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Bulldozed to Death for Growing Ten Marijuana Plants

Getting caught growing a few pot plants in Pennsylvania could lead to a criminal charge and a likely sentence of probation, but for a Lehigh Valley man, it was a death sentence. This past Monday, 51-year-old Gregory A. Longenecker was found dead under a bulldozer operated by a state Game Commission worker and carrying a state trooper hunting for two men spotted near a freshly-discovered marijuana grow.

According to the Pennsylvania State Police, the Game Commission bulldozer operator was using the machine to improve access to fields on game lands when he spotted a car well off the road in the brush and called police. Officers from nearby Bernville Borough were first on the scene and quickly found a plot containing ten growing marijuana plants.

The cops saw two men emerge from the underbrush and take off running, said Trooper David Boehm, a state police spokesman. "They were back there doing whatever they have to do to their plants," he said. "It was kind of carved out of the underbrush, which I've never seen underbrush that thick ever. It was crazy how thick it was."

The two men were Longenecker and his long-time friend David Brook Light, 54. Light was quickly taken into custody by the Bernville chief of police, but Longenecker eluded immediate capture. The state police arrived on the scene and ordered one of their helicopters to join the search. The chopper pilot spotted Longenecker in the brush but then lost him. Meanwhile, a state trooper and the bulldozer operator were roaring through the brush looking for him.

"An attempt to hail the other male was unsuccessful," Beohm said in a news release. "The helicopter lost sight of the male and was giving directions to the bulldozer of his last location. The Game Commission employee and a Trooper were on the bulldozer driving through the thick underbrush. The bulldozer stopped in the underbrush. The second male was located under the rear of the bulldozer deceased."

That's right: Confronted with a small-scale illicit marijuana grow on public land, the State Police deployed a helicopter and the on-scene bulldozer and managed to kill their target. But that's not how the cops tried to spin it.

First, Trooper Boehm denied that Longenecker died as a result of a police pursuit. "They were just trying to locate this guy with use of a helicopter," he explained.

Then he suggested that Longenecker may have died of natural causes. "The reason it's unclear if Longenecker was struck and killed by the bulldozer is that Longenecker, because of his age, could have had a heart attack while fleeing through the dense thicket," Boehm said.

But that attempted diversion was foiled on Tuesday when the preliminary autopsy report came out. That report found that Longenecker died of traumatic injuries after being run over by the bulldozer. A final ruling on the cause of death awaits toxicology tests, but it is clear that he died after being run over by the bulldozer.

The case has aroused the ire of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which has denounced what it calls the excessive use of force by state law enforcement.

"This awful event could have and should have been prevented," said national NORML executive director Erik Altieri. "This tragedy is a direct result of our nation's draconic and failed criminalization of marijuana. Not only was the use of resources in this matter excessive and the tactics highly questionable, but more importantly a man lost his life over the act of growing a plant that is now legally regulated in a majority of US states. No matter your opinion on marijuana legalization, the penalty for growing cannabis should never be an extrajudicial death sentence."

"As a former prosecutor and practicing criminal defense attorney, it is inconceivable to me that a man lost his life during an investigation of a very small grow," said Pittsburgh NORML executive director Patrick Nightengale. "Had he been arrested, prosecuted and convicted, Pennsylvania's sentencing guidelines would have provided for a sentence of probation. The heavy-handed tactics employed cannot be justified by the seizure of ten plants. I do not understand why law enforcement couldn't simply wait. A vehicle was on scene and another individual was taken into custody. Rip the plants, run the plate and ask the arrestee what his friend's name is. How difficult is that?"

Medical marijuana is already legal in 31 states, including Pennsylvania, and legal marijuana for adults is already permitted in nine states and Washington, DC. A bill to legalize marijuana in the state failed to advance this year, even though 59% of state residents support freeing the weed.

"As an activist and cannabis lobbyist in Pennsylvania, I always use decorum and process to my advantage. There would seem to have been a total lack of both by law enforcement this past Monday outside of Bernville. By all accounts the death of an illicit marijuana grower being chased by a state bulldozer, under the direction of Pennsylvania State Troopers, was an unnecessary and reckless use of resources," said Jeff Riedy, executive director of Lehigh Valley NORML. "These horrible events only fuel the need for marijuana reform, including the right for personal use and home cultivation in our state, and across this country. Endless pursuit at all costs, leading to the death of a suspect, over a few marijuana plants is excessive, to say the least."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Tennessee sheriff's head narc is under investigation for stealing stuff at a drug bust, cops in Georgia and Vermont go to prison for stealing from the evidence locker, and more. Let's get to it:

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a Rutherford County sheriff's lieutenant was placed under investigation Monday after being accused of stealing property seized during a drug bust. Lt. Jason Mathis, a 20-year veteran, is the head of the department's narcotics unit. He does not yet face any criminal charges, but an investigation is underway and he could be hit with a count of official misconduct. Dozens of criminal drug cases could be in jeopardy if he is charged.

In Bernice, Louisiana, a former Bernice police officer was arrested last Wednesday for unspecified misdeeds and allegedly threatening people who knew about them. Christopher Kevin Henry was fired after an investigation began in May and arrested by the narcotics unit after testing positive for methamphetamine last week.

In Burlington, Vermont, a former Royalton police officer was sentenced last Thursday to six months in prison after admitting stealing drugs from the department's evidence locker. John Breault confessed that he stole the drugs for a friend and for a woman with whom he had a relationship last year. He pleaded guilty in March to federal heroin distribution charges.

In Dalton, Georgia, a former Tunnel Hill police officer was sentenced last Thursday to five years in prison for stealing weapons and seized drug money from the police department. Scott Reneau had pleaded guilty to six counts each of theft and violation of office by a public official. Reneau went down after county officials ordered an audit into missing forfeiture money and weapons in 2016.

Chronicle AM: MX Minister Talks Legalizing Drugs, BC Nurses in Canada Decrim Call, More... (7/18/18)

BC nurses talk drug decriminalization, a Mexican minister talks drug legalization, House Republicans on a key committee once again block House votes on marijuana amendments, and more.

Mexico's incoming government is talking about legalizing drugs. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Rules Committee Once Again Blocks Marijuana Reform Votes. The Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), has once again blocked marijuana reform amendments from being voted on by the full House. On Monday night, the committee blocked votes on two amendments, bringing the total of amendments it has blocked to 36 in this session.

Arizona Federal Prosecutors Now Charging Marijuana Smugglers With Illegal Entry, Too. Federal prosecutors in Arizona have announced a policy shift in which they will now charge the hundreds of people caught each year smuggling marijuana across the border with immigration violations as well as drug charges. Under the new policy, prosecutors will now seek six-month sentences for misdemeanor illegal entry as well as six-month sentences for marijuana violations. While the sentences would run concurrently, a conviction for crossing the border illegally could be used as a sentencing enhancement in future convictions.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Medical Marijuana Patient Registry Delayed. The patient registry has been put on hold as regulators try to figure out when medical marijuana when actually be available to patients. The registry was supposed to go online last week. The state Department of Commerce has yet to set a date when it expects medical marijuana to be available.

Oklahoma Attorney General Advises Health Board to Change Restrictive Rules on Medical Marijuana. The office of the state attorney general is advising the Board of Health to revisit its restrictive rules for the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. On Monday, Attorney General Mike Hunter said his office would review legal challenges to the rules, and on Wednesday, the office announced it was calling on the board to convene a special meeting to amend the rules it passed last week. "The current rules contain provisions that are inconsistent with the plain language of State Question 788 and the State Board of Health acted outside of its authority when it voted to implement them," Attorney General Hunter said. "Although I didn't support State Question 788, the people of the state have spoken and I have a legal duty to honor the decision made by the electorate. My advice today is made pursuant to that responsibility as attorney general. Moving forward, I encourage all stakeholders to engage with the legislative working group looking at medical marijuana to ensure they have their concerns and recommendations heard and addressed by the legislature."

International

British Columbia Nurses Join Call for Canada Drug Decriminalization. The BC Nurses Union said in a press release Tuesday that the federal government should declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency and that the possession of personal amounts of opioids should be decriminalized. The move comes just days after the Toronto board of health made a similar call.

Mexico Will Consider Drug Legalization, Interior Minister Says. Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero said Tuesday that that incoming President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) had given her "carte blanche" to consider legalizing drugs. "On the subject of decriminalizing drugs, Andres Manuel told me, and I quote: 'Carte blanche. Whatever is necessary to restore peace in this country. Let's open up the debate,'" Sanchez Cordero said. She pointed to the bloody violence of the past decade: "What no one can deny with hard data is that, at least in the past ten years, the Mexican government has been incapable of stopping violence and responding to it with institutional mechanisms," she said.

Chronicle AM: OK Medical Marijuana Muddle, Toronto Health Board Says Decriminalize, More... (7/17/18)

The uproar in Oklahoma grows louder after the state health board messes with the medical marijuana initiative, Toronto's health board endorses drug decriminalization, and more.

A battle is brewing in Oklahoma after the state health board messes with the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative. (DPA)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Pressure Mounts for Special Session on Medical Marijuana. Amid growing outrage over the Board of Health's imposition of restrictive and controversial changes to State Question 788, approved last month by voters, legislators and others are demanding Gov. Mary Fallin (R) call a special session of the legislature to ensure the will of the voters is upheld. Among other changes, the Board banned the sale of smokable marijuana and required pharmacists to be present at dispensaries. "This is not what the voters voted for," said state Rep. Jason Lowe (D-Oklahoma City). "We must adhere to the will of the people. The governor's signing of the emergency rules adopted by the Oklahoma State Health Department is an affront to democracy, an insult to the law-abiding citizens that showed up to vote for this initiative."

Drug Testing

Massachusetts High Court Holds Judges Can Require Drug Users to Remain Drug-Free. The state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday that a judge can require a drug user to stay drug-free as a condition of probation. The case involved Julie Eldred, who was on probation for a larceny charge when she was jailed for failing a drug test. Her attorney argued that her relapse was a symptom of her disease of addiction and that it was unconstitutional to punish someone for a medical condition. But the court disagreed: "In appropriate circumstances, a judge may order a defendant who is addicted to drugs to remain drug-free as a condition of probation, and that a defendant may be found to be in violation of his or her probation by subsequently testing positive for an illegal drug."

International

Toronto Public Health Board Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The health board in Canada's largest city has called on the federal government to decriminalize all drugs. The board voted unanimously Monday to endorse the recommendation from the city's top health officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa. "The potential harms associated with any of these drugs is worsened when people are pushed into a position where they have to produce, obtain and consume those drugs illegally, so that's what we're trying to address," de Villa said, with a call for a "public health approach" focused on treatment and harm minimization rather police, courts and jail. Officials in Vancouver have also called for drug decriminalization, but the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn't shown any appetite for it.

Chronicle AM: CA Legal Pot Draft Rules Unveiled, Opioid Crackdown Hurts Pain Patients, More... (7/16/18)

California regulators issue proposed draft regulations for the legal marijuana market, British police are "in effect" decriminalizing marijuana, the opioid crackdown is impacting chronic pain patients, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Legal Marijuana Draft Regulations Unveiled. State regulators last Friday unveiled their much-anticipated draft of permanent regulations for the state's legal marijuana industry. Under the proposed regulations, pot shops would be able to deliver marijuana anywhere in the state, medical marijuana patients will likely be able to buy edibles more potent than currently permitted, but rules for advertising products could become more strict. The public now has 45 days to weigh in on the draft rules, either in writing or at one of 10 hearings to be held throughout the state.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Crackdown on Opioid Prescriptions Risks Leaving Pain Patients Out of Luck. With the country in the midst of a battle against opioid addiction and overdoses, policies to curtail the use of opioids are impacting chronic pain patients and making their lives more difficult. New prescribing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, new state laws, state medical board sanctions, and policy changes by managed-care and prescription plans have all contributed to what pain patients call "changes have ignored the treatment of their pain and have made it harder for many to find care."

Drug Testing

Minnesota Appeals Court Rules That People With Drug Convictions Can't Be Subjected to Drug Tests Forever to Receive Welfare Benefits. The state Court of Appeals ruled Monday that people with previous drug convictions cannot be permanently required to undergo drug testing as a condition of receiving welfare benefits. The ruling came in the case of a woman convicted of drug possession in 1997 who refused to take a drug test in 2016 and lost her benefits. Under a 1997 state law, people convicted of drug offenses are ineligible for benefits for five years after their sentences are over (unless they've completed drug treatment) and are subject to random drug tests in perpetuity. "Granting effect to the [Department of Human Services'] current interpretation of the statute would require persons receiving MSA or general-assistance benefits to undergo chemical testing indefinitely, even if decades have passed since the completion of a court-ordered sentence," Judge Roger Klaphake wrote on his opinion overturning a denial of benefits to the woman. "Those who, like appellant, have long since completed their court-ordered sentences and five-year period of ineligibility are not ''[p]ersons subject to the limitations of this subdivision' and are not required to undergo chemical testing for receipt of benefits under chapter 256D," he wrote on behalf of a divided three-judge panel.

International

Brazil Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. The opposition Workers' /Party has filed a bill that would legalize marijuana in South America's largest and most populous country. The move comes a year after Supreme Court Justice Roberto Barroso called on lawmakers to legalize marijuana as a means of reducing gang violence. But given that the Workers' Party is the minority, this bill is unlikely to move this year.

British Police "In Effect" Decriminalizing Marijuana. British police are effectively decriminalizing marijuana by not bothering to arrest pot smokers, British arrest statistics show. Marijuana arrests have dropped 19% since 2015 and so have warnings, which declined 34% in the same period. "The fall in prosecutions and cautions for cannabis possession is a welcome trend and a victory for common sense," said Liberal Democrat MP David Lamb. "The 'war on cannabis' unfairly stigmatizes and criminalizes young people who are doing no harm to others, while tying up police resources which should be better used tackling harmful crimes. However, this issue should not be left to individual police forces. We cannot tolerate a postcode lottery where cannabis users may or may not be prosecuted depending on where they live. The government must bring forward proposals for a regulated cannabis market in the interests of public health, with strict controls on price and potency, and give parliament a free vote."

EVENT: Human Rights Challenge: Judicial and Extrajudicial Drug War Killings, in a Time of Authoritarianism

Human Rights Challenge: Judicial and Extrajudicial Drug War Killings, in a Time of Authoritarianism
side event at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
Church Center of the United Nations, 1st Avenue & 44th Street, 10th Floor
July 16, 2018, noon-2:00pm ET
RSVP to [email protected] (requested but not required)

The rise of authoritarian or authoritarian-leaning political figures has been accompanied, in some cases driven, by calls for both sanctioned and extra-legal government violence in their crime and drug policies. The most noted example is that of extrajudicial drug war killings in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte. But similar killings have begun in Indonesia and Bangladesh, and high-level political figures in countries including Malaysia and Turkey have called for extra-legal violence by law enforcers. In March of this year, President Trump called for the death penalty for some drug offenses, and Attorney General Sessions issued a memo calling for use of two never prosecuted drug death penalties provisions of dubious constitutionality.

A devolution into governmental barbarism would threaten the achievement of a variety of components of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, in the areas of health, rule of law, equal justice, peace, and strong institutions.

This panel will discuss what the needed partnerships may be for fending off such a scenario. Sectors or institutions of possible discussion include the ICC, UN human rights bodies, national human rights institutions, courts, public interest/human rights law, drug abuse services, the philanthropic sector, and media, among others. The event is the third in a series, the first two of which took place at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs 2017 and 2018 meetings in Vienna.

Speakers (subject to change):

  • Justine Balane, International Secretary, Akbayan Youth, Philippines (via Skype)
  • Agnès Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions (via Skype)
  • Senator Risa Hontiveros, Republic of the Philippines (video – invited)
  • Jason Wright, Professor of Practice, Washington & Lee School of Law
  • Moderated by David Borden, Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org

Sponsored by DRCNet Foundation (AKA "StoptheDrugWar.org"). Cosponsored by:

  • Asian Network of People Who Use Drugs
  • Dianova International
  • Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines
  • FAAAT.net - French Alternatives on Addiction And Toxicomanies
  • Fields of Green for All
  • Filipino American Human Rights Alliance
  • Help Not Handcuffs
  • Housing Works
  • International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines
  • Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation
  • New York NGO Committee on Drugs
  • Northern California Chapter, National Ecumenical-Interfaith Forum for Filipino Concerns
  • REDUC - Brazilian Harm Reduction and Human Rights Network
  • Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
  • Students for Sensible Drug Policy
  • United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society
  • Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network
Location: 
777 UN Plaza
New York, NY
United States

Chronicle AM: Oklahoma Legalization Init, New DEA Opioid Regs, Sri Lanka to Hang Drug Dealers, More... (7/11/18)

An Oklahoma marijuana legalization initiative is in the midst of signature gathering, the DEA announces new regulations aimed at the opioid crisis, Sri Lanka cites the Philippines' "success" as it moves to resume hanging drug offenders, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Has a Month Left to Meet Signature Requirement. A marijuana legalization initiative, State Question 797, has until August 8 to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Organizers need 123,724 valid voter signatures to qualify, and have gathered more than 80,000 in two months of canvassing. To have a safe cushion, organizers need to roughly double their signature count in the remaining weeks.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Issues Cultivator Licenses. The state Medical Marijuana Commission has awarded cultivation licenses to five medical marijuana businesses. The move comes after an injunction blocking the move was lifted. Another 90 potential medical marijuana businesses were out of luck, but the commission will keep their applications on hand in case one of the five awarded licenses is revoked or if the commission decides to award the three additional licenses it could issue.

Oklahoma Approves Emergency Rules for Medical Marijuana, Bans Sale of Smokable Medicine. The state Board of Health on Tuesday approved a proposed draft of emergency rules for the state's new medical marijuana program, but also voted to prohibit the sale of smokable marijuana at dispensaries. Licensed medical marijuana patients could still smoke it if they grew their own.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Department of Justice Announces Regulatory Steps to Address Opioid Epidemic. The Department of Justice announced new guidelines that it says will enable the DEA to clamp down on diversion of prescription opioids. The announcement doesn't address whether patients who need the drugs for pain will still be able to get them:

 

"The Department of Justice today announced the finalization of an April proposal to improve the Drug Enforcement Administration's ability to control the diversion of dangerous drugs in the midst of the national opioid crisis. Announced in April by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the final rule sent for publication today in the Federal Register establishes that DEA will take into consideration the extent that a drug is diverted for abuse when it sets its annual opioid production limits," the DEA said in a press release Tuesday. "If DEA believes that that a particular opioid or a particular company's opioids are being diverted for misuse, this allows DEA to reduce the amount that can be produced in a given year. These revised limits will encourage vigilance on the part of opioid manufacturers, help DEA respond to the changing drug threat environment, and protect the American people from potentially addictive drugs while ensuring that the country has enough opioids for genuine medical, scientific, research and industrial needs."

 

International

Philippines Wants to Drug Test All High School, College Students. In what is actually a retreat from an earlier proposal to require mandatory drug testing for students as young as elementary school, the Philippines DEA is now proposing the mandatory drug testing of all high school and college students. But the move would require a change of law. Current Philippines law only allows for random -- not universal -- drug testing of students.

Sri Lanka to Begin Hanging Drug Dealers. President Maithripala Sirisena told his cabinet Wednesday he was "ready to sign the death warrants" of repeat drug offenders. "From now on, we will hang drug offenders without commuting their death sentences," he said. While the death penalty for drugs remains on the books in Sri Lanka, no one has been executed for a drug offense since 1976. The government said it would try to replicate the "success" of hardline drug policies in the Philippines.

Chronicle AM: ME MedMJ Expansion Moves Ahead, CA MJ Arrests Drop Big-Time, More... (7/10/18)

California marijuana arrests plummet post-legalization (duh!), Maine lawmakers slap down a Paul LePage veto and expand medical marijuana, Toronto's chief medical officer calls for drug decriminalization, and more.

More of these will be coming soon to Maine after legislators easily overrode a Paul LePage veto. (Creative Commons)
California Marijuana Arrests in Drop 56% Following Passage of Prop. 64, but Racial Disparities Remain. Arrests for marijuana offenses dropped precipitously following the legalization of marijuana in November 2016. Felony pot arrests dropped 75% between 2016 and 2017, while misdemeanor busts declined from 5,861 in 2016 to 3,979 in 2017. But blacks and Hispanics continued to be arrested at higher rates than whites. Blacks and Hispanics accounted for 61% of felony arrests and 59% of all misdemeanor arrests.

Medical Marijuana

Maine Lawmakers Override Governor's Veto of Medical Marijuana Expansion. The legislature has overwhelmingly overridden Gov. Paul LePage's (R) veto of a bill, L.D. 1539. allowing patients to use marijuana if a doctor deems it medically beneficial, grant six new medical dispensary licenses, permit caregivers to expand their business operations and give the state and municipalities more power to regulate them.

Oklahoma Losers Now Want to "Fix" Medical Marijuana Initiative. Opponents of State Question 788, the medical marijuana initiative approved by voters last month, are now demanding changes in the measure. At a Monday press conference, a coalition of medical groups called for three changes to the initiative: requiring dispensaries to have pharmacists on staff, limiting the number of dispensary licenses, and banning the sale of smokeable forms of weed. The state Health Department was meeting Tuesday to vote on proposed rules, but it does not appear the department is going to consider the proposals from the medical coalition.

International

Toronto's Chief Medical Officer Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Dr. Eileen de Villa, chief medical officer for the city of Toronto, has urged the city's board of health to call on the federal government to decriminalize the possession of all drugs. She is also recommending Ottawa convene a task force made up of people who use drugs, alongside experts in policy, health care, human rights, mental health and criminal justice experts "to explore options for the legal regulation of all drugs in Canada."

British Labor Party Launches Campaign for Drug Policy Reform. The party rolled out its Labor Campaign for Drug Policy Reform on Monday. The campaign will provide a forum for members to discuss British drug policy. The Tory government's current prohibitionist policy "plays into the hands of organized crime," said MP Jeff Smith, who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform. "This government's approach is lining the pockets of organized criminals while forcing taxpayers to live with the costs associated with drug abuse and preventing vulnerable users from getting the support they need. This year we've seen progressive drug policies implemented across Europe, and at a local level here in the UK, but now it's time for national leadership on this issue."

Chronicle AM: Fed Judge Tired of Jailing Pot People, AI to Vote on New Drug Policy, More... (7/6/18)

There will be no marijuana legalization measure on the Arizona ballot this year, a federal judge is sick of sending probationers to jail for marijuana, Amnesty International is set to vote on a new drug policy stance, and more.

Is Philippines President Duterte using the war on drugs to assassinate political foes? Human rights watchers say yes.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Says Enough Already on Punishing Marijuana Users. Brooklyn, New York, US District Court Judge Jack Weinstein said Thursday he has been too hard on marijuana users, and that's going to end. He criticized federal probation officers for demanding sentences of supervised release for people caught with small amounts of marijuana. His comments came in his ruling in a case where a 22-year-old on probation got caught with marijuana. Instead of sending him to jail, Weinstein cut short his probation sentence.

Arizona Legalization Initiative Comes Up Way Short on Signatures. A legalization initiative from Safer Arizona will not be on the November ballot after organizers missed the Thursday deadline to hand in signatures. The group needed 150,000 valid voter signatures to qualify and had planned to gather 225,000 to provide a cushion, but admitted it had only come up with 75,000 raw signatures so far.

International

Amnesty International to Vote on New Positions on Drug Policy. One of the world's leading human rights groups will be debating proposals to tackle the devastating human rights consequences of "misguided attempts" by countries to criminalize and punish people for using drugs. The proposed new policy "would call for a shift away from the current 'scorched-earth' approach of heavy-handed criminalization, to an approach where protection of people's health and rights are at the center." The question will be taken up during the group's Global Assembly later this year.

Report Calls for Coca Leaf to Be Legalized in Colombia. A new report from Open Society Foundations, "Coca Industrialization: A Path To Innovation, Development and Peace In Colombia," calls for coca to be legalized and calls on the Colombian government to guarantee small farmers protection from prosecution, support research into coca's nutritional properties, and promote the use of coca among indigenous communities.

Philippines Rights Group Say Duterte Is Assassinating Political Opponents Under Cover of Drug War. At least ten Filipino mayors have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, including two in the past week. Human rights groups said Duterte is using the drug war to crack down on political opponents. The deaths of the mayors strikes fear into the hearts of "politicians, especially in the provinces, who are then forced to toe Duterte's line," said Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Mexico's President-Elect Looks for Ways to End the Drug Wars [FEATURE]

Last Sunday, leftist politician Andres Manuel López Obrador -- often referred to with the acronymic AMLO -- won the Mexican presidency in a landslide. When he takes office in December, with his party in control of both houses of the Mexican Congress, Mexico's drug policies are likely to see some radical changes.

AMLO in front of picture of his favorite Mexican president, Benito Juarez (Creative Commons)
Just what AMLO does will have significant consequences on both sides of the border. His policies will impact how much heroin and cocaine make it to the streets of America, as well as how many Mexicans flee north to escape prohibition-related violence, and how much drug money flows back into Mexico, corrupting politicians, police, and the military.

That AMLO -- and Mexico -- want change is no surprise. A vigorous campaign against the country's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- unleashed by rightist president Felipe Calderon in 2006 brought the Mexican military into the fight, but instead of defeating the cartels, the campaign, still ongoing under President Enrique Pena Nieto, has instead led to record levels of corruption and violence.

In 2012, when both the U.S. and Mexico had presidential elections and the drug war death toll was around 15,000, Mexico's drug prohibition-related violence was big news north of the border. But in the years since then, as US attention to Mexico's drug wars wavered, it's only gotten worse. Last year, Mexico saw more than 30,000 murders, and the cumulative drug war toll in the past dozen years is more than 200,000 dead and tens of thousands of "disappeared."

But the toll runs deeper than just a count of the casualties. The relentless drug war violence and the endemic corruption of police forces, politicians, and even sectors of the military by cartels have had a deeply corrosive effect on the citizenry and its belief in the ability of the country's political institutions to address the problem.

López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, campaigned heavily on the need for change, especially around drug policy, corruption, and public safety. "Abrazos, no balazos" ("hugs, not gunfights") was one of his favorite campaign slogans. AMLO campaigned cautiously, hammering away at crime, corruption, and violence and mentioning different drug policy-related changes, but not coming out with specific policy proposals. Still, from his own remarks and those of people who will be assuming key positions in his administration, we can begin to sketch an outline of what those policies may look like.

Marijuana Legalization

Mexico is one of the world's largest marijuana producers (although the local industry has been taking a hit in recent years from completion north of the border), it has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the herb, and it has legalized medical marijuana.

AMLO's pick for interior minister, former Supreme Court official Olga Sánchez Cordero has made no secret of her plans to seek full legalization and said this week that AMLO may seek a public referendum to gauge popular support for it. "Why maintain pot prohibition when Canada and US states are legalizing it, she said. "What are we thinking? Tell me. Killing ourselves. Really, keep on killing when... North America is decriminalizing?"

Drug Legalization

The possession of personal use amounts of all drugs has been decriminalized in Mexico since 2009, but that hasn't stopped the violence. AMLO and his advisors say he is open to considering taking the next step and legalizing all drugs.

"We'll analyze everything and explore all the avenues that will let us achieve peace. I don't rule out anything, not even legalization -- nothing," AMLO told the New Yorker during the campaign.

"The war on drugs has failed," wrote Sánchez Cordero. "Nothing contributes to peace by legislating on the basis of more criminal punishment and permanent confrontation. Violence is not fought with violence, as López Obrador rightly points out."

Drug legalization would be a radical step, indeed. It probably isn't going to happen under AMLO, since that would pit Mexico not only against the US, but also against the international anti-drug treaties that serve as the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. But he is putting the idea squarely on the table.

Amnesty

As a candidate, AMLO floated the idea of amnesty for those involved in the drug trade, a notion that created huge controversy and forced his campaign to clarify that it did not mean cutting deals with bloody-handed cartel leaders or their henchmen. Instead, his campaign clarified, he was referring to peasants growing drug crops and other low-level, nonviolent workers in the illicit business.

"Kidnappers? No," said Sánchez Cordero about possible amnesty recipients. "Who? The people working in rural areas, who are criminals because they work in the illegal drug business, but haven't committed crimes such as murder or kidnapping."

Mexican soldiers have been enlisted to fight the drug war. AMLO wants them to return to the barracks. (Creative Commons)
Demilitarization and Policing Reforms

For the past 12 years, the Mexican military has been called on to fight the cartels and suppress the drug trade. But the level of violence has only increased, the military is implicated in massive human rights violations (as can only be expected when a government resorts to soldiers to do police work), and finds itself subject to the same corrupting influences that have turned state and local police forces into virtual arms of the competing cartels.

With regard to cartel violence, AMLO repeatedly said on the campaign trail that "you don't fight fire with fire" and that what was needed was not soldiers on the streets, but social and economic assistance for the country's poor and unemployed -- to give them options other than going to work for drug gangs. Just this week, AMLO announced a $5 billion package of scholarships and job training support for the young.

Still, AMLO isn't going to send the soldiers back to the barracks immediately. Instead, says one of his security advisors, his goal is to do it over the next three years. He has also proposed replacing the military presence in the drug war with a 300,000-person National Guard, composed of both military and police, a notion that has been bruited by earlier administrations as a means of effectively replacing tainted state and local police participation.

Here, AMLO is not nearly as radical as with some of his other drug policy proposals. He as much as concedes that the bloody drug wars will continue.

"I'm not overwhelmed by any of it," Eric L. Olson, an expert on Mexico and security at the Wilson Center in Washington, told the Washington Post. "It falls well within the norm for what other politicians have been saying."

The US-Mexico Relationship

Over the past couple of Mexican administrations, Mexican security agencies have cooperated closely with their U.S. counterparts in the DEA and FBI. It's not clear whether that level of cooperation will be sustained under AMLO. When he was running for president in 2012, he called for blocking US intelligence work in Mexico, but during this campaign, he insisted he wanted a strong relationship with the US on security and trade issues.

While Mexico may chafe under the continued threats and insults of President Trump, it benefits from security cooperation with the US and would like to see the US do more, especially about the flow of guns south across the border.

"We are going to ask for the cooperation of the United States" on gun trafficking, said Alfonso Durazo, one of AMLO's security advisers, repeating an ongoing refrain from Mexican politicians.

Mexico has also benefited from DEA intelligence that allowed it to kill or capture numerous cartel figures. But AMLO is a much pricklier personality than his predecessor, and between Trump's racist Mexico- and immigrant-bashing and his imposition of tariffs on Mexican exports, US-Mexico relations could be in for a bumpy few years. AMLO's moves on changing drug policies at home are also likely to sustain fire from the White House, further inflaming tensions.

"The bottom line is he's not going to fight the drug war in the way that it's been fought in the last few decades," David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego who is an expert on security issues in Mexico told the Post. "That is potentially a huge change."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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