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Trump's Terrible, No Good Plan to Gin Up Worldwide Drug War [FEATURE]

President Trump is in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly, but he's going to kick off his appearance with an unofficial event aimed at promoting a tougher global line on drugs. He will host a meeting on "The World Drug Problem," and countries that have agreed to sign on to a document circulated by the administration, "The Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem," will be rewarded by being invited to the event and given the opportunity to "participate in a group photo" with the president.

The president goes to the UN to try to push global drug policy backward. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
"The purpose of this event is to demonstrate international political will to enhance efforts to effectively address and counter the serious threats posed by the world drug problem," says an August 31 diplomatic note first reported by The Intercept.

In that note, the administration says it is already "collaborating" with a couple of dozen countries, but many of them are already proponents of harsh drug policy approaches. At least three of them -- China, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore -- are quick to resort to the death penalty for drug offenders, while others, such as Russia and the United Arab Emirates, are not exactly beacons of progressive drug policy. Yet other countries, including Costa Rica, India, and the United Kingdom, have signed on despite not hewing to draconian drug policy positions -- perhaps just to stay on the right side of the mercurial and vindictive Trump.

Unlike the UN drug policy process, which involves lengthy, finely detailed study, negotiation, and consensus-building among member states and civil society actors, Trump's Global Call is an attempt to impose the administration's hardline drug war positions on other countries. The cover letter accompanying the Global Call makes clear that the text of the document "is not open for discussion."

In Trump's Global Call to Action, states agree to develop "action plans" based on a "four-pronged strategy" of demand reduction, drug treatment, international cooperation, and cutting the supply of illicit drugs that reflects the global drug policy consensus of a decade or two ago -- not today.

Twenty years ago, the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs ended with a call for "a drug-free world." That chimera, of course, never happened, and the UN's political declaration in 2009 ratcheted down the rhetoric, calling merely for demand reduction, supply reduction, and international cooperation -- language strikingly reminiscent of Trump's current Global Call. But by the 2016 UNGASS on Drugs, the global community had moved beyond pure drug war theater, explicitly tying drug policy to human rights, access to health care, and sustainable development and implicitly endorsing harm reduction. The words "harm reduction" didn't make it into the final UNGASS documents, but their spirit was present.

Trump's Global Call also reverts to the sort of "eliminationist" language regarding drug cultivation that many countries have been moving away from. The strategy wants to "reduce" drug demand, but "cut off the supply" of drugs by "stopping" their production. Such language implies the resort to repressive eradication measures aimed at poor peasants in the developing world, a policy that has failed for decade after decade.

Drug policy advocates are raising the alarm over the administration's moves.

"This Global Call to Action is a unilateral move orchestrated by the US government that shows utter disregard for multilateralism and regular UN processes of negotiation and consensus. This is clearly an example of Trump attempting to wade into the international drug policy debate and create a splashy camera-ready opportunity, carefully orchestrated to create the appearance of support from dozens of other countries," said Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Holding the event at the UN provides a "veneer of multilateralism and global accord, but these trappings of multilateralism should not be mistaken for a new-found global drug policy consensus," the International Drug Policy Consortium declared. "Far from an effort at achieving mutual understanding and genuine consensus, it is an instance of heavy-handed US 'with us or against us' diplomacy."

The world need not leave global drug policy to the tender mercies of Donald Trump. In fact, it would be better off listening to one of the men who will address the Monday meeting: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. As president of Portugal, Guterres oversaw that country's groundbreaking decriminalization of drug use and possession in 2001.

Or it could listen to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which consists of the former presidents and prime ministers of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Greece, Malawi, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland. On Monday, the same day that Trump attempts to cement a repressive alliance, the commission is launching its new report, "Regulation: The Responsible Control of Drugs," which calls for reforming the prohibition-based global drug control system and examines how responsible regulation can take control of currently illegal drug markets.

"President Trump is the last person who should be defining the global debate on drug policy. From his support of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal drug war to his call for the death penalty for people who sell drugs, Trump has shown complete disdain for human rights and international law," warned Hetzer. "Governments should be very wary of signing on to this document and showing up for the photo op at Trump's event."

[Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

These Four States Will Vote on Marijuana in November [FEATURE]

Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana since 2012, but all of those states have been in the West or the Northeast. This year, with marijuana legalization on the ballot in Michigan as well as North Dakota, legal weed could make a heartland breakthrough.

Similarly, medical marijuana's rise to acceptance continues, and this year, Missouri and Utah look set to join the ranks.

Two of these states -- Missouri and North Dakota -- also have incumbent Democratic senators up for reelection in tough campaigns this fall. Whether voters motivated by marijuana could help Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp retain their seats remains to be seen, but pot at the polls will generate interest among more liberal voters.

We could see New Jersey move quickly and legalize weed via the legislature sometime in the next two months, but barring that, it looks like we'll see at least one, and quite possibly two, new marijuana legalization states come election day and, most likely, two more medical marijuana states.

Here we go:

Michigan

Michigan is poised to become marijuana legalization's Midwest breakout state. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has qualified a marijuana legalization initiative, Proposal 1, for the November ballot.

The measure would legalize the possession up to 2.5 ounces of pot for personal use and up to 10 ounces at home, as well as allowing for the personal cultivation of up to 12 plants and the fruits of that harvest. It also creates a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, with a 10 percent excise tax at the retail level in addition to the 6 percent sales tax. The measure would give cities and counties the option of allowing pot businesses or not.

The initiative looks well-positioned to win in November. A February poll had support for legalization in Michigan at 57 percent, while a March poll came in at 61 percent. The most recent poll, from May, had support holding steady at 61 percent. Those are the kinds of polling numbers initiative and referendum experts like to see at the beginning of the campaign because they suggest that even with the inevitable erosion of support in the face of opposition attacks, the measure still has a big enough cushion to pull off a victory.

Missouri

Missouri voters will be able to choose from not one, not two, but three separate medical marijuana measures when they go to the polls in November. Two are constitutional amendments; one is a statutory initiative that could more easily be modified by the legislature.

Amendment 2, sponsored by New Approach Missouri, would allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis for any condition they see fit. Registered patients and caregivers would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants and purchase up to four ounces from dispensaries per month. Medical cannabis sales at dispensaries would be taxed at 4 percent.

Amendment 3, sponsored by Find the Cures, would let doctors recommend medical marijuana to patients who have any of a specific list of qualifying conditions (while regulators would be able to add more conditions in the future). The retail sales tax on medical marijuana would be set at the much higher rate of 15 percent. Funds would be used to support research with the aim of developing cures and treatments for cancer and other diseases.

Proposition C, backed by Missourians for Patient Care, also outlines a list of specific conditions that would qualify patients to legally use medical cannabis. Sales would be taxed at 2 percent.

An August poll conducted by TJP strategies had support for amending the state constitution to allow medical marijuana at 54 percent.

That there are three separate measures on the ballot could lead to some confusion. If multiple ballot measures on the same topic pass, the one with the most votes generally prevails. But because in this case two of the measures are constitutional amendments and one is a statutory measure, if the statutory measure gets more votes than either of the amendments, but at least one of them passes, it could be up to the state's court system to figure out which goes into effect.

While there is nothing stopping voters from voting "yes" on all three measures, there are also concerns that the multiplicity of options could result in splitting the pro-medical marijuana vote, with some voting "yes" on only one measure and "no" on the others. In this election, when it comes to medical marijuana, Missouri may have too much of a good thing.

North Dakota

The winds of change are blowing across the northern prairies. Just two years ago, North Dakota voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, and this year, a grassroots group, Legalize ND, managed to get enough signatures to get Measure 3, the Marijuana Legalization and Automatic Expungement initiative, on the November ballot.

This is a radical initiative. It would legalize all forms of marijuana for adults by removing marijuana, THC, and hashish from the state's controlled substance schedules, and it sets no limits on the amount of marijuana people could possess or how many plants they grow. It also provides for the automatic expungement of criminal convictions for anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime that would be legal under the measure.

And it does not create a framework for regulated marijuana sales, nor does it set any taxes. Creating a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce would be up to the state legislature.

North Dakota is a deep red state -- Donald Trump got more than twice as many votes as Hillary Clinton in 2016 -- but the only poll done so far has the initiative leading. The June poll, commissioned by Legalize ND and conducted by the Florida-based Kitchen Group, had the initiative winning 46 percent to 39 percent, with 15 percent undecided.

That's good but not great news for Legalize ND. Yes, the initiative is leading, but the conventional wisdom among initiative and referendum watchers is that campaigns should be starting off with at least 60 percent support -- the assumption being that inevitable organized opposition is going to eat away at support levels in the final weeks of the campaign.

Utah

Sponsored by the Utah Patients Coalition, the medical marijuana statutory initiative, Proposition 2, has qualified for the November ballot. The bottom-up effort comes after the state legislature has refused to advance meaningful medical marijuana legislation.

Under the measure, people who suffer from one of a list of designated qualifying medical conditions could receive a medical marijuana card with a physician's recommendation. That would entitle them to possess up to two ounces of marijuana or any amount of a marijuana product with up to 10 grams of THC. Patients could not grow their own unless they live more than 100 miles from a dispensary. And the patients cannot smoke marijuana.

The measure has received opposition from the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), but even church members don't appear to be heading the leadership on this one. A Utah Policy poll released Tuesday has support for the measure at 64 percent. Among Mormons, the church's active opposition has swayed only "very active" church members, who now narrowly oppose the measure. But "somewhat active" and "former" Mormons both overwhelmingly support it. It looks like medical marijuana is coming to the Land of Deseret.

Study: Charging People With Murder for Drug Overdose Deaths "Bad Criminal Justice Policy" [FEATURE]

As the nation grapples with the deadliest drug crisis in its history -- more than 72,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- prosecutors across the country have rushed to embrace the use of "drug-induced homicide" charges as a means of combating the problem. That means charging the people who sold the fatal dose -- or sometimes just the people who shared it -- with murder or manslaughter and sending them away to prison for lengthy terms.

Drug-induced homicide charges are a regression to the lock 'em up policies of last century's drug war. (ussc.gov)
Faced with a public clamor to "do something," prosecutors are resorting to this facile, politically popular tactic in order to "send a message" of toughness to dealers in a bid to break the back of the epidemic. But a new study, "America's Favorite Antidote: Drug-Induced Homicide in the Age of the Overdose Crisis" concludes that the practice is worse than ineffective -- it's actually counterproductive.

Such prosecutions are "bad law and bad criminal justice policy" that have only worsened the opioid crisis that has taken tens of thousands of American lives, writes Leo Beletsky, associate professor of law and health sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law.

Beletsky notes that while the strategy dates back to 1986, in an atmosphere of moral panic set off by the death of NBA player Len Bias of an overdose from cocaine given to him by a friend, it has really taken off in recent years as the country lives through what he calls the "worst drug crisis in US history." Now, more than half the states have some form of drug-induced homicide law, while others are considering amending them to include fentanyl.

But the prosecutions amount to little more than "policy theater" rooted in the punitive approach long favored in the country's war on drugs, Beletsky argues. That is an unsuccessful approach that has largely failed to reduce drug use or stem the flow of drugs into the country, he notes.

Beletsky's study looked at data from 263 drug-induced homicide prosecutions between 2000 and 2016. One of the most striking findings was that, while such prosecutions are supposedly aimed at drug dealers, at least half of those charged were family members or partners.

"In many jurisdictions, it is enough to have simply shared a small amount of your drugs with the deceased to be prosecuted for homicide," he notes.

Another striking -- yet completely unsurprising -- finding is that when he applied his data to what he called "existing racially disparate patterns of drug law enforcement," he found evidence of racial differences in the application of drug-induced homicide laws as well. Such selective enforcement resulted in "gaping disparities between whites and people of color."

But the most bitter irony can be found in the impact of such laws on actual overdose deaths. Even though opioid overdose reversal drugs such as naloxone are now in wide use, many friends, fellow users, and family members are reluctant to call for emergency help because they fear the legal repercussions, even if they didn't provide the lethal drugs.

"Police involvement at overdose scenes may result in arrests on drug, parole violation, weapons, and other charges," wrote Beletsky. "It may also lead to loss of child custody, violation of community supervision conditions, and other legal consequences rooted in the pervasive stigmatization of substance use, but not directly linked to criminal law. Research suggests that fear of police contact and legal detriment is actually the single most important reason why people who witnessed overdoses do not seek timely emergency medical help," he concludes. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events."

Rather than "tougher" policy responses to drug use such as the resort to drug-induced homicide charges, policymakers should be subjecting failed punishment-oriented policies to rigorous scrutiny while instead developing a "population-based" health policy emphasizing treatment and diversion from the criminal justice system, he suggested.

"A system that relies on the instrument of punishment to regulate the behavior of people affected by severe SUD (Substance Use Disorder) fundamentally misconstrues the nature of addiction," Beletsky writes. "The established scientific consensus predicts that individuals affected by addiction will substantially discount -- or totally disregard -- legal risks and threats of punishment as a matter of course. This scientific construct has yet to be translated into US jurisprudence, however."

"Drug-induced homicide prosecutions and other similar punitive approaches to the opioid crisis, such as curbing prescriptions and subjecting patients to drug testing regimes, have crowded out public health strategies that have been proven to work in limiting the deleterious impacts of widespread opioid use," he writes.

"The bottom line," Beletsky writes, "is that, when it comes to policies that hold the most empirical promise for addressing the overdose crisis, we know what to do; we just are not doing it."

Bad Law Men: A Devil’s Half-Dozen Drug-Corrupted County Sheriffs [FEATURE]

Last week, the good citizens of Mississippi's Tallahatchie County got a rude shock. The county's top lawmen, Sheriff William Brewer, was at the courthouse, which was not unusual. This time, though, he was dressed not in his sheriff's uniform but in an orange prisoner jumpsuit to face federal criminal drug trafficking charges.

According to a federal indictment, over a period of 15 years, Sheriff Brewer had conspired with a local ne'er-do-well to have that person repeatedly rob drug dealers, give stolen cash to Brewer, sell the drugs, then give Brewer part of the proceeds. In return, that man got a free ride for his own methamphetamine trafficking activities. Well, until he started coming up with his own meth supply. When Brewer found out about that, he started demanding a $500 or $600 payment every week for the dealer to carry out his work unimpeded. The dealer eventually became an FBI informant and took his former partner down.

Brewer has now resigned as sheriff, and he has not yet been convicted of anything, but his arrest on drug and extortion charges is yet another disturbing example of the corrosive impact on law enforcement of enforcing drug prohibition.

County sheriffs are unique figures in the American law enforcement landscape. Unlike police chiefs or the heads of federal law enforcement agencies, they are typically elected, not appointed. They are subject to little effective oversight except from voters at the polling booth. They control policing not only of all county territory not handled by municipal police forces, but also the county jail and the policing of the courthouse. They control their own law enforcement fiefdoms.

And they sometimes turn to the dark side. For the past dozen years, Drug War Chronicle has covered drug prohibition-related law enforcement misbehavior in a recurring feature, "This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories." During that period, hundreds of police officers, DEA agents, FBI agents, Customs and Border Patrol agents, jail and prison guards, and sheriff's deputies have gone down for one or more of the myriad forms of dirty drug policing.

Law enforcement misbehavior has run the gamut from planting drugs on innocent people to ripping off drug dealers and selling their stashes to sexual coercion to lying on search warrants to lying in court to pocketing cash from drug busts to embezzling asset forfeiture funds, and even stealing drugs from those drug dropoff boxes.

It's bad enough when the people charged with enforcing the law flout it, but it's arguably more disheartening and corrosive when the corrupt cops are the very people charged with heading law enforcement offices, such as county sheriffs. There are more than 3,000 of them, holding office in every state except Alaska (no county governments), Connecticut (replaced by State Marshals), and Hawaii (deputies serve in a division of the Department of Public Safety). The vast majority of them are honest law enforcement professionals.

But some are notoriously not. Each year, one or two or three county sheriffs find themselves on the wrong side of the law because of drugs, whether it's stealing them, selling them, or gobbling them down themselves. And sometimes, when they break bad, they do so in a spectacular fashion. Here are a half-dozen of the most outrageous from the past decade alone:

Oklahoma's Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess Burgess was hit in 2008 with a 35-count indictment charging him with coercing and bribing female inmates to participate in sex acts. He was hit with 14 counts of second-degree rape, seven counts of forcible oral sodomy, and five counts of bribery by a public official, among other charges. A federal lawsuit filed by 12 former inmates alleges that Burgess and his employees had them participate in wet T-shirt contests and gave cigarettes to inmates who would flash their breasts. Another prisoner alleged she was given trusty status after agreeing to perform a sex act on Burgess, but lost that status when she later refused. After a jury trial, now former Sheriff Burgess was convicted of 13 felonies, including five counts of second-degree rape and three counts of bribery by a public official. Testimony included that of several former female inmates who testified they feared they would be sent to prison if they did not provide sexual favors to the sheriff, as well as two female drug court participants. Burgess sexually assaulted one of them in his patrol car after arresting her for a drug court violation. In March 2009, he was sentenced to 79 years in prison.

Texas's Montague County Sheriff Bill Keating. Another badge-wearing pervert, Keating, 62, went down for a November 2008 drug raid at a home where the victim and her boyfriend lived. The boyfriend was arrested on outstanding warrants and removed by sheriff's deputies, who then searched the house and found meth paraphernalia. Sheriff Keating shooed the remaining deputy out of the bedroom, closed the door, and told the victim, "You are about to be my new best friend." He then threatened to arrest her on drug charges unless she "assisted" him by performing oral sex on him on multiple occasions and becoming a snitch for him. Keating pleaded guilty in that case in January 2009, but was then indicted along with nine jail guards -- seven women and two men -- for official oppression over allegations that the county jail was like Animal House. That indictment features multiple allegations of guards and inmates doing drugs and having sex with each other under Keatings' watch. Keating was looking at up to 10 years in prison on the original charge when he died of a heart attack in July 2009. The federal charges against him were subsequently dismissed.

Illinois's Gallatin County Sheriff Raymond Martin. Sheriff Martin found himself in hot water in 2009, when he was indicted on federal marijuana trafficking charges after being videotaped repeatedly providing pounds of marijuana to a local man, who would sell the weed and then give Martin the proceeds. That man became an informant for the DEA after Martin threatened him with death when he said he wanted out. It only got worse from there. While in jail awaiting trial, Martin, his wife, and their 20-year-old son were all arrested again, this time on solicitation of murder charges for plotting to knock off the guy who ratted them out. In September 2010, Martin was convicted of 15 counts in the drug trafficking and murder-for-hire scheme. He was sentenced to two life terms in federal prison in January 2011.

South Carolina's Florence County Sheriff E.J. Melvin. The only black sheriff on this list, Melvin was indicted on dozens of federal charges along with 11 others in 2011 for a massive and complex cocaine trafficking conspiracy. He was accused of dealing cocaine from his official vehicle, extorting money from drug dealers for protection or to get reduced charges. State police agents testified that they give Melvin a list of possible drug dealers, only to have him tip them off and arrange to get payments from them to keep the agents away. In addition to the massive cocaine conspiracy, involving multiple kilograms of the drug over a multi-year period, he was also accused of ripping off $5,000 in victim assistance funds for personal use. He ended up convicted on 37 of 43 counts and is now serving a 17-year federal prison sentence.

Kentucky's Whitley County Sheriff Lawrence Hodge. Hodge was indicted on both state and federal charges in 2011 for stealing around $350,000 over a seven-year period, including $100,000 he claimed was used in drug investigations. That wasn't all: Hodge was also charged with ripping off drug dealers and then funneling them to a local attorney. He would get a $50,000 kickback, the department would get a $50,000 "donation," and the dealers would get more lenient treatment. Oh, and he admitted to being strung out on pain pills. Hodge is now doing 15 years of federal time and 17 years of state time, and when he gets out, he has to pay back some $350,000.

Oklahoma's Love County Sheriff Marion "Joe" Russell. Russell was arrested in 2016 on charges of corruption, neglect of duty, and housing a fugitive, but it gets hinkier than that. He was accused of turning a blind eye to meth dealing out of his own home by his adult son, covering up a missing person case where another family member is the main suspect. His son, Willie Russell, had already pleaded guilty to meth dealing. The fugitive, a young woman, was dating Willie and staying at the sheriff's house even though she had four arrest warrants outstanding. Russell would remind her that she was in a "safe haven," and when she left anyway, he arrested her and the man she moved in with -- for harboring a fugitive. He was also accused of arresting drunken women in bikinis and taking them to his house instead of to jail. There, they were allegedly sexually assaulted and given meth. The missing persons case involves a young couple who were last seen in a car owned by Russell's nephew. That couple, Molly Miller and Colt Haynes, are still missing, but Russell is now in the clear, having copped a plea deal that resulted in one year of probation and $370 in court costs.

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

This Surprising State Could Be the Next to Legalize Marijuana [FEATURE]

Much attention this year has been focused on marijuana legalization efforts in state legislatures, particularly in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states, but unless Albany and Annapolis and Trenton get their acts together in a hurry, they could be upstaged by a prairie upstart: North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota (GoodFreePhotos.com)
North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced Monday that a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by the grassroots group Legalize ND has qualified for the November ballot. The group had handed in more than 17,000 raw signatures last month and needed 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify. On Monday, Jaeger reported 14,637 signatures were valid.

"The Legalize ND campaign was able to successfully channel the grassroots enthusiasm for recreational marijuana," said Legalize ND chairman David Owen.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana since 2012, but all of those states have been in the West or the Northeast. This year, with marijuana legalization on the ballot in Michigan as well as North Dakota, legal weed could make a heartland breakthrough.

The North Dakota initiative has some unique features. Here's what it would and wouldn't do:

  • It would legalize marijuana -- in all its forms -- for people 21 and over by removing marijuana, THC, and hashish from the state's controlled substances schedules.
  • It would provide for the expungement of criminal convictions for anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime that would be legal under the measure.
  • It does not set any limits on how much marijuana people could possess or how many plants they could grow.
  • It does not create a framework for regulated marijuana sales nor does it set any taxes. Creating a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce would be up to the state legislature.

It's only been two years since North Dakota voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, and the state Health Department is still in the process of setting up a system for producing and distributing the drug. That same year, marijuana legalization supporters came up short on signatures to get on the ballot, but they persevered, and here we are.

North Dakota is a deep red state -- Donald Trump got more than twice as many votes as Hillary Clinton in 2016 -- but the only poll done so far has the initiative leading. The June poll, commissioned by Legalize ND and conducted by the Florida-based Kitchen Group, had the initiative winning 46 percent to 39 percent, with 15 percent undecided.

That's good but not great news for Legalize ND. Yes, the initiative is leading, but the conventional wisdom among initiative and referendum watchers is that campaigns should be starting off with at least 60 percent support -- the assumption being that inevitable organized opposition is going to eat away at support levels in the final weeks of the campaign.

And there will be organized opposition. The North Dakota Sheriffs and Deputies Association passed a resolution in May opposing legalization and, now that the initiative has made the ballot, is meeting this week to plot strategy to defeat it.

Association president Pat Rummel, the Billings County sheriff, told the Associated Press this week law enforcement worried about potential problems such as impaired driving, more domestic disputes, and more strain on mental health and addiction treatment facilities.

"We don't have enough facilities to take care of these people," he said. "That's going to be a huge impact, too. Where do we put all these people that need to be into treatment?"

The national anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana will also join the effort to defeat the initiative, the group's leader, Kevin Sabet, told the AP. "Our nation is dealing with a five-alarm fire of addiction right now; the last thing we need is more states to throw gasoline on it by promoting more drug use," he said.

That's the tenor of the opposition arguments so far. The question is whether North Dakota voters will still be swayed by such arguments. We'll find out in November.

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

Why Marijuana Will Play a Major Role in the Next Two National Elections [FEATURE]

Last week, the San Jose Convention Center hosted the National Cannabis Industry Association's (NCIA) 2018 Cannabis Business Summit and Expo. More than 7,000 marijuana industry players and hopefuls crammed into exhibition halls and conference rooms for the three-day confab, located squarely in the heart of the world's largest legal marijuana market -- California.

The variety of stuff on display was mind-boggling: Armored cars, safes, "California compliant" marijuana delivery vans, multi-thousand-dollar extraction devices of gleaming metal and shining glass, lighting systems, cooling systems, myriad forms of packaging, business management systems, POS systems, cannabis industry talent headhunters, greenhouses, modular grow fixtures, insurance companies, law firms, real estate firms -- vegan CBD gummies -- and much, much more. And while a few tie-dyes could be spotted in the crowds, they were few and far between.

While for most attendees the expo was all about business, the legal marijuana business still has to ponder the specter of federal marijuana prohibition actually being enforced. And even at the state level -- where the industry can make money -- it is still constrained by the annoying fact that adult use marijuana is only legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. One panel of experienced marijuana watchers zoomed in on the politics of pot law reform to try to divine what the near future holds -- not so much for the industry, but in terms of consolidating the political victories that have already seen marijuana move from the back alleys to, well, shiny big city convention centers.

The discussion among panelists NCIA director of governmental relations Mike Correia; Jolene Forman, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance; and John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institute, covered a variety of topics and sketched the outlines of what pot politics could look like and achieve between now and the 2020 elections.

Federal Legislation

DPA attorney Forman pointed to three pieces of federal marijuana legislation:

  • The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, S. 3032, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with five Republican and four Democratic cosponsors. The bill would modify the Controlled Substances Act so that it would not apply to people acting in compliance with state laws in states where it is legal.
  • The Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, S. 3174, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The bill would federally decriminalize marijuana by removing it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
  • The Marijuana Justice Act, S. 1689, sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and cosponsored by a virtual who's who of Democratic 2020 presidential contenders, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). It would remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act and eliminate federal criminal penalties for marijuana commerce.

While both the Schumer bill and the Booker bill would decriminalize marijuana, the STATES Act, which would only apply in places it's already legal, is more likely to gain traction, said Forman, a position seconded by Correia.

"The STATES Act is most likely to move," said Correia, who spends his days haunting the corridors of power on Capitol Hill as he lobbies for the industry. "Congress is incremental."

Movement could come faster if Democrats take the House or Senate, he said. "Maybe the Democrats will be more aggressive," Correia suggested, drawing a comparison with movement on gay and lesbian issues in recent years.

Not so fast, said Hudak, noting that key congressional committee chairs have bottled up marijuana bills so far. "Until both parties stop putting in foes of reform in leadership positions, there will be no progress," he said. "And it's not just the GOP." (Until a few months ago he might have been referring to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who represents the world's largest legal pot market but who only dropped her opposition to legalization last May in the face of a primary challenge and is only beginning to shed last century's prohibitionist ideology.)

There is no reason for Democrats to put enemies of reform in leadership positions, Hudak said. "Cannabis is already a Democratic core value."

"Marijuana legalization could pass Congress right now," Correia argued, "but it doesn't get any hearings; it doesn't get any votes."

If Congress Fails to Act

DPA's Forman explained that while it is now clear that states have the right to not criminalize marijuana and not enforce federal prohibition, a hostile Justice Department could still potentially wreak havoc.

"What is untested in the courts is whether federal preemption could block regulation," she said. In other words, it's possible that the Justice Department could blow up states' ability to tax and regulate the industry.

Forman noted that medical marijuana states are currently protected from Justice Department interference by the repeated passage of amendments to spending bills blocking the DOJ from using its funds to go after medical marijuana where it is legal.

"We need the same for adult use," she said.

Without legislation protecting marijuana, "the executive branch can do things, it could be more aggressive," said Hudak. But he added that doing so would have a price. "That could affect the department's working relationship with the states," he warned.

Correia thought Justice Department meddling was unlikely, despite Jeff Sessions' druthers. "It makes zero sense politically to interfere," he argued, pointing to marijuana's popularity in opinion polls.

Hudak pointed out a possible flip side to a hostile executive power. "A reform-minded president could do a lot," he said, perhaps thinking of the Obama administration's Cole memo laying out how federal prosecutors would lay off legal marijuana in the states. Despite Sessions having nullified the Cole memo, it still seems to be largely the approach of the land.

The 2018 Midterms

"This is an exciting year for cannabis policy politics," said Hudak, pointing to the example of Texas, where progressive Democratic challenger and legalization advocate Rep. Beto O'Rourke is closing in on incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R).

"Beto is getting close to Cruz, and the whole time, he's screaming about his support for cannabis reform. That's transformational," he said. "Politicians lag behind; they've been terrified of this issue. Now it's politically beneficial. If you're against cannabis, the best thing to do is shut up about it. Nobody is with you."

It's still an uphill battle in Texas, though. Cruz is leading O'Rourke by 8.4 points in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. But that's only half as much as Cruz's 16-point victory in his 2012 Senate race, and O'Rourke has three more months to move up. And just today, a new Texas Lyceum poll had Cruz leading only 41% to 39%, well within the poll's margin of error.

According to Correia, trying to work with Republicans on Capitol Hill has led to lessons learned: "We see no point in trying to work with the GOP any longer," he said. "We'll be giving money to challengers in competitive races. The Democrats are thinking about this; they will run on marijuana."

The 2020 Election

It looks like marijuana is going to be a popular issue in 2020 -- or at least the people thinking about running for the Democratic presidential nomination seem to think so.

"Potential Democratic candidates are getting their names on big pot bills," Forman noted.

Marijuana is also likely to be on state ballots in 2020, and that will be good for Democrats, said Hudak.

"There will be more initiatives, and those drive Democratic turnout," he argued. "In 2012, Democrats in Colorado voted for cannabis -- and for president, too. Democratic politicians are seeing this."

But Correia said the current president could be a wild card here (as in so many other places): "Trump might just decide to steal the issue, to take it off the table."

Given that Trump has signaled support for the STATES Act, and given Trump's willingness to adopt any position if he thinks it brings him political gain, that's not impossible. And it would take some immeasurable oomph out of Democratic sails.

The Next States to Legalize

Michigan will vote on a legalization initiative in November, and there will be efforts in Arizona and Ohio in 2020, the panelists said. But grassroots initiatives could also bubble up in places like North Dakota and Oklahoma, both of which saw serious efforts this year that will almost certainly not make the November ballot but do lay the groundwork for the next cycle.

Vermont became the first state to free the weed via the legislative process (although it does not allow retail sales), but Correia sketched out how the next couple of years could see Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island fall in line behind it. By the time November 2020 rolls around, most of New England and the mid-Atlantic states could be legal, with Illinois and Michigan creating a major toehold in the heart of the Midwest.

When it comes to marijuana policy and ending pot prohibition, it looks to be a very interesting and fruitful next couple of years.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Advocates Claim "Overdose Prevention" Bill Would Drive People Out of Treatment and Increase Overdoses [FEATURE]

A bill ostensibly aimed at reducing opioid overdoses passed the House last month, but rather than cheering it on, drug treatment and recovery advocates are lining up to block it in the Senate. That's because instead of being aimed at reducing overdoses, the bill is actually a means of removing patient privacy protections from some of the most vulnerable people with opioid problems, including people using methadone-assisted therapy to control their addictions.

The measure is now before the Senate. (Creative Commons)
And that, advocates say, is likely to increase -- not decrease -- opioid overdoses by pushing users away from drug treatment out of fear the information they reveal could be used against them. The fear is real: Unlike other medical conditions, drug addiction leaves patients open to criminal prosecution, as well as stigmatization and other negative social consequences if their status as drug treatment or maintenance patients is revealed.

This bill, H.R. 6082, the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act, would remove drug treatment patients' ability to control the disclosure of information to health plans, health care providers, and other entities, leaving them with only the lesser privacy protections afforded to all patients under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.

"The confidentiality law is often the only shield between an individual in recovery and the many forms of discrimination that could irreparably damage their lives and future," said Paul Samuels, President/Director of the Legal Action Center. "Unfortunately, there is a very real danger of serious negative consequences for people whose history of substance use disorder is disclosed without their explicit consent."

The Legal Action Center is spearheading the effort to block this bill with the Campaign to Protect Patients' Privacy Rights, which counts more than a hundred organizations, including the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence, AIDS United, Community Catalyst, Faces and Voices of Recovery, Facing Addiction, Harm Reduction Coalition, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, National Alliance for Medication Assisted Recovery and the, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

The current patient privacy protections, known as 42 C.F.R. Part 2 ("Part 2"), were established more than 40 years ago to ensure that people with a substance use disorder are not made more vulnerable to discriminatory practices and legal consequences as a result of seeking treatment. The rules prevent treatment providers from disclosing information about a patient's substance use treatment without patient consent in most circumstances. The bill's plan to replace Part 2's confidentiality requirements with HIPAA's more relaxed standards would not sufficiently protect people seeking and receiving SUD treatment and could expose patients to great harm, the advocates charge.

"They should call this the Taking Away Protections Act," said Jocelyn Woods, head of the National Alliance for Medication-Assisted Recovery. "People will be afraid to go into treatment. I'm getting emails from people who want to leave treatment before this happens. If I were going into a program and they can't tell me my information will be safe, I would think about turning around and walking out," she said.

"Many of us would not have gone to treatment or accepted services if we thought that our information would have been shared with other entities without our permission. We would not have put our careers, reputation or families at risk of stigma and discrimination if we were not assured that information about our substance use disorder was safe and would only be shared with our consent," added Patty McCarthy Metcalf, executive director of Faces and Voices of Recovery.

The push for the bill is being led by health information software companies and behavioral health providers, such as Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center, and it prioritizes convenience over patient privacy.

"This is because the behavioral health people see complying with the privacy requirements as a pain in the ass," said Woods. "They're going to have to fix their computer systems to block out any treatment program licensed by the federal government -- not just methadone programs -- and they don't want to do that. One of the software companies, Netsmart, complained that they don't want to mess with their programming," she said.

"We need Part 2," Woods continued. "It keeps police out of the program. Without it, police can walk right in. They already sit outside methadone clinics and bust people for DUI on the way out. If this passes, they will walk right in. If the police see anyone they think has a warrant or committed a crime, they're gone."

While the bill has made its way through the House, advocates are hopeful it will stall in the Senate.

"The House pushed this through because they wanted to look like they were doing something and because the behavioral health people were pushing for it," Woods said, "but my sense is that it's moving slowly in the Senate. We have this crazy president, and there's immigration, and the congressional break, and then campaign season. My hope is we can push this past the elections and a blue wave in November will give us a fighting chance."

But the campaign isn't taking any chances and is mobilized to fight on the Hill in the next few months to block the bill. As Mark Parrino, President of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence warned: "In the midst of the worst opioid epidemic in our nation's history, we cannot afford to have patients fearful of seeking treatment because they do not have faith that their confidentiality will be protected."

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.

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.

Canada Legalizes Marijuana! [FEATURE]

With final approval by the Senate Tuesday night, the Canadian parliament has legalized marijuana. That makes Canada the second country to legalize marijuana (after Uruguay), with what will be the world's second-largest legal marijuana market (after California).

Canada also becomes the first G7 country to free the weed. While nine US states and the District of Columbia have also legalized marijuana, it remains illegal under federal law here.

The move, fulfilling a campaign promise by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the ruling Liberal Party, puts an end to nearly a century of marijuana prohibition in the Great White North. It didn't come without a struggle, with Conservative senators seeking to delay the measure and succeeding in pushing back the actual rollout date from a once-promised July to what Trudeau announced Wednesday would be October 17.

Under the Cannabis Act, people 18 and over (19 in some provinces) will be able to legally possess up to 30 grams of pot in public, and each household can grow up to four plants. The House of Commons and the government turned back a Senate amendment that would have allowed provinces to ban home cultivation.

The law retains criminal penalties for possession of more than 30 grams or growing more than four plants, and includes an especially harsh provision mandating up to 14 years in prison for sales to minors.

Each province will have its own scheme for handling sales, with some considerable variation. In Ontario and New Brunswick, for instance, sales will be handled by the province, while in most other provinces, sales will be handled by the private sector or private-public collaborations. Marijuana will also be available for sale online.

But Canadians will have to wait for edibles. Marijuana-infused foods will not be available for purchase for some months until the government develops regulations for them.

Marijuana is already big business in Canada, generating an estimated $4.5 billion in sales in 2015, and Canadian marijuana producers are already geared up to produce a huge legal marijuana crop -- in fact, maybe too huge. The two largest producers, Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth, are set to produce a million pounds each, while second-tier producers will be adding to a possible glut.

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has fulfilled a campaign promise. (Creative Commons)
But those are worries for down the road. Tuesday evening for was for celebrating.

"It's been too easy for our kids to get marijuana -- and for criminals to reap the profits. Today, we change that," a triumphant Trudeau tweeted just after the final vote.

"We've just witnessed a very historic vote that ends 90 years of prohibition," Liberal Senator Tony Dean told reporters. "It ends 90 years of needless criminalization, it ends a prohibition model that inhibited and discouraged public health and community health in favor of just-say-no approaches that simply failed young people miserably."

Not everyone was pleased. Senator Leo Housakos, a Quebec conservative, tweeted forebodingly that passage of the law would be "catastrophic for Canadian generations to come."

But while Canadian conservatives foresaw disaster, American activists saw a model to emulate.

"Canada should be applauded for taking bold and decisive steps towards ending the failed prohibition of marijuana," said Hannah Hetzer, Senior International Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Canada's progress will galvanize support for drug policy reforms in the US and all around the world."

Hetzer also lauded Canada's federalist approach to the issue and called for redressing the damage done to individuals by pot prohibition.

"Canada's decentralized system will give provinces the freedom to tailor marijuana legalization to their local needs and contexts, allowing us to study and learn from the many different models that will emerge," she said. "Canada should ensure that the harms of marijuana prohibition are rectified, especially by expunging people's marijuana arrest records and by investing in communities most harmed by prohibition."

"This is a historic step forward for the movement to end marijuana prohibition," said Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert. "We commend the members of Parliament and the prime minister for their extraordinary demonstration of leadership on this issue. Canada will set a great example for countries that are considering similar reforms, and it will inspire much-needed debate in those that are not."

While the US states have taken the lead, it's an end to federal prohibition that is required, said Tvert. "It is time for the US to take similar action and adopt a more rational federal marijuana policy. There has been a lot of positive movement in Congress lately, so hopefully, members will be inspired to finally address this issue head-on, as Canada has."

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