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Bad News from Brazil: The Right Populist President-Elect Will Be Absolutely Horrid on Drug Policy [FEATURE]

The far rightist Jair Bolsonaro won Sunday's presidential election with 55 percent of the vote. His victory promises to push Latin America's largest democracy to the right in many arenas, including drug policy, where his past pronouncements place him firmly in the camp of murderous anti-drug reform authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has presided over a war on drug sellers and users that has left more than 20,000 dead at the hands of police and shadowy vigilante death squads.

Jair Bolsonaro (Creative Commons)
Despite a highly divisive candidacy that included repeated derogatory comments aimed at gays, women, black people, and indigenous peoples, his victory over the Workers Party, which has been tarnished by corruption scandals, was decisive. Bolsonaro seems likely to act as if he has a mandate from the voters to enact his extremist policies, among them extraordinarily repressive drug policies.

Thanks to London-based Talking Drugs, we have a very clear idea of just how extreme Bolsonaro's rhetoric on drug policy has been. Saying the bloody-handed Duterte "did the right thing for his country," Bolsonaro seeks to emulate him, saying repeatedly that police should kill people suspected -- not convicted -- of drug trafficking.

He has also vowed to intensify an already militarized crackdown on drug offenses, deepening the human rights and public health crises that drug prohibition has already inflicted on the country. Police and the military already work together to raid, arrest, and, too often, kill people allegedly involved in drug trafficking, especially in the favelas, the urban slums home to millions of the country's poor.

Brazil's murder rate is 27 per 100,000 people, four times the global average and higher than the rates of neighbors such as Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru -- all cocaine-producing countries. Brazil is the world's second largest cocaine-consuming country, after the United States.

Domestic drug consumption has been on the rise for years in Brazil, and although there have been legislative attempts to decriminalize drug use, drug users continue to be criminalized, contributing mightily to Brazil's ranking as the country with the world's fourth-largest prison population.

Bolsonaro wants to heighten the repressive approach. He has detailed plans to increase the involvement of the military in drug law enforcement, including targeting school children. "It would be good to have the military in the schools," he said, because "in the streets, in the schools even, the bandidos [bandits] sell drugs and smoke marijuana openly."

Speaking of maconha [Brazilian slang for marijuana], Bolsonaro isn't too fond of that, either. In fact, he sounds positively deranged on the issue. Legalizing marijuana, as neighboring Uruguay has done, would "benefit traffickers, rapists, and hostage takers," he charged, without bothering to cite any supporting evidence of his claims and in direct contradiction of the Uruguayan experience.

And in a bizarre interview with El Pais, the homophobic Bolsonaro even claimed that using drug makes people gay. When the journalist who interviewed him published the piece, Bolsonaro accused him of being gay, too.

He demonstrates a very Trumpian tendency to play fast and loose with the facts to try to score ideological points. He has linked illegal drug use to liberal governments, claiming that "drug use is prominent in countries under liberal administrations, such as Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico, and Venezuela." But Honduras has been ruled by rightists since 2010 and Mexico's outgoing president is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), since the 1980s viewed as center-right.

All of this doesn't bode well for progress on progressive drug policies in Brazil. In the past, there have been strong public health-based initiatives to provide harm reduction services to drug users, including a very successful program created by then Sao Paolo Mayor Fernando Haddad. His With Open Arms program provided drug users with housing, daily meals, access to health care, and the opportunity to earn money by doing cleaning work. The program was a success in reducing drug-related harms but has been dramatically slashed by his successor.

Haddad was the last candidate standing between Bolsonaro and the presidency, but the country's swing to the right overwhelmed him. While the immediate future for progressive drug reform in Brazil looks grim, the one bright spot is that, like Trump, Bolsonaro tends to make bold, yet vague, pronouncements, often with little follow-through. Let's hope his tough talk on drugs is more bluster than actual concrete policy shifts to the right, but hope isn't going to win the day. Brazilians interested in human rights, public safety, harm reduction, and drug law reform are going to have to mobilize to protect what limited gains they have one and to prevent sliding backward by embracing harsh, failed, last century drug policies.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Supreme Court Ends Marijuana Prohibition, Feds Reject WI Medicaid Drug Tests, More... (11/1/18)

Mexico's Supreme Court strikes a fatal blow against marijuana prohibition, medical marijuana is now available by prescription in the United Kingdom, a Colorado jury rejects an effort to blow up the state's legal marijuana system, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Federal Jury Throws Out RICO Case Threatening State Marijuana Law. That didn't take long. A Denver federal court jury took only a few hours Wednesday to reach a verdict against a couple who claimed a marijuana cultivation operation was ruining their property values and threatening their lifestyle. The couple, aided by anti-marijuana attorneys, had attempted to use federal RICO statutes to undermine the state law, arguing that because marijuana is still federally illegal, its production violates federal racketeering laws. But the jury didn't buy it.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor's Plan to Require Drug Testing for Medicaid Rejected. The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has rejected a proposal from Gov. Rick Scott (R) to require drug testing as a condition for receiving Medicaid benefits. Walker had proposed several changes to the state program, known as BadgerCare, and the administration approved requiring childless adults to work or lose coverage, but not the proposed drug testing. Instead of requiring drug screening and testing, Medicaid applicants will now have to complete a health assessment with questions about drug use. If the assessment indicates concerns about drug use, the applicant will be referred to treatment, but not required to go.

Harm Reduction

New York City Legislation Would Expand Opioid Treatment at Homeless Shelters. City Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) Wednesday filed legislation to increase access to opioid treatment at city homeless shelters. The bill would allow for easier access "We can't continue to sit by and do nothing," said Levin. "As we've seen in New York City and throughout the country, the status quo is not working. People are overdosing on opioids every day in New York City -- more than homicides and traffic fatalities combined."

International

Mexico Supreme Court Strikes Down Marijuana Prohibition. In a pair of rulings Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled that the country's ban on marijuana violates individual autonomy protections in the Mexican constitution. The court said adults have the right to grow, possess, and use marijuana, but that the government retains the right to regulate consumption. It also directed the federal health agency to begin to develop regulations reflecting the decision. The ruling does not legalize marijuana commerce; it would be up to the Mexican congress to take up that issue.

Medical Marijuana Now Legal in Great Britain. As of Thursday, November 1, some medical marijuana patients will be able to legally seek and obtain their medicine. Legal access to medical marijuana will be limited to patients who have "an unmet special clinical need that cannot be met by licensed products." It will be up to a special panel to determine who meets that condition, but there are worries that the system may prove too unwieldy to satisfy the needs of hundreds of thousands of potential patients.

Chronicle AM: NJ MJ Poll Shows Strong Support, IN Forfeiture Case Goes to Supreme Court, More... (10/31/18)

A new poll has support for marijuana legalization in New Jersey at 58%, Kansas gubernatorial candidates debate marijuana policy, truck drivers will face hair drug testing one of these years, and more.

Hair drug tests for truck drivers could be coming soon under an opioids bill signed into law this month. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Gubernatorial Debate Highlights Sharp Differences on Marijuana Policy. In a pre-election debate Tuesday, gubernatorial candidates Kris Kobach (R) and Laura Kelly (D) differed on marijuana policy. Kobach said he opposed both medicinal and recreational marijuana while expressing some openness to using CBD. "With medical marijuana, I don't think the time is right," he said. Kelly said she supports marijuana legalization, and especially the legalization of medical marijuana. "There are many benefits for young children with severe seizure disorders and for end-of-life use," said Kelly. "It would also be incredibly helpful in helping to reduce the opioid crisis." She also called for sentencing reform for marijuana offenses. "We are destroying our families and costing the state of fortune," said Kelly. "We need treatment options, not incarceration." Independent candidate Greg Orman also said he supported legalization. The latest polls have the race between Kelly and Kobach too close to call.

New Jersey Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Rutgers Eagleton poll has support for marijuana legalization at 58% with only 37% opposed. Nearly four out of five of those supporting legalization said they viewed it as a social justice issue. The poll comes as the legislature tries to get its act together to advance marijuana legalization legislation next month.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Judge Blocks Halloween Shutdown of Unlicensed Dispensaries. The same day state regulators ordered more than 200 unlicensed dispensaries to shut down by Wednesday, a Michigan judge blocked that order. Court of Claims Judge Stephen Borello granted a motion Tuesday that kills the state's latest attempt to shut down any medical marijuana dispensaries operating without a license. Borello issued a temporary injunction blocking the shutdowns and barring the state from imposing any other licensing deadlines until the court rules again.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court to Hear Indiana Asset Forfeiture Case Next Month. The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on November 28 on whether Indiana officials in effect imposed "excessive fines" on a man who pleaded guilty to selling heroin by seizing his vehicle, which was valued at more than the maximum fine for his offense. Cops seized a $42,000 Land Rover belonging to Tyson Timbs, which he bought with an inheritance after his father's death. The maximum fine for dealing heroin in Indiana is $10,000..

Drug Testing

Congressional Opioid Bill Demands Hair Drug Testing for Truck Drivers. The omnibus opioid bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump earlier this month calls for making progress on standards for hair drug testing of truck drivers. Drug testing of hair samples provides a much longer window to detect drug use than urine or blood tests. Hair testing was okayed in the 2015 FAST Act, but the Department of Homeland Security has so far failed to provide hair drug testing protocols. The new law requires DHS to provide guidelines and for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to report to Congress on progress in creating and issuing guidelines for hair drug testing.

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

Chronicle AM: Brazil's New Leader is Bad News on Drug Policy, CO Legalization Faces RICO Suit, More... (10/30/18)

A lawsuit using federal RICO statutes to challenge Colorado marijuana legalization got underway today, North Dakota medical marijuana patients and caregivers can now apply to the registry, Brazil's president-elect is a giant step backward on drug policy, and more.

Brazilian President-Elect Jair Bolsonaro favors harshly repressive drug policies. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Lawsuit Challenging State's Marijuana Law Goes to Trial. A lawsuit filed by two landowners who claim that a nearby marijuana grow has reduced their property values -- in part because the smell allegedly makes horse riding less attractive -- got underway in federal court in Denver Tuesday. The case is based on federal racketeering laws, and an adverse decision could have significant disruptive effects on the state's marijuana industry. The lawsuit was filed by Safe Streets Alliance, a national anti-marijuana group.

New Jersey Lawmakers Aim for Marijuana Hearings Next Month. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3rd District) told reporters Monday he had been meeting with Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22nd District) on advancing marijuana legalization legislation, and "I think we're real close." While Sweeney did not offer any firm timelines, Scutari said he has been looking at holding a hearing on November 26.

Medical Marijuana

More Than 200 Unlicensed Michigan Dispensaries Must Close Down By Wednesday. The state's Medical Marijuana Licensing Board has approved 14 more dispensary licenses, but some 215 pot businesses that have not obtained licenses, most of them in Detroit, received cease and desist letters Tuesday and must close their doors by Wednesday if they want any chance at getting a license in the future.

North Dakota Patients and Caregivers Can Now Register. The state Department of Health began accepting applications Monday for medical marijuana patients and caregivers, with registry cards to begin being mailed out in December. It costs $50 to apply. The move comes just under two years after voters there approved a medical marijuana initiative.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Massachusetts Governor Seeks $5 Million for Opioid Drug War. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) will file legislation seeking $5 million for a pilot program for a "regional, multi-agency approach to fentanyl interdiction and crime displacement," he said Monday. He said his proposal targets drug dealers who move from town to town to evade police crackdowns. "We want to give departments the resources to coordinate with each other across their districts, essentially flooding the zone against the drug dealers who are peddling addiction and death in their communities," Baker said. "We want to go after the dealers who too often evade authorities by moving to another nearby location in a different municipality." The $5 million would be used to "supplement surveillance work and overtime costs for units," he said.

International

Brazil's Presidential Election Winner is Bad News on Drug Policy. Jair Bolsonaro, the winner of Sunday's Brazilian presidential election and known as "the Trump of Brazil" for his right-wing populist views, is bad news for drug reform in Latin America's most populous country. He favors intensifying ongoing bloody crackdowns on people involved with drugs, he has said on repeated occasions that police should kill people suspected of drug trafficking, and he has openly praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war, saying "he did the right thing for his country." He opposes marijuana legalization, saying it would "benefit traffickers, rapists, and hostage takers." And Bolosonaro isn't just bad on drug policy; he gets downright weird. He has also claimed, in a bizarre homophobic rant, that smoking pot makes people gay.

Philippine Democracy and Human Rights Face a Critical Test This Week

From our Facebook page today:

Our ally Senator Trillanes of the Philippines is facing possible jailing, maybe as soon as tomorrow, as a result of legal maneuvers that strain credulity in both their reasoning and their timing. It's not a given that Judge Soriano will go along with the administration in allowing the case against Trillanes to go forward. But even if he doesn't, there is a second case that could have the same result -- the judge in that case, Elmo Alameda, has used reasons that are farcical on their face to allow that one to move forward. He did at least allow for bail, but the case before Soriano would not. It's possible that the judges have been threatened.

If Trillanes joins Senator de Lima in the Camp Crame detention center, it will be even harder for political opponents of Duterte's drug war killings to oppose him, and the Philippines will be a big step closer to dictatorship. We would like the US government to make use of the Magnitsky Act to sanction Duterte administration officials who are responsible for these and other human rights violations. We also support legislation in Congress to cut off most funding to the Philippines National Police, and to fund the work of Philippine human rights advocates and health-based drug service providers. We prefer targeted measures of those types, for now at least, to pressure individual officials without harming the Filipino population as trade sanctions might. We would also like President Trump to retract his two disturbing statements that praised Duterte's drug policies.

In the meanwhile, we are hoping that Judge Soriano will do the right thing, and we commend the IPU for keeping a focus on this. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippinesto read about our work with Senator Trillanes and others.

How This Red State's Cruel Meth Laws Are Putting Women Behind Bars in Record Numbers [FEATURE]

Like other Great Plains states, South Dakota has a methamphetamine problem. But it's becoming increasingly evident that South Dakota also has a problem with the way it deals with meth.

South Dakota women's prison in Pierre (KELO-TV screen grab)
Because of its strict drug laws, the state is seeing a dramatic spike in women being sent to prison for meth. According to a new report from the nonprofit South Dakota News Watch, the number of women in prison in the state has jumped 35 percent since 2013, while the male prison population has increased at only one-quarter of that rate. Nearly two-thirds of all women prisoners in the state are there for nonviolent drug offenses. The state now has the fourth-highest incarceration rate for women in the country, trailing only Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kentucky.

Overall, about one-third of all inmates in the state are doing time for drug-related offenses, the majority of them for simple drug possession. That's a higher percentage than most other states, where drug offenders tend to make up somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of the inmate population.

The high drug-related incarceration overall and for women in particular stems less from the prevalence of drug use than from the conservative, largely rural state's reaction to it. South Dakota has not responded to decades of failed war on drug policies by reforming them, but by doubling down on them.

The state has not moved toward the defelonization of drug possession, as at least 16 others have. Instead, it has moved in the opposite direction. South Dakota has mandatory sentencing laws that include prison for not only for the manufacture and distribution of meth but also for simple possession.

State lawmakers and cops have long favored tough drug laws, and they are still at it. This year, state Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) guided bills through the legislature that heighten penalties for meth dealing and increase sentences for dealers whose clients overdose and die.

But the state's most notorious and contentious drug law -- bone that is sending hundreds of people to prison -- is the state's "possession by ingestion" statute. Otherwise known as an "internal possession" law, the statute allows for a felony conviction if a drug test reveals the presence of illicit drugs in a suspect's system. (The law also applies to marijuana, but the penalty for testing positive for pot is only a misdemeanor.)

The strictest in the nation, that law was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2004. Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers filed a measure that would have slightly tweaked the law by removing marijuana, but that bill was killed by a unanimous vote in the first committee that heard it.

As of August, about nine percent of the male prison population and an astonishing 21 percent of the female prison population was doing time for unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance. That's right: More than one out of five women prisoners in South Dakota is behind prison bars for nothing more than having used drugs.

South Dakota law enforcement and lawmakers may be happy with the status quo, but the man who actually runs the prison system isn't. State Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk told South Dakota News Watch that the cops' and courts' proclivity for busting and imprisoning women on drug charges is creating an expensive and ineffective cycle of imprisonment, release, and recidivism.

"We seem to think that locking individuals up is going to solve their addiction problem," said Kaemingk, a former drug officer. "They're coming to us in corrections and we're thinking that solves the problem, and I think in many cases it makes the problem worse."

Criminalizing addiction, especially among women who are mothers, Kraemingk said, creates a situation where the children are more likely to end up in prison themselves. He pointed to national studies showing that up to 80 percent of children who have parents behind bars will end up there themselves.

"Imprisonment in South Dakota is generational," Kaemingk said. "The females behind prison walls have experienced that as a child. The generation we have back there now as inmates experienced the same things when they were children."

Kraemingk and other relatively enlightened actors in the state are pushing for enhanced treatment opportunities and expanding drug courts, among other measures, to better deal with the situation, but nobody seems to be talking about not involving these women in the criminal justice system in the first place. A first step would be getting rid of that hideous "possession by ingestion" statute. The next step would be defelonization or outright decriminalization of drug possession in the state. Drug use absent harm to others should not be the state's business.

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

Chronicle AM: Trump Marijuana Plans, More Cases Thrown Out in MA Drug Lab Scandal, More... (10/12/18)

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) says the president will move on marijuana policy after the election, the Supreme Court will hear an important asset forfeiture case later this year, thousands more drug defendants will see drug charges dismissed in the Massachusetts drug lab scandal, and more.

Rep. Dana Rohrabcher (R-CA) says the Trump administration will move on marijuana policy after the election. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Plans To Back Legal Medical Marijuana After Midterms, GOP Congressman Says. In an interview with Fox Business on Thursday, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said that he had been talking with people inside the White House about ending marijuana prohibition. Rohrabacher added that he's been "reassured that the president intends on keeping his campaign promise" to protect state marijuana policies from federal interference. He didn't point to any specific legislation but said details would begin to take shape after the election. "I would expect after the election we will sit down and we'll start hammering out something that is specific and real," he said. "It could be as early as spring of 2019, but definitely in the next legislative session," he said.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court to Hear Asset Forfeiture Case Later This Year. The US Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in an important asset forfeiture case on November 28. The case is Timbs (and a 2012 Land Rover) v. Indiana, in which Tyson Timbs appeals the seizure of his vehicle after he was arrested for selling heroin to undercover police officers. Timbs bought the vehicle with proceeds from his late father's life insurance policy -- not drug profits -- and argues that seizing the vehicle amounts to a violation of the 8th Amendment's ban on excessive fines. A state appeals court had overturned the seizure, calling it "grossly disproportional," but the state Supreme Court vacated that decision on the grounds the ban on excessive fines does not apply to the states.

Criminal Justice

Massachusetts High Court Orders Dismissal of Thousands of Cases in Drug Lab Chemist Scandal. The state's Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday ordered the dismissal of thousands of additional drug convictions due to the misconduct of Amherst drug lab chemist Sonja Farak, some dating back as far as 2004. "We conclude that Farak's widespread evidence tampering has compromised the integrity of thousands of drug convictions apart from those the Commonwealth has agreed should be vacated and dismissed," wrote Justice Frank Gaziano in the court's 61-page unanimous decision. "Her misconduct, compounded by prosecutorial misconduct, requires that this court exercise its superintendence authority and vacate and dismiss all criminal convictions tainted by government wrongdoing." Farak has pleaded guilty to stealing drug samples to feed her addiction. State prosecutors had already agreed to dismiss some 8,000 cases. Now there will be thousands more, though an exact number is not immediately available.

International

Colombia Coca Farmers Protest Against Forced Crop Eradication. Coca-growing peasants set up roadblocks on Thursday to protest against the forced eradication of coca crops and fumigation measures. The farmers in several municipalities of Norte de Santander are demanding to be included in the program of crop substitution so they have an alternative to growing coca. Farmers in Cucuta and El Zulia blocked two main local highways. They are members of the National Coordination of Cultivators of Coca, Poppy and Marijuana and the Campesino Association of Catatumbo.

Chronicle AM: US Clarifies Canada Pot Worker Entry, Rendell Defends Safe Injection Sites, More... (10/11/18)

The US has clarified that Canadiana marijuana workers and investors can enter the US but not engage in business here, New Jersey's governor says a vote on marijuana legalization will happen before month's end, Pennsylvania's former governor sticks up for safe injection sites, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says legislature should vote on legalization October 29. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Bill Banning CBD Cocktails and Beverages. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Assembly Bill 2914, which prohibits the sale of CBD beverages and alcoholic drinks. "This bill would prohibit an alcoholic beverage licensee from, at its licensed premises, selling, offering, or providing cannabis or cannabis products, including an alcoholic beverage that contains cannabis or cannabis products, and would provide that no alcoholic beverage shall be manufactured, sold, or offered for sale if it contains tetrahydrocannabinol or cannabinoids, regardless of source," says a legislative summary.

New Jersey Governor Says Legalization Coming at End of Month. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) says he and the legislature are looking at October 29 as the date the legislature will pass a bill legalizing marijuana. One issue yet to be settled, though, is how much to tax legal pot. Still, Murphy said, October 29 "feels about right."

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania Representative Proposes Bill to Add Drug Testing of Legislators to Bill to Drug Test Welfare Recipients. Philadelphia County Rep. Angel Cruz (D) has filed House Bill 620 as an amendment to Senate Bill 6. The Senate bill would mandate drug testing of welfare recipients; Cruz's bill would mandate drug testing of legislators. "If it's good for one, it's good for all," said Cruz. "The lawmakers are the lawmakers, and we're not above the law."

Foreign Policy

US Clarifies Policy on Entry of Canadian Marijuana Industry Workers. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has clarified its position on whether Canadians involved in the legal marijuana industry can enter the US. "A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the US for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the US," CBP said Tuesday. But there is a big but: "[I]f a traveler is found to be coming to the US for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible," CBD said.

Harm Reduction

Former Pennsylvania Governor Challenges DOJ on Threats to Prosecute Safe Injection Site Operators. Former Gov. Ed Rendell (D) is not backing away from supporting a Philadelphia safe injection site despite threats from Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rendell sits on the board of a nonprofit to run such a facility, and he said that if the Justice Department wants to crack down on the harm reduction move, it should start with him: "I have a message for Mr. Rosenstein: I'm the incorporator of the safe injection site nonprofit and they can come and arrest me first," Rendell said.

ACLU Files Lawsuit Against San Francisco Cops for Targeting African-Americans in Drug Busts [FEATURE]

San Francisco's Tenderloin is a heavily populated, racially mixed neighborhood in the heart of one of America's iconic progressive cities. Yet when the San Francisco Police Department and the DEA targeted the neighborhood to crack down on drug dealing between 2013 and 2015 as part of "Operation Safe Schools," the only people they managed to roll up were black.

hustling in the Tenderloin (SFPD surveillance video screen grab)
When 37 black defendants -- and no defendants of any other race -- got hauled away, nobody noticed. That is until the defendants started showing up looking for federal public defenders. The federal public defenders noticed, and they began making noise about racial disparities and selective enforcement of the drug laws.

Their charges only grew louder with the posting in 2015 of undercover police surveillance video to YouTube revealing a police officer muttering "fucking BMs," police code for black males, as he monitored a group of young men on the street. The video also apparently showed an undercover informant turning down drugs being offered by an Asian woman to instead buy drugs from a black woman.

In January 2017, 12 of those charged in the operation won a discovery motion from a judge who found there was "substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement" in their arrests. Instead of allowing the proceedings to continue so a full accounting of police conduct could occur, prosecutors instead dropped the charges.

At the time, the presiding judge, US District Court Judge Edward Chen, made clear that while he was granting the dismissals because they were in the best interest of the defendants, he was concerned that doing so would prevent the allegations of police bias from being aired.

"These are serious issues, serious allegations regarding claims of discriminatory enforcement patterns," Chen said. "I think the defendants in this case have raised a very substantial prima facie case that, at the very least, raises some serious questions that would warrant a response and a full airing of the issues."

Now, a year and a half later, the ACLU of Northern California on Thursday filed a federal civil lawsuit on behalf of six of those rolled up in the busts. The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs were targeted because of their race and cites a survey of Tenderloin drug users to bolster its case. That survey found racial diversity among Tenderloin drug sellers. About half were black, but 20 percent were Latino and 17 percent were white.

The lawsuit is "an opportunity to hold the actors in the San Francisco Police Department and the city itself accountable for the police department's longstanding practices of engaging in racially discriminatory law enforcement," said ACLU attorney Novella Coleman, who is representing the plaintiffs.

It's also about financial relief for the plaintiffs, Coleman allowed. "The court will determine how to monetize that," she said.

Not an Anomaly

Racially biased policing is nothing new in San Francisco. In fact, as Ezekiel Edwards, director of the national ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, pointed out in a post announcing the lawsuit, the city has the dubious honor of setting precedent for the idea that law enforcement targeting people based on their race is unconstitutional. In an 1886 case, Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the city attempted to deny laundry permits to Chinese people while granting them to non-Chinese. Such an action could only be explained by the city's "hostility to the race and nationality" of the applicants, a violation of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the evidence that the city's penchant for targeting non-whites for harsher treatment remains intact just keeps piling up. Numerous studies in the past few years have documented racially biased policing practices, including a 2002 ACLU report on SFPD racial profiling and a city-commissioned study by a national expert on biased policing.

Those studies uncovered a range of bias-related problems and made concrete recommendations for reform. Those were ignored. As the rotten policing practices festered, more reports detailing racial and ethnic disparities across the criminal justice system came out in 2013 and 2015.

Then, in 2015, as "Operation Safe Schools" was winding down, SFPD was hit by a new scandal when officers were caught exchanging racist text messages. Some used the N-word, others referenced cross burnings. Officers were caught calling black residents "savages," "wild animals," and "barbarians," and one officer told his sergeant "All n[ -- ] must fucking hang." Another officer sent a text with an image of a white man spraying a black child with a hose above the caption "Go be a n -- somewhere else."

That finally got the attention of city fathers -- as well as the Obama-era Justice Department. The city district attorney convened a Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement that documented SFPD's history of racially disparate enforcement and concluded that it was "in urgent need of important reforms." In 2016, the Justice Department weighed in with its own report finding that the department still engaged in racially biased policing, especially around traffic stops and police use of deadly force.

It's Not Just San Francisco

The ACLU's Edwards concisely makes the case that San Francisco is no exception when it comes to racially biased policing:

"Unequal treatment by race is commonplace among police departments large and small in cities across a range of ideological leanings. This is the reason for the racial profiling lawsuits filed in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Maricopa County, Arizona. This is the motivation, prior to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for Justice Department consent decrees seeking to end racially discriminatory police practices in Seattle, Los Angeles County, New Orleans, Baltimore, Newark, East Haven CT and Ferguson MO. This is why the ACLU has found racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests across the country, in drug possession arrests more broadly, in stops and frisks in Boston, in seatbelt enforcement in Florida, and in arrests for low-level offenses in Minneapolis."

When will things ever change?

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

Chronicle AM: Senate Passes Opioid Bill, CA Cops Face Racial Profiling Charges, More... (10/4/18)

Congress sends an omnibus opioids bill to the president's desk, the DEA has another Colombia scandal, the San Francisco police and Los Angeles sheriff's deputies face charges of racial profiling, and more.

Congress has sent an omnibus opioids bill to the president's desk. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Blocks Medical Marijuana License Process. A Tallahassee judge Wednesday agreed to block state health officials from moving forward with the application process for medical marijuana licenses. Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson two months ago had found the state's licensing cap "directly contradicts" the amendment legalizing medical marijuana in the state and had set a Wednesday deadline for either health officials or the legislature to resolve deficiencies in the law. When that didn't happen, Dodson issued a verbal order halting the application process.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers Reach Deal With Legislative Leaders, LDS Church Representatives, and Utah Medical Association. Backers of the Utah medical marijuana initiative joined other organizations and lawmakers at a press conference Thursday to announce they have reached an agreement on an alternative medical cannabis law that will be enacted in a special session following the election. Proposition 2 will still appear on the 2018 ballot, but it will no longer determine the final outcome for Utah medical cannabis patients. Instead, a compromise medical marijuana bill will be enacted during a special session after the 2018 election,

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Sweeping Opioids Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved a sweeping opioids package on a 98-1 vote. The bill now goes to the desk of President Trump. The omnibus opioids bill combines dozens of smaller proposals and expands and reauthorizes programs and policies across the federal government, as well as creating new programs aimed at treatment, prevention, and recovery. One portion of the bill likely to have a big impact requires US postal inspectors to screen packages shipped from overseas -- mainly from China -- for fentanyl. The bill passed the House last week.

Law Enforcement

DEA Colombia Staff Facing Three Separate Misconduct Probes. At least three DEA agents based in Bogota have left in recent months amid separate investigations into alleged misconduct. One is accused of using government resources to hire prostitutes. Ironically, that agent, Robert Dobrich, the agency's top-ranking official in Latin American, was brought in in 2015 in the wake of a scandal about agents participating in sex parties with prostitutes. A former DEA agent assigned to Colombia, Jose Irizarry, is being investigated for passing information on to drug cartels. Irizarry resigned after his activities in Cartagena were curtailed earlier this year. Meanwhile, Dobrich's deputy, Jesse Garcia, is accused of having a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

ACLU Sues San Francisco Police Over Racially Motivated Drug Arrests. The ACLU of Northern California has filed a lawsuit on behalf of six black people arrested during anti-drug operations in the Tenderloin between 2013 and 2015. The six were among 37 arrested in the stings -- every one of whom was black -- and federal public defenders raised concerns over selective enforcement. The lawsuit cites a survey of Tenderloin drug users that found about half were black, but 20% were Latino and 17% were white. Charges against 12 of those arrested were dropped in January 2017 after a judge found there was "substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement, but the dropping of the charges meant a full accounting of police misconduct never happened.

Los Angeles County Deputies Accused of Racially Profiling Hispanics in I-5 Traffic Stop Drug Searches. LA County deputies stopped thousands of Latinos on the I-5 freeway in hopes of making their next drug bust, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. The sheriff's Domestic Highway Enforcement Team seized lots of drugs, but it also searched the vehicles of more than 3,500 drivers who had no drugs or other illegal items, the overwhelming majority of them Latino. Some of the teams' drug busts have been thrown out of federal court as the credibility of deputies came under fire and judges found they violated the rights of motorists by conducting unconstitutional searches. The Times examined data from every traffic stop done by the team from 2012 through 2017 -- more than 9,000 of them -- and found that Latinos accounted for 69% of stops, and that two-thirds of Latinos had their vehicles searched, compared to less than half of other drivers. Though Latinos were much more likely to be searched, deputies found drugs or other illegal items in their vehicles at a rate that was not significantly higher than that of black or white drivers. The sheriff's department said racial profiling "plays no role" in the deputies' work.

International

Canada Drug User, Advocacy Groups Call for Opioid Decriminalization. Some 93 groups representing drug users assembled in Edmonton this week have called for the federal government to move toward decriminalizing opioids. The coalition is calling for Ottawa to expand legal access to safe drugs for people with substance use disorder, decriminalize possession of all drugs for personal use, and expand the availability of harm reduction services.

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