruben Vargas, dozens of human rights groups, drug policy groups, and individual academics and researchers have demanded a "transparent investigation" into the killings last week of two protesting coca-growing peasants in a confrontation with police and coca eradication forces. The letter cites a local witness who says police fired "indiscriminately" during the confrontation between growers and newly-arrived eradicators. The letter also called on the government to create a new coca registry in the region to allow farmers to participate in the country's legal coca industry.

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. 

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