Busts & Seizures

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Opiate Treatment Program (OTP) Barriers, Schumer Says Progress on SAFE Banking Act +, More... (11/1/22)

There's a drug crackdown going on in India's Punjab, Afghan drug prices are rising despite questions about whether the Taliban ban is actually happening, and more.

An Aghan opium poppy field. It is almost planting time again. Will the Taliban ban actually take place? Stay tuned. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Schumer Says Senate Close to Passing Marijuana Banking, Expungements Bill After Talks with Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday that Congress is "very close" to filing and then passing the SAFE Banking Act + bill, which includes provisions including banking protections for state-legal marijuana businesses and expungements of past marijuana convictions. Schumer cited progress he had made in talks with a "bunch of Republican senators."

Schumer had blocked earlier efforts to pass the SAFE Banking Act, which has passed the House seven times, but now appears ready to move on it as prospects for a broader legalization bill fade. "We are getting very close," Schumer said. "I am working in a bipartisan way with Democrats and Republicans to take the SAFE Banking Act, which allows financial institutions to involve themselves in cannabis companies and lend money to them -- but it also does some things for justice, such as expunging a record. So, expunging the records is important, and we're getting clos We may be able to get something done rather soon. I'm working with a bunch of Republican senators, a bunch of Democratic senators, to get something passed."

Drug Treatment

State Opioid Treatment Program Regulations Put Evidence-Based Care Out of Reach for Many. Opioid treatment programs (OTPs) are the only health care modalities that can offer methadone as well as buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone to patients. They are the only facilities that can offer methadone, but federal and state rules not based on evidence are curtailing access to high-quality OTP care, the Pew Trust reports in new research.

Among barriers to OTP treatment, Pew found that 20 states require a new OTP to seek state approval baed on demonstrating a need for services before opening, seven states impose restrictive zoning rules on OTPS that don't apply to other health are facilities, 10 states don't allow clients to take medication home in the first 30 days of treatment, 48 states allow OTPs to throw patients out of the program for not being abstinent from opioids or other drugs, and 23 states specify a counseling schedule for patients rather than providing individualized care. Click on the link for methodology and a full data set.

International

Afghan Drug Prices Soared After Taliban Ban, Despite Little Evidence of Enforcement. Illegal drug prices have skyrocketed in Afghanistan since the Taliban banned the drug trade in April, even though there is only limited evidence that the militants are enforcing the ban. Opium prices have increased more than 50 percent, while methamphetamine prices have also risen, according to countrywide data gathered by the private, UK-based satellite imagery company Alcis. While analysts said the ban is not yet widely enforced, prices are rising based on fears of a future crackdown. A new opium poppy planting season is about to get underway, and it is unclear to what degree local Taliban commanders intend to or even can enforce a ban on poppy production. Satellite data, though, has shown a crackdown on ephedra (used to manufacture meth) markets and meth labs already underway.

But any crackdown would come in the face of a massive nationwide economic crisis that could drive people away from supporting the Taliban. "The things that people used to survive on in the face of a drugs ban -- in terms of joining the [army], working in the cities in construction -- those options are gone," David Mansfield, a researcher on the report and expert on Afghanistan's drugs trade, said. "Do local Taliban... press on this and risk increasing a humanitarian crisis, alienating a population, or do they let it ride because of the fear of resistance?"

India's Punjab Police in Massive Drug Crackdown. Police in the Punjab have arrested 6,997 drug smugglers since July and registered 5,436 FIRs (first information reports -- the initial report of a possible criminal offense), of which 580 are for possessing large quantities of drugs. The crackdown is part of Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann's "war against the drug menace plaguing the state."

Between roadblocks and other searches, police have seized nearly 260 kilograms of heroin, as well as an additional 147.5 kilograms seized at the ports of Gujarat and Maharashtra. They also seized 300 kilograms of raw heroin, 197 kilograms of marijuana and nearly three million pills, capsules, and vials of pharmaceutical opioids. State police chief Gaurav Yadav has called on police to investigate all leads in every case no matter how small and to aggressively seize the assets of drug suspects.

CO Pot Sales Declining for Months, Biden Orders More Colombia Drug War, More... (8/11/22)

An Ohio harm reduction group is suing a state board over how $400 million in opioid settlement money is spent, an Uruguayan meth bust signals a possible shift in drug trafficking between Europe and South America, and more.

Joe Biden and new Colombian President Petro are not on the same page when it comes to drug policy. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Sales Decline for Fourth Straight Month. For the fourth month in a row, marijuana sales in Colorado have declined. Sales in June were just $146 million, a 1% decline from the previous month, but a 22% decline from June 2021. So far this year, pot shops sold more than $906 million worth of weed, down from $1.1 billion during the same period last year. This is not the first time there has been a four-month decline in sales; it also happened between August and November 2020. The state has collected more than $30 million in sales tax revenues in only two months so far this year. It collected more than $30 million every month last year.

Opioids

Ohio Harm Reduction Group Sues State Board Over Opioid Settlement Money. Harm Reduction Ohio has filed a lawsuit against a foundation set up by the state to spend more than $400 million that it won in settlements with opioid makers and distributors for drug treatment programs. The lawsuit demands that the foundation, the OneOhio Recovery Foundation, be more transparent about how it will spend that money. The state received $808 million in settlements, and the OneOhio Recovery Foundation gets half. (The rest goes to state and local governments.)

Harm Reduction Ohio President Dennis Cauchon said the foundation's board is not following the state's open meetings law, and that could lead to future problems. "I say preschedule the indictments because in year eleven, if you've got $100 million to spend in a year, don't have to follow ethics law, you can spend on whatever you want," Cauchon said. "It's a formula for cronyism written all over it."

Cauchon also cited the board's makeup, which consists of appointees of Gov. Mike DeWine (R), state lawmakers, and local government leaders, saying it's important to include people with treatment and recovery program experience. "The combination of people in this case needs to include people who have suffered from opioids, the reason this money exists, and they have essentially been excluded entirely," Cauchon said. "If you don't know the population and you don't know the issue, you can't spend a half billion dollars wisely."

Foreign Policy

Biden Orders Continuation of Colombian Drug Interdiction Assistance. President Joe Biden has issued a memo directing the State and Defense departments to continue assisting Colombia to interdict aircraft "reasonably suspected to be primarily engaged in illicit drug trafficking in that country's airspace," given the "extraordinary threat posed by illicit drug trafficking to the national security of that country." The president noted that Colombia "has appropriate procedures in place to protect against innocent loss of life in the air and on the ground in connection with such interdiction," and which includes "effective means to identify and warn an aircraft before the use of force is directed against the aircraft." The memo was issued Wednesday, just three days after Colombian President Gustavo Petro was sworn-in. Petro has called the US-led war on drugs "a complete failure and has pledged to maintain a ban on spraying coca crops with the herbicide glyphosate, putting the two countries at odds around drug policy.

International

Uruguay Makes Historic Seizure of European Meth. Uruguayan authorities seized 43 kilograms of methamphetamine on August 5 in what is believed to be the largest-ever shipment of European meth to reach Latin America. It is a bust that marks a potential shift in the trade in synthetic drugs between the two continents. Underground labs in Europe have traditionally shipped MDMA to Latin America (among other markets), while Europe has imported cocaine and methamphetamine from Latin America. But Mexican chemists may have accompanied Mexican meth going to Europe and shared their manufacturing skills with underground chemists there. Europe's meth production is still small compared to the mountains of meth produced in Mexico, but it is now competing in South American markets. And because of high prices for European meth, it is likely it is being traded for cocaine destined for Europe.

NY Grey Market Pot Shop Crackdown, Trump Praises China's Death Penalty for Drugs, More... (7/11/22)

It looks like they will be voting to free the weed in North Dakota this year, Customs officers nail a 5,000 load of methamphetamine near the Mexican border, and more.

The former president lauded China for executing drug offenders and suggested we should do the same. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York Cracks Down on Grey Market Pot Shops. The state's Office of Cannabis Management has sent cease and desist letters to 52 shops across the state it has identified as illicitly selling marijuana. While the state legalized marijuana in March 2021, licensed sales have yet to commence, and the shops have been taking advantage of the interregnum to peddle weed without a permit. Now they must stop or face the prospect of being blocked from ever obtaining a retail marijuana sales license.

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Plenty of Signatures. Legalize ND, the group behind this year's marijuana legalization initiative, handed in more than 25,000 raw signatures Monday morning. The initiative requires 15,582 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot, meaning it has a cushion of some 10,000 signatures in case some of the raw signatures are invalidated. That is a big cushion that should ensure North Dakotans get a chance to vote on the issue in November. The initiative would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for people 21 and over and allow for its sale at registered businesses.

Law Enforcement

Trump Again Urges Death Penalty for Drug Dealers, Claims China Has No Drug Problem. In a campaign speech for his preferred gubernatorial candidate in Nevada last Friday, former President Donald Trump said the US should follow the lead of China on drug policy and swiftly execute drug dealers. "If you look at countries all throughout the world... the only ones that don't have a drug problem are those that institute the death penalty for drug dealers. They're the only ones, you understand that? China has no drug problem," Trump said to applause from the Republican crowd. Trump said he had asked Chinese Premier Xi Jinping whether China had a drug problem, then made up what he said XI was thinking: "Why would you have such a dumb question is that no, no, no, we don't have a drug problem. Why would we have a drug problem? There is no problem. Drug dealers get the death penalty. The trial goes very quickly. So instead of coming into China, they go someplace else. We've had big drug problems over the centuries, but we don't have a drug problem at all. Now, they don't deal in China," the former president said. Trump prefaced his remark by saying he would either "get a standing ovation" or "people are going to walk out of the room." In fact, China has rising levels of drug use, according to its own National Narcotics Control Commission.

Massive Meth Bust at Otay Mesa Border Crossing. US Customs officers seized a record-breaking 5,000 pounds of methamphetamine from a box truck that had crossed the border from Mexico into the US at the Otay Mesa border crossing near San Diego last Thursday. They tailed the vehicle to nearby National City, where they observed four men unloading dozens of boxes from the truck and into a van. They four men, all Tijuana residents, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to distribute meth, which exposes them to possible life sentences. The DEA crowed that the bust was "another win against drug cartels," but the cross-border drug trade remains very dynamic, with seizures accounting for only a small percentage of all drugs moving across the border.

Luxembourg Set to Legalize Marijuana, OH GOP Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming, More... (10/25/21)

New Hampshire continues as the lone northern New England holdout on marijuana legalization, Luxembourg is now set to become the first European country to free the weed, and more.

Colombian drug trafficker Dairo Antonio Usuga, "Otoniel," under arrest this past weekend. (ENC)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio GOP Lawmaker to File Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Lake County) is set to announce Tuesday that he will file a bill to legalize marijuana, including the growth, processing, and distribution of marijuana and marijuana products. The move comes as activists work to put a marijuana legalization ballot measure before voters in November 2022.

New Hampshire House Committee Kills Marijuana Legalization Bills. The House Criminal Justice Committee last Wednesday killed bills that would legalize and tax marijuana and allow people to grow up to six plants at home. The vote fell mainly along party lines with Republicans opposed and Democrats in favor. New Hampshire is the only northern New England state to yet approve marijuana legalization.

Psychedelics

Massachusetts Town Becomes Fourth in State to Pass Psychedelic Reform Measure. The Easthampton City Council voted unanimously last Wednesday to approve a resolution calling for the decriminalization of certain psychedelics and other drugs. The resolution is non-binding but sends a message to local law enforcement that the status quo of criminalization is eroding. The cities of Cambridge, Northampton, and Somerville have also passed psychedelic reform measures in recent months, and there are both decriminalization and psychedelic study bills awaiting action in the state legislature.

International

Colombians Capture Most Wanted Drug Trafficker. Colombian police and military forces with assistance from the US captured, better known as Otoniel, at his jungle hideout near the Panamanian border Saturday. Otoniel is the leader of the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization, the Gulf Clan, taking control of the organization after Colombian police killed his brother nearly a decade ago. President Ivan Duque cheered the bust, saying it was the most significant blow to drug trafficking since the killing of Pablo Escobar in 1993. But analysts such as Sergio Guzman of Colombia Risk Analysis warned that Otoniel's arrest "is not going to move the needle in terms of the war on drugs. Soon we'll have another kingpin and another drug lord who may be much worse."

Luxembourg Set to Become First European Country to Legalize Marijuana. The national government announced last Friday that the country will legalize the possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana. Under the proposed legislation, people will be able to grow up to four plants at home. In the meantime, fines for the possession of up to three grams will drop from $291 to $29. While the new legislation has the backing of the government coalition, a vote in parliament is still required to approve it. No word yet on when that will happen.

Ohio Okays Curbside Medical Marijuana Pickup, DEA Seized More Plants But Did Fewer Busts Last Year, More... (4/14/20)

The DEA continued with its futile pursuit of marijuana eradication last year, a former Amazon worker wins a victory in a court battle over being fired for medical marijuana use, and more.

The DEA eradicated more pot plants last year than in 2018, but busted fewer grows and made fewer related arrests. (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

DEA Seized More Pot Plants Last Year but Arrested Fewer People for Growing. According to a new annual report from the DEA, the agency seized more than four million plants last year, a more than 40% increase over 2018. But the number of indoor grows raided actually decreased by about 10%, suggesting that the DEA was raiding bigger grows rather than expanding enforcement efforts. And most of the seized plants -- 3.1 million of them -- came from California, where the agency seized only 1.8 million in 2018. And related arrests declined by 15%, from 5,600 in 2018 to 4,700 last year.

Medical Marijuana

Worker Fired by Amazon for Medical Marijuana Wins Key Decision in Federal Court. A former Amazon warehouse worker who sued in New Jersey state court after being fired for using medical marijuana has won a preliminary victory. Amazon had responded to the lawsuit by moving to have the case heard in federal court, where the worker had little chance of winning since marijuana remains prohibited under federal law. But late last week, the federal court allowed the worker's request to remand the case back to state Superior Court.

Ohio Okays Curbside Pickup for Medical Marijuana Sales. The state has determined that medical marijuana dispensaries are "essential" businesses during the coronavirus crisis and are being allowed to sell their products via curbside pickup. The stat Board of Pharmacy approved a temporary guideline to allow the practice last week. While a Cleveland-area dispensary is the first to implement curbside service, all dispensaries in the state have been cleared to do so as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: Trump Stays States' Rights on Pot, Massive DEA Florida Opioid Bust, More... (9/3/19)

The president reiterates his states' rights approach to marijuana legalization, the DEA goes massively after opioids in a Florida operation, Thailand okays hemp and cannabis extracts, and more.

The president reiterated his adminstration's hands-off approach to state-level marijuana legalization last Friday. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

President Trump Says Marijuana Legalization Up to States. Reiterating a stance he has held since the 2016 presidential campaign [Ed: One of Trump's few consistent stances. - DB], President Donald Trump last Friday said the White House would not interfere with state-level legalization efforts. "We're going to see what's going on. It's a very big subject and right now we are allowing states to make that decision. A lot of states are making that decision, but we're allowing states to make that decision," he said in response to a reporter's question.

Minnesota Democrats Begin Legalization Push. Using the state fair in St. Paul as a venue, state Democratic leaders vowed to legalize marijuana next year and announced a series of town halls across the state to see what Minnesotans think about the issue. "We believe that Minnesota can have the best marijuana laws in the country," said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D-Golden Valley), who handed out blue cowbells inscribed with the words "Be Heard on Cannabis" to fairgoers. "We think it's vitally important that Minnesotans weigh in directly on this policy change."

Law Enforcement

DEA Arrests 300 in Massive Florida Opioid Operation. In an enforcement operation late last week named "Operation Cazador," DEA agents in Florida arrested nearly 300 people, seized roughly 200,000 opioid pills and about $3.3 million in assets, and shut down a dozen pharmacies. The operation included roughly 50 search warrants on pharmacies, 25 interviews with physicians, and interdiction of a small number of UPS and FedEx packages.

International

Thailand Removes Marijuana Extracts from Narcotics List. Thailand has removed marijuana and hemp extracts, such as CBD, from its list of controlled substances, officials said Monday. The move is seen as an effort to promote the development of marijuana products for medicinal purposes. Medical use and research was legalized last year.

Two NYPD Cops Charged with Raping Teen After Busting Her for Marijuana

A New York City grand jury indicted two Brooklyn narcotics officers late last week on charges they raped an 18-year-old woman after arresting her for smoking marijuana. The alleged victim says she was assaulted while handcuffed in the back of a police van in the parking lot of a Chipotle restaurant in September.

The two narcotics officers, Eddie Martins and Richard Hall, now face charges of first degree rape. The alleged victim, who posts on social media under the name Anna Chambers, including posts about the case, says that both narcs forced her to perform oral sex on them, and that one of them raped her. She alleges that she and two young men were pulled over by Martins and Hall for smoking pot, and that they targeted her after finding prescription drugs in the car. The narcs told her companions to leave before ordering her to undress so they could "search for drugs."

They didn't find any drugs on her, but handcuffed the teen anyway before coercing her into sex, her attorney, Michael David, told the New York Post.

"You'll spend three hours in the precinct," they allegedly told her. They also allegedly said: "This is what you're going to do for us, and we'll let you go," David said.

"There was zero consent," David said. "The cops were over 6 feet tall. She's very petite, like 5-2 and maybe 100 pounds. There's nothing she could do."

The grand jury issued the indictments October 26 after hearing a week of testimony, including testimony on the stand from Chambers herself. The narcs were not arrested upon indictment, but are expected to turn themselves in this week. They have been placed on modified duty and stripped of their guns and badges and are now suspended without pay. They're looking at between three and 25 years in prison if convicted.

The detectives, from NYPD's Brooklyn South narcotics squad, have not denied that they engaged in sex acts with the alleged victim, but claimed they were consensual. They also spent the past week trying to discredit and impugn their accuser.

In a letter to prosecutors, lawyers for the narcs pointed out that she had filed a $50 million claim against the city in October and that she had posted "provocative" selfies on her Instagram and Twitter accounts after the assault. The lawyers called on prosecutors "to further investigate Chambers' dubious claim before you ask the grand jury to return an indictment against Martins and Hall."

Chambers furiously rejects the narcs' claim that the sex was consensual, her lawyer said.

"She was shocked that the [cops] would say it was consensual after everything that was done to her. She wanted to get the word out," David explained. 'She just wants everybody to know it's an absolute lie that this was consensual. She was raped. She was viciously, brutally raped in handcuffs. It's the truth," he said.

"She's embarrassed," David continued. "She's very depressed over this. Her whole life had changed after this experience. She's afraid of the police, and she really wants justice to be served here."

After the attack, Chambers did what victims are supposed to do: She sought help at NYU Langone Hospital, which performed a rape kit on her that found the cops' DNA. She reported a sexual assault to police. She confided to friends after it happened. And she filed a civil lawsuit. And now, the criminal justice system swings into action against the perpetrators.

One of the reasons the war on drugs is so loathed is that it provides the opportunity for crooked cops to abuse their power in ways that have been alleged in this case. One wonders how many similarly abused women have not come forward.

New York, NY
United States

Three More Drug War Deaths This Month

A SWAT team member in Ohio shot and killed an unarmed businessman, and SWAT teams in South Carolina and Mississippi killed two more people in drug enforcement on the same day this week. There is also news on some past drug war killings.

This month's drug war killings bring the Drug War Chronicle's count of people killed in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year to 49. The figure only includes people who died as a direct result of the drug war.

  • In Ohio, 27-year-old Omar Ali died October 5, two weeks after he was shot and wounded by a SWAT officer during a September raid on his Akron hookah store. Police were investigating Ali for drug sales when they broke down the door to his business, then encountered him in the main room of his shop. Police said they ordered him to put his hands up, but he allegedly refused those commands and reached toward the back of his waistband. The unnamed SWAT officer then shot him. Police found no weapon in his waistband. What they did find was 2.8 grams of heroin and five doses of Suboxone hidden in his butt-crack.
  • In Florida, a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office SWAT team shot and killed an armed drug suspect during a residential drug raid Wednesday afternoon. The dead man has not yet been named. Police said they were preparing to break down the door to the home when they encountered the man armed with a hand gun. He allegedly turned to confront them, and was then shot and killed by Officer Nicholas Rodgers. The dead suspect didn't fire a shot. Police said they found cocaine and more guns when they searched the residence.
  • In Mississippi, a drug suspect was killed and a deputy wounded during a Monroe County SWAT drug raid Wednesday morning. The dead man has not yet been identified. Sheriff Cecil Cantrell explained that it all began with a traffic stop: "Basically, we did a traffic stop on a vehicle and he had quite a bit of drugs in there, ice (crystal meth)," Cantrell said. "We talked to him and asked him where he got the drugs, and he told us where he bought them. And we got a search warrant and went down to this gentleman's house. When we got there the SWAT team went down to the house. When they got to the back door, he opened the door and started shooting, wounded one of my deputies. The deputies shot back. Those were seasoned deputies who were on that SWAT team, and they had no choice but to shoot back. And that person is deceased now."

Please note that in all three cases, as in many other cases of drug war violence, the only account available is that from police.

Meanwhile, there is also news on a pair of earlier cases of drug war deaths.

  • In California, the El Centro Police and four named officers are being sued over the 2012 death of Charles Sampson during a drug investigation. A police body camera video picked up police threatening to arrest Sampson and his family members if he didn't tell them where he had hidden drugs. Police also said a drug dog had alerted on the residence, but they later revised that statement, and they didn't find any drugs in the house. Sampson became ill, apparently after ingesting methamphetamine, but when family members called 911 for an ambulance, police told the dispatcher to ignore all calls from the house because Sampson was "putting on a show." Only two hours later was Sampson taken to a hospital, and only because a police officer ignored instructions to take him to jail. The lawsuit goes to trial in May 2016.
  • And in South Carolina, prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against the police officer who shot and killed unarmed teenager Zachary Hammond during a pot bust in July. Hammond was the driver of a car parked at a fast food restaurant, and the girl in the passenger seat had just arranged a pot deal with a person who turned out to be an undercover cop. When the cops pulled up, Hammond began to attempt to drive away and was shot twice by Officer Mark Tiller. Tiller claimed self-defense, although video showed Hammond's car already passing Tiller when he opened fire. But Solicitor Chrissy Adams said Tiller would face no charges.

Chronicle AM: NV Pot Init Will Go to Voters Next Year, Dark Web Drug Bust, Saudis Behead Three, More (3/13/15)

Nevada is the first state in line to legalize it in 2016 after the legislature failed to act this week, a controversial Ohio legalization initiative wins a preliminary approval to move forward, there was a major dark web drug bust in Germany this week, and more.

thousands of ecstasy pills seized by German police in bust of one vendor on one dark web drug sales site
Marijuana

DC Cannabis Campaign to Host Pot Seed Exchange. The folks behind the Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative will be hosting two seed exchanges this month. "This will be DC residents' opportunity to share seeds with other adults and start down the path of legally growing your own cannabis in the safety and privacy of your home," the campaign announced Thursday.

Nevada Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization Next Year. After the state legislature failed to act by a deadline today, marijuana legalization is headed to the ballot next year. Initiative organizers have already taken all the necessary steps for the vote to take place. The legislature could have approved the initiative itself, but instead punted. Read the initiative here.

Ohio Attorney General Approves Petition Summary for Responsible Ohio Legalization Initiative. The attorney general's approval means ResponsibleOhio now goes to the Ohio Ballot Board for its approval. Their meeting will take place in about 10 days. Read the ResponsibleOhio initiative here. If the Ballot Board approves, ResponsibleOhio must then gather 305,591 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters from at least 44 of 88 counties to get the measure on the fall ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Medical Marijuana Bill Gets New GOP Cosponsor. A second Republican senator has signed on to the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act (Senate Bill 683). Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) joins fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul (KY) and Democrats Cory Booker (NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY).

Georgia Senate Passes Restrictive CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate passed Senate Bill 185, which would allow parents bringing CBD cannabis oil into the state to treat their children with epilepsy to be exempted from criminal prosecution, but would not allow medical marijuana in any other form and would not let adults or children with other diseases use it. The House has passed a broader CBD bill; the Senate Health Committee chair has promised it will try to reconcile the two bills.

International

China Withdraws UN Motion to Make Ketamine a Controlled Substance. After lobbying from Canadian researchers and others who said ketamine is a crucial anesthetic for poorer countries, China today withdrew its motion before the UN Committee on Narcotic Drugs to schedule the drug. The Chinese said they would defer their resolution for another year so ketamine can be studied more.

Germans in Major Dark Web Drug Bust. Police in Leipzig announced yesterday that they had raided 38 locations and arrested seven people, as well as seizing more than 700 pounds of cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, amphetamines, marijuana, and hash. The bust was of only one seller on the dark website Evolution, but the Deep Dot Web blog, which closely tracks the online narcotics trade, calls the law enforcement operation the biggest Dark Web drug bust ever. Still, the vendor busted represented only a fraction of the 20,000 drug listings on Evolution, and that's just one dark web drug sales site.

Saudi Arabia Beheads Three For Drug Smuggling. A Yemeni, a Syrian, and a Saudi national were executed in the kingdom this week for smuggling amphetamines and hashish into the country. That makes about 20 drug executions so far this year in the county, about half of the 43 executions reported so far.

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