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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]

The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2019 [FEATURE]

As the clock ticks down toward 2020, it's worth taking a moment to look back and reflect on what has gone on in the world of drug policy this year. From marijuana to psychedelics to the lingering overdose crisis to the emergence of a new vaping-related illness, a lot happened. Here are ten of the biggest highs and lows of 2019, in no particular order:

It was a big year for marijuana in Congress. Less so in the states.
1, For the First Time, Marijuana Legalization Wins a Congressional Vote

In November, the House Judiciary Committee made history when it approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3384). The bill would effectively legalize marijuana at the federal level by removing it from the Controlled Substance Act's drug schedules. It would also require federal courts to expunge prior convictions and conduct resentencing hearings for those still doing federal marijuana time. And it would assess a five percent tax on marijuana sales to create a fund to aid to people and communities most impacted by prohibition.

There's a good chance the MORE Act will get a House floor vote before the end of this Congress, but even if it does, its prospects in Sen. Mitch McConnell's Senate are dim at best. Still, step by step, Congress by Congress, the end of federal marijuana prohibition is drawing nearer.

2. Marijuana Banking Bill Passes the House

In September, the House passed the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to get access to banking and other financial services. The vote was 321-103, with near unanimous support from Democrats, as well as nearly half of Republicans.

The vote came although some civil rights and drug reform groups had called for it to be put off until more comprehensive marijuana or criminal justice reform, such as the MORE Act (see above) could be enacted. They argued that passage of a narrowly targeted financial services bill could erode momentum toward broader reforms. The MORE Act did win a House Judiciary Committee vote, but has yet to get a House floor vote.

And while SAFE passed the House, it must still get through the Senate, where it is not clear whether it will be allowed to a vote, much less whether it can pass. A companion version of SAFE, S.1200, was introduced in April by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Gardner (R-CO) and a bipartisan group of 21 original cosponsors. It currently has 33 total cosponsors. In September, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) said his committee would take up the cannabis banking issue this year and is working on preparing a new bill, but now it's December and little has happened.

3. Legalization in the States Didn't Have a Great Year

At the beginning of 2019, prospects looked good for as many as a half-dozen states to get legalization bills passed, but the year turned out to largely be a dud. Hopes were especially high in New Jersey and New York, where Democratic governors supported legalization, but it didn't come to pass this year in either state. In Albany, they'll be back at it next year, but in Trenton, it looks like the legislature is going to punt, opting instead to put the issue directly to the voters next year in a legislative referendum.

One state did make it all the way to the finish line: Illinois. After a legalization bill sailed through the legislature in the spring, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed it into law in late June. With that signature, Illinois became the first state to create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce through the legislative process, rather than through a voter initiative. (Vermont's legislature legalized possession and cultivation but not sales in early 2018.)

Getting bills through a state legislature is hard work, and it sometimes takes years. Still, that hard work that didn't quite make it over the top this year, is laying the groundwork for legalization in places like New Jersey and New York -- and maybe more -- next year. And next year is an election year, which means initiative campaigns that can bypass legislative logjams will be in play. There are already active campaigns in Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota and South Dakota, although none have yet qualified for the ballot. Look for 2020 to be a better year when it comes to freeing the weed.

4. Pot Prohibition Isn't Dead Yet: Despite Legalization, Marijuana Arrests Up in Latest FBI Crime Report

In late September, the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report for 2018, and once again, marijuana arrests were on the rise -- despite legalization in 11 states and DC, and decriminalization in 15 more states. There were some 663,367 marijuana arrests in 2018, up from 659,700 in 2017 and 653,249 in 2017. In all three years, simple possession cases accounted for about nine out of ten pot busts. Before 2016, marijuana arrests had been going down for more than a decade. Clearly, there is still work to do here.

5. US Supreme Court Unanimously Reins in Asset Forfeiture

In a February victory for proponents of civil libertarians, the US Supreme Court ruled in Timbs v. Indiana that the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause applies to states, thereby prohibiting state and local governments from collecting excessive fines, fees and forfeitures. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion. "The protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government's punitive or criminal law-enforcement authority," Ginsburg wrote. The case involved the seizure of a $42,000 Land Rover over a drug sale of $225.

There was more progress on the asset forfeiture front on the state level, too: Bills to either end civil asset forfeiture entirely or to restrict it passed this year in Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, and North Dakota, and in September, a South Carolina circuit court judge ruled civil asset forfeiture unconstitutional, setting up a fight in state appeals courts there.

6. Thousands of Federal Drug Prisoners Go Free Under First Step Act

President Trump signed the First Step Act into law at the end of last year, but the sentencing reform measure's true impact was felt in July, when the Bureau of Prisons released more than 3,000 prisoners and reduced the sentences of nearly 1,700 more. Almost all of those released were drug offenders. The First Step Act was aimed at redressing harsh sentences for federal prisoners excluded from the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced -- but did not eliminate -- the infamous crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, but which did not include prisoners sentenced before its passage. Three states -- Florida, South Carolina and Virginia -- accounted for a whopping 25 percent of sentence reductions, and more than 90 percent went to African-American men.

A movement to decriminalize natural psychedelics emerged this year. (Greenoid/Flickr)
7. Psychedelic Decriminalization Becomes a Movement

After emerging in 2018, the movement to decriminalize natural psychedelics mushroomed this year. In May, voters in Denver narrowly approved the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, making clear that they wanted to "deprioritize, to the greatest extent possible, the imposition of criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms." The measure also "prohibits the city and county of Denver from spending resources on imposing criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms."

That surprise victory sparked interest across the country, and the following month Oakland followed suit, only this time it was the city council -- not the voters -- who decriminalized magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics. In September, Chicago became the next city to get on board, with the city council unanimously passing an advisory resolution expressing support for research on the potential use of psychoactive plants and pledging support for adult use of the substances. Meanwhile, activists in three more major cities -- Berkeley, Dallas, and Portland -- were pushing psychedelic decriminalization measures, either through ballot initiatives or city council actions. By December, Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the movement, reported that more than 100 cities across the country are now seeing efforts to open up to psychedelics.

And it's not just cities. In two states, psychedelic reformers have filed initiatives aimed at the November 2020 ballot. In the Golden State, the California Psilocybin Mushroom Initiative, which would decriminalize the possession, use, and gifting of magic mushrooms and the chemical compounds -- psilocybin and psilocin -- has been cleared for signature gathering. It has until April 21 to come up with 623,212 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. Just across the border to the north, the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, which would allow magic mushrooms to be grown with a license, and would allow for therapeutic use of psilocybin, is in the midst of signature gathering. It needs 112,020 valid voter signatures by July 2 to make the ballot. The Oregon measure in October got a nice $150,000 donation from Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.

8. Overdose Deaths Decline Slightly, But Are Still Way Too High

In July, the CDC reported 2018 drug overdose death numbers and found that they had declined from 2017's record high of more than 70,000 to just under 68,000, a five percent decrease. The latest data from CDC, which measured drug deaths in the 12-month period ending in April 2019 showed deaths at 67,000, suggesting that the decline continues, but at a glacial pace. Still, the number of overdose deaths is about seven times higher than it was in 1995, at the start of the prescription opioid epidemic.

The recent decline has been driven by a decrease in heroin and prescription opioid overdoses, although overdoses involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl increased, as did those involving the stimulant drugs cocaine and methamphetamine. Many overdoses involved more than one drug, with benzodiazepines often implicated.

If some researchers are right, fentanyl overdoses could balloon to an even higher level, if distribution of the highly potent substance takes hold in the western US. Most users take fentanyl unknowingly, after it's been used to cut street heroin or counterfeit pills.

9. Vaping-Linked Illness Emerges, Sparking Broad Anti-Vaping Backlash

In the summer, reports of vaping or e-cig users being struck down by a mysterious, lung-damaging condition began to emerge. By the end of October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 1,600 cases of lung-damaged vapors, with the death toll rising to 34. (That number has since risen to 47.) The CDC also gave the condition a name: e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury (EVALI).

A likely culprit soon emerged: black market THC vaping cartridges contaminated with new additives, particularly thinners including propylene glycol (PG) and polyethylene glycol (PEG), vitamin E acetate, and medium chain triglycerides (MCT oil). The FDA has begun investigating vitamin E acetate, while public health officials in New York have found the substance in a majority of seized vape cartridges there. The FDA also announced in August that it is proposing adding propylene glycol as a "respiratory toxicant" in its list of harmful tobacco product ingredients.

While the CDC and the FDA responded to the outbreak with recommendations targeting the suspect products, elected and public health officials in a number of states responded by going after not black market marijuana vaping cartridges but legal flavored tobacco vaping products.

Massachusetts banned all vaping products, Michigan banned flavored nicotine products, New York banned flavored e-cigarettes, Oregon banned all flavored vaping products for six months, as did Rhode Island, while Washingtonissued a four-month ban on flavored vaping products. President Trump threatened to move toward a national ban on flavored vaping products, but has since changed course, even making an anti-prohibitionist argument to do so.

In its latest update, the CDC reports the number of EVALI cases has risen to nearly 2,300 and the death toll has climbed to 47. But unlike those state governments that reacted with flavored vaping bans, the CDC takes a different approach: It points the finger strongly at vitamin E acetate, recommends that people not use THC vaping products at this point -- especially if obtained informally or in the black market -- and also warns people not to add any products to vaping cartridges that are not intended by the manufacturer.

10. Safe Injection Sites Win an Important Preliminary Legal Battle

In a case involving a proposed safe injection site in Philadelphia, a federal judge ruled that it would not violate federal law. With the backing of city officials and former Gov. Ed Rendell (D), the nonprofit group Safehouse pressed forward with plans for the facility even though the Justice Department had warned that it would not allow any safe injection sites to move forward. The Justice Department sued in February to halt the project, arguing that it violated the federal "crack house law."

But US District Judge Gerald McHugh ruled that the "crack house" provision of the Controlled Substances Act does not apply to the group's bid to assist opioid users. "No credible argument can be made that facilities such as safe injection sites were within the contemplation of Congress" when that body wrote the law in 1986 or amended it in 2003, McHugh wrote. "I cannot conclude that Safehouse [the safe injection site] has, as a significant purpose, the objective of facilitating drug use. Safehouse plans to make a place available for the purposes of reducing the harm of drug use, administering medical care, encouraging drug treatment and connecting participants with social services."

While the Justice Department has appealed the ruling, it is a good omen, and the case is being carefully watched in cities such as Denver, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, all of which are pursuing similar plans.

Chronicle AM: Chicago Mayor to End Pot Car Seizure Strategy, Fed Court Upholds Life Sentence in Drug Death, More... (11/13/19)

While Chicago's mayor is trying to ease post-legalization pot penalties, the city's housing authority is warning public housing residents can be evicted for smoking at home; a federal court upholds a life sentence for a drug-related death; and more.

Chicago is getting ready to grapple with legal marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Campaign Raised More Than $1 Million Last Month. The Make It Legal Florida campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November 2020 ballot is benefiting from a large cash injection last month. The campaign raised nearly $1.1 million, almost entirely from two medical marijuana companies who stand to benefit from legalization. Surterra Holdings kicked in $544,000, while MedMen gave $540,000. The campaign spent $1.6 million in October, mostly on paid signature gathering. It needs 766,200 valid voter signatures by February to qualify for the ballot, and because it's a constitutional amendment, would require 60% of the vote to be approved.

Massachusetts Regulators "Quarantine" All Marijuana Vaping Products Except Medicinal Use Buds. The state's Cannabis Control Commission moved on Tuesday to "quarantine" all marijuana vaping products except those that contain only buds and are intended for medical marijuana patients. The commission cited a CDC report that pointed a finger at Vitamin E acetate as the culprit in the recent wave of vaping-related illness and injury and said it was acting "in order to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Massachusetts." The quarantine will stay in place until the commission develops regulations for the use of vaping products. according to a press release from the CCC.

Chicago Mayor Moves to Stop Impounding Cars Found with Marijuana. With marijuana legalization looming, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is drafting an ordinance to end the city’s practice of impounding vehicles found with marijuana inside and dramatically reduce fines for those caught using pot in public. "For far too long, unjust and outdated cannabis enforcement laws have adversely and disproportionately affected Chicago’s black and brown neighborhoods," she said. The ordinance would drop fines for public consumption from $250 to $500 down to $50 and end a "zero tolerance" rule requiring the seizure of vehicles with marijuana.  Lightfoot said in a news release.

Chicago Housing Authority Warns No Pot in Public Housing. The Chicago Housing Authority has warned residents of public housing they would be evicted if they use marijuana at home. "While federal law prohibits marijuana use and possession in federally subsidized housing, the Chicago Housing Authority is working to educate and inform residents so they understand all applicable laws related to cannabis and federally funded housing," CHA spokeswoman Molly Sullivan said.

Sentencing Policy

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Life Sentence for Drug-Related Death. A federal appeals court in Michigan has upheld the life sentence of a man blamed for the drug-related death of another man. Steven Whyte was convicted of providing heroin to a man who overdosed and died. The court said the sentence was "severe and perhaps even misguided as a matter of criminal justice policy" but still constitutional.

Chronicle AM: Opioid Makers Settle with Ohio Counties, Mexico Marijuana Legalization Moves, More... (10/21/19)

A federal court says the DEA is doing what it needs to in processing marijuana research applications, more opioid makers and distributors settle and pay out over the opioid crisis, the Honduran president's brother has been convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy in New York, and more.

Fentanyl manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals is among four companies who just settled for millions with two Ohio counties. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Court Dismisses Suit Against DEA over Marijuana Growing Applications. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit against the DEA over the processing of applications for research-grade marijuana cultivators. The court found that since the case was filed in June, the DEA had fulfilled the requirement to process those applications.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Medical Marijuana Program Stalled. Six months after Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a bill allowing for the cultivation and sales of medical marijuana in the state, the program is stalled because he and other top political figures have yet to appoint the members of a commission that will oversee the expansion. Neither the governor nor other key figures have explained the delay.

Utah Medical Marijuana Advocates Win Round in Lawsuit over Replacing Initiative. Medical marijuana advocates who are suing the state after the legislature replaced a voter-approved initiative with its own medical marijuana bill won an initial victory in court last Thursday. US Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead denied a motion from the attorney general's office to dismiss their lawsuit. He also accepted plaintiff's request to send the case back to state court.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Counties to Receive Millions in Settlement with Opioid Makers. Cuyahoga and Summit counties will receive at least $260 million from four opioid distributors and manufacturers as a settlement of their case against them for their role in the opioid epidemic. The four are drug distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health as well as generic opioid painkiller maker Teva Pharmaceuticals. The only remaining defendant, Walgreens, did not settle, but now its case, which was set to begin Monday, is delayed.

International

Honduran President's Brother Convicted of Drug Trafficking in New York. A federal jury in New York City found former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez guilty of a drug trafficking conspiracy. Hernandez is the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez. Early in the trial, prosecutors told the court that Tony Hernandez passed on a $1 million bribe from Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to his brother during Juan Orlando Hernandez' 2013 presidential reelection campaign.

Mexican Committees Unveil Marijuana Legalization Bill Ahead of Supreme Court Deadline. Mexican Senate committees unveiled draft marijuana legalization bills last Thursday, days ahead of a Supreme Court-imposed deadline, and said they would stay in permanent session to ensure they get legislation passed before the October 31 deadline. Votes could come this week. The bill would allow people 18 and over to possess marijuana, grow up to four plants, and purchase pot from licensed retailers. A new regulatory body, the Cannabis Institute, would handle licensing and monitoring implementation of the law, and poor people, small farmers, and indigenous people would have licensing priority.

Chronicle AM: Philly Safe Injection Site Wins Legal Victory, Pot Companies Call for Descheduling, More... (10/3/19)

A federal judge hands a preliminary legal victory to proponents of a Philadelphia safe injection site, hundreds of marijuana industry figures call on Congress to deschedule marijuana as a means of grappling with the vaping crisis, and more.

At the InSite safe injection site in Vancouver. Could a similar facility be coming to Philadelphia? (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Hundreds of Marijuana Companies Sign Letter Calling for Descheduling to Prevent Vaping Injuries. Some 800 marijuana industry executives have signed onto a letter to Congress calling on that body to deschedule marijuana as a means of reducing the risks of vaping black market marijuana products. The letter was delivered to Congress Thursday.

Massachusetts Sued Over Marijuana Vaping, E-Cig Ban. The Vapor Technology Association, a national vaping industry trade organization, has filed suit in federal court seeking to block the state's recently instituted four-month ban on sales of marijuana vapes as well as e-cigarettes. Massachusetts last month became the first state to ban the sale of marijuana and tobacco vaping products.

Drug Policy

Majority of Americans Support Decriminalizing All Drugs, Poll Finds. A new poll from the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute finds a majority support decriminalizing all drugs. The poll of 1,700 adults found that 55% would rather treat drug offenses as infractions than as criminal offenses, with 44% opposed. Among Democrats, 69% favored decriminalization; among independents, 54%; among Republicans only 40%.

Harm Reduction

Federal Judge Rules Proposed Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Doesn't Violate Federal Law. US District Judge Gerald McHugh ruled Wednesday that a nonprofit group's plan to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia does not violate federal law. The judge ruled that the "crack house" provision of the Controlled Substances Act does not apply to the group's bid to assist opioid users. "No credible argument can be made that facilities such as safe injection sites were within the contemplation of Congress" when that body wrote the law in 1986 or amended it in 2003, McHugh wrote. "I cannot conclude that Safehouse [the safe injection site] has, as a significant purpose, the objective of facilitating drug use. Safehouse plans to make a place available for the purposes of reducing the harm of drug use, administering medical care, encouraging drug treatment and connecting participants with social services."

Chronicle AM: Fed Court Orders DEA to Respond to Pot Research Lawsuit, Colombia Violence Rising, More... (7/31/19)

A federal appeals court has ordered the DEA to promptly respond to a lawsuit over stalled medical marijuana research applications, a Florida legalization initiative passes an early milepost, a psychedelic activist group goes national, and more.

SPORE is taking its psychedelic activism nationwide through a new nonprofit. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Court Orders DEA to Explain Marijuana Research Block. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on Monday ordered the DEA to respond to a lawsuit about stalled applications for research-grade marijuana growers. The lawsuit was filed by the Scottsdale Research Institute, which has submitted an application that has never been acted on. The court on Monday ordered that the DEA "file a response to the amended mandamus petition, not to exceed 7,800 words, within 30 days of the date of this order."

Florida Activists Clear First Hurdle to Putting Marijuana Legalization on 2020 Ballot. Sensible Florida, the group behind the legalization initiative, announced Monday that it had met an early requirement in the process of getting the measure on the November 2020 ballot. The group has gathered some 76,000 valid voter signatures, or one-tenth of the number required to put the measure on the ballot. This triggers a state Supreme Court review of the initiative's language.

Psychedelics

Psychedelic Activists Group Goes Nationwide. The group that organized the successful Denver psychedelic mushroom decriminalization initiative is going national. SPORE, the Society for Psychedelic Outreach and Reform and Education, announced Tuesday that it will apply for 501(c)(3) status, allowing the organization to reach more people. "Our mission is to transform public opinion to normalize and decriminalize the responsible use, possession and cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelic plants and fungi," said Kevin Matthews, the group's executive director. "We offer resources like education, community and organizational support, policy guidance, and we're also advocates for individuals, communities and organizations that are interested in pursuing or exploring psychedelic drug policy reform both here in Colorado and nationwide."

International

Colombia Homicides Jump as Traffickers, Rebels Fight Over Former FARC Areas. The national homicide rate rose for the first time in a decade last year, driven largely by battles for control over coca-growing areas that had previously been controlled by the leftist guerrillas of the FARC. The FARC demobilized as part of the 2016 peace accords, but that left a vacuum in coca-growing areas it once dominated. Now, FARC dissidents, other guerrilla groups, and criminal drug trafficking groups are fighting over who will control the fields.

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: CA Cities Sue State Over Pot Deliveries, Fed Bill Targets Chinese Fentanyl, More... (4/8/19)

A Hawaii decriminalization bill nears passage, some California cities are suing the state over being forced to allow marijuana deliveries, the 3rd Circuit clarifies the law on intent to distribute, and more.

A bipartisan federal bill targeting Chinese fentanyl production has been filed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Cities That Restrict Marijuana Sales Sue State Over Allowing Deliveries. Twenty-four cities that ban legal marijuana sales filed suit against the state last Thursday, arguing that allowing home deliveries in those locales violates the state's marijuana laws. The lawsuit comes after the California Bureau of Cannabis Control adopted a rule in January that permits state-licensed companies to deliver marijuana in cities that ban pot shops.

Florida Legalization Bill Killed. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the Sunshine State is dead. HB 1117, filed by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) was killed in the House Judiciary Committee, where, he said, "It got no hearing, no debate, no vote. Just like they always do."

Hawaii Senate Committee Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Ways and Means Committee has approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to three grams of marijuana, HB 1383. The bill has already passed out of the House and two other Senate committees and now heads for a Senate floor vote. If it passes there, it will then go to a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Organizers to Try Again in 2020. Legalize ND, the folks behind the failed 2018 legalization initiative, will be back in 2020, the group said last Thursday. Organizers said they hoped to have initiative language in place by mid-summer. The new measure will include possession limits, growing limits, taxes on sales, banning of edible gummies, packaging and licensing requirements and wouldn't allow any type of advertising of products.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Governor Signs Omnibus Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has signed SB 406 into law. The bill makes broad changes in the state's medical marijuana program, including allowing medical marijuana in schools and allowing licensed manufacturers to process home-grown marijuana. And it allows for reciprocity with other medical marijuana states and protects workers who are medical marijuana patients.

Prosecution

Third Circuit Tosses Heroin Dealer's Conviction, Clarifies Law on Intent to Distribute. The US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out the conviction of a heroin dealer, ruling that a conviction for intent to distribute 1,000 grams or more of heroin must be based on evidence that the defendant possessed or distributed that quantity at a single time and not based on adding up several smaller possessions and distributions during the indictment period.

Foreign Policy

Bipartisan Bill Targets China Over Fentanyl. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) led a bipartisan group of senators in filing a bill that would slap sanctions on China if it fails to live up to its recent promise to regulate fentanyl as a controlled substance. The Fentanyl Sanctions Act allots $600 million to law enforcement and intelligence officials to identify producers and traffickers of the drug and would block access to US markets for Chinese chemical and pharmaceutical companies if they are caught producing the drug.

Chronicle AM: NY Legal Pot Push Hits Bump, AZ Judge Rules for Fired Walmart MMJ-Using Worker, More... (3/21/19)

Southern California will see its first festival featuring legal pot sales and consumption this weekend, an Arizona federal judge slaps down Walmart for firing a medical marijuana patient without proving impairment at work, New York's governor acknowledges legalization isn't happening fast enough to be included in the budget, and more.

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) concedes that marijuana legalization isn't happening fast enough to make the budget. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Southern California's First Festival with Legal Marijuana Sales and Consumption is This Weekend. The High Times Dope Cup High Desert festival set for the high desert town of Adelanto this weekend will be the first in Southern California where marijuana can be legally purchased and consumed. Pot smoking will be allowed in designated areas at the festival, and dozens of vendors will be selling weed to anyone 21 or over. The first Northern California festival allowing sales and consumption was Hempcon in San Francisco earlier this year.

New York Governor Drops Marijuana Legalization from Proposed State Budget. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Tuesday he was dropping his proposal to legalize marijuana from his proposed state budget. He said because he was unable to arrive at quick passage of a marijuana legalization bill he could no longer count on marijuana revenues in his budget forecast. Cuomo and legislative leaders said there is still a chance legalization could be passed after the budget is passed and before the June 19 end of the legislative session.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Federal Judge Rules for Medical Marijuana-Using Walmart Worker. An Arizona federal district court judge has ruled that Walmart wrongfully fired a long-time employee who was a medical marijuana patient after a drug test returned positive results for marijuana because the company did not establish through expert evidence that she was impaired by marijuana at work. The court held that Walmart's action violated protections in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

South Carolina Senate Panel Advances Medical Marijuana Bill. A subcommittee of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee has approved SB 366, the Compassionate Care Act, on a 5-1 vote. The vote came after the subcommittee accepted amendments aimed at easing law enforcement opposition to the bill, among them banning certain transportation workers from participating, working toward a better method of detecting marijuana-impaired driving, and tightening the definitiation of a debilitating condition. The bill now goes before the full committee before headed for a Senate floor vote.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Slaps Down Asset Forfeiture, No More No-Knocks in Houston, More... (2/20/19)

The Supreme Court reins in civil asset forfeiture, Denver joins cities participating in LEAD, Houston ends undercover no-knock raids in the wake of a fatal encounter, and more.

The US Supreme Court (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland General Assembly Creates Legalization Working Group. In a sign that marijuana legalization isn’t going to happen this year, the General Assembly has created a working group to study the issue. The bipartisan group will make recommendations in December that could be used to help guide bills during the 2020 legislative session.

South Carolina Poll Has Half Supporting Medical Marijuana, Nearly a Quarter for Legalization. A new poll from political strategist Robert Cahaly has support for marijuana legalization at 22.8%, with another 49.7% saying they supported legalizing marijuana "for people suffering illness and with a doctor’s approval."

Hemp

Ohio Hemp Bill Filed. Lawmakers have filed a bill to legalize hemp production in the state, SB 77. The bill would align state law with the framework of the 2018 farm bill, which legalized hemp nationwide.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Senate Passes Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana in Schools. A bill that allows medical marijuana to be given to students at public schools passed the Senate on Monday. SB 204 now heads to the House Human Services Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

U.S. Supreme Court Unanimously Reins in Civil Asset Forfeiture. In a victory for proponents of civil asset forfeiture reform, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in Timbs v. Indiana that the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause applies to states, thereby prohibiting state and local governments from collecting excessive fines, fees and forfeitures. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion. "The protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government’s punitive or criminal law-enforcement authority," Ginsburg wrote. 

Law Enforcement

Denver Signs on to Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. City officials unveiled a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) pilot program on Tuesday. The program is designed to connect people accused of low-level drug crimes with support services rather than arresting them. LEAD programs operate in a number of other cities, including Philadelphia, Portland, and Seattle. The pilot program is funded through 2020 by a $561,000 grant paid for out of the state's marijuana tax cash fund.

Houston Ends No-Knock Raids in Wake of Fatal Encounter. With few exceptions, Houston undercover officers will no longer conduct no-knock raids. The move comes after four police officers were wounded and a Houston couple killed in a raid that was based on a police officer's lies. "The no-knock warrants are going to go away like leaded gasoline in this city," Chief Art Acevedo announced during a town hall meeting Monday. 

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