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Feds Indict Maine Marijuana Users for Buying Guns

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Less than a month ago, AlterNet published 4 Ways Using Even Legal Marijuana Makes You a Second Class Citizen, which enumerated some of the reasons marijuana legalization by itself is not sufficient to guarantee the rights of marijuana users. One of those reasons was the inability of marijuana users to legally own or purchase guns.

Under federal law, enforced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), all gun purchasers must fill out Form 4473. "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" the form asks.

Last year, and just to make sure stoners got the message, ATF has added the following language: "Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside."

The article noted that marijuana users who want to legally purchase a weapon would have to lie on Form 4473, but that they were unlikely to be caught and prosecuted.

That has changed. The US attorney in Maine has now indicted two men on federal firearms charges for allegedly lying about their marijuana use on the gun purchase form.

Donald Henderson, 33, of Winthrop, was indicted for alleged false statements while buying a pistol from a local gun shop in February 2017 and again while purchasing another pistol the following month. The indictment alleges he checked the box saying he was not a marijuana user when he in fact was.

And Richard Quattrone, 48, of Augusta, was also indicted for lying on a federal firearms license in March 2017. The indictment says he purchased a pistol from the same local gun shop as Henderson and checked the box saying he was not a user of marijuana or controlled substances when he was in fact "an unlawful user of marijuana."

The federal prosecutors in Maine are on firm legal ground -- the law is quite clear -- but the question now becomes whether a political backlash can rein them in. That's what happened when law enforcement officials in some states tried to order registered medical marijuana patients to turn in their guns. In Pennsylvania, the state Health Department is no longer providing the names of patients to law enforcement after newspapers there reported the patients would not be able to buy firearms; in Illinois, regulators removed a rule that would have barred legal gun owners from becoming patients; and in Hawaii, police had to walk back a plan to force patients to hand in their guns.

The Jeff Sessions Justice Department, where ATF resides, is unlikely to be as swayed by angry public opinion as state officials in legal marijuana states, and that suggests that people who use marijuana need to really think twice before filling out that Form 4473. If they tell the truth, they will be barred from purchasing a gun; if they lie, they could be charged with a federal criminal offense and sent to prison.

If you're a marijuana user and really, really want to buy a gun, you may want to stick to gun shows and private purchases, but you are still potentially liable for federal prosecution if you get caught with it and the local US attorney wants to score a coup.

This is one more reason state legalization is only half the battle.

Four Ways Using Even Legal Marijuana Makes You a Second Class Citizen [FEATURE]

Marijuana is now legal in nine states constituting about one-fifth of the US population, and medical marijuana is recognized in a total of 29 states. That means people in those states can possess and use marijuana without fear of criminal prosecutions (if they have a doctor's recommendation in the medical marijuana-only states).

people enjoying marijuana (Darrin Frisby Harris/Drug Policy Alliance)
But even in legal marijuana states, pot smokers face restrictions that in effect turn them into second-class citizens, unable to do things non-drug users or users of legally sanctioned drugs, such as alcohol, can do, or somehow punished for doing them. While legalizing marijuana is a giant breakthrough, as long as marijuana users face stigma, discrimination, and worse over their choice of substances, the job is only half-done.

Here are four ways even legal marijuana users get screwed:

1. Employment Rights

You may be able to smoke pot legally, but it can still cost you your job. Even in legal marijuana states, legalization laws generally are careful not to intrude on the rights of employers to conduct drug testing for pot and to fire people who test positive -- even if they're not high or impaired at work.

Legal cases in California, Colorado, Montana, and Washington have all upheld the right of employers to fire or refuse to hire workers who test positive for marijuana even if they have a medical marijuana recommendation. But the law is rapidly evolving, and a recent case from Connecticut, a nursing home that refused to hire a medical marijuana patient after he tested positive for THC was ordered to reinstate the job offer.

A thriving economy and growing social acceptance of marijuana may also bring some solace to pot smokers. As Bloomberg noted just last month, we are now seeing a "slow decline in pre-employment drug screening," with some major employers abandoning the practice in the face of a tight job market. That trend, unsurprisingly, is being led by companies in the marijuana legal states. In Colorado, for instance, the percentage of employers using pre-employment drug tests declined from 77% in 2016 to 66% last year.

But still, if you smoked a joint on Friday night, Walmart still doesn't think you're fit to stock their shelves on Monday morning.

2. Gun Rights

If you smoke pot, you can't legally purchase or own a gun. As more states move toward legalization, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) has clarified its Form 4473, the federal Firearms Transaction Record that purchaser must fill out to buy a gun: "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" the form asks.

And just so you stoners get it, ATF has added the following language: "Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside."

That means marijuana users who want to legally purchase a weapon have to lie on Form 4473. And that's a federal crime. (Unlikely to be caught and prosecuted, but still.)

In August 2016, a federal appeals court upheld the ban on gun sales to medical marijuana patients. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the federal government's ban on gun sales to medical marijuana cardholders does not violate the 2nd Amendment. The decision came in the case of a Nevada woman turned away from a gun shop after obtaining a medical marijuana card. The ruling sets precedent for all nine states in the circuit, including California, Oregon, and Washington.

There have been proactive efforts by law enforcement in a handful of states to, for example, order registered medical marijuana patients to turn in their guns, but those have so far been aborted in the face of loud opposition. In Pennsylvania, the state Health Department is no longer providing the names of patients to law enforcement after newspapers there reported the patients would not be able to buy firearms; in Illinois, regulators removed a rule that would have barred legal gun owners from becoming patients; and in Hawaii, police had to walk back a plan to force patients to hand in their guns.

Still, as long as the federal government maintains marijuana prohibition and as long as ATF considers marijuana a controlled substance, pot smokers' gun rights are at risk. And the NRA doesn't seem to care.

3. Parental Rights

In both medical marijuana states and full-blown legal pot states, parents have lost custody of their children over their marijuana use. Part of the problem is that marijuana remains federally illegal, turning the pot-using parent into a criminal in the eyes of courts of child protective services workers. Another part of the problem is discrimination and subjectivity about what constitutes "the best interest of the child." If a child protective bureaucracy or even an individual case worker harbors anti-marijuana sentiments, even non-problematic recreational use of pot can be used to take children from the home or deny custody to the offending parent.

Marijuana use is especially likely to pop up in divorces where custody of the child or children is contested. If your spouse griped about your pot-smoking while you were married, be prepared for him or her to try to use it against you in a nasty divorce case. Divorce attorneys warn parents facing this prospect to quit smoking pot now, well ahead of any court dates and court-ordered drug tests.

That's another way pot-smoking parents get hammered. Courts may demand onerous drug testing for months or year or require that visits with children be supervised.

Medical marijuana support groups report hundreds of cases of parents losing custody of their kids, some merely for having registered as medical marijuana patients. But there are small signs of positive change on the horizon: California's Prop 64, for instance, includes a provision saying courts can no longer rescind or restrict a parent's custodial rights solely because they have a medical marijuana recommendation.

That's a start, but we still have a long way to go before pot-smoking parents can rest easy.

4. Housing Rights

You can be kicked out of your home for using marijuana if you are poor and live in HUD, Section 8, or other federally-subsidized housing. Under a 1999 HUD Memorandum Regarding Medical Marijuana in Public Housing still in effect, any activity relating to controlled substances, including even medical marijuana, can get you evicted.

And it doesn't have to be just you. If you live in federally-subsidized housing and your grandson gets caught smoking a joint in the parking lot, you can find yourself tossed out on the street.

Even people who don't live in federally-subsidized housing face problems, especially if they live in rental housing. Landlords can prohibit tenants from using marijuana, and rental apartment industry associations typically counsel their members that "banning the use or possession of marijuana on site does not violate any landlord/tenant or fair housing laws, even when marijuana has been legalized by local ordinance or state statute." Nor, they argue, is allowing the use or cultivation of medical marijuana a "reasonable accommodation" required by law, even if it's been medically recommended.

Marijuana is increasingly legal and accepted, but the progress is uneven, and the battle to be treated like normal citizens remains unfinished.

Chronicle AM: Fed Bill to Protect State-Legal MJ, PA Protects MedMJ Gun Rights, More... (12/15/18)

Members of Congress moved in two different ways to protect state-legal marijuana, a leading Illinois gubernatorial candidate doubles down on support for legalization, Pennsylvania moves to protect the Second Amendment rights of medical marijuana patients, and more.

Efforts to protect state-legal marijuana heat up on Capitol Hill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Nearly 70 Congress Members Sign Letter Supporting Amendment to Protect State-Legal Marijuana. A letter sent last Friday to the House leadership asking it to include an amendment blocking the Justice Department from spending funds to go after state-legal marijuana came with the signatures of 69 US representatives. They want the McClintock-Polis Amendment included in "any forthcoming appropriations or funding bill."

Oakland Congresswoman Files Bill to Protect State-Legal Marijuana. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) filed the Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement & Regulations of Cannabis (REFER) Act of 2018 (HR 4779) last Friday. It would bar federal agencies from spending money to "detain, prosecute, sentence, or initiate civil proceedings against an individual, business or property, that is involved in the cultivation, distribution, possession, dispensation, or use of cannabis" when those actions comply with state law or local regulations.

Illinois Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Will Make Marijuana Legalization Centerpiece of Campaign. Democratic gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker signaled last Friday that he intends to make marijuana legalization central to his campaign. At a press conference, the businessman said he would "intentionally include black and brown entrepreneurs" in the state's legal marijuana business as a way of addressing "historically systemic racism." Embracing legalization helps draw a distinction between Pritzker and both one of his main Democratic competitor, Chris Kennedy, who more cautiously embraces decriminalization, and incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner (R).

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Federal Judge Okays Medical Marijuana at School for Sick Girl. Two days after her parents filed a lawsuit against a school district and the state of Illinois over her school's refusal to allow her to use her medicine on school grounds, a federal judge ruled in her favor. The quick move came after the judge heard from the school district, which had concerns its employees could be subject to legal penalties for helping the 11-year-old. Lawyers for the state and the school district will meet with the judge next week to come up with a long-term solution.

Pennsylvania Moves to Protect Patients' Gun Rights. The state Health Department announced last Friday it will no longer provide the names of medical marijuana patients to law enforcement agencies. The move came after newspapers in the state reported that patients would not be able to buy firearms. Under state regulations, the department was required to post a database of patient names to an online portal accessed by law benforcement, but providing that information would have stopped a patient from buying a gun under federal gun control laws.

Drug Policy

Pennsylvania Sued Over Taking Drivers' Licenses for Drug Offenses. Two men convicted only of minor drug offenses filed suit last Wednesday in Philadelphia against the state for its law mandating drivers' license suspensions for non-driving-related offenses. "Drug convictions are the only crimes for which the Department of Transportation suspends the driver's licenses of adults over 21," the complaint says. The state "thus punish[es] people found in possession of a small amount of marijuana (unrelated to driving) as harshly as those who have been convicted of aggravated assault while driving under the influence, vehicular manslaughter, or any other dangerous activity that results in the loss of one's ability to drive." Such laws were once the norm, but have now been abolished in 38 states.

International

Greece Moves Toward Allowing Medical Marijuana. A Greek government official said Sunday that the parliament is expected to approve a medical marijuana bill in coming weeks. "In a few weeks' time, an amendment will be brought to parliament to define the legislative framework for the cultivation and manufacturing of pharmaceutical products based on medical cannabis, which will open the way for Greek and foreign investments," deputy agricultural development minister Yannis Tsironis told AFP. Last year, the government authorized the import of several medical marijuana products; now it appears ready to take the next step.

(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.)

Medical Marijuana Update

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment stays alive (for now) in the stopgap spending bill, Honolulu's police chief backs away from seizing patients' guns, and more.

National

Last Thursday, federal medical marijuana protections got a two-week reprieve. The passage of a stopgap spending bill means the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment ban on spending federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal remains in force for at least another two weeks. That's good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough, said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) in a statement: "While we are pleased that these critical protections will continue, two weeks is not enough certainty for the millions of Americans who rely on medical marijuana for treatment and the businesses who serve them," Blumenauer said. "As Congress works out a long-term funding bill, it must also include these protections. And ultimately, Congress must act to put an end to the cycle of uncertainty and permanently protect state medical marijuana programs -- and adult use -- from federal interference."

Hawaii

Last Wednesday,the Honolulu police chief admitted the department erred in trying to take guns from patients. Chief Susan Ballard acknowledged to the Honolulu Police Commission that the department's abortive move to make medical marijuana patients turn in their firearms "was incorrect." She said the department will return two guns to people who turned them in voluntarily, but she also said the department will continue to deny new gun permits to cardholders.

Nevada

Last Thursday, the state's highest court okayed the state's medical marijuana registry. The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state's medical marijuana registry does not violate constitutional provisions of due process, equal protection, and the right against self-incrimination. "We conclude Nevada's medical marijuana registry does not impinge upon a fundamental right," said the opinion written by Justice Ron Parraguirre. "We further conclude the registry is rationally related to the legitimate state interest of protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public."

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: San Francisco, LA Pass Legal Weed Rules, Sales Begin Next Month, More... (12/7/17)

California's big cities clear the way for legal weed sales, California's small marijuana farmers worry about big grower competition, Delaware cops want pot people's guns, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California NORML Recommends Priority Licensing for Small-Scale & Outdoors Cultivators. The marijuana activist group is calling on state regulators to create a licensing priority scheme that would favor small outdoor grows of up to an acre over both indoor mixed lighting and indoor high-intensity lighting operations and leave large-scale operations out of consideration. The group fears that emergency licensing regulations as written could "open the door to large-scale, industrial mega-grows that could monopolize California's limited available acreage, exacerbate environmental harm, and stifle participation by smaller growers."

Los Angeles City Council Approves Legal Marijuana Rules, Sales Set for January 1. The city council agreed Wednesday to a package of regulations for legal marijuana commerce, clearing the way for legal sales to begin on January 1. The approved rules include a "social equity" program aimed at prioritizing communities that have historically been affected by the war on drugs. Under that program, cannabusiness operators that meet "social equity" criteria would be moved to the head of the line for license applications.

San Francisco Mayor Approves Legal Marijuana Rules, Sales Set for January 6. Mayor Ed Lee Wednesday signed into law legislation setting rules for legal marijuana commerce in the city. But because the city has been slow in reaching agreement on the pot rules, it won't quite be ready on January 1. Instead, city officials are looking at January 6 as the legal sales date.

Delaware Police Look at Gun Ban for Marijuana Users. Law enforcement officials Wednesday told a task force studying legalization that marijuana users should be forced to have an endorsement on their drivers' licenses indicating they use marijuana to help ensure that they cannot own guns. "It would make sure that we are doing everything we can to ensure that prohibited people are not buying firearms in Delaware," he explained after the meeting.

Indiana Prosecutors Formally Oppose Marijuana Legalization. The Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys, Inc. formally opposed the legalization of marijuana in any form for any reason at a news conference in Indianapolis Wednesday. Also on hand were the Boone County Sheriff's Department, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, and the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senator Manchin Calls on FDA to Adopt Changes in Opioid Fight. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has sent a letter to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb calling for three major changes in opioid policy. Manchin wants mandatory and continuing education for healthcare providers, a review of every opioid on the market, and for the FDA to remove one opioid from the market for each new one it approves.

International

Dutch Justice Officials Accused of Interfering With Marijuana Research to Advance Their Political Agenda. Senior justice ministry officials are accused of interfering with research on marijuana tourism. According to a whistleblower, researchers concluded that a policy of repression and banning sales to foreigners was not needed because there was very little actual nuisance from drug tourism in many places. But ministry officials didn't like those conclusions, so they deleted research questions and removed an entire chapter with conclusions and recommendations on a better policy. This took place under then Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten. Current Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said Thursday he had commissioned an external inquiry in the matter.

Medical Marijuana Update

Honolulu Police tell medical marijuana patients to turn in their guns, Elizabeth Warren presses Trump's HHS nominee on medical marijuana and opioids, Iowa licenses its first CBD manufacturer, and more.

National

On Tuesday, Elizabeth Warren sought marijuana answers from Trump's HHS nominee. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has sent a letter to Alex Azar, President Trump's nominee to lead the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggesting the administration study how marijuana legalization could reduce opioid addiction and overdose deaths. The letter also asks Azar to answer questions about what he would do to study marijuana as an alternative to opioids, whether he is committed to implementing evidence-based policies, and what steps he would take to "improve our knowledge of the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana when used for medical purposes."

Florida

Last Wednesday, a lawsuit was filed over medical marijuana implementation. A Miami-Dade nursery and a man suffering from epilepsy have sued the administration of Gov. Rick Scott (R) over the slow implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. The nursery wants a judge to order the Health Department to hand out new licenses for treatment centers, while the patient said the department is blocking patients from getting access to their medicine.

Guam

Last Wednesday, medical marijuana regulations were being drafted. Hearings have been set for the legislature's Rules Committee early next month in a bid to get medical marijuana regulations in final form before Christmas. A public hearing is set for December 5, with the final draft to be marked up in committee on December 14.

Hawaii

Last Friday, Honolulu Police told medical marijuana patients to surrender their guns. The Honolulu Police Department has sent letters to medical marijuana patients in the area ordering them to "voluntarily surrender" their firearms because they use marijuana. The letters give patients 30 days to give their guns and ammo to the Honolulu Police. While federal law prohibits acknowledged marijuana users from owning firearms, this is believed to be the first instance of local law enforcement proactively seeking out patients and ordering them to surrender their weapons.

Indiana

On Monday, Ithe governor ordered stores to pull CBD products from their shelves. Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) has given stores 60 days to remove CBD cannabis oil products from their shelves after state Attorney General Curtis Hill (R) delivered an opinion that such substances are illegal under state and federal law. The only exception is for people with epilepsy who are on a state registry.

Iowa

On Tuesday, the state announced its first and only license for a medical marijuana manufacturer. The Department of Public Health announced it will issue a CBD manufacturing license to MedPharm Iowa. That is the first license to grow marijuana and create CBD products in the state and the only one that will be issued.

Michigan

Last Friday, the state announced new fees for medical marijuana businesses. The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs announced that medical marijuana businesses must pay a $6,000 one-time application fee to the state. That's in addition to any municipal fees, which could run as high as $5,000. The fee announcement comes as the state attempts to overhaul its medical marijuana regulations, with "emergency" regulations set to be issued next month.

On Monday, the Detroit city council moved to undo the will of voters on dispensaries. The city council is asking the city's legal department to challenge two voter-approved medical marijuana ordinances that ease rules on dispensaries in the city. The voters acted in November after the council passed an ordinance last March that made it more difficult for dispensaries to operate. The council approved a resolution on a 7-1 vote asking the legal department to challenge the results in court.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

How Reefer Madness Helped Kill Philando Castile

The Minnesota cop who was acquitted last week of killing Philando Castile used the fact that he smelled marijuana in the car as part of his defense. Whether Officer Jeronimo Yanez really believed Castile's presumed pot use made him more dangerous or whether the testimony influenced the jury's decision to acquit remains unknown, but its use in his defense illustrates the enduring power of the demonization of the plant and its users.

Castile's killing last year sparked angry demonstrations and made national headlines after his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, live streamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Facebook, with a bloodied, mortally wounded Castile moaning as Reynolds says "That police just killed my boyfriend, he's licensed, and he was trying to get his wallet out of his pocket, and he let the officer know he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet, and the officer just shot him in his arm."

In the video, Yanez is visibly agitated: "I told him not to reach for it; I told him to get hand up!" he yells.

"You told him to get his ID, sir," Reynolds responds, as her four-year-old daughter in the back seat attempts to comfort her. "Oh my God. Please don't tell me he's dead. Please don't tell me my boyfriend just went like that."

Castile did go just like that, though. He was pronounced dead at the Hennepin County Medical Center 20 minutes after Yanez opened fire, shooting seven bullets at him.

Dashcam video from Yanez's patrol car, not released until Tuesday, shows that it only took 30 seconds before Yanez opened fire.

(Click here to watch the video on YouTube.)

Yanez didn't mention marijuana in Reynolds' video, but in court transcripts of his testimony, Yanez said he opened fire on Castile in part because he could smell marijuana -- and he assumed that Castile had been using it in front of the child.

"I thought I was gonna die and I thought if he's -- if he has the guts and audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke, and the front seat passenger doing the same thing, then what -- what care does he give about me?" Yanez said.

The argument apparently is that smoking pot in front of kids makes you a stone cold killer. Never mind the hyperbole of "risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her second-hand smoke," in Yanez's mind, someone who would smoke pot around kids is not only endangering their lives, but would be willing to kill a cop over a pot charge or a broken taillight (the original reason for the traffic stop), and that justifies pumping Castile full of lead.

Police did later find traces of marijuana in the vehicle, and defense attorneys used that and the marijuana smell to also insinuate that Castile was so high he was slow to comply with Yanez's demands. That made Yanez even more suspicious, the defense claimed.

But Yanez's claims about secondhand smoke border on the bizarre. Yes, ingesting secondhand pot smoke can be harmful, but secondhand smoke is quite different from intent to harm a police officer. And the most notorious source of unwanted secondhand smoke is cigarettes, yet no one insinuates that smoking them around kids makes you more likely to be a cop-killer. Yanez and his defense attorneys were singing a Reefer Madness tune with this claim.

Despite Yanez's claims and phobias, pot smokers are no more likely to behave violently than non-users, and in fact, some research shows they are less likely to. A 2014 study in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors found that marijuana use among couples was associated with lower risk of domestic violence.

Philando Castile was black. That was strike one. He was armed (and admitted it). That was strike two. And he was a pot smoker. That was strike three. Reefer Madness, either in the mind of Officer Yanez or the minds of the jurors, or both, helped kill Phil Castile.

2016: People Still Killed in US Drug War at the Rate of One a Week [FEATURE]

With 2016 now behind us, it's time for some year-end accounting, and when it comes to fatalities related to drug law enforcement, that accounting means tallying up the bodies. The good news is that drug war deaths are down slightly from last year; the bad news is that people are still being killed at the rate of about once a week, as has been the norm in recent years. There were 49 people killed in the drug war last year.

This is the sixth year that Drug War Chronicle has tallied drug war deaths. There were 54 in 2011, 63 in 2012, 41 in 2013, 39 in 2014, and 56 in 2015, That's an average of just a hair under one a week during the past six years.

The Chronicle's tally only include deaths directly related to US domestic drug law enforcement operations -- full-fledged, door-busting, pre-dawn SWAT raids, to traffic stops turned drug busts, to police buy-bust operations. Some of the deaths are by misadventure, not gunshot, including several people who died after ingesting drugs in a bid to avoid getting busted and two law enforcement officers who separately dropped dead while.

Many of those killed either brandished a weapon or actually shot at police officers, demonstrating once again that attempting to enforce drug prohibition in a society rife with weapons is a recipe for trouble. Some of those were homeowners wielding weapons against middle-of-the-night intruders who they may or may not have known were police.

But numerous others were killed in their vehicles by police who claimed suspects were trying to run them down and feared for their lives when they opened fire. Could those people have been merely trying to flee from the cops? Or were they really ready to kill police to go to avoid going to jail on a drug charge?

Which is not to understate the dangers to police enforcing the drug laws. The drug war took the lives of four police officers last year, one in a shootout with a suspect, one in an undercover drug buy gone bad, one while doing a drug interdiction training exercise at a bus station, and one while engaged in a nighttime drug raid over a single syringe. That's about par for the course; over the six years the Chronicle has been keeping count about one cop gets killed for every 10 dead civilians.

Here are December's drug war deaths:

On December 7, in Dallas, Texas, Keelan Charles Murray, 37, shot and killed himself as local police operating as part of a DEA drug task force attempted to arrest him for receiving a package of synthetic opioids. Police said they were clearing the apartment when they heard a gunshot from upstairs. A Duncanville police officer then shot Murray in the shoulder, and Murray then turned his own gun on himself. Murray was locally notorious for having sold heroin to former Dallas Cowboy football player Matt Tuinei, who overdosed on it and died in 199. Dallas Police are investigating.

On December 11, in White Hall, West Virginia, Marion County police attempting to serve a drug arrest warrant shot and killed Randy Lee Cumberledge, 39, in the parking lot of the local Walmart. Police said they spotted Cumberledge's vehicle, but when they approached and ordered him to show his hands, he put his vehicle into gear and "drove aggressively" toward a deputy. Both the deputy and a White Hall police officer opened fire, killing Cumberland. There was no mention of any firearms recovered. The West Virginia State Police are investigating.

On December 12, in Byron, Georgia, member of a Peach County Drug Task Force SWAT team shot and killed Rainer Smith, 31, when he allegedly opened fire on them with a shotgun as they forced their way into his home to arrest him. Smith wounded two Byron police officers before return fire from police killed him. Police said no one answered the door when they arrived, so they forced their way in, and were immediately met by gunfire. Smith's live-in girlfriend and infant daughter were in the home with him. They were uninjured. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating.

On December 21, in Knox, Indiana, Knox Police shot and killed William Newman, 46, as they attempted to arrest him for possession of methamphetamine, failure to appear for dealing meth, and violating parole. Police said Knox attempted to flee, almost running down an officer, and they opened fire. He died in a local hospital hours later. The Indiana State Police are investigating.

Four Dead in Drug War Killings in Five Days, Including One Police Officer

Guns and drugs are a bad combination. Or, more precisely, drug prohibition in a nation where guns are freely available has tremendous potential for fatal conflicts between drug users and sellers and the police who are out to get them. Attempting to enforce widely-flouted drug prohibition laws in a society as heavily armed as this one is a recipe for violent encounters. When the war on drugs intersects with the Second Amendment, the bullets fly.

And the bullets were flying during the first week of September. Four people, including a New Mexico police officer, were killed in three separate incidents of drug law enforcement over a five-day period beginning on September 2. That brings Drug War Chronicle'scount of the killed to 37 so far this year.

During the five years the Chronicle has been tracking drug war deaths, they have occurred at a rate of about one a week. Not so far this month, though.

The number of police officers killed in the drug war has typically been a handful each year, but with four officers already killed so far this year, 2016 could end up being an atypically bloody year for police, too.

Here are the three fatal encounters that left four dead in the drug war since the month began:

On September 2, in Alamogordo, New Mexico, a wanted drug suspect and an Alamagordo police officer died in a shootout after a foot chase. Joseph Moreno, 38, died at the scene, while Officer Clint Corvinus, 33, succumbed to his wounds at a local hospital. Corvinus and another officer encountered Moreno while on patrol, but he took running when they tried to detain him. Gunfire broke out, and the two men were fatally wounded. The New Mexico State Police are investigating. Moreno had a lengthy criminal history, including a stint in state prison in 2001. Since then, he had been arrested numerous times, mostly on drug charges, but also for burglary, robbery, escape, and conspiracy to attempt to commit a violent felony. He had three warrants outstanding when the shootout occurred and was scheduled for court on drug charges in December. During a press conference the same day as the shooting, Alamogordo Police Chief Daron Syling said police had received threats after Moreno's death from people they believe are associated with him. One man was arrested after showing up at the hospital and threatening police.

On September 6, in Omaha, Nebraska, Douglas County sheriff's deputies shot and killed David L. Anderson, 25, as they attempted to arrest him on a felony warrant for possession of a controlled substance. The circumstances are not clear, but deputies reported they were being fired on before opening fire on the black pickup truck Anderson was driving. Witnesses reported deputies pulling Anderson from the truck after it crashed. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. Police did not say if a weapon had been recovered. The deputies involved are now on leave and the Omaha Police Department is investigating the incident.

On September 7, in East Lakeland, Florida, members of a Polk County Sheriff's Office "high intensity drug task force" shot and killed Francis Perry, 32, after he refused officers' orders to exit his vehicle and then opened fire with a handgun, police said. The incident began when task force members on patrol spotted Perry driving a black Dodge Charger and recognized him as someone with outstanding warrants. They followed him until he parked in the driveway of a house, and he refused to roll down his tinted window or exit the vehicle. As officers prepared to break the window glass, Perry reached for a 9mm pistol he was wearing on his hip and opened fire. Four officers returned fire, firing 28 rounds, with five striking Perry, who died shortly thereafter at a nearby hospital. "We didn't choose to shoot Francis Perry," Sheriff Perry Judd said at a news conference. "He chose for us to shoot him, and we accommodated him... We can only surmise, ladies and gentlemen, that this guy decided he wanted to end his life here, that this was really a suicide by cop." Perry had a long criminal history and more than $5,000 of meth in his car, police said.

Medical Marijuana Update

A federal appeals court upholds the ban on gun sales to medical marijuana patients, Arkansans will have two medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot, Oklahomans will likely have none, and more.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, a second medical marijuana initiative was okayed for the ballot. The state already has one medical marijuana initiative on the ballot, the 2016 Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, and state officials announced Thursday that a second initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, will also appear on the ballot, even though they have yet to certify that it has enough signatures to do so. That's because Thursday was the deadline to certify ballot issues. Because the secretary of state's office was not able to verify late signatures before the deadline, the second initiative has been "certified to the ballot and assigned a number." If the initiative actually comes up short on signatures, votes for it in November will not be recorded.

On Monday, the state Democratic Party endorsed medical marijuana. With two competing medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot, the state Democratic Party has approved a platform plank endorsing medical marijuana. The plank calls for "the development of a responsible medical marijuana program that will receive patients in need of such relief the freedom to access this remedy."

California

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court upheld the ban on gun sales to medical marijuana patients. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that the federal government's ban on gun sales to medical marijuana cardholders does not violate the 2nd Amendment. The decision came in the case of a Nevada woman turned away from a gun shop after obtaining a medical marijuana card. The ruling sets precedent for all nine states in the circuit, including California, Oregon, and Washington.

Florida

Last Thursday, the medical marijuana initiative was polling above 67%. The Amendment 2 medical marijuana amendment initiative appears headed for victory in November. A new poll from the University of Florida Bob Graham Center has support at 67.8%, in line with a slew of polls since early 2015 that show the initiative will a low of 61% approval and up to 80%. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass.

Montana

Last Wednesday, an anti-marijuana zealot gave up on his initiative to repeal the state's medical marijuana law. Billings auto dealer Steve Zabawa has given up the ghost on his effort to get an anti-marijuana initiative on the state ballot. His measure would have repealed the state's already seriously gutted medical marijuana law (a measure that has made the ballot, I-182, seeks to reinstate the original law) and declare that any drug illegal under federal law is illegal under state law. He came up short on signatures, lost an initial court challenge, and now says he doesn't have time to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Zabawa said he will now concentrate on trying to defeat I-182.

New York

Last Thursday, the state Health Department called for expanding the medical marijuana program In a report marking the two-year anniversary of the state's medical marijuana program, the Department of Health called for expanding the program to meet patient needs. "To meet additional patient demand and increase access to medical marijuana throughout New York State, NYSDOH recommends registering five additional organizations over the next two years, using a phased-in approach to permit their smooth integration into the industry," the report said.

On Tuesday, the Health Department announced an expansion of the medical marijuana program. The state Department of Health said Tuesday it will allow nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana for patients and allow dispensaries to make deliveries. The department also said it was considering whether to include chronic pain on the state's list of qualifying conditions.

Oklahoma

On Monday, advocaes said the medical marijuana initiative was unlikely to appear on the ballot. The group behind the initiative, State Question 788, said they will challenge the attorney general's rewording of the battle title, and that will begin a legal process that will delay the measure beyond the November 8 election date. State officials, on the other hand, said the initiative campaign waited too long to turn in signatures. "We are dealing with processes established in both federal and state election law for initiatives proposed by the people that require specific procedures to be followed," Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) said. "It's important for the people of Oklahoma to know -- regardless of the substance of the state question -- the signatures were not submitted with enough time to allow this process to be played out completely."

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

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