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Chronicle AM: CA Licenses First Legal Pot Shops, US ODs at Record High, More... (12/15/17)

California starts rolling out recreational marijuana business licenses, Maryland approves more dispensaries, Michigan starts accepting dispensary applications, the Mexican Senate approves a bill letting the military keep playing a policing role, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Issues First Recreational Marijuana Business Licenses. The state's Bureau of Cannabis Control issued 20 retail marijuana business licenses Thursday, paving the way for consumers to buy legal weed at pot shops as early as January 1. On the list were medical and recreational adult use distributors, retailers, and "microbusinesses." Among first day retail licenses were KindPeoples in Santa Cruz, 530 Cannabis in Shasta Lake, and Torrey Holistics in San Diego.

Denver Arrests 12, Shutters 26 Pot Shops in Criminal Investigation. Police in Denver shut down 26 Sweet Leaf pot shops Thursday and arrested 12 people in an ongoing criminal investigation related to allegations the shops were selling larger amounts of marijuana than allowed under state law. The shops involved all received orders to close the business, the first time the city has issued an open-ended suspension to a legal pot business. The DEA was not involved.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Approve A Dozen More Dispensaries. The state's Medical Cannabis Commission has given the go-ahead for another 12 dispensaries to open their doors. The state currently has 10. Another 60 dispensaries that have received preliminary licenses are still awaiting final approval. The state has more than 10,000 registered patients and existing dispensaries have had a hard time keeping up with demand.

Michigan Starts Accepting Medical Marijuana Applications. The state's Medical Marihuana Licensing Board is now accepting applications for medical marijuana businesses under the new regime approved by the legislature earlier this year. Existing dispensaries will not have to shut down while their licenses are approved, a process that could take three or four months.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Continue to Rise. At least 66,324 people died of drug overdoses during the 12-month period ending in May 2017, up 17 percent from the 56,488 who died between May 2015 and May 2016, according to data released this week by the National Center for Health Statistics. Fentanyl and other synthetics overtook heroin as the leading killer, accounting for some 23,000 deaths compared to heroin's 15,525 and another 14,467 deaths from prescription opioids.

International

Mexico Senate Votes to Keep the Military in Police Role. Despite soaring violence and human rights abuses, the Mexican Senate voted early Friday to approve the "internal security law" even as protestors surrounded the Senate to decry the measure, which they say will militarize the country and harden a failed strategy of using soldiers to fight drug cartels. The bill now returns to the lower house, where passage is expected to be a formality. "We are concerned that the bill gives the armed forces a leadership and coordination role in certain circumstances, rather than limiting their role to aiding and assisting civilian authorities," said a statement issued by the UN high commissioner for human rights. "[It] does this in the absence of solid control mechanisms to ensure that operations are carried out with full respect for human rights." The proposal comes as Mexico suffers its most murderous year on record—despite having the military involved in the fight against the cartels for the past 11 years. 

How Bigoted Pennsylvania Drug Warriors Turned This New York Man's Life into a Living Hell [FEATURE]

In June, 2014, Wilfredo Ramos was driving back to his Brooklyn home after visiting his mother in Lancaster, Pennsylvania when two Pennsylvania State Police troopers detoured him into a Kafkaesque nightmare from which he emerged only five months later.

The traffic stop from hell happened to Wilfredo Ramos -- and happened, and happened. (Sonoma County Sheriff's Office)
In the meantime, Ramos rotted in jail on bogus charges, losing his job, his car, and his apartment. Now, in a small gesture of redress, the State Police have agreed to pay Ramos $150,000 for his travails in a taxpayer-funded settlement, but the cops still admit no fault or liability.

According to the lawsuit that ended in the settlement, Ramos' nightmare began when he was pulled over by Troopers Justin Summa and Kevin Vanfleet on June 6, 2014. Neither trooper said why they stopped Ramos, and the suit alleged they were engaged in racial profiling because Ramos is Hispanic and was driving a car with New York plates.

Summa claimed he smelled alcohol, and Ramos replied that he had not been drinking. Summa then challenged Ramos, citing his ethnicity and place of residence. "We know you have drugs," Summa told him, "just tell us where they are." Ramos denied possessing any drugs.

Summa then administered a Breathalyzer test, which came back negative for alcohol, and ordered Ramos to perform field sobriety tests, which he completed without any problem. The encounter should have ended at that point, with Ramos being thanked for his cooperation and sent on his way, since there was no evidence he had committed any crime.

But that's not what happened. Instead, although Ramos had cleared all the tests and although they lacked probable cause, Troopers Summa and Vanfleet arrested Ramos for driving under the influence, giving them a pretext to search his vehicle in their quest to make a drug bust. Their search turned up nothing.

The troopers then took Ramos to state police headquarters where they administered yet another Breathalyzer test, which they described as "inconclusive." The next stop was the Lehigh County DUI center, where Ramos consented to have his blood drawn to be tested.

According to the lawsuit, typical practice in Lehigh County is that people arrested under suspicion of drunk driving who have no prior drunk driving arrests and where there was no accident or injuries are released pending blood test results. That didn't happen with Ramos. Instead, he was held under $10,000 cash bail -- an amount he could not raise.

As Ramos rotted in jail, his blood sample was tested twice by the Lehigh Valley Health Network Laboratory, which found on June 18, 2014, that it contained no drugs or alcohol. Trooper Summa then ordered a third test of the sample, this time for a broader spectrum of substances, but again the results were negative.

On the same day the test results came in, Summa testified in a preliminary hearing on Ramos' case that the results were not yet in. He did not tell the court about the negative test results. Ramos remained in jail for 158 days until he was found not guilty in Lehigh County Court after blood tests showed no illegal substances or alcohol in his system.

While Ramos was jailed, he was fired from his job and lost his home. He lost his car, too: The tow truck operator notified Ramos by mail about a deadline to retrieve his vehicle, but because Ramos was in jail, no one was at his residence to receive the letter.

Ramos' lawsuit charged that Troopers Summa and Vanfleet conspired to falsely arrest him despite finding no evidence that he was impaired or had drugs in his car. The lawsuit also named five state police supervisors, from the troop commander to former state police Commissioner Francis Noonan, as liable for racially motivated misconduct, unlawful seizure, violations of due process of law, denial of equal rights, conspiracy to interfere with civil rights, and other Civil Rights Act violations.

While the State Police admitted no fault or liability, their willingness to settle the case speaks for itself.

Attorney Joshua Karoly, who represented Ramos in the lawsuit, was magnanimous after the settlement was announced. "It was a mistake that this happened, and this resolution is going to go a long way toward getting his life back on track to where it was before this happened," Karoly told the Lancaster Morning Call. "It makes mistakes like that much less likely when they're brought to the public's attention."

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.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An NYPD counterterrorism officer gets caught trying to smuggle smack, a Virginia cop gets nailed for downloading dirty photos from a drug suspect's phone, a Homeland Security officer heads to prison after getting caught taking bribes from a Cali cartel capo, and more.

In New York City, an NYPD counterterrorism officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he tried to bring three kilos of heroin into the city from New Jersey. Officer Reynaldo Lopez went down after meeting with an undercover officer to bring in what he thought was heroin to the Bronx. He is charged with attempted narcotics trafficking, as well as access device fraud for an unrelated counterfeit credit card operation.

In Colonial Heights, Virginia, a former Colonial Heights police officer was arrested last Friday for pilfering explicit photos from the phone of a drug suspect. Bryan Glinn Drake, 30, went down after the man who owned the phone noticed activity on his iCloud account while police had his phone and he was incarcerated. He went to the police about it, and investigators found that Drake had downloaded explicit photos of a woman from the phone. Drake now faces three counts each of misdemeanor embezzlement and obstruction of justice.

In Terre Haute, Indiana, a federal prison guard was arrested Monday on charges he took bribes, including prescription pills, to allow inmates to leave the prison grounds, have sex on the grounds with unauthorized visitors, and brought contraband into the prison. Leon Perry III, 41, is charged with conspiracy for an officer to permit escape, conspiracy to bribe public officials, officer permitting escape, public official accepting a bribe and providing contraband in a prison.

In Miami, a former Homeland Security Investigations agent pleaded guilty last Thursday to accepting cash, prostitutes, restaurant meals, and a hotel room from a Colombian drug lord in return for making his name vanish from a federal cocaine trafficking indictment. Christopher Ciccione, 52, helped Cali cartel boss Jose Bayron Piedrahita escape an indictment by deploying a web of lies to convince prosecutors to dismiss Piedrahita from a massive indictment for cocaine trafficking. Ciccione copped to conspiring to commit fraud and obstruction of justice. Under the terms of the plea agreement, he's looking at five years in prison when sentenced in February.

In Toms River, New Jersey, an Ocean County sheriff's officer was sentenced last Thursday to three years in prison for stealing cocaine that was supposed to be used to train drug-sniffing dogs. John C. Adams, a 16-year veteran, had been the commander of the canine unit when he was charged with stealing more than a kilo of cocaine and using it himself. In a plea bargain, he copped to one count of official misconduct and one count of theft.

Looking Back: The Biggest Domestic Drug Policy Stories of the Past 20 Years [FEATURE]

As Drug War Chronicle marks the publication of its 1,000th issue (with yours truly having authored 863 of them going back to 2000), we reflect on what has changed and what hasn't in the past couple of decades. This piece recounts our domestic drug policy evolution in the US; a companion piece looks at the international picture.

A lot has happened. We've broken the back of marijuana prohibition, even if we haven't killed it dead yet; we've seen medical marijuana gain near universal public acceptance, we've seen harm reduction begin to take hold, we've fought long and hard battles for sentencing reform -- and even won some of them.

But it hasn't all been good. Since the Chronicle began life as The Week Online With DRCNet back in 1997, more than 30 million people have been arrested for drugs, with all the deleterious consequences a drug bust can bring, and despite all the advances, the drug war keeps on rolling. There's been serious progress made, but there's plenty of work left to do. 

Here are the biggest big picture drug stories and trends of the past 20 years:

1. Medical Marijuana

It was November, 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, five years after San Francisco became the first city in the country to pass a medical marijuana measure, thanks in large part to the efforts of activists who mobilized to make its use possible for AIDS patients. Two years later, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington came on board, and three years after that, Hawaii became the first state to allow it though the legislative process. Now, 29 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico allow for the use of medical marijuana, and public support for medical marijuana reaches stratospheric levels in polls.

But the battle isn't over. The federal government still refuses to officially recognize medical marijuana, potentially endangering the progress made so far, especially under the current administration, efforts to reschedule marijuana to reflect its medical uses remain thwarted, some of the more recent states to legalize medical marijuana have become perversely more restrictive, and in some of the more conservative states, lawmakers attempt to appease demands for medical marijuana legalization by passing extremely limited CBD-only laws.

2. Marijuana Legalization: In the War on Weed, Weed is Winning

Twenty years ago, pot wasn't legal anywhere, and Gallup had public support for legalization at a measly 25%. A lot has changed since then. It took repeated tries, but beginning in 2012, states started voting to free the weed, with Colorado and Washington leading the way, Alaska and DC coming on board in 2014, and California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada joining the ranks last year. Now, about a fifth of the country has legalized weed, with more states lining up to do so next year, including most likely contenders Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, and Vermont.

Now, Gallup has support for legalization at 64% nationwide, with even a slight majority (51%) of Republicans on board. The only demographic group still opposed to pot legalization is seniors, and they will be leaving the scene soon enough. Again, the battle is by no means over. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and congressional efforts to change that have gone nowhere so far. But it seems like marijuana has won the cultural war, and the rest is just cleaning up what's left of the pot prohibition mess.

3. Marijuana, Inc.: The Rise of an Industry

State-legal marijuana is already a $10 billion dollar a year industry, and that's before California goes on line next month. It's gone from outlaws and hippie farmers in the redwoods to sharp-eyed business hustlers, circling venture capitalists, would-be monopolists, and assorted hangers on, from accountants, lawyers, and publicists to security and systems mavens, market analysts, and the ever-expanding industry press.

These people all have direct pecuniary interests in legal marijuana, and, thanks to profits from the golden weed, the means to protect them. Marijuana money is starting to flow into political campaigns and marijuana business interests organize to make sure they will continue to be able to profit from pot.

Having a legal industry with the wherewithal to throw its weight around a bit is generally -- but not entirely -- a good thing. To the degree that the marijuana industry is able to act like a normal industry, it will act like a normal industry, and that means sometimes the interests of industry sectors may diverge from the interests of marijuana consumers. The industry or some parts of it may complain, for instance, of the regulatory burden of contaminant testing, while consumers have an interest in knowing the pot they smoke isn't poisoned.

And getting rich off weed is a long way from the justice-based demand that people not be harassed, arrested, and imprisoned for using it. Cannabis as capitalist commodity loses some of that outlaw cachet, some ineffable sense of hipster cool. But, hey, you're not going to jail for it anymore (at least in those legal states).

4. The Power of the People: The Key Role of the Initiative Process

The initiative and referendum process, which lets activists bypass state legislatures and put issues to a direct popular vote, has been criticized as anti-democratic because it allows special interests to use an apathetic public to advance their interests, as both car insurers and tobacco companies have attempted in California. It also gets criticized for writing laws without legislative input.

But like any political tool, it can be used for good or ill, and when it comes to drug reform, it has been absolutely critical. When legislatures refuse to lead -- or even follow -- as has been the case with many aspects of drug policy, the initiative process becomes the only effective recourse for making the political change we want. It was through the initiative process that California and other early states approved medical marijuana; it was five years later that Hawaii became the first state where the legislature acted. Similarly with recreational marijuana legalization, every state that has legalized it so far has done it through the initiative process; in no state has it yet made its way through the legislature, although we're hoping that will change next year.

And it's not just marijuana. The initiative process has also been used successfully to pass sentencing reforms in California, and now activists are opening the next frontier, with initiatives being bruited in California and Oregon that would legalize psychedelic mushrooms.

The bad news: Only 24 states have the initiative process. The good news: The ones that do lead the way, setting an example for the others.

Drug prohibition can't be separated from the larger struggle for racial and social justice. (Creative Commons)
5. The Glaring Centrality of Race

It took Michelle Alexander's 2010 publication of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness to put a fine point on it, but the centrality of race in the prosecution of the war on drugs has been painfully evident since at least the crack hysteria of the 1980s, if not going back even further to the Nixonian law-and-order demagoguery of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

We've heard the numbers often enough: Blacks make up about 13% of the population and about 13% of drug users, but 29% of all drug arrests and 35% of those doing state prison time for drugs. And this racial disparity in drug law enforcement doesn't seem to be going away.

Neither is the horrendous impact racially-biased drug law enforcement has on communities of color. Each father or mother behind bars leaves a family exploded and usually impoverished, and each heavy-handed police action leaves a bitter aftertaste.

The drug war conveyor belt, feeding an endless number of black men and women into the half-life of prison, is clearly a key part of a system of racially oppressive policing that has led to eruptions from Ferguson to Baltimore. If we are going to begin to try to fix race relations in this country, the war on drugs is one of the key battlefronts. Thanks in part to Alexander's bestseller, civil rights organizations from the traditional to newer movements like Black Lives Matter have devoted increasing focus to criminal justice, including drug policy reform.

6. Harm Reduction Takes Hold

We don't think teenagers should be having sex, but we know they're going to, anyway, so we make condoms available to them so they won't get pregnant or STDs. That's harm reduction. So is providing clean needles to injection drug users to avoid the spread of disease, making opioid overdose drugs like naloxone widely available so a dosing error doesn't turn fatal, passing 911 Good Samaritan laws to encourage and OD victims' friends to call for help instead of run away, and providing a clean, well-lit place where drug users can shoot or smoke or snort their drugs under medical supervision and with access to social service referrals.

Two decades ago, the only harm reduction work going on was a handful of pioneering needle exchanges, thanks to folks like Dave Purchase at the North American Syringe Exchange Network (founded in 1988), and early activists faced harassment and persecution from local authorities. But it was the creation of the Harm Reduction Coalition in 1993 that really began to put the movement on the map.

In this century, harm reduction practices have gained ground steadily. Now, 33 states and DC allow needle exchange programs to operate, 40 states and DC have some form of 911 Good Samaritan laws, and every state in the county has now modified its laws to allow greater access to naloxone.

The next frontier for American drug war harm reduction is safe injection sites, and on the far horizon, opiate-assisted maintenance. There is not yet a single officially sanctioned operating safe injection in the country, but we are coming close in cities such as Seattle and San Francisco. And let's not forget drug decriminalization as a form of harm reduction. It should be the first step, but that's not the world we live in -- yet.

7. Sentencing Fever Breaks

Beginning in the Reagan years and continuing for decades, the number of prisoners in America rose sharply and steadily, driven in large part by the war on drugs. The phenomenon gained America infamy as the world's biggest jailer, whether in raw numbers or per capita.

But by early in the century, the fever had broken. After gradually slowing rates of increases for several years, the number of state and federal prisoners peaked around 2007 and 2008 at just over 1.6 million. At the end of 2015, the last year for which data is available, the number of prisoners was 1.527 million, down 2% from the previous year. And even the federal prison system, which had continued to increase in size, saw a 14% decline in population that year.

But most drug war prisoners are state prisoners, and that's where sentencing reform have really begun to make a difference. States from California to Minnesota to Texas, among others, enacted a variety of measures to cut the prison population, in some cases because of more enlightened attitudes, but in other cases because it just cost too damned much money for fiscal conservatives.

Current US Attorney General Jeff Sessions would like very much to reverse this trend and is in a position to do some damage, for instance, by instructing federal prosecutors to pursue tough sentences and mandatory minimums in drug cases. But he is hampered by federal sentencing reforms passed in the Obama era. Sessions may be able to bump up the number of people behind bars only slightly; the greater danger is that his policies serve as an inspiration for similarly inclined conservatives in the states to try to roll back reforms there.

8. The Rise (and Fall) of the Opioids

In 1996, Purdue Pharma introduced Oxycontin to the market. The powerful new pain reliever was pitched to doctors as not highly addictive by a high pressure company sales force and became a tremendous market success, generating billions for the Sackler family, the owners of the company. Opioid prescriptions became more common.

For many patients, that was a good thing. Purdue Pharma's marketing push coincided with a push by chronic pain advocates -- patients, doctors and others -- to ease prescribing restrictions that had kept many patients in feasibly treatable pain. And which in many cases still do: A 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine found that while "opioid prescriptions for chronic noncancer pain [in the US] have increased sharply . . . [tlwenty-nine percent of primary care physicians and 16 percent of pain specialists report they prescribe opioids less often than they think appropriate because of concerns about regulatory repercussions." As the report noted, having more opioid prescriptions doesn't necessarily mean that "patients who really need opioids [are] able to get them."

While it's popular to blame doctors and Big Pharma for getting a bunch of pain patients addicted to opioids, that explanation is a bit too facile. Many of the people strung out today were never patients, but instead obtained their pain pills on the black market. Through a perverse system of incentives, people on Medicaid could obtain the pills by prescription for next to nothing, then resell them for $40 or $60 apiece to people who wanted them. Some pain management practices were on the cutting edge of relieving pain for patients who needed the help. But others were little more than shady pill mills, popping up in places like Ohio, Kentucky, and Florida -- places that would become the epicenter of an opioid epidemic within a few years.

When the inevitable crackdowns on pain pill prescribing came, legitimate prescribers of course got caught in the crossfire sometimes, especially those who served the poor or the patients who in the worst chronic pain. Their being targeted, or others reining in their prescribing practices, left many patients in the lurch again. And the closure of pill mills left addicted people in the lurch. But there was plenty of heroin to make up for the missing pills the addicted used to take. Mexican farmers have been happy to grow opium poppies for the American market for decades, and Mexican drug trafficking organizations know how to get it to market.

The whole thing has been worsened by the arrival of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid dozens of times stronger than pure heroin, which seems to be coming mostly from rogue Chinese pharmaceutical labs (although the Mexicans appear to be getting in on the act now, too).

And now we have a drug overdose crisis like the country has never seen before, with around 60,000 people estimated to die from overdoses this year, most of them from opioids (by themselves or in combination with alcohol and/or other drugs). The crisis is inspiring both admirable harm reduction efforts and an execrable turn to harsher punishments, while making things harder again for many pain patients. While many argue that the gentle side of the response to this epidemic is because the victims are mainly white, I would suggest that argument pays short shrift to all the years of hard work advocates and activists of all ethnicities have put in to creating more enlightened drug policies.

9. Policing for Profit: The Never Ending Fight to Rein in Asset Forfeiture

Twenty years ago, pressure was mounting in Washington over abuses of the federal civil asset forfeiture program, just as it is now. Back then, passage of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) of 2000 marked an important early victory in the fight to rein in what has tartly described as "policing for profit." It was shepherded though the house by then Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican.

How times have changed. Now, with federal agents seizing billions of dollars each year though civil forfeiture proceedings and scandalous abuse after scandalous abuse pumping up the pressure for federal reform, the Republican attorney general is calling for more asset forfeiture. And Jeff Sessions isn't just calling for it; he has undone late Obama administration reforms aimed at reining in one of the sleaziest aspects of federal forfeiture, the Equitable Sharing program, although he is having problems getting Congress to go along.

In the years since CAFRA, a number of states have passed similar laws restricting civil asset forfeiture and directing that seized funds go into the general fund or other designated funds, such as education, but state and local police have been able to evade those laws via Equitable Sharing. Under that program, instead of seizing money under state law, they instead turn it over to the federal government, which then returns 80% of it to the law enforcement agency -- not the general fund and not the schools.

This current setup, with its perverse incentives for police to evade state laws and pursue cash over crime, makes asset forfeiture reform a continuing battlefield at both the state and the federal levels. A number of reform bills are alive in the Congress, and year by year, more and more states pass laws limiting civil asset forfeiture or, even better, eliminating it and requiring a criminal conviction before forfeiture can proceed. Fourteen states have now done that, with the most recent being Connecticut, New Mexico and Nebraska. That leaves 36 to go.

10. Despite Everything, the Drug War Grinds On

We have seen tremendous progress in drug policy in the past 20 years, from the advent of the age of legal marijuana to the breaking of sentencing fever to the spread of harm reduction and the kinder, gentler treatment of the current wave of opioid users, but still, the drug war grinds on.

Pot may be legal in eight states, but that means it isn't in 42 others, and more than 600,000 people got arrested for it last year -- down from a peak of nearly 800,000 in 2007, but still up by 75,000 or 12% over 2015.

It's the same story with overall drug arrests: While total drug arrest numbers peaked at just under 1.9 million a year in 2006 and 2007 -- just ahead of the peak in prison population -- and had been trending downward ever since, they bumped up again last year to 1.57 million, a 5.6% increase over 2015.

There are more options for treatment or diversion out of jail or prison, but people are still getting arrested. Sentencing reforms mean some people won't do as much time as they did in the past, but people are still getting arrested. And the drug war industrial complex, with all its institutional inertia and self-interest, rolls on. If we want to actually end the drug war, we're going to have to stop arresting people for drugs. That would be a real paradigm shift.

Chronicle AM: MD Sees First MedMJ Sale, PA Pays for False Drugged Driving Arrest, More... (12/4/17)

Lots of medical marijuana news today, plus Pennsylvania has to pay out for a bogus drugged driving arrest that saw a man jailed for five months, and more.

Medical marijuana sales started last Friday in Maryland. (Creative Commons)
US Surgeon General Says Medical Marijuana Should Be Treated Like Other Drugs. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said last Friday that marijuana should be treated and studied like other pain relief drugs, but that he was opposed to recreational legalization. "Under medical marijuana, I believe it should be like any other drug," he said. "We need to let the FDA vet it, study it, vet it. The FDA has actually approved cannabidiol oil and some derivatives of marijuana, Marijuana is not one substance. It's actually over 100 different substances, some of which benefit, some of which are harmful."

Arkansas Regulators Set Timeline. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission announced last Friday that medical marijuana cultivation licenses would be issued in about three months, and dispensary licenses would be issued three months after that. The date for announcing cultivation licenses is February 27; a firm date for dispensary licenses isn't set yet. The commission anticipates medical marijuana on dispensary shelves by the middle of next year.

Maryland Medical Marijuana Sales Begin. The first legal medical marijuana sale in the state took place last Friday, after years of delays. A handful of dispensaries have received shipments of medical marijuana, while others said they expected to come online soon. The state's first legal pot crop was grown this fall.

Montana Medical Marijuana Providers, Patients Oppose New Regulations. At a hearing last Thursday at the Department of Public Health and Human Services, patients and providers complained that proposed regulations would place significant cost and time burdens on them. Among provisions criticized were high licensing fees and requirements for extensive product-safety testing.

Ohio Gets Sued Over Commercial Grower Application Process. One day after the state announced its choices for a second batch of commercial cultivation licenses for medical marijuana, one of the losers in the process has filed a lawsuit challenging the scoring process for applications. The state law allowing medical marijuana sets a September 8, 2018 deadline for sales to begin, the timetable is already tight, and any further delays could put that date in doubt.

Hemp

Wisconsin Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Scott Walker (R) last Thursday signed into law a bill that allows farmers in the state to grow hemp. Under the bill, hemp plants can't contain more than 0.3% THC, and no one with a drug conviction can be a hemp farmer.

Law Enforcement

Pennsylvania Pays $150,000 for Falsely Jailing Man as Suspected Drugged Driver. The State Police will pay $150,000 to a New York Hispanic man who was jailed for five months even though he passed Breathalyzer and field sobriety tests and subsequent blood testing showed no presence of alcohol or illegal drugs. Wilfredo Ramos sued for false imprisonment and false arrest. He lost his car, his job, and his apartment while sitting in the Lehigh County Jail for months even after test results came back.

International

Australia Federal Government Gives Up on Welfare Drug Testing Scheme. Federal Social Services Minister Christian Porter confirmed Monday that he was removing drug testing of welfare recipients from the government's welfare reform bill in the face of stiff opposition from experts and elected officials. Porter said he didn't want to sacrifice the entire welfare piece to controversy over the drug testing provision.

Swedish High Court Rejects Medical Necessity Defense for Growing Marijuana Plant. The Supreme Court has ruled against a man who grew marijuana to treat neuropathic pain from a motorcycle accident, as well as for anxiety and depression. The man had been acquitted of cultivation charges in August by a lower court, but an appellate court reinstated the conviction, and now the Supreme Court has echoed that decision. The court did suggest that the parliament could amend laws to allow for medical marijuana, and it went relatively lightly on the patient, fining him $616 and giving him no jail time.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A North Carolina cop's case of sticky fingers gets him in trouble, a former Seattle cop pleads to participating in a major marijuana smuggling ring, and more. Let's get to it:

In Greenville, North Carolina, a Greenville police officer was arrested last Tuesday for allegedly stealing $60 from a car he searched. Officer Alec Smith, 23, had been called to a motel to investigate "potential drug activity," and received consent to search a room and the vehicle. No drugs were found, but later that night, the subject of the search called police to report the missing money. Police said a review of body cam footage led them to Smith, who is charged with misdemeanor larceny.

In Prince George, Virginia, a Prince George County probationary jail guard was arrested last Thursday for allegedly bringing drugs into the jail. Guard Allison Meadows went down after surveillance videos aroused suspicion and, when questioned by supervisors, she produced three grams of heroin from her pants pocket. She has been charged with delivery of narcotics to a prisoner and possession of narcotics with intent to sell or distribute.

In Marcy, New York, a state prison guard was arrested Saturday and accused of trying to bring drugs into the jail. Ryan Santos, 27, is charged with attempted promoting prison contraband. He's currently out on bail, and authorities are still pondering whether more charges will be filed.

In Seattle, a former Seattle police officer pleaded guilty Monday to participating in an operation that smuggled hundreds of pounds of marijuana from Washington state to Baltimore. Alex Chapackdee, 44, copped to receiving $10,000 a month to keep an eye on his partner's marijuana grow houses, as well as escorting loads while armed with his police service weapon. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and one count of conspiracy to launder money. He's looking at a mandatory minimum five-year federal prison sentence, but faces up to 40 years. Sentencing is set for March 1.

Chronicle AM: Canada MJ Bill Passes House, HI Cops Want MedMJ Patients' Guns, More... (11/28/17)

In a national first, Honolulu cops are proactively targeting medical marijuana patients to demand they turn in any firearms, Canada marijuana legalization takes a big step forward, Philadelphia begins paying out for its dirty, corrupt narcs, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Honolulu Police Tell 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 Governor Orders Stores to Pull CBD Oil From 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.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia Begins Paying Out for Narcotics Agents' Misconduct. The city of Philadelphia has begun settling more than 300 lawsuits filed against members of a narcotics squad accused of a pattern of rampant misconduct lasting years. The city has already paid more than $2 million to settle 75 cases after courts began throwing out convictions in tainted cases three years ago. The city could pay up to an additional $8 million to resolve pending complaints. Five of the six officers involved were found not guilty of criminal charges last year, but that hasn't stopped the settlements from occurring.

International

Canada House of Commons Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House of Commons voted 200 to 82 Monday night to approve the Liberal government's marijuana legalization bill, C-45. The bill now goes to the Senate, where opponents could try to derail it. Stay tuned.

British Parliament Drug Policy Group Calls for Safe Injection Sites. The Drugs, Alcohol and Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group has issued a report calling for the establishment of drug consumption rooms. The report charges that existing prohibitionist policies are failing communities and society's most vulnerable and suggests that London could learn a lesson from Dublin and Glasgow, where such facilities have been approved.

The Duterte Cancer Spreads to Malaysia. Malaysian Member of Parliament Bung Moktar Radin has embraced Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's murderous crackdown on drug users and sellers and urged his own country to emulate it. "I am very serious about this. Just shoot them, like they do in the Philippines," he said, praising the Philippines approach. "Why can't we do this? Jail addicts without trial and shoot dealers. What is the problem (in doing this)?"

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.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A body cam catches an LAPD cop planting a bag of cocaine on a suspect, a Philadelphia cop gets nailed in a multi-cop drug dealing conspiracy, a Houston cop gets nailed for not turning in seized cocaine, and more. Let's get to it:

In Los Angeles, an LAPD officer was suspended last Thursday for allegedly planting a bag of cocaine in the wallet of a man he was arresting. Officer Samuel Lee was betrayed by his own body camera, which appeared to show him putting the cocaine in the man's wallet. Lee has been taken off field duty while the incident is investigated, and the LAPD has since updated in body camera policy so the cameras record up to two minutes of activity that occurs before the officer turns them on, instead of the 30 seconds under the old policy.

In Houston, a Houston police officer was arrested last Thursday for stealing drugs during traffic stops. Officer Julissa Guzman Diaz, 37, went down in a sting where an undercover officer got himself pulled over for swerving on the highway and told her he had kilos of cocaine in his car. Diaz arrested the driver for DWI, but did not turn in the cocaine, instead calling a wrecker driver to tow the car and offering him a share of the coke. She is charged with felony tampering and fabricating evidence, and is out on $100,000 bail.

In Philadelphia, a Philadelphia police officer was arrested Tuesday for supposedly masterminding a plot to sell seized drugs on the street. Officer Eric Snell went down after coming up with the scheme in the wake of a car chase and the seizure of ounces of cocaine. Rather than turn them in, he allegedly conspired with a group of other officers to sell the stuff on the street. One of the officers had been arrested earlier, and Snell implicated himself in the plot in phone calls to that officer while he was in jail. He faces charges of racketeering conspiracy and drug trafficking.

In Nashville, a Metro-Nashville police narcotics officer was arrested Wednesday for allegedly stealing more than $5,000. Sgt. James Dunaway went down in a sting where police placed $28,000 and four pounds of marijuana in motel room. Dunaway was seen on surveillance video taking money from different locations within the room. A total of $5,860 was taken. Dunaway is charged with felony theft.

In Mountain City, Tennessee, a Mountain City police officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to drug and guns crimes. Officer Ronald Shupe, 44, bought oxycodone from an undercover informant and was then arrested by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, FBI, and Tennessee Highway Patrol agents. He was armed and in uniform. He pleaded guilty to possessing oxycodone with intent to distribute and carrying a gun during a drug trafficking offense.

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