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From Bloody Drug War to Legal Pot: Ten Global Drug Policy Highlights (and Lowlights) of 2017 [FEATURE]

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has unleashed a drug war that has killed thousands. (Wikimedia)
1. In the Philippines, Duterte's Bloody Drug War Rages On

Undeterred by international criticism, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte continued his murderous war on small-time drug users and sellers throughout 2017, with Human Rights Watch estimating that some 12,000 people -- almost all poor -- have been killed since Duterte unleashed the killers in June 2016. Poor neighborhoods have also been subjected to warrantless searches and door-to-door drug testing, and thousands more people have been imprisoned in insalubrious conditions.

2. Indonesia Starts Going Down Duterte's Path

Indonesian President Joko Widodo must have liked what he was seeing one archipelago over because in July, he started sounding like his Filipino counterpart. To fight the country's "narcotic emergency," he said, police should "gun down" foreigners suspected of drug trafficking if they "resist arrest." At year's end, the National Narcotics agency proudly reported it had killed 79 people in drug raids during 2017, and arrested more than half a million, of whom 1,523 were declared rehabilitated after drug treatment. In 2016, Widodo had ordered that a 100,000 people receive drug treatment, but there don't seem to be any resources for that.

3. Norway Moves to Decriminalize All Drug Use

In December, the Norwegian parliament sent a strong signal that it wants to decriminalize drug use and possession. It voted to pursue such a path, directing the government to begin making changes in the laws to reflect that vote. Legislation that would actually enact the changes has yet to be drafted, but Norway is on the way.

4. Uruguay Legal Marijuana Sales Begin

It took more than three years after the country legalized marijuana before it happened, but it happened this year: Pharmacies began selling marijuana direct to customers in July, making Uruguay the first country in the world to permit the legal production and sale of marijuana.

5. Nevada Becomes 5th US State to Allow Legal Marijuana Sales, More Coming Online Soon

Uruguay may be the first country to legalize marijuana, but now, eight US states and the District of Columbia have done it, and the first four -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- all allow recreational marijuana sales. Four states legalized it in November 2016, but only Nevada got legal sales up and running in 2017. But watch out -- a tidal wave is coming: Legal sales begin in California, with its population of nearly 40 million, on January 1. Oh, and Maine and Massachusetts will begin legal sales sometime in 2018, too.

6. Mexico Drug War Mayhem at Record Levels

Eleven years after then-President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels and sent in the military, things are worse than ever. According to government crime statistics, 2017 was the bloodiest year yet with more than 27,000 murders as splintering drug trafficking organizations fight a multi-sided war among themselves and against the police and military (when the police and military aren't acting on behalf of cartel factions). The year brought other grim milestones as well: More than 200,000 dead, an estimated 30,000 missing, more than 850 clandestine graves uncovered. All to keep Americans well supplied with the drugs we love to hate -- or is it hate to love?

7. Iran Moves to Drastically Reduce Drug Executions

The Islamic Republic has long been one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders, but that could be about to change. In August, the Iranian parliament approved an amendment that significantly raises the bar for mandatory executions for certain drug offenses. The amendment dramatically increases the quantities of drugs needed to trigger a sentence of death or life in prison and should result in hundreds of people being spared execution each year. But it's not a done deal yet: It still must be approved by the Guardian Council, a body of 12 Islamic jurists, to ensure it complies with the Iranian constitution and their interpretation of sharia law.

Breaking Bad: Kim Jung Un (Flickr)
8. US Heightens Afghan Drug War, First Round of Bombing Campaign Kills Dozens

In August, President Trump authorized new rules of engagement for American forces in Afghanistan, allowing them to target the Taliban directly with air strikes. Previously, air strikes had been allowed only in support of Afghan troop operations or to protect US or NATO troops under attack. In November, US military commanders made the first use of that authority by bombing ten Taliban-controlled opium production facilities in Helmand province, leaving a toll of at least 44 dead. The aim is to disrupt Taliban funding, but it looks like there's plenty more work to do: The Pentagon says the Taliban have another 400 to 500 heroin labs. And with bumper opium crops in 2017, they have plenty of work to do, too.

9. Colombia's Bumper Coca Harvests Prompt US Pressure to Resume Aerial Eradication

Colombia just came off a bumper year for coca and cocaine production, but that's largely an artifact of the peace settlement between the FARC and the government, which offered assistance to coca growers wishing to transition to other crops, thus encouraging farmers to grow coca so they could qualify for the program. But such nuances matter little to the Trump administration, which is pressuring the Colombian government to reinstate the aerial fumigation of coca crops with potentially carcinogenic herbicides.

10. In Sanctions-Busting Move, North Korea Ups Meth Production

The regime in Pyongyang has long been accused of resorting to drug trafficking to help finance its oft-sanctioned military activities, and it looks like it's up to it again. In August came reports that state-affiliated companies and universities were "ramping up" the production of methamphetamine as a means of obtaining desperately needed foreign currency. With more sanctions, expect more North Korean meth.

Chronicle AM: WI Dem Governor Contender Rips Walker on Food Stamp Drug Tests, More... (12/13/17)

The Hartford, CT, city council says legalize it, a Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial canddate attacks Scott Walker over food stamp drug testing, Colombia meets coca eradication goals, and more.

Gov. Walker wants Wisconsin to be the first state in the country to drug test food stamp recipients. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Hartford, CT, City Council Calls for Legalizing and Taxing Marijuana. The city council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a resolution calling for the legalization and taxation of marijuana. The resolution also calls on the city to conduct an economic impact study and hold public hearings on the issue, as well as measures to "ensure racial equity in ownership and employment."

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Democratic Governor Candidate Rakes Walker on Food Stamp Drug Testing. Democratic gubernatorial contender Matt Flynn slammed Gov. Scott Walker's (R) plan to impose drug screening and testing on food stamp recipients Tuesday: "I condemn this in the strongest terms. First, it is hypocritical. Walker and his Republican allies claim to be against intrusive big government, but there has never been a more intrusive, big-government administration in our state's history," he said. "Second, this is foolishly wasteful of our state's limited resources. By the administration's own admission, fewer than one-third of one percent of all food stamp recipients will likely be identified as drug users. Numerous states have passed similar 'reforms' and have actually found that recipients of these programs test positive at a lower rate than the general population. These 'reforms' always cost more money than they save. Third, and most importantly, this policy is offensive in the extreme. It demeans people experiencing poverty. It is unconscionable."

Law Enforcement

Kansas Couple Whose Home Was Raided in Bungled Marijuana Search Loses Lawsuit. The couple, a pair of former CIA employees who were growing tomato plants hydroponically, were raided by Johnson County sheriff's deputies searching for marijuana. Deputies zeroed in on the couple after spotting them at a hydroponics store, then searched their trash and mistook discarded tea leaves for marijuana leaves. The couple sued, alleging deputies violated their Fourth Amendment rights, but a federal jury disagreed. The couple says they will appeal.

International

Colombia Says It Met Coca Eradication Deadline, Hints at Shift to Crop Substitution. Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said the country had eradicated some 125,000 of coca planting ahead of a deadline agreed to with the US. He said the target for forced eradication next year would decline to 100,000 acres. This year's forced eradication program was five times larger than last years' and led to clashes between troops, eradicators, and growers that left at least ten coca farmers dead.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, 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.)

Pennsylvania Cops Abuse Elderly Couple in Raid on Marijuana Plants That Weren't [FEATURE]

A Buffalo Township, Pennsylvania, couple has filed a lawsuit against township police and an insurance company in the wake of a misbegotten drug raid that netted only hibiscus plants.

Edward Cramer, 69, and his wife, Audrey Cramer, 66, were quietly enjoying their golden years this fall when they called their insurance company about a neighbor's tree that had fallen on their property. That's when things started going wacky, as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

The insurance company, Nationwide Mutual Insurance, sent its local agent, Jonathan Yeamans, to the Cramer's place, but Yeamans apparently had more than insurance claims on his mind. According to the lawsuit, Yeamans surreptitiously took photos of flowering hibiscus plants in the backyard, then sent them to local police as evidence of an illegal marijuana grow.

The Cramers claim that Yeamans "intentionally photographed the flowering hibiscus plants in such a manner as not to reveal that they had flowers on them so that they would appear to resemble marijuana plants."

Yeaman's photos went to Buffalo Township Officer Jeffrey Sneddon, who claimed to have expertise in identifying marijuana, and who, incorrectly identifying the plants as marijuana, applied for and received a search warrant for the Cramers' property.

And the raid was on! According to the lawsuit, Audrey Cramer was home alone, upstairs and only partially dressed when police arrived around noon on October 7. She went downstairs to open the door, only to be confronted by a dozen or so officers pointing assault rifles at her.

The lead officer, Sgt. Scott Hess, ordered Mrs. Cramer to put her hands up and told her he had a search warrant, but refused to show it to her, the complaint alleges.

Then, "Hess entered the home and went upstairs. Upon returning downstairs, he demanded that (Cramer), a 66-year-old woman, be handcuffed behind her back in a state of partial undress."

Mrs. Cramer asked police if she could put on a pair of pants nearby, but was told "in no uncertain terms," that she could not. She was instead placed under arrest and read her right.

Police then walked her outside the house and left her standing, handcuffed, in her underwear in public for 10 minutes, before police walked her, barefoot, down a gravel driveway to a police car. The suit claims police refused her request to let her put on sandals.

When Mrs. Cramer asked Hess "what on earth is going on," he told her police were searching for marijuana. She explained that the plants in question were hibiscus -- not marijuana -- but Hess, also claiming drug identification expertise, insisted they were indeed pot plants.

She spent the next 4 ½ hours in a "very hot" patrol car, her hands cuffed behind her.

Edward Cramer returned home in the midst of the raid, only to be met by leveled police guns, removed from his car, arrested, and placed in the police car with his wife for the next two hours. According to the lawsuit, Cramer repeatedly asked to show police that the plants were hibiscus, with the flowers clearly in bloom, to no avail.

"Why couldn't the police see what it was?" Al Lindsay, the Cramers' attorney, said in a phone interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Being arrested, for people like this who have no history with crime and no experience with law enforcement, this is an incredibly traumatic experience."

Police released the couple from the patrol car only after an hours-long search failed to turn up any marijuana in the home or the yard. The lawsuit says that Sgt. Hess seized the hibiscus plants even though he admitted he didn't think they were pot plants and labeled them "tall, green, leafy suspected marijuana plants."

While police didn't charge the Cramers with any crimes, the couples' experience was traumatic enough for them to seek medical treatment, and Edward Cramer has been seeing a trauma therapist.

Now, with their lawsuit filed Thursday, the Cramers are seeking justice. The suit, filed in Butler County Court, names Nationwide, Nationwide agent Yeamans, Buffalo Township, and three of its police officers. It alleges police use of excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy.

Neither Buffalo Township nor Nationwide have been willing to comment on the case.

And to add insult to injury, the Cramers got an October 26 letter from Nationwide informing them that marijuana had been found on their property and if they failed to remove the plants, Nationwide would cancel their insurance policy.

The Cramers are seeking "monetary and compensatory damages," as well as attorneys; fees and court costs.

Just another day in the war on plants.

Chronicle AM: GA County Pays Big Time for School Drug Raid, Afghan Opium Crop Up, More... (11/16/17)

California gets ready for legal marijuana, Michigan gets ready to put a legalization initiative on the ballot, a Georgia county pays bigtime for a raid on school students, Afghan opium production nearly doubles, and more.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... and grow and grow... (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

California Announces Emergency Licensing Regs for Legal Marijuana Commerce. The state's three marijuana licensing authorities announced Thursday that they have posted online proposed emergency licensing regulations for the era of legal marijuana commerce beginning January 1. The Bureau of Cannabis Control regulations are available here; the Department of Food and Agriculture regulations are available here; and the Department of Public Health regulations are available here.

Michigan Initiative Campaign Has Signatures, Needs to Pay for Them. The campaign to put a legalization initiative on the November 2018 ballot said Wednesday it had gathered more than 360,000 raw signatures, well more than the 252,000 required by law, but that it needed to raise $30,000 to pay off a signature-collection firm before it can turn in the signatures. The campaign said it expected to be able to hand in signatures before Thanksgiving.

San Francisco Won't Be Ready for Legal Pot Sales on January 1. Oh, irony of ironies, the city that was ground zero for the marijuana reform movement won't be ready to allow marijuana sales on January 1, when legal sales begin statewide. In a Tuesday meeting, the Board of Supervisors failed to agree on regulations governing sales, postponing further discussion of the rules until November 28, and virtually ensuring that rules will not be in place by January 1.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Secretary of State Forms Panel to Write Medical Marijuana Bill. Secretary of State Alison Grimes (D) said Wednesday that she is putting together a panel to write a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state. The panel will include doctors, nurses, military veterans, medical marijuana advocates, and law enforcement. The aim is to have a bill ready for the 2018 legislative session.

Montana Released New Proposed Rules for Medical Marijuana Industry. The state Health Department Thursday released a pack of of proposed rules for the medical marijuana industry, which will be the subject of a public hearing later this month. The rules cover regulation of areas such as employment, product testing and tracking, security, and fees.

Drug Testing

Department of Transportation Adds Opioids to Truck Driver Drug Testing Panel. The DOT issued a final rule Monday that will expand its drug testing panel for DOT-regulated industries to include hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and oxycodone. The agency said the move was "a direct effort to enhance safety, prevent opioid abuse and combat the nation's growing opioid epidemic." The rule goes into effect on January 1.

Law Enforcement

Georgia County to Pay $3 Million to Students in School-Wide Drug Search. Worth County, Georgia, has agreed to pay $3 million to settle a lawsuit brought on behalf of students who were subjected to a school-wide lockdown during a drug sweep in April. Each Worth County High School Student will receive between $1,000 and $6,000, with the higher amounts going to students who suffered more invasive violations. "This settlement is a victory for the hundreds of Worth County students whose constitutional rights were violated," Mark Begnaud, an attorney for one of the students, told UPI.

International

Afghan Opium Output Nearly Doubled This Year. Opium production in Afghanistan hit a record level of nearly 10,000 tons this year, up 87% from last year. The area under poppy cultivation also increased, up 63% over last year. The figures are coming from the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. "It is high time for the international community and Afghanistan to reprioritize drug control, and to acknowledge that every nation has a shared responsibility for this global problem," UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov said in a statement.

Chronicle AM: Senate Keeps MedMj Language, Kansas SWAT Lawsuit Revived, More... (7/27/17)

A Senate panel has approved an amendment barring the DOJ from going after medical marijuana states, criminal justice reform groups want close scrutiny of US Attorney nominees, a federal appeals court reinstates a lawsuit over a SWAT raid that turned up only tomatoes and tea leaves, and more.

A Kansas SWAT team looking for a pot grow raided a couple who were only growing tomatoes. Now, their lawsuit can proceed.
Medical Marijuana

Senate Panel Approves Amendment Defunding DOJ Medical Marijuana Enforcement. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to approve an amendment that would block the Justice Department from spending any funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The amendment, which passed with strong Republican support, is a striking rebuke to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had personally requested that Congress kill the amendment. A House committee yesterday killed a similar amendment, but if the Senate amendment stays in the appropriations bill, it could be the basis for conference committee negotiations later.

Nevada Supreme Court Upholds Medical Marijuana Registry. In a Tuesday decision, the state Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the state's medical marijuana registry. The program had been challenged by a John Doe lawsuit, which complained that the registry and associated fees violated his due process rights. The lawsuit was rejected by lower state courts, and now the state's highest court has agreed.

Law Enforcement

Reform Groups Call on Senate to Closely Scrutinize Trump's US Attorney Nominees. A number of criminal justice reform groups on both the left and the right are calling on Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to have committee members actually question nominees, whether at hearings or in writing. The groups, which include Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Right on Crime, and the American Conservative Union, want nominees' positions on key issues such as asset forfeiture, sentencing policy, and respecting the authority of states to be made clear. "In view of the recent policies announced by the Department of Justice (DOJ), it is even more important that the Senate understand each nominee's views of the proper role government attorneys play in seeking justice rather than merely 'winning' the cases they bring," the groups wrote. The coalition made an initial request to Grassley in March, but got no response.

Federal Appeals Court Reinstates Lawsuit Against Kansas Cops Who Led SWAT Raid Against Couple Growing Tomatoes. In a blistering decision, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit filed by a suburban Kansas City couple after a SWAT-style raid based on the couple's visit to a garden supply shop and a faulty field drug test that said tea leaves in their trash were marijuana. There was no marijuana. The family sued the Johnson County Sheriff's Office after the 2012 raid. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2015, but now the 10th Circuit has overruled him.

Chronicle AM: SD Sued Over Forced Catheterization of Toddler for Drug Test, More... (6/30/17)

The ACLU sues South Dakota over the forced drug testing of a toddler, Detroit residents again sue the dope squad for killing dogs in pot raids, Pennsylvania's governor signs an asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Trump's EPA head stops California from setting pesticide regulations for marijuana crops.
Marijuana Policy

EPA Rejects California's Request to Recognize Allowable Marijuana Pesticides. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt last week rejected the state's request to recognize acceptable pesticides for pot crops. Pruitt used the fact of marijuana's continuing illegality under federal law to justify the decision: "Under federal law, cultivation (along with sale and use) of cannabis is generally unlawful as a schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. The EPA finds that the general illegality of cannabis cultivation makes pesticide use on cannabis a fundamentally different use pattern."

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Health Department Issues Dispensary Permits. The Health Department announced Thursday it had granted 27 medical marijuana dispensary permits. Each permit holder can open up to three dispensaries. They will be permitted to begin selling medical marijuana in six months. Click on the link for a list of permit recipients.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed into law Senate Bill 8 on Thursday. The bill does not end civil asset forfeiture, but does impose a higher burden of proof on law enforcement before forfeitures can take place, mandate a hearing before any seized real property is forfeited, and add protections for third-party property owners.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Sued Over Forced Catherization of 3-Year-Old for Drug Test. The ACLU of South Dakota has filed a pair of lawsuits over the forced use of a catheter to take a urine sample from a three-year-boy to test for drugs as part of a child welfare investigation. The suit comes in the case of a Pierre woman whose boyfriend violated probation by testing positive for illegal drugs. Child protective workers then told the women her children would be taken away if she did not submit them to a drug test. The federal lawsuit names as defendants the state of South Dakota and the hospital whose employees actually performed the procedure.

Law Enforcement

Detroit's Dog Killing Drug Cops Sued for Third Time. A Detroit couple has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Detroit Police alleging officers needlessly and maliciously killed their three dogs during a July 2016 marijuana raid after officers refused to let them retrieve the animals from the back yard. That brings to three the number of active lawsuits filed against Detroit cops for killing dogs during pot raids. The culprit is the department's Major Violators Unit, which conducts hundreds of raids a year in the city, and which has left a trail of dead dogs in its wake. One officer alone has killed 69 dogs.

Illinois Supreme Court Rules County DAs Can't Form Their Own Dope Squads. The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday the county prosecutors cannot form their own policing units to conduct drug interdiction efforts, including traffic stops. The ruling came in a case involving the State Attorney's Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Unit created by the LaSalle County district attorney. The unit operated for five years, mainly stopping cars on their way to and from Chicago. Previously, state appeals courts had ruled that the units were an overreach of prosecutorial authority, and now the state's highest court has backed them up.

Not One Step Back: Drug Policy Reformers and African American Academics Convene in the South

This article was published in collaboration with Alternet and first appeared here.

Hundreds of members of the Atlanta community and dozens of the nation's leading advocates for drug policy reform gathered in a groundbreaking meeting over the weekend. The meeting aimed at building alliances with the African American community to both advance smart public health approaches to drug policy and maintain and protect existing reforms in the face of hostile powers in Washington.

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Rep. Maxine Waters, asha bandele
Sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, Georgia State University's Department of African American Studies, the Morehouse School of Medicine, Amnesty International, The Ordinary People's Society, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Peachtree NORML, "Not One Step Back" marked the first time the drug reform movement has come to the historically black colleges of the South and signals the emergence of a powerful new alliance between black academics and reform advocates.

The event included a series of panels filled with activists, academics, and public health experts, including Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrice Cullors and VH1 personality and best-selling author Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, and was highlighted by a keynote address by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).

To the delight of the audience, "Auntie Maxine" slammed the drug war as aimed only at certain communities while those making fortunes at the top of the illegal drug trade go untouched. The representative from South Central reached back to the days of the crack cocaine boom to make her case.

"The police did everything you think wouldn't happen in a democracy," she said, citing illegal raids and thuggish behavior from the LAPD of then-Chief Darryl Gates, the inventor of the SWAT team. But if low-level users and dealers were getting hammered, others involved went scot free.

"Something happened to devastate our communities," she said, alluding to the arrival of massive amounts of cocaine flowing from political allies of the Reagan administration as it waged war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. "The CIA and DEA turned a blind eye," Waters argued. "If you're the CIA and DEA, you know who the dealer is, but they take the lower-level dealers and let the big dealers keep selling drugs."

"Ricky Ross did time," she said, referencing the South Central dealer held responsible for unleashing the crack epidemic (with the help of Nicaraguan Contra connections). "But those big banks that laundered all that drug money -- nobody got locked up, they just have to pay fines. But for them, fines are just a cost of doing business. Even today, some of the biggest banks are laundering money for drug dealers," Waters noted.

"We have to defend our communities; we don't support drugs and addiction, but you need to know that people in high places bear some responsibility. One of the worst things about the drug war is that we never really dealt with how these drugs come into our communities," Waters added.

The selection of Atlanta for the conclave was no accident. Georgia is a state that incarcerates blacks for drug offenses at twice the rate it does whites. While blacks make up only a third of the state's population, they account for three-quarters of those behind bars for marijuana offenses.

The state has the nation's fourth-highest incarceration rate, with a prison population on track to grow 8% within the next five years, and one out of every 13 adults in the state are in prison or jail or on probation or parole.

Atlanta is also the powerhouse of the South -- the region's largest city, and one that is increasingly progressive in a long-time red state that could now be turning purple. And it is the site of the Drug Policy Alliance's International Drug Policy Reform Conference -- the world's premier drug reform gathering -- set for October. What better place to bring a laser focus on the racial injustice of the drug war?

"The drug war is coded language," said Drug Policy Alliance senior director asha bandele. "When the law no longer allowed the control and containment of people based on race, they inserted the word 'drug' and then targeted communities of color. Fifty years later, we see the outcome of that war. Drug use remains the same, and black people and people of color are disproportionately locked up. But no community, regardless of race, has been left unharmed, which is why we are calling everyone together to strategize."

And strategize they did, with panels such as "Drug Reform is a Human Rights Issue," "This is What the Drug War Looks Like: Survivors Speak," "Strength, Courage, and Wisdom: Who We Must Be in These Times," and "Dreaming a World: A Nation Beyond Prisons and Punishment."

While denunciations of white privilege were to be expected, the accompanying arguments that capitalism plays a role in perpetuating oppression and inequality was surprisingly frank.

"We have to dismantle both white supremacy and capitalism," said Eunisses Hernandez, a California-based program coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We need to reach a place where trauma is dealt with in a public health model. The current system of law enforcement, prisons, and jails doesn't do anything for us."

"We're in agreement here," said Dr. Hill. "We have to eliminate white supremacy and capitalism."

That's not something you hear much in mainstream political discourse, but in Atlanta, under the impetus of addressing the horrors of the war on drugs, the search for answers is leading to some very serious questions -- questions that go well beyond the ambit of mere drug reform. Something was brewing in Atlanta this weekend. Whether the initial progress will be built upon remains to be seen, but the drug reformers are going to be back in October to try to strengthen and deepen those new-found bonds.

Atlanta, GA
United States

WATCH: Florida Sheriff's Creepy Tough Guy Video Threatens Heroin Dealers

As part of his effort to fight heroin trafficking, Lake County, Florida, Sheriff Peyton Grinnell has released a video pledging to go after drug dealers, but the effort from the sheriff's "Community Engagement Unit" is both creepy and wrong-headed.

The video features the sheriff surrounded by four masked officers, their eyes hidden behind sunglasses, their torsos protected by bullet-proof vests, wearing the olive green pants of the military -- not the blue of law enforcement. They look like some sort of paramilitary hit squad, and that's what Sheriff Grinnell promises they will be.

"To the dealers that are pushing this poison, I have a message for you," the glowering sheriff warns. "We're coming for you. As a matter of fact, our undercover agents have already bought heroin from many of you… To the dealers, I say: Enjoy looking over your shoulder, constantly wondering if today is the day we come for you. Enjoy trying to sleep tonight as you wonder if tonight's the night our SWAT team blows your door off its hinges."

The message is presumably designed to be reassuring for the good citizens of Lake County, but the sheriff's promise of increased resort to paramilitarized, high-intensity, middle-of-the-night drug raids is anything but, given the record of SWAT raid errors over the years.

The New York Times recently reported that in the past six years alone, at least 81 civilians and 13 cops have been killed in "dynamic entry" raids, oftentimes after police obtained a "no-knock" warrant allowing them to bust in a door and go in heavy without warning. And as the Washington Post noted in a roundup of SWAT raid mishaps last fall, such mistakes -- sometimes fatal -- continue to occur with depressing regularity.

But even when no one is killed and no headlines are made, mistaken SWAT raids corrode public confidence. Families whose children are subjected to screaming masked intruders kicking their doors down in the middle of the night and pointing guns at their heads are likely to be traumatized for years even if the cops say "sorry."

Bad raids happen for a variety of reasons. An informant may lie to score points with the cops. The cops might hit the wrong address by mistake. Or they may hit the right address, but without necessary information about who they may encounter, as was the case with the notorious 2014 Georgia raid where a SWAT member threw a flashbang grenade into a baby's crib and blew a hole in the 19 -- month-old's chest, nearly killing him. (Police in this case were also acting on a bad informant's tip.)

Heroin is a serious problem, and it is illegal. We expect police to enforce the law, but there has to be a better way than treating drug suspects like they're ISIS terrorists or Iraqi insurgents. What ever happened to, "We've got the place surrounded. Come out with your hands up!"?

Here's the video:

Chronicle AM: Pot SWAT Raids Kill More People Than Pot, Aussie Bigwigs Call for Decrim, More... (3/21/17)

The New York Times reports on fatal SWAT drug raids, Australian former premiers and police chiefs call for drug decriminalization, medical marijuana keeps statehouses busy, and more.

Medical marijuana is keeping state legislatures busy. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Poll Shows Support for Plant Limits. A new Keating Research poll has support for limiting home marijuana grows to 12 plants at 57%, with only 36% opposed. The poll comes as lawmakers consider House Bill 1220, which originally imposed a 12-plant limit, but was amended to up the limit to 16 plants. That bill has already passed the House and is now before the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas House Votes to Kill Bill Banning Edibles. The House voted 52-40 Monday to kill House Bill 1991, which would have banned the commercial production of medical marijuana edibles in the state. Bill sponsor Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Springdale) argued that patients could make their own and that medical marijuana is medicine, not candy, but her arguments failed to sway her peers.

Nevada Bill Would Let Medical Marijuana Patients Carry Guns. State Sen. Kevin Atkinson (D-Las Vegas) filed Senate Bill 351 Monday. That measure would allow medical marijuana users to possess a firearm and a concealed carry permit. Current state law requires sheriffs to deny such permits for medical marijuana users.

New Hampshire Senate Committee Approves Use of Medical Marijuana for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Elderly Committee has approved a bill that would add Ehlers-Danlos syndrome to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The measure now heads for a Senate floor vote. If it passes there, the House will take it up.

Utah 2018 Medical Marijuana Initiative Drive Gearing Up. Medical marijuana advocates are gearing up to try to put an initiative on the state's 2018 ballot. They said they would begin the process of signature gathering next month, and they cite promising polling. The state legislature has so far thwarted efforts to create a robust medical marijuana program.

Law Enforcement

Marijuana Raids Kill More People Than Pot Ever Did. According to data compiled by the New York Times, since 2010, at least 20 SWAT raids involving suspected marijuana dealers have resulted in deaths, including those of four police officers. The toll for all drug SWAT raid deaths is, of course, higher, with 81 people killed, including 13 cops.

International

Australian Police Chiefs, Former Premiers Call for Drug Decriminalization. A group of former premiers, police commissioners, and legal advocates have called for an end to the criminalization of drug users. The call comes in the Australia 21 report, which was released Monday. The report, titled "Can Australia Respond to Drugs More Effectively and Safely," makes 13 recommendations for reducing drug-related harms, such as supervised drug use rooms and other harm reduction measures, but also called for eliminating penalties for possession and drug use.

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.

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