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Bulldozed to Death for Growing Ten Marijuana Plants

Getting caught growing a few pot plants in Pennsylvania could lead to a criminal charge and a likely sentence of probation, but for a Lehigh Valley man, it was a death sentence. This past Monday, 51-year-old Gregory A. Longenecker was found dead under a bulldozer operated by a state Game Commission worker and carrying a state trooper hunting for two men spotted near a freshly-discovered marijuana grow.

According to the Pennsylvania State Police, the Game Commission bulldozer operator was using the machine to improve access to fields on game lands when he spotted a car well off the road in the brush and called police. Officers from nearby Bernville Borough were first on the scene and quickly found a plot containing ten growing marijuana plants.

The cops saw two men emerge from the underbrush and take off running, said Trooper David Boehm, a state police spokesman. "They were back there doing whatever they have to do to their plants," he said. "It was kind of carved out of the underbrush, which I've never seen underbrush that thick ever. It was crazy how thick it was."

The two men were Longenecker and his long-time friend David Brook Light, 54. Light was quickly taken into custody by the Bernville chief of police, but Longenecker eluded immediate capture. The state police arrived on the scene and ordered one of their helicopters to join the search. The chopper pilot spotted Longenecker in the brush but then lost him. Meanwhile, a state trooper and the bulldozer operator were roaring through the brush looking for him.

"An attempt to hail the other male was unsuccessful," Beohm said in a news release. "The helicopter lost sight of the male and was giving directions to the bulldozer of his last location. The Game Commission employee and a Trooper were on the bulldozer driving through the thick underbrush. The bulldozer stopped in the underbrush. The second male was located under the rear of the bulldozer deceased."

That's right: Confronted with a small-scale illicit marijuana grow on public land, the State Police deployed a helicopter and the on-scene bulldozer and managed to kill their target. But that's not how the cops tried to spin it.

First, Trooper Boehm denied that Longenecker died as a result of a police pursuit. "They were just trying to locate this guy with use of a helicopter," he explained.

Then he suggested that Longenecker may have died of natural causes. "The reason it's unclear if Longenecker was struck and killed by the bulldozer is that Longenecker, because of his age, could have had a heart attack while fleeing through the dense thicket," Boehm said.

But that attempted diversion was foiled on Tuesday when the preliminary autopsy report came out. That report found that Longenecker died of traumatic injuries after being run over by the bulldozer. A final ruling on the cause of death awaits toxicology tests, but it is clear that he died after being run over by the bulldozer.

The case has aroused the ire of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which has denounced what it calls the excessive use of force by state law enforcement.

"This awful event could have and should have been prevented," said national NORML executive director Erik Altieri. "This tragedy is a direct result of our nation's draconic and failed criminalization of marijuana. Not only was the use of resources in this matter excessive and the tactics highly questionable, but more importantly a man lost his life over the act of growing a plant that is now legally regulated in a majority of US states. No matter your opinion on marijuana legalization, the penalty for growing cannabis should never be an extrajudicial death sentence."

"As a former prosecutor and practicing criminal defense attorney, it is inconceivable to me that a man lost his life during an investigation of a very small grow," said Pittsburgh NORML executive director Patrick Nightengale. "Had he been arrested, prosecuted and convicted, Pennsylvania's sentencing guidelines would have provided for a sentence of probation. The heavy-handed tactics employed cannot be justified by the seizure of ten plants. I do not understand why law enforcement couldn't simply wait. A vehicle was on scene and another individual was taken into custody. Rip the plants, run the plate and ask the arrestee what his friend's name is. How difficult is that?"

Medical marijuana is already legal in 31 states, including Pennsylvania, and legal marijuana for adults is already permitted in nine states and Washington, DC. A bill to legalize marijuana in the state failed to advance this year, even though 59% of state residents support freeing the weed.

"As an activist and cannabis lobbyist in Pennsylvania, I always use decorum and process to my advantage. There would seem to have been a total lack of both by law enforcement this past Monday outside of Bernville. By all accounts the death of an illicit marijuana grower being chased by a state bulldozer, under the direction of Pennsylvania State Troopers, was an unnecessary and reckless use of resources," said Jeff Riedy, executive director of Lehigh Valley NORML. "These horrible events only fuel the need for marijuana reform, including the right for personal use and home cultivation in our state, and across this country. Endless pursuit at all costs, leading to the death of a suspect, over a few marijuana plants is excessive, to say the least."

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Tennessee sheriff's head narc is under investigation for stealing stuff at a drug bust, cops in Georgia and Vermont go to prison for stealing from the evidence locker, and more. Let's get to it:

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a Rutherford County sheriff's lieutenant was placed under investigation Monday after being accused of stealing property seized during a drug bust. Lt. Jason Mathis, a 20-year veteran, is the head of the department's narcotics unit. He does not yet face any criminal charges, but an investigation is underway and he could be hit with a count of official misconduct. Dozens of criminal drug cases could be in jeopardy if he is charged.

In Bernice, Louisiana, a former Bernice police officer was arrested last Wednesday for unspecified misdeeds and allegedly threatening people who knew about them. Christopher Kevin Henry was fired after an investigation began in May and arrested by the narcotics unit after testing positive for methamphetamine last week.

In Burlington, Vermont, a former Royalton police officer was sentenced last Thursday to six months in prison after admitting stealing drugs from the department's evidence locker. John Breault confessed that he stole the drugs for a friend and for a woman with whom he had a relationship last year. He pleaded guilty in March to federal heroin distribution charges.

In Dalton, Georgia, a former Tunnel Hill police officer was sentenced last Thursday to five years in prison for stealing weapons and seized drug money from the police department. Scott Reneau had pleaded guilty to six counts each of theft and violation of office by a public official. Reneau went down after county officials ordered an audit into missing forfeiture money and weapons in 2016.

Mexico's President-Elect Looks for Ways to End the Drug Wars [FEATURE]

Last Sunday, leftist politician Andres Manuel López Obrador -- often referred to with the acronymic AMLO -- won the Mexican presidency in a landslide. When he takes office in December, with his party in control of both houses of the Mexican Congress, Mexico's drug policies are likely to see some radical changes.

AMLO in front of picture of his favorite Mexican president, Benito Juarez (Creative Commons)
Just what AMLO does will have significant consequences on both sides of the border. His policies will impact how much heroin and cocaine make it to the streets of America, as well as how many Mexicans flee north to escape prohibition-related violence, and how much drug money flows back into Mexico, corrupting politicians, police, and the military.

That AMLO -- and Mexico -- want change is no surprise. A vigorous campaign against the country's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- unleashed by rightist president Felipe Calderon in 2006 brought the Mexican military into the fight, but instead of defeating the cartels, the campaign, still ongoing under President Enrique Pena Nieto, has instead led to record levels of corruption and violence.

In 2012, when both the U.S. and Mexico had presidential elections and the drug war death toll was around 15,000, Mexico's drug prohibition-related violence was big news north of the border. But in the years since then, as US attention to Mexico's drug wars wavered, it's only gotten worse. Last year, Mexico saw more than 30,000 murders, and the cumulative drug war toll in the past dozen years is more than 200,000 dead and tens of thousands of "disappeared."

But the toll runs deeper than just a count of the casualties. The relentless drug war violence and the endemic corruption of police forces, politicians, and even sectors of the military by cartels have had a deeply corrosive effect on the citizenry and its belief in the ability of the country's political institutions to address the problem.

López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, campaigned heavily on the need for change, especially around drug policy, corruption, and public safety. "Abrazos, no balazos" ("hugs, not gunfights") was one of his favorite campaign slogans. AMLO campaigned cautiously, hammering away at crime, corruption, and violence and mentioning different drug policy-related changes, but not coming out with specific policy proposals. Still, from his own remarks and those of people who will be assuming key positions in his administration, we can begin to sketch an outline of what those policies may look like.

Marijuana Legalization

Mexico is one of the world's largest marijuana producers (although the local industry has been taking a hit in recent years from completion north of the border), it has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the herb, and it has legalized medical marijuana.

AMLO's pick for interior minister, former Supreme Court official Olga Sánchez Cordero has made no secret of her plans to seek full legalization and said this week that AMLO may seek a public referendum to gauge popular support for it. "Why maintain pot prohibition when Canada and US states are legalizing it, she said. "What are we thinking? Tell me. Killing ourselves. Really, keep on killing when... North America is decriminalizing?"

Drug Legalization

The possession of personal use amounts of all drugs has been decriminalized in Mexico since 2009, but that hasn't stopped the violence. AMLO and his advisors say he is open to considering taking the next step and legalizing all drugs.

"We'll analyze everything and explore all the avenues that will let us achieve peace. I don't rule out anything, not even legalization -- nothing," AMLO told the New Yorker during the campaign.

"The war on drugs has failed," wrote Sánchez Cordero. "Nothing contributes to peace by legislating on the basis of more criminal punishment and permanent confrontation. Violence is not fought with violence, as López Obrador rightly points out."

Drug legalization would be a radical step, indeed. It probably isn't going to happen under AMLO, since that would pit Mexico not only against the US, but also against the international anti-drug treaties that serve as the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. But he is putting the idea squarely on the table.

Amnesty

As a candidate, AMLO floated the idea of amnesty for those involved in the drug trade, a notion that created huge controversy and forced his campaign to clarify that it did not mean cutting deals with bloody-handed cartel leaders or their henchmen. Instead, his campaign clarified, he was referring to peasants growing drug crops and other low-level, nonviolent workers in the illicit business.

"Kidnappers? No," said Sánchez Cordero about possible amnesty recipients. "Who? The people working in rural areas, who are criminals because they work in the illegal drug business, but haven't committed crimes such as murder or kidnapping."

Mexican soldiers have been enlisted to fight the drug war. AMLO wants them to return to the barracks. (Creative Commons)
Demilitarization and Policing Reforms

For the past 12 years, the Mexican military has been called on to fight the cartels and suppress the drug trade. But the level of violence has only increased, the military is implicated in massive human rights violations (as can only be expected when a government resorts to soldiers to do police work), and finds itself subject to the same corrupting influences that have turned state and local police forces into virtual arms of the competing cartels.

With regard to cartel violence, AMLO repeatedly said on the campaign trail that "you don't fight fire with fire" and that what was needed was not soldiers on the streets, but social and economic assistance for the country's poor and unemployed -- to give them options other than going to work for drug gangs. Just this week, AMLO announced a $5 billion package of scholarships and job training support for the young.

Still, AMLO isn't going to send the soldiers back to the barracks immediately. Instead, says one of his security advisors, his goal is to do it over the next three years. He has also proposed replacing the military presence in the drug war with a 300,000-person National Guard, composed of both military and police, a notion that has been bruited by earlier administrations as a means of effectively replacing tainted state and local police participation.

Here, AMLO is not nearly as radical as with some of his other drug policy proposals. He as much as concedes that the bloody drug wars will continue.

"I'm not overwhelmed by any of it," Eric L. Olson, an expert on Mexico and security at the Wilson Center in Washington, told the Washington Post. "It falls well within the norm for what other politicians have been saying."

The US-Mexico Relationship

Over the past couple of Mexican administrations, Mexican security agencies have cooperated closely with their U.S. counterparts in the DEA and FBI. It's not clear whether that level of cooperation will be sustained under AMLO. When he was running for president in 2012, he called for blocking US intelligence work in Mexico, but during this campaign, he insisted he wanted a strong relationship with the US on security and trade issues.

While Mexico may chafe under the continued threats and insults of President Trump, it benefits from security cooperation with the US and would like to see the US do more, especially about the flow of guns south across the border.

"We are going to ask for the cooperation of the United States" on gun trafficking, said Alfonso Durazo, one of AMLO's security advisers, repeating an ongoing refrain from Mexican politicians.

Mexico has also benefited from DEA intelligence that allowed it to kill or capture numerous cartel figures. But AMLO is a much pricklier personality than his predecessor, and between Trump's racist Mexico- and immigrant-bashing and his imposition of tariffs on Mexican exports, US-Mexico relations could be in for a bumpy few years. AMLO's moves on changing drug policies at home are also likely to sustain fire from the White House, further inflaming tensions.

"The bottom line is he's not going to fight the drug war in the way that it's been fought in the last few decades," David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego who is an expert on security issues in Mexico told the Post. "That is potentially a huge change."

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Paterson, New Jersey, cop gets ready to pay for going buck wild, a New Mexico state trooper uses stolen drugs to woo women (and girls), a Florida deputy gets nailed for falsely busting people for drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

In Bunker Hill, Indiana, a state prison guard was arrested last Friday after she got caught smuggling suboxone and methamphetamine into the Miami Correctional Facility. Officer Talleigha Titus went down after being tripped up by surveillance of inmate phone and payment records. She is charged with attempting to traffic, possession of methamphetamine and possession of a controlled substance.

In Farmington, New Mexico, a state trooper was arrested last Saturday for stealing drugs during arrests and giving them to women with whom he was romantically interested, including a 16-year-old girl. Officer Daniel Capehart went down after a meth user told investigators Capehart had been texting her for months and they set up a sting where he offered to split drugs with her from any bust she set up. In the case of the teen, Capehart sent numerous texts to set up deliveries of marijuana, but the teen had handed her phone over to the cops, and he was actually communicating with a San Juan County sheriff's detective. He is charged with distribution of methamphetamine and marijuana.

In Fernandina Beach, Florida, a Nassau County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Saturday for not testing drugs found in the field and making false claims that some drugs were illegal. Deputy Kyle Tholl, 38, is now a former deputy. Tholl repeatedly pulled people over for traffic violations and charged them with drug possession when the drugs were either prescribed over the counter medications. He is charged with perjury and filing a false police report. Some 30 of his drug cases have now been dropped.

In Paterson, New Jersey, a former Paterson police officer pleaded guilty last Wednesday to stealing drugs, dealing drugs from his squad car, and beating up a wheelchair-bound hospital patient. Ruben McAusland, 26, went down in April in a federal probe. He admitted in federal court to dealing heroin, cocaine, crack, and marijuana from his squad car while in uniform, as well as the unprovoked attack on the hospital patient, which he and his partner videotaped. He copped to drug possession with an intent to distribute and deprivation of civil rights under color of law. McAusland will be facing up to 50 years in prison when he gets sentenced on Oct. 9. The ex-cop must also forfeit $13,650 -- the amount of money he made on drug deals.

In Great Falls, Montana, a Fort Peck tribal police officer was sentenced last Thursday to a year and a day in prison for stealing drugs and money from the tribe's drug investigation office. Mikkel Shields, 33, had previously pleaded guilty to burglary in the case, which compromised more than two dozen drug cases. In September, he broke into the Fort Peck Tribal Law and Justice Building and used a crowbar to get into the drug investigations office, where he took opiates, methamphetamine and cash. He had been diagnosed with PTSD after serving in the military and had undergone substance abuse treatment, but relapsed in August.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's a special Northeast edition of corrupt cops this week, with bad apples being harvested from the Big Apple, Albany, and upstate, as well as New Jersey and Connecticut. Let's get to it:

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested Monday for not turning in all the cash he seized from a drug suspect, returning the suspect's cell phone, accepting a $250 bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label scotch as a thank-you gift, and offering to fix the man's pending court case for $20,000. Officer Johnny Diaz, a 23-year veteran, also helped transport a kilo of cocaine from the Bronx to upper Manhattan in exchange for $4,000. He is initially charged with first-degree possession of a controlled substance, but more charges are pending, officials said.

In Geneseo, New York, a Livingston County correctional officer was arrested last Thursday for allegedly smuggling synthetic cannabinoids into the jail. Raul Santiago, 38, went down after an internal investigation and is now charged with bribery, promoting prison contraband, and official misconduct.

In Hamden, Connecticut, a state prison guard was sentenced last Wednesday to three years' probation for using and peddling steroids. Police serving a search warrant found 25,000 steroid pills and 530 steroid vials. Nicholas Aurora, 34, was using the drugs and selling them to some of his co-workers, authorities said. He pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute anabolic steroids.

In Albany, New York, a former state prison guard was sentenced last Thursday to a year and a day in federal prison for coordinating the delivery of 120 pounds of marijuana back in 2011. Brad Rushford, 35, Rushford admitted to providing a driver and scout cell phones to be used in delivering the marijuana. He went down after the shipment got busted en route.

In Toms Rivers, New Jersey, a former Ocean County sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Friday to three years in prison for stealing cocaine that was intended to be used training drug dogs. John C. Adams, 41, admitted using the cocaine himself and falsely reporting that it had been accidentally thrown away with other dog training supplies. He pleaded guilty in November to official misconduct and theft. Adams must serve two years before his eligible for parole.

In Drug Case, Supreme Court Holds That Unauthorized Rental Car Drivers Have Rights, Too

Criminal Court & Legal Affair Investigative Journalist Clarence Walker can be reached at [email protected].

The US Supreme Court recently annulled a major search and seizure case around a rental car filled with heroin with a ruling that could impact the legal rights of Americans who may get stopped by police while driving a vehicle rented by another person. That case is U.S. v. Terence Byrd (#16-1371).

The Fourth Amendment applies even to unauthorized rental car drivers, the Supreme Court rules.
On May 14, Supreme Court Justices released their decision in Byrd's case, announcing when the Fourth Amendment was applied to the evidence in the case that Terence Byrd had "reasonable expectation of privacy while driving a car rented by another party."

Pennsylvania state troopers had arrested Byrd with a large cache of heroin in a car rented by his girlfriend. Police told Byrd he had no right to refuse to consent to a search because Byrd's name was not on the rental agreement. Byrd copped to ten years in federal prison when a district court ruled earlier that Byrd had no expectations of privacy while driving an unauthorized rental car.

The thorny issues the justices had to untangle was whether a second party driver of a rental car like Byrd could legally refuse a police request to search the rental vehicle unless police had a warrant or probable cause, and further whether Byrd was still entitled to protection the under Fourth Amendment. In a unanimous decision, the justices rejected the government's argument that Byrd had no expectation of privacy because he wasn't listed as a second party driver.

"People who borrow rental cars from friends or family are legally entitled to the same protection against police searches as the authorized driver," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion. "There may be countless innocuous reasons why an authorized driver might get behind the wheel of a rental car and drive it."

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. (USSC)
White House Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco had urged the justices to hold Mr. Byrd to the terms of the rental agreement. "It is common knowledge that car rentals are a personal transaction that does not make the car available for general enjoyment and that the straw man car rentals disserve society by frustrating law enforcement efforts to prevent smuggling and other crimes," he argued.

What is unusual about the Supreme Court ruling in this case is the fact the high court affirmed the defendant's conviction but the justices sent back to the lower appellate court to address important issues as it relates to whether the defendant was entitled to expectation of privacy and not be subjected to "unreasonable search and seizures."

Here are the remanded issues the appeals court, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, must now consider

(1) Whether an individual "who intentionally uses a third party to obtain a rental car by a fraudulent scheme for the purpose of committing a crime lacks a reasonable expectation of privacy in the rental car driven by the defendant."

(2) Whether the officers had probable cause to search the rental car, and whether these or other issues warrant further remand to the District Court or such issues should be addressed by the court in the first instance.

(3) And if police had any other probable cause to stop Byrd other than the original traffic stop.

New York criminal defense attorney Robert M. Loeb, who argued Byrd's case before the high court, told Drug War Chronicle, "Now we must revisit the same issues that the District Court and the Third Circuit have already decided in favor of the government," he explained. "If the lower court reiterates that officers had probable cause to stop and search the car and seize the drugs under their probable cause theory," Byrd stays in prison," because then the Fourth Amendment doesn't protect him," Loeb explained.

David Rudovsky, a Penn State Professor and search and seizure expert, told the Chronicle, "As the court stated, there is no bright-line rule for second drivers; my view is that long as the driver is not a thief or carjacker, there is a good claim to an expectation of privacy."

The ACLU and the National Criminal Defense Lawyer Association filed a friend brief in Byrd's case, claiming the Supreme court's ruling would likely have an outsized effect on black and Hispanic drivers. "There is a commonly held misconception that car rental is a luxury reserved for the wealthiest individuals," the ACLU filing said. To prove their facts, the ACLU noted that a 2010 tax study found "that more car rentals occur at neighborhood locations than at airport locations."

Studies have shown that black drivers are more likely than white ones to be pulled over by the police and more likely to be searched during the stop.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, Byrd's attorneys had argued: "Whether he was on the car rental agreement was actually irrelevant to whether he had a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment."

Byrd's attorney had also previously argued before the Third Circuit and the Supreme Court that "millions of car rentals take place annually in the United States." They insisted that if the government won, "Police would have an incentive to pull over a rental car driver who commits a traffic violation because police would know they could search the car if the driver wasn't listed on the rental agreement."

Suspicious Traffic Stop

Terence Byrd's journey to the nation's Supreme Court began on September 17, 2014, at a Budget car rental in Wayne, New Jersey. While Byrd waited outside, Latasha Reed, his girlfriend with whom he sired five children, went into Budget and signed an agreement to rent a new Ford Fusion. Reed's car rental agreement explicitly stated that additional drivers would only be allowed with "prior written consent." Reed did not add Byrd or any other drivers onto the rental agreement.

Driving a rental doesn't mean you give up your rights (Creative Commons)
Once a Budget employee finalized the paperwork, Reed gave the keys to Byrd, who began his trek toward Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. While driving near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Byrd came upon State Trooper David Long who later claimed he stopped Byrd for either driving too long in an illegal left lane or while Byrd gripped the steering wheel at the "10 and 2" position, which is known as a "hand play" that many drivers use while holding a vehicle's steering wheel in an unsafe manner, notwithstanding an additional fact that Byrd's driver's seat was too far back reclined!

After running Byrd's driver's license the trooper discovered Byrd had given an alias name of James Carter, and also under Byrd's real name, he had a New Jersey arrest warrant. Ignoring Byrd's right to refuse to consent to a search--officers later claimed Byrd consented to the search--the officers searched the vehicle's trunk and hit the jackpot: 49 bricks of heroin and a police vest. Officers arrested Byrd and subsequently charged him with possession/intent to sell heroin and possession of body armor by a felon.

At a suppression hearing on June 16, 2015, held before Judge Caldwell, State Trooper David Long reiterated the suspicious events that led him to pull Byrd over, which included the officer saying he was unable to see Byrd due to the reclined seat, the "10 and 2" driving position, and the traffic violation.

Byrd's attorney was incredulous: "So the only reason you pulled out to stop my client was the fact he was at "10 and 2" -- and you couldn't see him in the car because his driver's seat reclined too far back?" the lawyer asked. Trooper Long nodded affirmatively.

Byrd's lawyer also drilled the officer about the notion that Byrd's race may have played a role for the officer to stop him. Then, surprisingly, Trooper Long mentioned a third factor that triggered the stop. "In a rental vehicle, he said. "That's what drew my attention to it, yes."

This is when the vehicle rental contract collided with the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unreasonable search and seizure. Trooper Long said he explained to Byrd that he was free to search the car without Byrd's consent because Byrd's name wasn't on the car rental agreement.

After a federal judge refused to throw out the evidence, Byrd accepted a plea bargain for a 10-year prison sentence in exchange for the right to appeal the conviction based on the argument the search violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Whether Byrd prevails at the lower court during a hearing scheduled either later in June or July remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Byrd and his attorneys await the outcome with bated breath. Hopefully, the Fourth Amendment wins again. Stay tuned -- we will keep you informed of the outcome.

Chronicle AM: Acting DEA Chief Stepping Down, NYC to Change Marijuana Arrest Policy, More... (6/19/18)

A second acting DEA administrator is set to resign, New York City Mayor de Blasio has a plan to reduce Big Apple marijuana arrests, the Canadian legalization bill heads for the goal line, and more.

NYC Mayor de Blasio announces plan to reduce marijuana arrests, but activists say it's not enough. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York City Mayor Announces New Policy to Reduce Marijuana Arrests. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that the NYPD will not arrest many people caught smoking pot under a new policy set to begin September 1. But people on probation or parole or who have open arrest warrants would still be arrested. Around 17,500 people are arrested for marijuana possession each year; de Blasio said the policy shift would turn about 10,000 of those arrests into citations instead.

Advocates Slam Mayor de Blasio's New Marijuana Arrest Plan. The Drug Policy Alliance and VOCAL-NY said the mayor's announced move doesn't go far enough and does not address the racial disparities in arrests that prompted the policy shift in the first place. "It's frustrating that as the New York State Health Department moves toward legalization, the City is continuing its shameful history of racist marijuana enforcement. It is also confusing because the new policy does not appear to address racial disparities at all, which was the issue that supposedly prompted this in-house review," said Civil Rights Campaign Director Nick Encalada-Malinowski and Drug Policy Alliance New York Director Kassandra Frederique. "The exceptions that the Mayor has laid out -- arrests for people on parole or probation, people with criminal records, people with warrants or lacking ID, or for 'officer discretion' -- will compound existing collateral consequences and all but guarantee the status quo of racial disparity continues."

Medical Marijuana

Florida Smokable Marijuana Ban is On Again. The on again-off again ban on state medical marijuana patients using smokable forms of marijuana is on again. A state appeals court has ruled that the state's ban will remain in effect "pending final disposition of the merits of (a recent) appeal." A circuit court judge had invalidated the ban, but the state Health Department appealed that decision, and now the ban is on until the case is decided.

Drug Policy

Acting DEA Head to Step Down. Acting DEA administrator Robert Patterson told staff at the agency Monday he is retiring. Patterson said in an email to staff that he "realized that the administrator of the DEA needs to decide and address priorities for years into the future -- something which has become increasingly challenging in an acting capacity." Patterson is a 30-year veteran of the agency who replaced the previous acting administrator, Chuck Rosenberg. Rosenberg resigned over policy differences with the Trump administration.

International

Canada House of Commons Votes to Legalize Marijuana, Sends Bill Back to Senate. The House of Commons voted 205-82 Monday to approve some Senate amendments to the C-45 legalization bill, sending the bill back to the Senate for continued debate and a final vote. The Commons rejected the Senate's proposed ban on marijuana companies selling branded merchandise and allowing provinces to ban home cultivation.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

One of the biggest police corruption cases in recent history ends with the head of the Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force headed for prison, deputies get in trouble for drugs in the jails, an Atlanta cop gets caught up in a drug raid, and more.

In Franklinton, Louisiana, a Washington Parish sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday for allegedly helping inmates smuggle drugs into the parish jail. Deputy Joe Wayne Sandifer is accused of knowing about drug use by inmate trusties and hiding drugs for them in his department-issued vehicle. Police found drugs when they searched his vehicle. He is charged with possession of marijuana, activities regarding contraband in a penal institution and malfeasance in office.

In Colorado Springs, Colorado, an El Paso County sheriff's deputy was arrested Sunday for trying to bring drugs into the county jail during his shift. Deputy Steven D'Agustino faces charges of introducing contraband in the first degree and official misconduct. The five-year veteran now resides at his former place of employment.

In College Park, Georgia, an Atlanta police officer was arrested Monday during a raid on a home where people were suspected of dealing drugs. Officer Iris Rowe was in the home when College Park Special Operations Teams hit the apartment looking for two named suspects. Police arrested all three and attempted to question Rowe about involvement in drug activity, but she declined to answer questions. Police seized drugs valued at about $30,000 and $8,000 in cash in the house and found more drugs and an AR-15 in the trunk of Rowe's car. She faces three drug charges, including possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of a controlled substance and possession of illegal drugs in a drug-free zone. She was placed on leave from the Atlanta Police Department pending the investigation.

In Baltimore, the former head of the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force was sentenced last Thursday to 25 years in federal prison for using the task force, which was supposed to take guns off the street, to steal and resell guns, rob drug dealers, and plant false evidence. Sergeant Wayne Jenkins was among six of his colleagues who pleaded guilty in the case.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Whoa! It's prison and jail guards gone wild, plus some New York state cops get themselves in trouble. Let's get to it:

In Wewahitchka, Florida, a state prison guard was arrested last Monday after being caught smuggling drugs in her bra and tampon. Officer Julia Eagerton voluntarily surrendered nine bundles of synthetic cannabinoids weighing 334 grams when confronted by security staff at the prison. She is charged with introducing contraband into a state correctional institution, possession of narcotics and unlawful compensation.

In Pendleton, Indiana, a county jail guard was arrested last Tuesday after being caught with drug contraband on him when he reported to work. Guard Joshua Myers faces a misdemeanor charge of trafficking with an inmate and a felony charge of official misconduct.

In Jonesborough, Tennessee, a Washington County jail guard was arrested last Friday after officers intercepted a package he carried with him as he went to work. Randy Burke was carrying methamphetamine, suboxone, and subutec. It's not clear what charges he faces.

In Snow Hill, North Carolina, a state prison guard was arrested last Friday on multiple drug charges after he was found with drug contraband on him. Antwan Hamilton, 23, is charged with six counts of Possession of Schedule III Controlled Substance, one count of Possession with Intent to Sell/Deliver Controlled Substance, and one count of Possession of Controlled Substance on Prison Premises.

In Mineola, New York, two Nassau County police officers were arrested Tuesday on unspecified drug charges. Officers Erik Skoglund and Karen Ernst were among nine people arrested on drug charges following a grand jury investigation. They were given desk appearance tickets and released.

In Buffalo, New York, a former Niagara Falls police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to three years' probation for letting her boyfriend stash cocaine at her home and accompanying him as he went about his cocaine selling business. Former Officer Stephanie Costanzo, 29. She pleaded guilty in February to managing a drug-involved premise. Her maximum recommended sentence was six months in prison.

Four Ways Fentanyl Could Radically Disrupt the Global Drug Trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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