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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.

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.

Chronicle AM: Vermont Marijuana Legalization in Effect, Acting DEA Head Named, More... (7/2/18)

Vermont becomes the 9th legal marijuana state, the DEA gets a new acting administrator, Mexico elects a new president who has new ideas for ending drug war violence, and much, much more.

You can now legally grow your own marijuana in Vermont. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Issues First Pot Shop License. The state's Cannabis Control Commission on Monday approved its first license for a retail marijuana outlet. The commission approved a license for Cultivate Holdings to open a retail shop. The shop already exists but has operated as a medical marijuana dispensary up until now.

North Dakota Could Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November. A little-noticed legalization initiative now looks like it may qualify for the November ballot. Organizers with Legalize ND say they have 16,000 raw signatures and are aiming at 20,000 before they turn them in next week. The initiative needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Northern Marianas Islands Legalization Bill Advances. The island US territory's House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations has recommended passage of a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 20-62. Now, the measure awaits a go-ahead from Speaker Ralph Demapan (R) for it to head for a House floor vote.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Is Now in Effect. As of Monday, it is legal to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana. People 21 and over can possess up to an ounce and two mature and four immature plants. But commercial sales have not been legalized.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Says No Special Session for Medical Marijuana. Despite saying before the June 26 election that the successful medical marijuana initiative would require a legislative special session to be implemented, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said last Friday that she and House and Senate leaders have decided that a special session isn't necessary. Instead, the Health Department will be charged with promulgating emergency rules.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Foes Seek Emergency Restraining Order to Block it from Ballot. The Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah, which includes the Utah Medical Association, the Eagle Forum, the Utah Police Chiefs Association and other law enforcement groups, last Friday asked US District Court Judge Clark Waddoups to issue an emergency injunction. They argued marijuana remains illegal under federal and state law. But the state attorney general's office opposes the injunction. "There is no emergency," argued Assistant Utah Attorney General David Wolf. "The election is months away, and the voters may reject the Initiative and moot the constitutional issues that, in Plaintiffs' view, justify an emergency (preliminary) injunction."

Drug Policy

Acting DEA Head Named. The White House has named Uttam Dhillon as acting DEA administrator. Dhillon is a former career federal prosecutor who has also served in the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Trump White House.

International

South Australia to Crack Down on Marijuana. Resolutely moving firmly backward, South Australia's Liberal government is moving to crack down on marijuana users as part of a larger drug war offensive. Under a proposal from Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, fines could increase from $500 to $2,000, and users could face up to two years in jail. Another member of the Liberal government, Health Minister Greg Hunt, even resurrected the hoary old "gateway drug" canard. "Marijuana is a gateway drug. The risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana use is real and documented," Hunt said.

Indonesia Taking Softer Line on Drugs?. The National Narcotics Agency and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced last week that the country would now push for drug users to be rehabilitated rather than imprisoned. UNODC country manager Collie F. Brown said both institutions agreed that the best way to stop the spreading of drugs is through rehabilitation of drug addicts, rather than sending them to prison. [Ed: Does that mean they're going to stop killing people?]

Luxembourg Approves Medical Marijuana. A bill legalizing medical marijuana passed the parliament on June 28. The bill specifies qualifying conditions including chronic pain, chemotherapy-related nausea and muscle spasm as a result of multiple sclerosis. The marijuana will be imported from Canada and will only be available by prescription from pharmacies located within one of four hospitals in the 98-square mile country.

Mexico Elects President Who Will Likely Try New Approaches to Drug War. Andre Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) was overwhelmingly elected president of Mexico on Sunday. During the campaign, AMLO suggested a willingness to negotiate peace and even offer amnesty to some people in the drug trade. On Sunday night, he talked in the same terms. "The failed strategy of combating insecurity and violence will change," Lopez Obrador said. "More than through the use of force, we will tend to the causes that give rise to insecurity and violence," the president-elect added. He said his team will immediately begin consulting with human rights groups, religious leaders and the United Nations to develop a "plan for reconciliation and peace."

Chronicle AM: Legal Pot Hiccups in California & Uruguay, US Calls Out Bangladesh Drug War Killings, More... (6/14/18)

Two legal marijuana markets are facing some growing pains, the State Department speaks out on Bangladeshi drug war killings, and more.

State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert calls out the Bangladeshis on drug war human rights violations. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

California Pot Shops Will Have Glut of Cheap Weed, Followed By Possible Shortages. Faced with a July 1 start date for new state-mandated safety standards for marijuana products, marijuana retailers are having to move piles of untested product left over from the state's unregulated grey market before that deadline. That means the likelihood of cheap weed deals in the next couple of weeks, but it also means there is likely to be a shortage of tested product in the early days of the new regime because of a lack of certified testing labs and state-authorized legal market providers.

Hemp

Senate Panel Advances Hemp Legalization. The Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday passed the 2018 farm bill. The bill includes hemp legalization legislation backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who argued in support of the measure during Wednesday's meeting. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Foreign Policy

US Expresses Concern Over Bangladesh Drug War Killings. The United States urged Bangladesh to meet its human rights obligations as it expressed concern over reports that more than 21,000 people have been arrested and 147 killed since the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched its anti-drug campaign a month ago. "We urge Bangladesh to conduct thorough and transparent investigations into all credible reports of extrajudicial killings," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. "While illegal drugs are a scourge across the world, Bangladesh should ensure its law enforcement respect human rights and that their conduct is consistent with international standards and Bangladesh's own constitution, which includes a presumption of innocence and the right to due process. We look to the Government of Bangladesh to fully meet its human rights obligations," she added. Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzman Khan Kamal brushed the statement aside, insisting that "no extrajudicial killings took place in the ongoing anti-drug drive."

International

Five Years After Legalization, Uruguay Has Marijuana Supply Problems. The country legalized marijuana in 2013, but legal sales only began last year, and the path is still rocky. Pot is supposed to be sold in the nation's pharmacies, but so far, only 14 of about 1,200 have registered to participate, making the black market a more attractive option for some consumers. While Uruguay's law allows individuals to grow for themselves and collectives to grow for their members, the government is in charge of marijuana cultivation for sale at pharmacies, and it has so far licensed only two cultivators. The government sees the problem: "The demand is greater than our productive capacity," said Diego Olivera, head of the Uruguay National Drugs Council. "We have to address that challenge."

You'll Never Believe What Country Just Enacted a Massive, Meaningful Drug Reform

For years, Iran has been one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders, with hundreds of people hung from the gallows annually for drug smuggling and trafficking. But in a remarkable turnabout, that is no longer the case.

Executions for drug offenses have come to an almost total halt in Iran. (IHR)
After the Iranian parliament amended the country's drug laws in November 2017, drug executions have all but halted, according to a new report from Iran Human Rights (IHR). The non-profit group found that only one person had been executed for a drug offense this year in Iran, compared to 112 during the same period last year and nearly 500 for all of 2017.

That's a 99% reduction in the resort to the death penalty for drugs in the Islamic Republic.

The changes to Iran's drug laws didn't remove the death penalty from the books -- it remains one of 33 countries, including the United States, that mete out the ultimate punishment for drug offenses -- but it dramatically raised the quantities of drugs needed to merit the death penalty.

Under the old law, being caught with a little more than an ounce (30 grams) of drugs such as cocaine or heroin could bring a death sentence. Now, it takes nearly 4 ½ pounds (2 kilograms). Similarly, for plant-based drugs such as cannabis and opium, the death penalty threshold has increased ten-fold, from 5 kilograms (11 pounds) to 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

The death penalty can also be imposed for certain other drug offenses where quantity is not the issue, for example, the use of a minor in a drug trafficking operations, carrying or using firearms while committing drug-related crimes, having a prior death penalty or prison sentence longer than 15 years, or being the "leader" of a drug trafficking group.

The one man executed for drug offenses in Iran this year, identified as Kiomars Nosuhi, was convicted of being a "leader" of a drug trafficking group.

Bordering Afghanistan, the world's primary supplier of raw opium and heroin, Iran has for decades waged war on drug smugglers, with thousands of police and soldiers killed in the struggle. While opium smoking was a traditional Iranian pastime, the country now has one of the world's highest addiction rates, with heroin largely replacing opium. In recognition of that reality, in the past decade, Iranian officials have switched from harsh punishments of drug users to emphasizing drug treatment and harm reduction. The end of the reflexive resort to the death penalty for drugs marks another step in the country's march toward a more progressive policy response.

While human rights groups applaud the dramatic decline in drug executions, they continue to express concern over the way the Iranian judicial system responds to drugs.

"We welcome the significant reduction in the use of the death penalty and hope that this trend will continue towards complete abolition," said IHR spokesperson Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam. "However, we have several serious concerns regarding the process of implementation of the new amendment, including bribery in the judicial system, insufficient capacity to handle a large number of cases, and lack of a monitoring organ overlooking the process."

And then there are the tens of thousands of drug offenders filling Iran's prisons. The country has more than 250,000 people behind bars, 50% to 70% for drug offenses. The Islamic Republic may not be running the gallows at full tilt anymore for drugs, but incarceration remains a key element of Iranian drug policy. Still, Iran has taken an important step forward.

Chronicle AM: Trump, Kardashian Talk Prison Reform; Desaparecidos in Nuevo Laredo, More... (5/31/18)

Philadelphia sees its first medical marijuana dispensary, a new report says drugged driving fatalities are up dramatically, the UN is concerned about forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and more.

Kim Kardashian and President Trump met at the White House Wednesday to talk prison reform and pardons. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan GOP Lawmakers Split on Passing Legalization Initiative. State Republican lawmakers are split on a plan for the legislature to just pass the pending marijuana legalization initiative. Under state law, the legislature has until Tuesday to adopt the initiative, which would enable lawmakers to later amend it -- and would also, the Republicans hope, lessen voter turnout at the polls in November. The move has support in the Senate, but House Republicans have yet to embrace it.

New Hampshire Democrats Won't Make Legalization a Platform Plank. A bid to get the state Democratic Party to embrace marijuana legalization has failed. A pro-legalization resolution did not get enough votes in the state party's platform committee to take it to the party's convention next month.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Extends Deadline for Dispensaries to Get Licensed. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs announced Wednesday that a June 15 deadline for operating dispensaries to get licensed under the state's new medical marijuana law will be extended to September 15. "This 92-day extension will allow the bureau and the board enough time to investigate and authorize facility operator licenses in order to make sure that access to medical marihuana is maintained," the agency said.

Philadelphia Gets First Dispensary. The City of Brotherly Love has seen its first medical marijuana dispensary open its doors. The Restore Integrative Wellness Center in Frankford opened Wednesday.

Driving

Number of Drugged Drivers Killed in Car Crashes Rising Dramatically, Report Finds. The number of drugged drivers killed in car wrecks is rising dramatically, according to a new report from the Governor's Highway Safety Association. The study found that 44% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs in 2016, up more than 50% over a decade ago. The study pointed to spreading marijuana legalization and the opiate epidemic as contributing factors. "These are big-deal drugs. They are used a lot," said Jim Hedlund, an Ithaca, New York-based traffic safety consultant who conducted the highway safety group's study. "People should not be driving while they're impaired by anything and these two drugs can impair you." The study also found that half of the dead drivers who tested positive for drugs had more than one substance in them and that half of the dead drivers who tested positive for alcohol also tested positive for drugs.

Sentencing

Trump, Kim Kardashian Talk Prison and Sentencing Reform. The two reality TV stars met in the White House Wednesday to discuss prison reforms and sentencing policy. Kardashian is advocating for a pardon for low-level drug offender Alice Marie Johnson, who has served more than 20 years in prison on a first offense. White House advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has prison reform in his portfolio, was also in the meeting. Half of Trump's previous commutations have been for rightist political figures including Joe Arpaio, Scooter Libby, and Dinesh D'Souza. He also shortened the sentences of a sailor who had taken photos in a classified area, and of the former executive of a meatpacking plant who committed loan fraud; and he pardoned the long-dead black boxer, Jack Johnson.

California Sentencing Reform Bill Passes Senate. A bill that would repeal a one-year sentencing enhancement for people who have prior felonies passed the state Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 1392 now heads for the Assembly.

International

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Calls on Mexico to Investigate Forced Disappearances in Nuevo Laredo. The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights called Wednesday on the Mexican government "take urgent measures to stop the wave of forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo and surrounding areas" and said "there are strong indications" that they were committed "by a federal security force." The UN office documented at least 23 disappearances since the beginning of February, while the local Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee said it had documented 56 forced disappearances since January 20. The disappearances come as the city confronts violence among competing cartels and between the cartels and police and the military. "Many of these people would have been detained arbitrarily and disappeared while going about their daily lives," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. "It is particularly horrific that at least five of the victims were minors, three of them very young, only 14 years old. These crimes, perpetrated during four months in only one municipality, are outrageous."

Chronicle AM: More Bangladeshi Drug War Killings, Canada Legalization Bill Advances, More... (5/29/18)

California lawmakers forego an opportunity to cut legal pot taxes, Pennsylvania's third largest city decriminalizes marijuana possession, the head of a UN agency calls on Latin America to consider drug legalization, Bangladeshi drug war killings mount, and more.

Canada's legalization bill heads for a final Senate vote by June 7. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Lower Pot Taxes Voted Down. Even though legal marijuana sales and tax revenues are much lower than anticipated, the legislature has passed on an opportunity to entice people away from the black market by cutting legal marijuana taxes, which can reach 50% of the purchase price when state and local taxes are included. A bill that would have lowered the state excise tax to 11% and suspended grower taxes for three years, Assembly Bill 3157, was defeated in the Assembly Appropriations Committee last Friday, but sponsor Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) said he hoped it could still be revived this year.

Colorado Grew 500 Tons of Legal Marijuana Last Year. Legal marijuana growers produced nearly 500 tons of pot last year, the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division reported last Friday. That turned into 411,000 pounds of purchased buds and more than 11 million edibles sold. The trend of production increasing each year since legalization continues.

Allentown, Pennsylvania, Decriminalizes. Pennsylvania's third largest city has now decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Allentown Mayor Ray O'Connell last Friday signed into law a measure passed 4-3 by the city council that makes possession of 30 grams or less a summary offense with a fine as low as $25.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Rules Patients Can Smoke Medical Marijuana. An Orlando circuit court judge ruled last Friday that the state legislature's ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional. State voters had approved medical marijuana in 2016 -- without any ban on smoking.

Florida Governor Immediately Appeals Ruling That Patients Can Smoke Their Medicine. The ruling that patients can smoke their medicine is on hold after Gov. Rick Scott (R) immediately appealed the Orlando judge's ruling.

International

Head of UN Agency Says Latin America Must Consider Legalizing Drugs. Alicia Barcena, head of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told a weekend forum in Paris that Latin America must seriously ponder drug legalization to reduce the human costs of drug prohibition. "I'm going to be very provocative. Who would drug legalization be good for? Latin America and the Caribbean, for God's sake. Because the illegality is what's killing people," she said. "It's time to seriously consider legalizing drugs."

Canadian Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Social Affairs Committee has approved the C-45 marijuana legalization bill with 40 amendments (most of them merely technical), including one that would give provincial governments the ability to ban homegrown marijuana. The committee's amended version of the bill will now go back to the Senate as a whole, which will decide whether to accept or reject the amendments or propose additional changes. The Senate has agreed to hold a final vote by June 7, which would allow the Trudeau government to meet its promise of having legal marijuana up and running by the end of summer.

Taliban Commander Orders Drug Labs Moved Out of Urban Areas to Avoid Civilian Casualties from American Air Strikes. The Taliban's shadow governor of opium-producing Helmand province has ordered drug labs moved out of populated areas because American air strikes are killing a rising number of civilians. Mullah Manan said that "due to one factory hundreds of the public are at risk from bombings and missiles" and called for facilities to shift to "mountains and valley sides" instead. Under looser rules of engagement under the Trump administration, bombing raids have nearly tripled in the first three months of this year compared with 2017.

Bangladesh's Murderous Anti-Drug Campaign Continues. Amid rising fears of a Philippines-style war on drugs, the latest reports are now that the toll has risen to 86 killed and more than 7,000 arrested since the government announced a new anti-drug offensive earlier this month. Human Rights Watch is speaking out, with Meenakshi Ganguly, the group's South Asia director warning that the government "should heed concerns and allegations by families and activists that several of these deaths could be extrajudicial killings."

Chronicle AM: Bangladeshi Drug War Gets Ugly, OK MedMJ Init Polling Well, More... (5/25/18)

The bloody Filipino drug war model spreads to Bangladesh, Congress continues to undercut District of Columbia marijuana and drug policy, a new poll has the Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative cruising toward victory next month, and more.

Oklahomans appear poised to approve a medical marijuana initiative a month from now. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Panel Approves Continued Meddling in DC Marijuana, Drug Laws. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Thursday approved a spending bill that would continue to bar the District of Columbia from expanding marijuana legalization to include taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The bill also adds a new bar on using funds to support opening safe injection sites.

Connecticut Democrats Endorse Marijuana Legalization. The state Democratic Party formally endorsed marijuana legalization at its convention last weekend. Legalization now becomes part of the state party's platform, which now includes this language: "The time for legalization of Marijuana has come. Doing so will raise revenue, which can be used to benefit those suffering from the disease of addiction to prescription pain medications and other opioids."

North Carolina Bill Would Legalize Up to Four Ounces. Rep. Kelly Alexander Jr. (D) has filed a bill that would legalize the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana. The bill would also raise the bar from felony possession of marijuana from 1.5 ounces to 16 ounces. The measure is House Bill 944.

Wisconsin's Milwaukee County Will Vote on Non-Binding Legalization Referendum. The county board of supervisors voted 15-1 Thursday to place an advisory referendum on marijuana legalization on the November ballot. Voters will be asked: "Do you favor allowing adults 21 years of age and older to engage in the personal use of marijuana, while also regulating commercial marijuana-related activities, and imposing a tax on the sale of marijuana?"

Medical Marijuana

Illinois House Panel Approves Using Medical Marijuana to Fight Opioid Addiction. The House Executive Committee voted 8-3 Thursday for a bill that would allow people who qualify for opioid prescriptions to apply for the state's medical marijuana program. The measure, Senate Bill 336, has already passed the Senate, but still needs some cleanup provision enacted in the Executive Committee before it goes to the House floor.

Oklahoma Poll Has Medical Marijuana Initiative in Good Shape. A new Sooner Poll has the medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, cruising toward victory in next month's election. The opposition has managed to drag approval down from 61.8% in January to 57.5% now, but that's still enough support to win a month from now.

International

Bangladesh's Philippines-Style Drug War Deepens. At least 50 people have been shot and killed by police in what human rights activists say is a politically motivated crackdown on drug trafficking. While the killings are part of an announced anti-drug campaign announced by the government, at least one family is telling reporters their relative was an opposition political activist who had nothing to do with drugs. That family and at least one other has reported their relatives being taken into custody by police hours before being found dead in what the government describes as nighttime shootouts with drug gangs. The campaign has only been underway for about 10 days.

Mexican Tourism Secretary Again Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid has once again called for marijuana legalization as a means to combat criminality and insecurity. In January, he called for legalization to stop violence in Baja California Sur and Quintana Roo, home of Cancun. "I think that in Mexico we should move toward a regulation at the state level," he said in an interview with Reuters. "Maintaining marijuana in illegality is giving money to drug traffickers, and with that money what these gentlemen do is that they bribe more police, buy more weapons and are more violent," he added.

Chronicle AM: De Blasio Tells NYPD to Stop Pot Arrests, Aghan Opium Bumper Crop, More... (5/22/18)

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to see an end to public pot smoking arrests, Utah medical marijuana supporters are fending off a court challenge, the "Philippine disease" appears to be spreading to Bangladesh, Afganistan sees a bumper poppy crop, and more.

Afghanistan had its largest opium poppy crop ever last year, the UNODC reports. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Opposition Marijuana Poll Has Initiative in Lead, But Under 50%. A new poll commissioned by opponents of Michigan's marijuana legalization initiative had it with 48% support, 11% undecided, and 42% opposed. After pollsters produced arguments in favor of the initiative, support stayed at 48%, but opposition dropped to 36%. After pollsters introduced arguments against the initiative, support actually jumped one point to 49%.

New York Mayor Tells Cops To Stop Arresting People for Public Marijuana Use. Over the weekend, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) told the NYPD to just issue summonses for public pot smoking instead of making arrests. The NYPD already has a working group that has begun to evaluate its marijuana enforcement policies and will present recommendations within 30 days. Now the mayor has made it clear that an end to arrests for public pot smoking is one of the changes he wants.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Supporters Fight Back in Court. Supporters of the medical marijuana initiative showed up in court Monday to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to prevent the initiative from going before the voters in November. The Utah Patients Coalition is seeking to block a lawsuit from Drug Safe Utah that argues state officials were not legally allowed to approve the initiative.

West Virginia Lawmakers Seek Special Session for Medical Marijuana Financing. Some state lawmakers are seeking to force Gov. Jim Justice (D) to call a legislative special session to address financial problems with the state's medical marijuana law. A special session that ended Monday failed to address the issue. For another special session to be called, at least three-fifths of each chamber must sign on. That figure has been met in the Senate, but not yet in the House.

International

UN Says Afghan Opium Poppy Production Increased Sharply Last Year. Opium poppy production expanded sharply in Afghanistan last year, increasing from roughly 500,000 acres in 2016 to more than 700,000 acres last year. That's an all-time high, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said. UNODC said no single factor explained the increase but cited "political instability, lack of government control, and security" as main drivers.

Bangladeshi Opposition Warns of Police Killings of Drug Suspects. The country's leading opposition party, the BNP, on Monday accused the government of "indulging in extrajudicial killings" in the pursuit of a country-wide anti-drug drive. "A fresh drive to control narcotics has begun," BNP General Secretary Mirza Fakrul Islam Almagir said. "We also want the country to be free from drug abuse and those involved in it to be brought to justice. But it does not mean people should be killed unlawfully without trial." Almagir added that the government was now killing drug suspects in just the same way it had unlawfully killed opposition leaders and activists. Almagir also suggested the ruling Awami League should clean up its own house first.

Four White Louisiana Narcs Choked This Young Black Man to Death in a Low-Level Drug Bust

New Orleans resident Keeven Robinson, 22, died after being arrested by Jefferson Parish narcotics officers last week. Police originally tried to blame his death on asthma, but now the Jefferson Parish coroner is telling a very different tale.

Keeven Robinson (Demone Robinson)
At a press conference Monday, Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich laid out what initial autopsy results uncovered: "Our initial autopsy findings reveal significant traumatic injuries to the neck, the soft tissue of the neck," he said. "These findings are consistent with compressional asphyxia. We are confident that at the end of our process, this is going to be the cause of death. Regarding manner of death, at this point, manner of death is homicide."

Cvitanovich was quick to point out that when he said "homicide," he did not mean in the legal sense, but in the sense that Robinson died as a result of the actions of others.

According to the sheriff's office, four undercover narcotics deputies, who Sheriff Joe Lopinto did not name but identified as white, were surveilling Robinson, a black man, as part of a drug dealing investigation and followed him to a gas station on Jefferson Highway late last Thursday morning.

When Robinson noticed the agents, who wore badges, approaching him, he attempted to drive off, but jumped from his car about a block away after running into two sheriff's vehicles. The narcs pursued Robinson in a foot chase as he leaped over fences before catching him in the back yard of a residence.

Again, according to the sheriff's office, the deputies then struggled with Robinson, who was carrying what they suspected to be heroin, before they managed to handcuff him. At that point, he stopped breathing. He was rushed to Oshsner Medical Center nearby, but died there.

Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies do not wear body cams.

Robinson was not armed, though Sheriff Lopinto said a gun was found in his car.

Lopinto originally said investigators were looking into whether Robinson's history of asthma contributed to his death, but his family immediately expressed skepticism about that possibility. They said they feared the narcs had either beaten or strangled him to death.

And the coroner's report is proving them correct. Jefferson Parish NAACP President Gaylor Spiller said she was pleased the coroner's office issued a ruling on Robinson's death so quickly and that "there was no cover up."

But Spiller was speaking prematurely. The investigation into the killing of Keeven Robinson is just getting started, and the inevitable finding that no one is criminally responsible is still months away. Call me cynical , or call me a student of what happens when police kill people.

In this case, an unarmed black drug suspect was choked to death by four white narcs. Who wants to bet on any of them being charged with a crime?

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