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The Corruption Files: Camden's Dirty Cops [FEATURE]

Special to Drug War Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com. Part 9 of his continuing series on Prosecutorial Misconduct and Police Corruption in Drug Cases Across America.

Camden, New Jersey. Tough times in a tough town. (wikimedia.org/adam jones)
A Day in the Life in Camden

August 2, 2008 was a typical summer day in Camden, New Jersey, a gritty, impoverished, mostly black community across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. A bright sun beamed down on the sweltering city as Joel Barnes, 26, prepared to attend a family barbecue at his grandmother's house -- a regular event for the Barnes family, where they relaxed and reminisced about days gone by. He had hurried over to a friend's house to get his help situating the barbecue pit and sprucing up Barnes's grandmother's back yard before the festivities.

But as he arrived at his friend's house, Barnes encountered heavily-armed Camden police officers rushing into the house with guns drawn shouting "Police! Police! Police!" and demanding "Where's the drugs?" Barnes and the other occupants of the house were herded into the kitchen, where Officer Robert Bayard handcuffed him. Bayard pulled a cell phone, cash and keys from Barnes's pocket. They found no drugs or contraband on him, so he figured he would be released once everything was settled.

It didn't work out that way.

[Editor's Note: All quotes from Camden residents come from The Philadelphia Inquirer unless otherwise specified.]

Another Camden cop, Officer Antonio Figueroa, led Barnes out of the house and threw him into a van, then left. When Figueroa returned to the van, he again demanded of Barnes "Where's the shit at?"

"I don't know if there's drugs in that house. I don't live here," an increasingly scared and nervous Barnes replied, explaining that he was only there to ask his friend for help with the barbecue pit. Barnes said in a nervous tone voice.

Figueroa then showed Barnes a bag containing PCP-laced marijuana and made him an ominous offer: "Tell us where the shit's at, and we'll make this disappear," Figueroa said, echoing the famous line in Training Day when the crooked cop played by Denzel Washington asks a suspect in a similar situation, "Do you want to go home… or go to jail?"

With Barnes continuing his denials, Officer Figueroa grew angry, telling him "The drugs in the bag carried more serious charges than any drugs that might be found in the house." Figueroa then told Barnes he could get a lesser prison sentence if just told police where in his friend's house the drugs were.

"I don't know nothing about drugs in the house," Barnes responded, pleading to be let go.

Officers Figueroa and Bayard continued to tag-team the young man, with Bayard repeatedly demanding "Where's the shit?" and Figueroa waving the mysteriously appearing bag of dope and telling Barnes "This is yours!"

"That bag's not mine," a desperate Barnes repeatedly protested.

Then, Officer Figueroa again returned to the van, yelling, "We found the shit! You're going to jail!"

Figueroa charged Barnes with possession of drugs with intent to deliver, and added on a drug-free zone enhancement charge. Despite bitterly protesting his innocence, Barnes was looking at up to life in prison if he went to trial. Figuring that a jury was more likely to believe a veteran police officer than a young black man from Camden, he agreed to a plea bargain.

On February 23, 2009, he copped to one count of drug possession within a school zone. Two months later, he began serving a five-year prison sentence.

"I felt helpless and didn't know what to do," Barnes said, recalling the experience. "I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, but all I knew was that the officers had the power and I had none."

"Joel told his lawyer he was innocent, and he didn't believe him; he told his mother he was innocent, and she didn't believe him. That must have been devastating, but the scope of the police misconduct was so dramatic that it was hard for an outsider to believe that police would do anything so outrageous," Alexander Shalom, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union told the Chronicle.

But Barnes was innocent. And he was not the only one to fall victim to what would eventually be exposed as a massive police corruption scandal in Camden.

There is unintended irony in Camden County's police recruitment campaign. (camdencountypd.org)
Taking Down the Platoon Squad

While Barnes -- and nearly 200 other innocent victims -- went off to prison thanks to the efforts of Bayard, Figueroa and their team, known as the Platoon Squad, other people victimized by the crooked cops were filing complaints. After repeated, persistent complaints of police dirty dealing, including ones from the Camden Public Defender's Office, Camden Police Internal Affairs and the FBI opened an investigation.

That investigation revealed a wide-ranging police corruption scheme that would have made the crooked cops in Training Day blush. In that film, Denzel Washington was a low-down dirty cop who framed the innocent and stole drug money. In Camden, he would have been just one of the boys.

The investigation resulted in the indictment of five members of the Platoon Squad on a variety of civil rights violation charges involving perjury and drug-planting conspiracies, as well as stealing money from suspects during illegal searches and making false arrests. The FBI even uncovered information that the brazen officers used illegal drugs and money stolen from suspected drug dealers and never reported to pay street snitches and prostitutes for information.

Platoon Squad Sergeant Supervisor Dan Morris pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deprive defendants of their civil rights and got eight months in federal prison; Officer Kevin Perry copped to the same charge and got 20 months, while Officer Jason "Fat Face" Stetser got 46 months on the same charge.

Only officers Bayard and Figueroa went to trial. To the shock of prosecutors and defendants alike, Bayard managed to beat the rap despite fellow officers testifying that he knowingly participated in the drug planting scheme. But Figueroa was found guilty and sent to prison for 10 years, the toughest sentence for any of the Platoon Squad.

Joel Barnes and ACLU attorney Alex Shalom discuss his case. (ACLU-NJ/Amanda Brown)
Payback Time

Criminal convictions for the Platoon Squad were just part one of the fallout. Part two came as the ACLU filed a federal class action civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the wrongfully convicted Camden residents.

"If any action by a police officer shocks the conscience, it is the planting of evidence on an innocent person in order to arrest him," the ACLU noted. "The police officers' actions violated the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits civil rights violations, and through their own actions or the lack of policies and supervision the Camden police officers conspired to plant drugs and falsely arrested the defendants for planted drugs and further provided the prosecutors with faulty evidence."

In January 2013, just as the criminal cases against the Platoon Squad were winding down, the city of Camden settled. The city agreed to pay out $3.5 million to be split between the 88 drug defendants who had joined the class action lawsuit. Joel Barnes was one of them. The innocent men served a combined total of 109 years in prison prior to being released.

The city of Camden also eventually settled a separate state civil rights lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of 11 people who were framed by the same rogue cops, but whose cases were dropped. That was another $390,000 in taxpayer money gone. In that case, Camden had to sue its own insurer, which had refused to pay the historic settlement.

ACLU attorney Shalom told the Chronicle the drug planting scheme was the worst and most brazen he had seen in many years.

"We often hear about it, but we were shocked it was so provable in this case," he said.

Shalom noted that even though many of the innocent defendants had had private counsel, they still pleaded guilty to false charges.

"A lot of things account for those decisions, not the least of which is that drug sentencing laws are so harsh that if they hadn't pleaded guilty they were facing insanely long sentences," he explained.

Rogue Cops in the Hood

The Platoon Squad considered Camden's Waterfront neighborhood, where most of the illegal arrests went down, as their fiefdom, where the only rules that mattered were their rules. "Drug dealers live here, but we run it," they reportedly told residents.

"Fat Face" Stetser admitted to the FBI in 2008 that he and three other officers arrested two people on suspicion of drug trafficking and planted drugs on them. This in a warrantless search of a residence where Stetser and his buddies falsely claimed the "suspect" they targeted had fled the scene and discarded the drugs as he tried to escape. That didn't happen. Stetser also admitted planting additional drugs on people found with small amounts of dope so they could be charged with more serious crimes.

Similarly, Sergeant Morris confessed to conducting a warrantless search where he stole cash and drugs, splitting the cash with Stetser.

Likewise, although Officer Bayard was found not guilty at trial, evidence showed that he wrote a report accusing Ron Mills, 46, of throwing a bag of drugs on the ground and eluding police after a foot chase. Bayard's report proved false because Mills weighed over 300 pounds and always walked slowly with a cane.

Another victim of false arrest was Anthony Darrell Clark, who was arrested on drug charges. Described as "slow" and emotionally disturbed, Clark was eventually released back to the care of his mother after the scandal broke.

"I always thought he was framed," Vera Clark told The Inquirer.

Benjamin Davis was another. He served his full 30 months before coming home. He said he pleaded guilty rather than fighting for justice because he didn't think he would be believed.

"With my priors I had no chance of beating it," he said.

Beaten down Waterfront residents had known for years they were being hassled by dirty cops, but never believed they could do anything about it. Seeing the Platoon Squad get what was coming to it was sweet.

"These were the dirtiest cops I've ever seen," said area resident Kevin Smith.

And Joel Barnes? He was languishing in prison when his mother read in the newspaper about the indictments against the Platoon Squad. He retrieved his court file and confirmed that the cops who had jacked him up were among the indicted. He sought succor from the court and from the Public Defender's office, but got nowhere. It was only when the ACLU stepped up with its lawsuit, that Barnes saw belated justice. He walked out of prison on June 8, 2010, after spending more than a year behind bars on false charges.

Meanwhile, of the Platoon Squad, only Figueroa remains in prison, and he has appealed his conviction. The others have gone on to start new lives, hopefully in positions where they will not be empowered to subvert the law and destroy the lives of others.

Police corruption not only shatters the lives of the falsely accused and convicted, it destroys respect for the law and the people who enforce it. In the case of Camden, the war on drugs provided both the pretext and the opportunity for bad cops to tarnish not only the reputation of their police force and their city, but also to cruelly wreck the lives of innocents.

Camden, NJ
United States

Pew Poll Reveals Seismic Shift in Drug Policy Attitudes [FEATURE]

A new national survey released today by the Pew Research Center provides strong evidence that Americans are undergoing a tectonic shift in their views on drug policy. Not only are Americans convinced that marijuana legalization is coming; a majority supports it, and even larger majorities support a fundamental realignment of our drug policies away from the criminal justice system and toward treatment instead of punishment for hard drug users.

rethinking...
Among the key findings of the report was that more than six in ten Americans (63%) say that state governments moving away from mandatory prison terms for drug law violations is a good thing, while just 32% say these policy changes are a bad thing. This is a substantial shift from 2001 when the public was evenly divided (47% good thing vs. 45% bad thing). The majority of all demographic groups, including Republicans and Americans over 65 years old, support this shift.

Similarly, two-thirds (67%) say the government should focus more on providing treatment for people who use drugs like cocaine and heroin. Just 26% think the focus should be more on prosecuting people who use such drugs. The poll did not ask if hard drug users should just be left alone barring harm to others.

"Given that the vast majority of Americans don't think people should be prosecuted for drug possession, it's time to ask the question: Why are we still arresting people for nothing more than drug possession?" asked Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

More than 1.5 million people are arrested in the U.S. every year for a drug law violation. The vast majority -- more than 80% -- are arrested for possession only. Roughly 500,000 Americans are behind bars on any given night for a drug law violation, including more than 55,000 people in state prisons for simple drug possession.

"There's a new consensus that mandatory minimums are no longer appropriate for drug and other nonviolent offenders," said Nadelmann. "This is reflected and confirmed by the growing bipartisan support for rolling back and ending such laws."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/pew-mandatory-minimums-poll.jpg
The passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced, but did not eliminate, sentencing disparities between federal crack and powder cocaine offenders is one example of the emerging reformist consensus. Sentencing reform measures passed by around half the states in the past decade, which have resulted in an absolute decline in state prison populations, have also proven popular with a citizenry increasingly tired of drug war without end.

And President Obama and Attorney General Holder have continued to make a series of moves over the past year indicating that they are serious about reducing mass incarceration and fixing the criminal justice system, including a call from Holder to federal prosecutors to not use mandatory minimum charges if they don't have to.

Likewise, in an otherwise-bitterly-divided Congress, legislators from both sides of the aisle are pushing to reform mandatory minimum drug laws. The reforms are supported by a group of Senators who can only be described as strange bedfellows: Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island).

At the same time, the Pew poll illuminates what has been a major shift in attitudes on whether the use of marijuana should be legal. As recently as four years ago, about half (52%) said they thought the use of marijuana should not be legal; 41% said marijuana use should be legal. Today those numbers are roughly reversed -- 54% favor marijuana legalization while 42% are opposed. Just 16% say it should not be legal for either medical or recreational use.

And no matter respondents' personal feelings for or against marijuana legalization, 75% of them think it is inevitable.

Also, more than two-thirds (69%) said that alcohol was more harmful than marijuana for individuals. And nearly the same number (63%) said alcohol was more harmful to society.

"Leadership is needed to overcome the institutional lethargy and vested interest that have stymied meaningful police and sentencing reform," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "The policies are counterproductive, and too many otherwise law-abiding people are getting caught up in the justice system because of them."

"It is good to know that despite the DEA's best efforts the American people are getting scientifically accurate information about marijuana, and the fact that it is objectively less harmful than alcohol to both individual health and society at large. The increase in support since last year's poll shows that more and more Americans understand it's simply bad public policy to steer adults toward alcohol by punishing those who prefer marijuana as a less harmful alternative," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Now that three-quarters of Americans understand taxing and regulating marijuana is inevitable, the writing is on the wall. Congress needs to read it and move forward with legislation allowing states to choose more effective policies without federal interference," Riffle added.

While Nadelmann also greeted the poll results, he warned that it should not be used as fuel for even more, if softer, expansion of the criminal justice system.

"It's good to see yet another poll confirm the results of other state and national polls showing majority support for legalizing marijuana," he said. "And it's nice to see that Americans overwhelmingly support treatment-instead-of-incarceration. But it's important to recognize that there has been overwhelming support for treatment-instead-of-incarceration for well over a decade now -- and that we've reached the point where the public needs to be better educated about the benefits of providing treatment outside the criminal justice system rather than within and through it. It would be a shame if this latest poll result were used to promote drug courts and other coercive, abstinence-only programs rather than meaningful treatment in the community."

DC Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill! [FEATURE]

Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray Monday signed the marijuana decriminalization bill passed last month by the city council. It's not quite a done deal yet, though -- Congress has 60 working days to object, but to stop the bill, it must pass a resolution blocking it, and President Obama must sign it. So it appears likely that the nation's capital will have decriminalized pot possession by the time Congress leaves town for the August recess.

"DC lawmakers heard loud and clear the public's demand to end marijuana arrests and passed one of the strongest decriminalization laws in the whole country, said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. We don't expect members of Congress to object to saving taxpayer dollars and advancing racial justice here in the nation's capital."

The decriminalization bill, the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409) makes possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of only $25 (the cheapest of any decriminalization state). It also explicitly prohibits police from using the smell of marijuana as a pretext for stopping and searching people.

The bill advanced through the DC political process on a wave of concern that marijuana laws in the nation's capital were being enforced in a racially discriminatory fashion and is seen by council members and advocates alike as a model for reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Last July, the American Civil Liberties Union released The War on Marijuana in Black and White, which found that black people in the District are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, and the Washington Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released Racial Disparities in Arrests in the District of Columbia, 2009-2011, which found that blacks accounted for nine out of 10 drug arrests in the District.

Those grim realities were at the forefront as a broad spectrum of DC faith, community, and advocacy groups praised Mayor Gray's signing of the bill.

DC Mayor Vincent Gray has signed the decrim bill. (mayor.dc.us)
"Passage of this law gets to the unspoken imbalances in our justice system for people of color and it is the voice of the people who ensured its passage," said Collective Power, a grassroots alliance of District residents concerned about the disproportionate criminalization and discrimination of communities of color. "The District of Columbia must be at the forefront of decriminalizing 'being black and brown' and this is the start."

"The passing of the decriminalization marijuana bill is the first step in the right direction to dismantling the immoral war on drugs that has devastated communities of color," said Rev. Kelly D. Wilkins with the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ.

"Although I do not advocate or condone the use of marijuana, I support this bill because far too many of our people have been targeted, locked up, thrown away and placed outside of our society due to a small amount of marijuana, said Reverend George C. Gilbert, Jr. with Holy Trinity United Baptist Church.

"This bill is one of the first measures to address racial profiling in drug arrests, both procedurally and substantively. We are confident that Congress shares the District's concerns about disparities in enforcement and the disturbing trends we are seeing nationwide," said Patrice Amandla Sulton with the NAACP DC Branch.

"This historic legislation exists because DC residents and their leaders decided to change an ugly reality: Black people are stopped, searched, and arrested under marijuana prohibition far more than whites, when both groups use the drug at similar rates," said Seema Sadanandan, Program Director at the ACLU of the Nation's Capital.

"I've talked to hundreds of people in the District's black and brown communities who have been stopped and searched because police officers claimed they smelled marijuana, only to find no evidence of the drug whatsoever," Sadanandan continued. "Children on their way home from school, parents on their way to work -- marijuana odor has become the flimsy excuse for treating people of color like criminals. With this decriminalization legislation, we will take a critical step toward ending the racial profiling of entire communities."

If and when the law goes into effect, DC will join 17 states that have already decriminalized small-time marijuana possession. But passage of the decriminalization bill into law is by no means the end to marijuana politics in the District -- in fact, it could be just a first step on a path toward outright legalization, either through the council or through the initiative process.

Before the council right now is a full-blown marijuana legalization bill, Council Bill 20-466, which has been sitting in the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee since it was introduced last fall by Councilmember David Grosso.

And waiting in the wings is the DC Cannabis Campaign, whose marijuana legalization initiative has just been approved for signature-gathering.

"I congratulate Mayor Gray for signing this practical reform that should result in fewer people being burdened with a trip to the courthouse for small amounts of marijuana. More people than ever are hopeful the mayor will next support full legalization," said the campaign's chairman, Adam Eidinger.

Given time limitations, Eidinger and the DC Cannabis Campaign can't sit around waiting for the city council to act or for a new mayor to be chosen. They need to start gathering signatures now if they are to try to qualify for the November ballot. They only have until July 7 to come up with 25,000 valid voter signatures, but if they do, the passage of the decriminalization bill may be a significant victory that ends up forgotten in the accelerating rush toward repealing pot prohibition.

Washington, DC
United States

The Capture of El Chapo: A Capo Gone, But the Trade Goes On [FEATURE]

Special to the Chronicle by Bernd Debusmann, Jr., who is currently studying for an MA in International Journalism at City University London. Prior to that, he lived and worked in his native Mexico, most of it as a full-time freelancer for Reuters TV, also contributing to Fox Latino. Earlier he worked as a reporter in New York City and as a freelance producer for the Reuters Latin American Television Desk in Washington DC, during which time he dealt with many drug trafficking stories. During 2010 and 2011 he authored the weekly Mexico Drug War Update published by this newsletter, available in our Mexican Drug War archive section.

At around 06:40 on the morning of Saturday, February 22nd, Mexican marines and police officers arrested Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman at a condominium in the Pacific resort town of Mazatlan. Without a doubt, Guzman is the most significant organized criminal captured or killed since the current Mexican drug war began in December 2006. But what effect will his capture have on the violence in Mexico and the flow of drugs to American consumers? Not much.

El Chapo in the custody of Mexican Marines Saturday (sedena.gob.mx)
Guzman was widely regarded as the world's most powerful drug trafficker, and his aggressive organization has been a significant contributor to the violence that has gripped Mexico in recent years. This is especially true in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, where the Sinaloa Cartel's bloody and drawn-out takeover of the access routes to the US drug market left thousands dead over the course of a three year orgy of violence.

Since his January 2001 escape from prison, Guzman turned into a mythic figure, Mexico's answer to Osama bin Laden. For much of his administration, former president Felipe Calderon was dogged by accusations that he was protecting Guzman, and ridiculed for not being able to find him. In February 2013, the Chicago Crime Commission named him "Public Enemy #1" for his role trafficking wholesale quantities of cocaine and heroin to the city.

Given his notoriety, Guzman's successful capture is a significant PR victory for the PRI administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as for the DEA and other American law enforcement agencies. But the victory may well prove much more symbolic than strategically meaningful.

Guzman's capture does not mean an end to the Sinaloa Cartel, a long-established and sophisticated organization whose tentacles spread across the world. The cartel is often referred to as "The Federation," of which Guzman was not the only leader. In his absence, much of the organization will likely come under the control of Ismael Zambada Garcia, aka "El Mayo," a capable and intelligent career drug trafficker considered by many to have been Guzman's equal. The organization can also count on the services of Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, aka "El Azul," a crafty former police officer well known for serving as a peacemaker between rival criminal organizations.

Another possibility is that Guzman may well be able to continue to exercise some control over the organization from inside prison, as he did the last time he was incarcerated. Mexico's prisons are notoriously corrupt, and many drug traffickers and criminals have been able to continue to direct the day-to-day operations of their organizations in relative comfort in posh cells.

Guzman's capture is very unlikely to have an effect on the overall level of violence in Mexico, and may actually lead to an increase in more bloodshed and mayhem if the Federation were to break up into rival factions fighting to fill the vacuum. Many Mexican narco-blogs are already theorizing that Guzman was given up by members of his own organization, perhaps even El Mayo himself.

This was the case after the 2009 killing of Arturo Beltran Leyva, which led violence to spike as his underlings fought amongst themselves to fill the void. It should also be noted that Beltran Leyva's organization was considered part of the Sinaloa Cartel until a violent split with Guzman in 2008, demonstrating the fickle and fluid nature of these organizations.

Another possibility is that -- sensing an opportunity -- Sinaloa Cartel rivals such as the notoriously violent Zetas will take advantage of the arrest and go on the offensive in Sinaloa's turf. This is not without precedent. In mid-2012, the Zetas, along with elements of the Beltran-Leyva organization and the Juarez Cartel, made a push into Sinaloa-controlled territory in mountains of the Sierra Madre.

By the American government's own admission, the Sinaloa Cartel has dozens -- if not hundreds -- of distribution cells across the US, as well as Europe. Additionally, the cartel is thought to have an organized logistical network across Central and South America. Guzman's arrest leaves these networks intact, and business will continue regardless of who is in charge.

That happened after the 1993 killing of Pablo Escobar in Colombia. Despite having eliminated the world's most wanted drug trafficker of the time and leaving the Medellin Cartel in tatters, the northbound flow of cocaine continued. His organization splintered into several smaller organizations, which, while being less capable of challenging the state, were more than up to the task of keeping business going at a steady pace.

Guzman was an immensely important drug trafficker with few equals and had the blood of thousands on his hands. His freedom had become an embarrassment to the Mexican government, and his eventual downfall was inevitable. But it is unlikely to have any significant impact on the flow of drugs from and through Mexico, or on the violence that continues to plague large swathes of the country.

As long as Mexican cartels can deliver the illegal commodities that American (and European) customers want, drug trafficking organizations will continue to exist. While there are very few drug traffickers currently of the same calibre as Guzman, as long as prohibition continues there will be ruthless, violent and intelligent individuals who want to profit from it. This means that there will always be a pool of people to replace men like Guzman. Only through sensible drug laws and demand reduction can these organizations be weakened and eventually driven out of business.

Mexico's El Chapo Guzman Reportedly Captured

Reports are coming out that Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the elusive head of the Sinaloa Cartel has been captured in a joint operation by US and Mexican forces.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman--busted?
In a report this morning, Reuters cited "a US government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity" as saying he had been captured, with "a Mexican security source" saying it had happened in Mazatlan, a seaside city in Guzman's home state of Sinaloa.

But in Mexico City, presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez would say only that police have "captured an individual" whose identity has not yet been confirmed.

If they actually have El Chapo, this will be a huge victory for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which, like its predecessors, has been criticized for its inability for years to track down the head of the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization.

Many, many Mexicans (and others) believe it was not the lack of ability of the government to find Guzman, but the lack of will -- that his huge narco-wealth had protected him from capture for more than a decade since he bought his way out of prison in Mexico.

Somewhere around a hundred thousand people have died in the multi-sided Mexican drug wars in which Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel battled rival drug trafficking organizations, and the cartels fought the police and the Mexican military. (Or, sometimes, the military or the police fought for the cartels, especially Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel.)

Location: 
Mexico

Chronicle AM -- February 13, 2014

A bill has been filed to stop forcing the drug czar to oppose drug legalization, CBD medical marijuana bills continue to get attention, and there are big doings south of the border, and more. Let's get to it:

Russell Brand helped push British petition over the top. (flickr.com/photos/evarinaldiphotography/)
Drug Legalization

Congressman Steven Cohen Files Bill to Let Drug Czar Deal Honestly with Drug Legalization. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office) is required by law to oppose legalization of any Schedule I substance and prohibited from studying it. Now, Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) has filed a bill, the Unmuzzle the Drug Czar Act (H.R. 4046), that would strip that language from the drug czar's enabling legislation, the ONDCP Reauthorization Act of 1998.

Marijuana Policy

High Times, Westword Sue Colorado Over Marijuana Advertising Restrictions. Marijuana magazine High Times and Denver alternative weekly Westword filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday challenging Colorado's restrictions on advertising for legal marijuana. The state's rules allow pot businesses to advertise only in adult-oriented publications for which "no more than 30% of the publication's readership is reasonably expected to be under 21." The lawsuit argues that the restrictions are an unconstitutional contravention of free speech.

Rhode Island Legalization Bill Coming. House Judiciary Committee Chair Edith Ajello and Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Josh Miller announced Wednesday they will file a bill to legalize marijuana for adults and set up a system of taxation and regulation for marijuana commerce. The effort is backed by Regulate Rhode Island and the Marijuana Policy Project.

Hawaii Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana Bills Get Hearing Today. Three Senate committees are holding a joint hearing today on two decriminalization bills, Senate Bill 2358 and Senate Bill 2733, and one bill, Senate Bill 2402, a bill that would take away protections for patients who possess and use marijuana concentrates.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Rally Set for Friday in Topeka. Supporters of a long-stalled medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 9, will rally at the Kansas State Capitol Rotunda Friday morning and lobby legislators after that. The effort is organized by Kansas for Change. Click on the title link for more details.

Hundreds Pack Oklahoma Capitol for CBD Medical Marijuana Hearing. Demonstrators called for marijuana legalization outside as hundreds of people jammed into the state capitol for a hearing on CBD medical marijuana. Dramatic and moving testimony was heard from family members of children suffering seizure disorders who might be helped by access to CBD cannabis oils.

Wisconsin Lawmakers Hold Hearing on CBD Medical Marijuana. Wisconsin legislators Wednesday heard from families of children with seizure disorders, who pleaded with them to pass a pending CBD medical marijuana bill.

Harm Reduction

Cincinnati Gets Its First Needle Exchange Program. The first needle exchange program in the Southwest Ohio/Northern Kentucky region is open for business. The Cincinnati Exchange Program becomes the third in Ohio, with others already operating in Cleveland and Portsmouth. The needle exchanges have been proven to reduce the spread of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne infectious diseases.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription Drug Database Bill Wins Missouri House Vote. A bill that would establish a prescription drug database has won a vote in the House, but senators, citing privacy concerns, said there is little chance of it moving forward in their chamber. The bill would create an electronic database managed by the state health department that would share information about prescriptions, patients, and doctors. The bill is House Bill 1133.

International

Mexico City Decriminalization, Regulation Bill and Mexican National Drug Reform Bill Introduced Today. In Mexico City, legislators for the federal district introduced a bill to decriminalize the possession of up to five grams of marijuana and remove the option of incarceration for possession of small amounts of other drugs. The bill would also allow for limited regulated marijuana sales. The second, national, bill would reschedule marijuana and allow for its medical use. Look for a Chronicle feature article on this soon.

Dark Web Drug Sales Site Busted. German and Dutch authorities have arrested five men in a sting directed at an internet drug sales portal. The men were connected to Black Market Reloaded and its successor web site, Utopia. Undercover police purchased drugs and weapons through the web sites, they said, and seized computers, hard drives, USB sticks, and a Bitcoin wallet containing $680,000 worth of the electronic currency.

More Than 100,000 Sign British Petition for Review of Drug Laws. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas set up an online petition urging the British government to order a cost-benefit analysis and impact assessment of British drug laws within the next year. It has now achieved the benchmark of 100,000 signatures, which means it must be addressed by the Backbench Business Committee. Sign-ons accelerated after actor and comedian Russell Brand joined with the online campaign group Avaaz to encourage its 1.1 million members to sign up.

DC City Council Voting on Marijuana Decriminalization Today

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dc-city-council-chambers.jpg
DC city council chamber

Things are looking for good for a vote for marijuana decriminalization in the DC city council this afternoon. From Phil's "Chronicle AM" drug policy roundup yesterday:

DC City Council Votes on Decriminalization Tomorrow. The DC city council is expected to vote Tuesday to approve the "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession and a $100 civil fine for smoking marijuana in public places, as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.
 

At $25 per violation -- less than most parking tickets, and less than the $100 fine originally proposed for the bill, the legislation would be a really nice step forward. (On the other hand, if one counts the value of the marijuana that police will still seize, the net cost might still be more than a parking ticket.)

Chronicle AM -- January 27, 2014

Florida's medical marijuana initiative will go to the voters in November, the DEA administrator is being both jeered and cheered for her criticism of President Obama's remarks on marijuana, the Supreme Court makes it harder to punish drug dealers for deaths related to their wares, and much more. Let's get to it:

Drug War Chronicle takes no position on the game.
Marijuana Policy

DEA Head Criticizes Obama Marijuana Remarks, Faces Calls to be Ousted. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart last week got a standing ovation from a convention of sheriffs when she criticized President Obama's remarks on the relative safety of marijuana compared with alcohol. But now, drug reformers are calling for her head.

Colorado and Washington NORML in Superbowl "Bud Bowl" Challenge. The contenders in Sunday's NFL Superbowl game, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, both come from states where marijuana is legal. In honor of their hometown teams and their respective states' legal marijuana status, NORML chapters in Washington and Colorado have engaged in a friendly wager. If the Denver Broncos win, WA NORML has agreed to dress in Bronco colors of blue and orange and sing Karaoke-style Colorado's (second) official state song "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver. If the Seattle Seahawks win, CO NORML will do the same, but in Seahawk blue and green and singing "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix, a native son of Seattle. [Ed: StoptheDrugWar.org has no position on either the game or the wager.]

New Jersey State Senator Announces Plans to Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) said late last week that he plans to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. The bill is not yet filed, but envisions language that would tax and regulate marijuana like alchohol.

Harris County (Houston) DA Says Decriminalize It. Responding to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) remarks last week in Davos that he supported decriminalization of marijuana possession, Harris County DA Devon Anderson said she agrees with his call for decriminalization.

Seattle City Attorney Wants More Marijuana Stores. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes last Thursday reiterated his request that the Washington State Liquor Control Board increase the number of marijuana retail stores allowed in the city. The board has set the number at 21, but Holmes has said that is not going to be enough.

Oregon Marijuana Legalization Referendum Bill Filed. State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-District 4) and several cosponsors have introduced Senate Bill 1556, which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana possession and commerce for adults. If passed by the legislature, the measure would then go before voters on the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative -- It's Going to the Voters! The Florida Supreme Court Monday removed the final obstacle to the state's medical marijuana initiative appearing on the November ballot. It rejected a challenge to the measure's language by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R). The initiative has already had enough signatures validated to qualify. Click on the link to read the opinion and the text of the initiative.

Guam Medical Marijuana Bill Now Calls for Referendum. Sen. Tina-Muna Barnes, sponsor of medical marijuana Bill 215, announced Monday that she has rewritten the bill "to allow for a referendum, thus placing the question before the People of Guam in the 2014 General Election." She made the change, she said, because "the overwhelming majority of senators from both parties felt that an issue of this importance should be decided by the people directly."

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licenses Set To Be Awarded In Massachusetts. The state Department of Public Health says it hopes to award up to 35 medical marijuana dispensary licenses this week. More than a hundred applications have been submitted. State law allows up to five dispensaries in each county in the state.

Drug Testing

Bangor (PA) School District Wants Random Drug Tests for Teachers. A policy that would make the Bangor Area School District the only one in the state to require random, suspicionless drug testing of teachers is part of negotiations for a new union contract. The contract being discussed wouldn't impose random drug testing, but would require teachers to put it to a vote. The issue came to the fore in the area after a teacher died of a heroin overdose in the apartment of a wrestling coach in 2009.

Illinois Welfare Drug Testing Bill Introduced. State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) has introduced a bill that would require welfare applicants to undergo a drug test before becoming eligible to receive benefits. House Bill 4255 does not include an intermediary step of drug screening to determine which applicants are likely to be drug users, but goes straight to testing all applicants. The federal courts have found similar laws unconstitutional.

Sentencing

US Supreme Court Restricts Heroin Death Sentencing Enhancement. The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that a heroin dealer cannot be held liable for a customer's death if the heroin use was only a contributing factor and not necessarily the sole cause. Federal law imposes a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence when "death or serious injury results from the use" of an illegal drug, and prosecutors have used the statute to win the tough sentences, but the high court held Monday that prosecutors must prove that the drug was the specific cause of death, not just a contributing factor. The case is Burrage v. United States.

San Francisco Jail Population Dropping Because of Decrease in Drug Arrests. A report from the San Francisco board of supervisors' budget analysts says the jail population has dropped because of decreased drug arrests and city policies that promote alternatives to incarceration. The jail population is down 30% since 2008. The report comes as supervisors wrangle over whether the city needs a new jail and how big it should be.

Law Enforcement

DEA Busts Bitcoin Exchange CEO for Silk Road Money Laundering. Charlie Shrem, the CEO of BitInstant, a Bitcoin exchange, has been arrested by the DEA and is charged with money laundering for selling over $1 million in Bitcoins to users of the Silk Road dark web drug sales site, who used the currency to buy drugs there. Shrem faces federal money laundering charges. Shrem and an unnamed coconspirator were both charged. "Hiding behind their computers, both defendants are charged with knowingly contributing to and facilitating anonymous drug sales, earning substantial profits along the way," DEA agent James Hunt said in a release.

Virginia Bill to Criminalize "Secret Compartments" Filed. A bill introduced by state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) would make it a crime to knowingly have a secret compartment in a car -- even if there isn't anything in it. The bill, Senate Bill 234, makes having such a compartment a felony and defines a "false or secret compartment" as any enclosure that is integrated into or attached to a vehicle or vessel, the purpose of which is to conceal, hide, or prevent the discovery of a person, controlled substance, or other contraband.

International

Mexican President Invites Anti-Cartel Vigilantes to Join Security Forces. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said last Thursday that anti-cartel vigilantes or militias were a result of institutional weakness within national security forces and asked them to join those same security forces. He asked them to do "to do it by observing the principles and formalities of the law, fulfilling the requirements to become part of the security corps." The vigilantes are engaged in ongoing battles with the Knights Templar cartel in the state of Michoacan.

Dutch MP Calls on Government to Allow Marijuana Growing Pilot Projects. Labor MP Marith Rebel called last week for Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to allow experiments with the legal production of marijuana. "Turning a blind eye to the fact the cafes are selling marijuana but not recognizing the fact they also have to buy it is helping criminals," Rebel said. Opstelten last month rejected calls from local councils to allow regulated grows, even though polls show majority support for the move.

New Zealand Greens Will Push for Marijuana Decriminalization, But Not Too Hard. New Zealand's Green Party says it will push for decriminalization in any post-election negotiations with Labor, but that the issue will not be a deal breaker. "I would like to progress a vast amount of our policy, and that would be one," said party coleader Metiria Turei. "We believe a drug-free lifestyle is the healthiest, but we don't believe people should be convicted of a crime, adults, if they smoke cannabis. So we still consider decriminalization is the wisest policy." But she also said the party had no bottom lines as it ponders the prospect of a coalition government with Labor.

"Obamacare" Heroin Hits the Market

Like any other businessmen seeking to differentiate their product from similar competitors, heroin dealers come up with brand names, too. Among the latest is this entry from Massachusetts: "Obamacare"

This photo comes courtesy of the Massachusetts State Patrol, whose troopers seized 1,250 packets of heroin stamped "Obamacare" or "Kurt Cobain" during a Friday morning traffic stop.

Branding heroin is nothing new; legendary New York City heroin dealer Frank Lucas had his "Blue Magic" back in the 1970s. In recent years, the trend has continued, with names such as "Bugs Bunny," "Buddha," "Bin Laden," and "LeBron James" all making appearances, some for more obvious reasons than others.

"Kurt Cobain" I can understand, from a heroin marketer's viewpoint. This shit will blow your brains out.

But I'm not sure what message dealers are trying to convey with the "Obamacare" brand. Is this stuff gonna kill you as dead as socialized medicine? Or is it gonna bliss you out like knowing you have access to reasonably priced health insurance despite preexisting conditions?

Location: 
MA
United States

Chronicle AM -- November 4, 2013

Remember Bernie Goetz? He made the news again over the weekend, and so did Florida's medical marijuana initiative. There's also drug policy news from around the world. Let's get to it

Colorado medical marijuana dispensaries like this one could reopen as adult pot stores on January 1. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana

Let A Hundred Pot Shops Bloom…in Colorado. The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division reported late last week that it has received applications from 136 people seeking to open adult use marijuana retail stores. By law, only people currently operating medical marijuana businesses could apply. Those who applied by the end of October will have decisions on their applications before year's end, meaning they could open on January 1, the earliest date adult marijuana sales will be allowed in the state.

NYC Subway Vigilante Bernie Goetz Busted in Penny Ante Marijuana Sting. The New York City man who became a national figure after shooting four teens who asked him for money on the subway back in 1984 was arrested last Friday over a $30 marijuana sale. Bernie Goetz is accused of selling the miniscule amount of marijuana to an undercover officer.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Lawmakers Oppose Medical Marijuana Initiative. Florida House and Senate leaders said late last week that they will join Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) in asking the state Supreme Court to block a medical marijuana initiative from going to the ballot. "We certainly don't want a situation like they've got in Colorado," explained state Rep. Doug Holder (R-Venice). Petitioners have gathered only about 200,000 of the more than 600,000 signatures they need to make the ballot. They have until February, unless the state Supreme Court puts the kibosh on the effort.

Florida Governor Candidate Supports Medical Marijuana Initiative. Candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination Nan Rich said last Friday she supports a proposed medical marijuana ballot initiative. "I’ve seen the research, I’ve studied the issue, and I’ve met with patients who clearly benefit and desperately need medically prescribed cannabis," Rich said in a statement. "That's why I’m signing the petition to get this important measure on the ballot in 2014 and I’m calling on all of my friends and supporters to do the same.  There is simply no reason patients should suffer when an effective, safe, and organic remedy is readily available."

Washington State Regulators to Hold Hearing on Controversial Medical Marijuana Plans. The Washington state Liquor Control Board announced last Friday it will hold a hearing November 13 in Lacey to take public testimony on proposed changes to the state's medical marijuana system. Regulators have issued draft recommendations that would reduce the amount of medical marijuana patients could possess and end their ability to grow their own, among other things.

International

Canada SSDP to Hold National Conference in Vancouver. Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) will hold its sixth annual conference on November 22-24 in Vancouver, BC. Featured speakers will include Donald McPherson, head of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition; Dana Larsen, director of Sensible BC and the Vancouver Dispensary Society; and Missi Woolrdige, director of DanceSafe, among others.

Hong Kong Docs Criticize Government Drug Testing Plan. The Hong Kong Medical Association said Monday that a government plan to allow police to test anyone for drug use based on "reasonable suspicion" is flawed and violates basic human rights. The local government began a four-month consultation on the plan in September, and now the doctors have weighed in. The association said that drug testing was an unproven method of reducing drug use and resources should instead be devoted to prevention and education campaigns and cooperation with mainland police against drug trafficking.

India to Greatly Expand Opiate Maintenence Centers. Responding to an increase in the number of injection drug users, the Indian government is moving to expand the number of its Opiate Substitution Therapy (OST) centers six-fold, from a current 52 to 300 by the end of the year. Drug user groups, including the Indian Drug Users Forum, and harm reduction groups, such as Project Orchid have been involved in planning the expansion. It's not clear what drug the Indians are using in OST. 

Ireland Parliament to Debate Marijuana Legalization This Week. A private motion by independent Dail, or Irish parliament, member Luke "Ming" Flanagan will be debated on Tuesday and Wednesday. Flanagan's bill would make it legal to possess, grow, and sell marijuana products.

Cartel Violence Flares in Mexican Border Town. Sunday shoot-outs between rival drug trafficking organizations and between traffickers and soldiers left at least 13 people dead in the Mexican border town of Matamoros, just across the Rio Grande River from Brownville, Texas. Four men and a woman were killed in clashes between rival gangs, and eight more died in fighting with Mexican Marines. Somewhere north of 75,000 people have been killed in violence since former President Felipe Calderon called out the armed forces to wage war on the cartels six and a half years ago. Meanwhile, the drugs continue to flow north and the guns and cash flow south.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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.)

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