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Four Ways Fentanyl Could Radically Disrupt the Global Drug Trade

The synthetic opioid fentanyl isn't just killing American drug users by the thousands. Its emergence also signals a shift in the decades-old contours of the global drug trade, with ramifications not only for traditional drug-producing countries and drug trafficking networks but also for US foreign policy.

Black market fentanyl is not just wreaking havoc on the streets of American cities. (Creative Commons)
Synthesized from chemicals -- not from papaver somniferum, the opium poppy -- fentanyl is about 50 times stronger than heroin and is severely implicated in the country's drug overdose crisis, accounting for almost 20,000 deaths in 2016.

Illicit fentanyl is typically mixed with other opiates, such as heroin, resulting in much stronger doses of opioids than users expect, thus leading to opioid overdoses. But it is also increasingly also showing up in non-opiate drugs, resulting in fentanyl overdose deaths among unsuspecting methamphetamine and cocaine users.

But the havoc super-potent fentanyl is wreaking among drug users pales in comparison with the dramatic changes it could prompt in the global illicit drug production industry. As academic researchers Vanda Felbab-Brown, Jonathan Caulkins, and Keith Humphreys write in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, fentanyl's rise has the potential to cause disruption and innovation in black markets.

Here are four ways fentanyl alters the illegal drug production and distribution status quo:

1. It doesn't require an agricultural base. Virtually all of the other opioids on the black market, from heroin to morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, require land to grow poppies on. And they require land that is outside cdthe effective control of the state. Non-state actors who can control such areas, whether it's the Taliban in Afghanistan or the drug cartels in southern and western Mexico, reap the profits and power of that control. With the ascent of lab-produced fentanyl made out of chemicals, traditional opiate producers should see their profits and their influence undermined.

2. It doesn't require a large workforce. Traditional opium production requires a large seasonal workforce of people to plant and tend the poppies, score the pods and scrape off the leaking opium, and then process and package the raw opium. Other workers will get jobs processing raw opium into heroin. All of those jobs bring money into the hands of poor agricultural families and political capital to the traffickers, whether it's the Taliban in Afghanistan or the cartels in Mexico. With fewer job opportunities to offer up, the traffickers lose clout.

3. It doesn't require an elaborate smuggling infrastructure. Because fentanyl is so potent, small amounts of the drug can contain huge numbers of doses, and that means it doesn't require transportation networks of trucks, planes, and boats to get an agricultural crop from the valleys of Afghanistan or the mountains of Mexico to consumers in the US Fentanyl is so potent, medicinal doses are measured in micrograms, and packages of it worth hundreds of thousands of dollars can fit inside a Priority Mail envelope. With smuggling fentanyl as easy as dropping a package in the mail, international drug smuggling organizations now have competition they never had before.

4. All of this can change the dynamics of US foreign policy. If plant-based opiates lose market share to synthetics in the future, this can weaken both insurgencies (Afghanistan) and criminal networks (Mexico). Ever since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, drug warriors have been constrained in their efforts to go after the Afghan opium crops because of fears it would drive poppy-dependent peasants into the hands of the Taliban. If opium production becomes relatively less important vis-à-vis fentanyl production, that constraint on an aggressive US response to Afghan opium production is weakened. Similarly, in Mexico, to the degree that fentanyl displaces peasants and processors and weakens the link between drug cartels and rural populations, it increases the ability of the Mexican government and its American backers to crack down even harder on the cartels.

Under drug prohibition, there is a strong impetus to come up with more pure, more potent, and more compact products. Fentanyl is the ultimate expression of that imperative, and its arrival is changing the contours of the global drug industry. Who knows how it will play out?

Missouri Cops are Diverting School Funding and Making a Joke of State Law

Responding to myriad tales of abuses, like many other states, Missouri has reformed its asset forfeiture laws to require a criminal conviction before cash or property is seized and, in a bid to prevent "policing for profit," to require that money seized by state law enforcement agencies goes solely to the state's schools.

Under Missouri law, seized cash is supposed to go to the schools, but the cops have found an end-around. (Wikipedia)
Somebody needs to tell the cops. As Kansas City TV station KMBC reported, state and local law enforcement agencies seized more than $19 million in the past three years, but only some $340,000 has actually made it to the schools. That's a measly 2% of the cash seized.

That's because police, with the help of the Trump Justice Department, are doing an end run around the state law. Under the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing Program, which was suspended late in the Obama administration but reinstated last year by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, state and local law enforcement agencies can hand their cash-laden cases over to federal prosecutors instead of turning them in to local district attorneys. And when they do, the reporting agency gets to keep 80% of the seized cash, with the Justice Department getting the rest.

The scheme not only subverts state law by diverting much-needed funding for schools to police agencies, but also by allowing state and local cops to seize cash and goods under the federal law, which does not require a criminal conviction first. In this manner, Missouri's cops are not only ripping off the schools, they are also giving a big middle finger to the state's democratically elected representatives who passed the asset forfeiture reform law.

The cops like things just as they are.

"We can immediately put that back in our tool belt if you will," said Major Derek McCollum, the head of the Kansas City Police Department's Asset Forfeiture Squad. The money buys "computer type equipment, covert surveillance type equipment," McCollum told KMBC, adding that he didn't feel like law enforcement was taking money from the schools.

The Missouri School Board Association begs to differ.

"Absolutely, the constitution says it is," said association attorney Susan Goldammer of the forfeiture money. "We still have school districts that don't have air conditioning or have concerns about asbestos. We've got many, many school buildings in the state that are way more than 100 years old," she added.

Instead of turning forfeitures over to the state's school system, the state Highway Patrol spent $70,000 on new weapons. And in Phelps County, which sits astride the east-west throughway Interstate 44 and which profited the most from asset forfeiture, the sheriff spends the money on the department's buildings -- not school buildings.

State Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-St. Louis) is working on a partial fix. He has authored House Bill 1501, under which only cases involving more than $50,000 could be handed over to the feds. (He had originally pegged the figure at $100,000, but has now halved it after "pushback from law enforcement.")

Dogan told KMBC that cases over $50,000 account for about 20% of asset forfeiture cases statewide and that he believes many smaller seizures are from innocent victims or involve rights violations.

"We can eliminate that incentive for them to just take money or take property," Dogan said. "The government seizes their money and says, "we think you're a suspected drug dealer. The government never produces any drugs, never charges you with a crime and then you have to spend more than they've actually seized trying to get your property back. That's unfair."

The $100,000 version of Dogan's bill is currently stalled in the legislature. Facing law enforcement opposition, the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee voted in February to postpone action on it, and the bill has no hearings scheduled and is not on the House calendar.

Perhaps he can get the $50,000 version moving. In the meantime, Missouri's cops continue to perversely profit from prohibition, while the state's schools are out of luck.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Border Patrol agent goes to prison for helping pot smugglers, an NYPD cop gets nailed for agreeing to transport drugs for cash, a Florida crime scene tech gets busted stealing drugs from dead people, and more. Let's get to it:

In Lawrenceville, Georgia, a Gwinnett County sheriff's deputy resigned last Friday as investigators began questioning him about two kilograms of cocaine that were seized but never showed up as evidence. Deputy Antoine Riggins is a 14-year veteran and had been a member of a federal drug task force. In one case, three kilos of cocaine were seized, but only one was checked into evidence. He is also a suspect in two other cases of seized drugs that vanished. Criminal charges are expected in coming days.

In Pensacola, Florida, an Escambia County sheriff's crime scene technician was arrested last Friday for allegedly stealing drugs from dead people. Tech Christine Rollins, 41, went down after an internal investigation. She was charged with trafficking hydrocodone, trafficking oxycodone, petty theft, and possession of a controlled substance without a prescription.

In New York City, an NYPD officer was convicted last Thursday of transporting marijuana and cocaine for someone she thought was a drug dealer, but was actually an undercover officer. Nysia Stroud, 30, was assigned to the NYPD Fleet Services Division. She went down after agreeing to transport the contraband and was paid $1,000 each time she did so. She was found guilty of criminal possession of a controlled substance and official misconduct. Sentencing is set for June 4.

In Tucson, Arizona, a former Border Patrol officer was sentenced Monday to seven and a half years in federal prison for helping to smuggle marijuana into the country. Former agent Alberto Michel, 41, a nine-year veteran, admitted providing counter-surveillance assistance to smugglers, using the information he obtained as a member of the Intelligence Unit. In return, he would be paid $40 per pound of marijuana. He admitted receiving payments totaling $12,000. Michel was originally charged with six counts but ended up copping a plea to just two: conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana and a public official accepting a bribe.

Chronicle AM: NM Marijuana Poll, House Passes Limited Prison Reform Bill, More... (5/23/18)

A solid majority of New Mexicans support marijuana legalization, the House passes a limited prison -- but not sentencing -- reform bill, an Open Society Foundations report calls for increased opportunities for legal coca sales in Colombia, and more.

Colombian coca grower. A new report says more legal markets for the crop could reduce violence. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A poll from Research & Polling Inc. conducted in March but not released until yesterday has support for marijuana legalization at 63%. Respondents were asked if they would support a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. Support was up 2% over a similar poll in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

West Virginia Bid for Special Session to Address Marijuana Banking Issues Fizzles. The legislature concluded its may interim meetings Tuesday without securing enough signatures in the House of Delegates to force a special session to address marijuana banking issues. The legislature needed three-fifths of members in both the Senate and the House to force a special session. Enough senators signed on to meet that bar, but not enough delegates did.

Prison Reform

House Passes Prison Reform Bill Backed By Trump. The House easily passed a bipartisan prison reform bill Tuesday, but it faces a murky future in the Senate. House Resolution 5682 aims to reduce recidivism by providing training programs for prisoners. Powerful senators, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), however, are holding out for a more substantive bill that includes not just prison reforms, but also sentencing reforms. "For that deal to pass the Senate, it must include sentencing reform. At least as of now, that's something Sen. Durbin and I still are sticking together on," Grassley said at a Tuesday event on criminal justice reform.

International

Open Society Report Calls for Boosting Colombia's Legal Coca Market to Reduce Violence. A new report from Open Society Foundations calls on Colombia to move away from traditional drug eradication measures that have not proven successful and instead create policies that encourage coca farmers to stay out of the black market. The report says both international and Colombian law allow coca to be grown for legal purposes, and Colombia should move to increase that prospect.

The Movement to Expunge Marijuana Convictions in Legalization States Picks Up Steam [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, [email protected]

As marijuana legalization spreads into various states, some are allowing people who'd been previously been convicted of possession of a small amount of pot to clear their records.

Marijuana is now legal in nine states, but what about those old convictions? (IRIN News)
They have their convictions either wiped off their record forever under state expungement laws or, in some cases, have low-level felony marijuana convictions be reduced to misdemeanors. In another variation, a marijuana conviction can be sealed from public view pursuant to a court order under a state's nondisclosure law.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, over 574,000 American citizens were charged with simple possession in 2016.

"It really makes sense to not burden these people with a lifelong criminal record," Kate Bell, a lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project in Maryland, recently told the Washington Post.

Approximately 12 more states are considering marijuana legalization this year, with possibly more hopping on the express train as the continuing quest for marijuana legalization continue to roll down the tracks at full speed, making 2018 a pivotal year in the ever-growing movement to convince lawmakers to legalize pot in all 50 states.

"With over 60 percent of Americans now supporting the full legalization of marijuana for adults, the momentum behind marijuana law reform will not only continue but increase as we head into 2018," said NORML executive director Erik Altieri.

Seattle Mayor Jennie Durkan (D) has moved to clear old records.(Wikimedia)
People with prior marijuana convictions face a harsh reality when it comes to becoming a productive member of society with a criminal record. A simple marijuana conviction carries adverse consequences by diminishing a person's access to employment and higher education, military induction denial, and a person can even be denied access to fair housing, particularly apartment rentals.

Recently at least 4,900 Californians petitioned the courts to have their prior marijuana convictions expunged off their criminal record.

Washington state legalized marijuana in 2012, yet many convicted citizens have been burdened with criminal records for simple misdemeanor pot convictions while slick wealthy investors make a killing selling legal weed. Moving to redress the injustice, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced in February that the city will toss several hundred low-level misdemeanor marijuana cases.

"The war on drugs ended up being a war on people who needed help, who needed opportunity and who needed treatment," Durkan told a news conference at the time.

Similarly, prosecutors in San Francisco will throw out thousands of marijuana-related convictions dating back to 1975. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said earlier this year his office will dismiss and seal 3,038 misdemeanor convictions from before the state's legalization of marijuana went into effect, with no action necessary from those convicted.

The moves make perfect sense. What else should happen to convictions for a victimless crime when that victimless behavior is now no longer a crime? American University Law Professor Jenny Roberts has an idea.

"If you've made a legislative determination that this is no longer criminal; why would you want to continue to have people feeling the ramifications of something that people going forward will no longer have to suffer?" she asked.

And so has San Francisco DA George Gascon. (Wikimedia)
In many states that have legalized marijuana, lawmakers are moving in the same direction.

"Since this is now the law of Nevada, it's important we allow folks who have made these mistakes in the past to have their records sealed up," said Nevada Assemblyman William McCurdy, a Democrat who proposed a bill on the issue.

Oregon state law now allows people who'd been convicted of an ounce of marijuana or growing up to six marijuana plants to have their record sealed now that marijuana is legal.

But in Colorado, some lawmakers fought against the proposal. For example, the legislature considered a bill in 2014 to allow citizens to petition the courts to seal their criminal records for old convictions, but the bill died in committee after facing stiff opposition from prosecutors. The Colorado District Attorneys Council opposed the bill because, they argued, it allowed low-level drug dealers to wipe their records clean.

"There were many cases of (drug) distribution that were pleaded down to low-level (possession) felonies," said council executive director Thomas Raynes.

"The bill creates a horrible precedent by retrofitting criminal sanctions for past conduct every time a new law is changed or passed," objected Carolyn Tyler, spokeswoman for Republican Attorney General John Suthers.

This year, Colorado passed a less controversial law focused specifically on misdemeanor possession.

Nevada also suffered a mild setback. Governor Brian Sandoval (R) vetoed McCurdy's bill requiring judges to seal records and vacate judgments for marijuana offenses that are now legal.

"To the extent there are individuals suffering under criminal records for conduct now legal in Nevada, those cases are best handled on a case-by-case basis," Sandoval wrote in his veto statement. "Given other reforms to the sealing and expungement process in Nevada, a marijuana-specific law wasn't necessary," Sandoval added.

Although nearly a million people have been arrested for marijuana crimes in California during the past decade, according to Drug Policy Alliance, California courts only received 1,506 petitions from applicants requesting their marijuana conviction be sealed or expunged.

DPA further reported that more than 78,000 convictions qualify to be set aside in Oregon, yet few are seeking expungement. Oregon courts only received approximately 388 requests for set-asides in cases involving marijuana in 2015, with 453 in 2016, and 365 requests in 2017.

Courts are more likely, though, to reject petitioners with extensive criminal histories including violent crimes like murder, kidnapping, sexual assaults, money laundering and crimes involving large amount of drugs.

Marijuana is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana in 29 states. The following states are preparing marijuana offense expungement legislation:

California

Assembly Bill 1793, introduced by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-18th District), seeks to enact legislation that would allow the "automatic expungement or reduction of a prior cannabis conviction for an act that is not a crime as of January 1, 2017." Under Proposition 64, residents of California are now allowed to possess and purchase up to 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivate no more than six plants for personal use. The voter-approved measure, in addition to legalizing adult-use consumption, cultivation, and distribution -- allows individuals convicted of past criminal marijuana possessions to petition the courts to have those convictions expunged. An expensive and time-consuming venture for most individuals, the automatic expungement of records would be mandated by the passage AB-1793.

Massachusetts

H.2785, authored by Rep. Aaron Vega (D-5th District), and cosigned by 25 other elected officials, would allow for the expungement of "records of marijuana arrest, detention, conviction and incarceration." Marijuana use in Massachusetts was first decriminalized in 2008, with the voters approving medical marijuana just four years later in November 2012. Officially legalized for adult use on Nov. 8, 2016, residents are still waiting for their first recreational dispensary to open.

New Jersey

S.830, sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22nd District), would not only legalize the personal possession and use of small amounts of marijuana by those over the age of 21, the bill also allows a person convicted of a prior marijuana possession to present an application for expungement to the state's Superior Court.

Vermont

H.865, sponsored by Maxine Grad (D), Tom Burditt (R), Chip Conquest (D), would allow a person to file a petition with the court requesting expungement or sealing of the criminal history related to a conviction if "the person was convicted of an underlying offense for which the underlying conduct is no longer prohibited by law or designated as a criminal offense."

Chronicle AM: Manhattan DA to Quit Trying Small Pot Cases, Keeven Robinson Protests, More... (5/16/18)

Marijuana policy continues to roil New York, a US territory is on the verge of legalizing it, marchers protesting the killing of Keeven Robinson by Louisiana narcs demand justice, and more.

That's 55% supporting marijuana legalization -- in Georgia. (11 Alive screen grab)
Marijuana Policy

Georgia Poll Has Solid Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new Survey USA/11 Alive News poll has a solid majority for legalization. The poll found 55% in favor, with 35% opposed and 10% undecided. The level of support for legalization is up seven points over the last time the question was polled two years ago.

New York Legal Marijuana Could Generate $3 Billion in Revenues, Report Finds. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released an analysis Tuesday estimating that the adult legal market for marijuana in the state could be roughly $3.1 billion. Sales at that level would net as much as $436 million in tax revenues annually, including up to $335 million for New York City alone.

Manhattan DA Announces Plan to End Small-Time Marijuana Prosecutions. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. said Tuesday that his office would stop prosecuting people for smoking or possessing marijuana as of August 1. There would be an exception for cases where there is a clear public safety concern. Vance said the move was part of a broader effort to end the city's wide racial disparity in marijuana arrests and prosecutions.

Northern Marianas Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. A bill that would legalize marijuana and allow for legal, regulated, and taxed marijuana commerce passed the Senate of the Pacific US territory on Wednesday. The bill now goes to the House. If approved there, it would then go to the desk of Gov. Ralph Torres (R).

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Bill Would Expand Medical Marijuana System. Responding to Gov. Phil Murphy's (D) call to reform the state's medical marijuana program, a trio of state senators has filed a bill that would allow more dispensaries and grows to open, as well as permitting more medical professionals to recommend the drug to their patients. The bill, Senate Bill 10, is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Law Enforcement

Louisiana's Jefferson Parish NAACP Calls for Arrest of White Narcs Who Choked Black Drug Suspect to Death. As hundreds of protestors marched Monday night through East Jefferson to demand justice in the death of Keeven Robinson, 22, local NAACP head Gaylor Spiller called for the four white undercover officers involved to arrested on murder charges -- and not be placed on paid vacation while awaiting resolution of their cases. Four Jefferson Parish narcs chased Robinson through back yards and over fences before subduing him and leaving him dead. The parish coroner reported Monday that Robinson's death was a homicide caused by compression of his neck during his arrest. He was unarmed.

International

British Nurses Call for Legalizing Medical Marijuana. Members of the Royal College of Nursing have voted overwhelmingly in favor of lobbying the government to legalize medical marijuana. The nurses argued that if drugs such as morphine and fentanyl are legal, medical marijuana should be, too.

Four White Louisiana Narcs Choked This Young Black Man to Death in a Low-Level Drug Bust

New Orleans resident Keeven Robinson, 22, died after being arrested by Jefferson Parish narcotics officers last week. Police originally tried to blame his death on asthma, but now the Jefferson Parish coroner is telling a very different tale.

Keeven Robinson (Demone Robinson)
At a press conference Monday, Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich laid out what initial autopsy results uncovered: "Our initial autopsy findings reveal significant traumatic injuries to the neck, the soft tissue of the neck," he said. "These findings are consistent with compressional asphyxia. We are confident that at the end of our process, this is going to be the cause of death. Regarding manner of death, at this point, manner of death is homicide."

Cvitanovich was quick to point out that when he said "homicide," he did not mean in the legal sense, but in the sense that Robinson died as a result of the actions of others.

According to the sheriff's office, four undercover narcotics deputies, who Sheriff Joe Lopinto did not name but identified as white, were surveilling Robinson, a black man, as part of a drug dealing investigation and followed him to a gas station on Jefferson Highway late last Thursday morning.

When Robinson noticed the agents, who wore badges, approaching him, he attempted to drive off, but jumped from his car about a block away after running into two sheriff's vehicles. The narcs pursued Robinson in a foot chase as he leaped over fences before catching him in the back yard of a residence.

Again, according to the sheriff's office, the deputies then struggled with Robinson, who was carrying what they suspected to be heroin, before they managed to handcuff him. At that point, he stopped breathing. He was rushed to Oshsner Medical Center nearby, but died there.

Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies do not wear body cams.

Robinson was not armed, though Sheriff Lopinto said a gun was found in his car.

Lopinto originally said investigators were looking into whether Robinson's history of asthma contributed to his death, but his family immediately expressed skepticism about that possibility. They said they feared the narcs had either beaten or strangled him to death.

And the coroner's report is proving them correct. Jefferson Parish NAACP President Gaylor Spiller said she was pleased the coroner's office issued a ruling on Robinson's death so quickly and that "there was no cover up."

But Spiller was speaking prematurely. The investigation into the killing of Keeven Robinson is just getting started, and the inevitable finding that no one is criminally responsible is still months away. Call me cynical , or call me a student of what happens when police kill people.

In this case, an unarmed black drug suspect was choked to death by four white narcs. Who wants to bet on any of them being charged with a crime?

Chronicle AM: New York Pot Politics, MO Cops Diverting School Funds, UK Pill Testing, More... (5/15/18)

Marijuana policy is front and center in New York, Missouri cops are doing an end run around a state law requiring seized cash go the the state's schools, Britain sees its first permanent pill testing center for recreational drug users, and more.

Missouri cops hand seized cash off to the feds rather than let the state's schools get their hands on it. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

New York Democratic Party About to Endorse Marijuana Legalization. The state Democratic Party is expected to pass a resolution in support of marijuana legalization at its convention next week, a party document says. The move comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) faces a primary challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon, who has embraced legalization.

New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Report Coming Any Day Now. A long-awaited report on the impact of marijuana legalization in other states and how New York might be effected will be released "within days," Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday. "That report should be done shortly," Cuomo said. "How do you define shortly? It is supposed to be done by calendar, it should be done within days." Cuomo had opposed legalization, but has lately been shifting his ground. "To say well, it won't be in New York I think is to avoid reality at that point," Cuomo added. "The facts changed on this issue and the facts changed quickly."

New York City Mayor Says NYPD Will Change How It Enforces Marijuana Laws. Two days after the New York Times reported on continuing vast racial disparities in marijuana arrests in the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that the NYPD will be changing how it enforces the pot laws. "The NYPD will overhaul and reform its policies related to marijuana enforcement in the next 30 days," de Blasio said. "We must and we will end unnecessary arrests and end disparity in enforcement. It's time for those to be a thing of the past in New York City and all over this country.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Governor Okays University Research on Medical Marijuana. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has given the go-ahead for eight universities in the state to start studying medical marijuana. It would be the commonwealth's "first step towards clinical research" on the drug. He formally declared them to be "Certified Academic Clinical Research Centers."

Asset Forfeiture

Missouri Cops Steal Money From School Kids. Under state law, money seized as asset forfeitures by police is supposed to go to the state's schools, but that's not what's happening. Missouri law enforcement agencies seized more than $19 million in the last three years, but only $340,000, or about 2%, actually made it to schools. That's because law enforcement agencies instead turn asset forfeiture cases to the federal government under an arrangement that allows 80% of the seizure to go back to the seizing law enforcement agency. A bill to limit the practice was defeated last year, but is back again this year.

International

Britain Sees First Pill Testing Center. The first pill testing center for recreational drug users in Britain has opened in Bristol. Pill testing has gone on at a number of British music festivals, but the new pop-up lab is the first permanent installation. It will be run by a charity, which will also provide drug counseling sessions.

Georgian Government Promises New Drug Policy by June. In the wake of a weekend of drug busts and mass demonstrations against them, Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze said Monday the government will adopt a new, more liberal drug policy by the end of June. He said the ruling Georgian Dream Party was split on the issue, but added that he thought an agreement could be reached. "Even though there are different positions in the ruling party, we also have the resources to achieve an agreement. We want to draft a bill and submit it in the next two weeks, which will be a precondition for adopting a law by the end of June," he said, adding the main aim of the draft is to reduce drug consumption in the country and adoption of a more humane policy.

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

Chronicle AM: NYC Marijuana Arrest Disparities Continue, Drug Protests Shake Tbilisi, More ... (5/14/18)

New York City has yet to escape from racially disproportionate marijuana arrests, the Mormon Church picks a fight with medical marijuana, nursing homes can't discriminate against people taking addiction medications, protests rock the capital of Georgia after a massive weekend drug bust, and more.

NYPD seems to think marijuana users only come in the colors black and brown. (IRIN)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. A Tulsa-based group calling itself Green the Vote is now collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. Campaigners will need nearly 124,000 valid voter signatures by September 8 to qualify for the November ballot. A medical marijuana initiative is already set to go before the voters next month.

New York City Pot Bust Racial Disparities Aren't Going Away. A major investigation by the New York Times has found continued racial disparities in marijuana enforcement and arrests in every neighborhood in the City. "Across the city, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the past three years. Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people. In Manhattan, the gap is even starker: Black people there were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people."

Medical Marijuana

Mormon Church Ups the Ante in Fight Against Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative. The church last Friday doubled down on its opposition to the medical marijuana initiative set for the November ballot. The church released a seven-page memorandum raising dozens of complaints it says "raises grave concerns about this initiative and the serious adverse consequences that could follow if it were adopted."

Drug Treatment

Justice Department: Nursing Facilities Can't Exclude Patients Using Addiction Medication. The Justice Department has reached a settlement with a skilled nursing facility in which the facility agreed to pay a fine for excluding a patient because the patient was being treated for opioid use disorder with suboxone and agreed not to discriminate in the future. "Our office is committed to protecting the rights of people with disabilities, which includes those in treatment for an Opioid Use Disorder," United States Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said. "As Massachusetts faces this overdose epidemic, now more than ever, individuals in recovery must not face discriminatory barriers to treatment."

International

Taliban Kill Dozens of Afghan Police in Opium Trafficking Areas. In attacks late last week, Taliban fighters attacking Afghan police bases in Farah province, killing more than 30 police. The province, in the west of the country, contains vital opium smuggling routes into neighboring Iran. Opium from Afghanistan's primary opium province, Helmand, moves north into Farah before heading for the Iranian border.

Georgia Sees Mass Protests After Weekend Mass-Arrest Drug Raids. The capital, Tbilisi, was rocked by mass protests all weekend long after interior ministry police raided two popular nightclubs and arrested more than 60 people on drug charges. Protesters were demanding the freedom of those arrested and a liberalization of the country's drug policies, and were only persuaded to stop -- at least until next weekend -- after Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia promised the government would start working on drug reforms today. The protests also saw the emergence of ultra-rightist thugs who came out to counter-demonstrate.

Illinois Cop's Warning: If You Legalize Weed, We'll Have to Kill Our Drug Dogs

As the state legislature ponders a bill that could make Illinois the 10th state to legalize marijuana, law enforcement is getting nervous. Old anti-marijuana shibboleths have lost their potency, but the Macon County Sheriff's Office has a brand new reason not to free the weed: They will have to kill their drug dogs.

drug dog at work (Creative Commons)
As the Daily Pantagraph reported in an article about what happens to marijuana-sniffing drug dogs in states where it is legal, the dogs typically are trained to detect a number of drugs and it is difficult to retrain them not to alert on marijuana. Other states that have legalized it have either retired their pot-sensitive dogs, tried to retrain them, or used them to search for large, illicit amounts of marijuana.

But Chad Larner, training director of the K-9 Training Academy in Macon County, scoffed at the notion of retraining, saying it would be "extreme abuse" to try to do so, and "Larner said a number of dogs would likely have to be euthanized."

That claim is a ridiculous "red herring," Illinois NORML executive director Dan Linn told the Pantagraph. "The idea that legalizing for adults to have an ounce on them will equal… all these dogs being euthanized, that seems kind of ridiculous and hyperbolic," he said.

Other Illinois drug dog cops contacted by the Pantagraph largely agreed with Linn. They said retired drug dogs "typically live with their handlers" and they "dismissed the idea that any would be euthanized because of retirement."

The Macon County sheriff doesn't go as far as his drug dog trainer, but he is a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization because… drug dogs.

"The biggest thing for law enforcement is, you're going to have to replace all of your dogs," said Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett. "So to me, it's a giant step forward for drug dealers, and it's a giant step backwards for law enforcements and the residents of the community."

Sheriff Buffett isn't just any sheriff. He's the son of Omaha billionaire investor Warren Buffett, and he's used his family wealth both to finance law enforcement spending in the county and to basically buy his way into the sheriff's office. Earlier this year, he announced that his Howard G. Buffett Foundation was donating $1.4 million to the county to pay for everything from new records systems to new guns and ballistic vests. He was appointed to his position by retiring Sheriff Thomas Schneider last September and will serve until a new sheriff is elected in November.

Buffett also financed drug dogs across the state. His foundation paid $2.2 million in 2016 to support drug dog units in 33 Illinois counties. No wonder he and his employees are doing the 2018 version of the classic National Lampoon cover: "Buy This Magazine or We'll Kill This Dog."

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