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Former DEA Agent: We'll Win If We Just Arrest Every Drug User

Most people who notice that the drug war has failed eventually come to understand that we must stop wasting billions of dollars harming people who've used drugs.

But a select few propose escalation, and their ideas range from crazy to…well, crazier.

Expert: War on drugs should shift focus from the Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton, NY gives a voice to former DEA agent Michael Levine, who I don't think will be joining LEAP anytime soon. He's written a book called Fight Back that doesn't sound very good.

According to Levine, the reason the drug war is failing is because we've been wasting our time chasing the dealers when we should be trying to arrest all the users. He's serious:

It is the druggie who is victimizing us. It is he -- not the drug dealer, the smuggler, the Medellin Cartel, or all the Manuel Noriegas of this world -- who is responsible for the spread of drug abuse.

He thinks we should turn to China and Japan for guidance:

They succeeded in getting the situation under control because they targeted the users, forcing them into rehabilitation. They realized "that they did not have a drug epidemic; they had an epidemic of druggies."

For starters, we must begin teaching children the truth about drugs:

Levine says druggies should be depicted "convulsing and vomiting on themselves in detoxification wards; or staring vacant eyed on the benches of intake centers and emergency wards. That is what being a druggie is really all about, and that is what we should want our kids to see and understand."

Of course, no such rant would be complete without this:

Give me one community -- the worse the better -- where the citizens, the media and the police are willing to work together in following the step-by-step plan of Fight Back and I guarantee the end of the drug problem within one year."

I think the first step towards solving our drug problem is to be more selective in our use of the term "expert."

United States

Dominican authorities heighten drugs crackdown, thousands arrested

Santo Domingo
Dominican Republic
Dominican Today (Dominican Republic)

Some Santa Cruz pot users, sellers find loopholes in state's medical marijuana laws

Santa Cruz, CA
United States
Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA)

Europe: British Cannabis Confusion Continues as Policing Policies Evolve

Britain's Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) last week issued new guidelines for arresting or issuing warnings to marijuana possessors that would create a "three-strikes" rule for repeat offenders, but give officers discretion on whether or not to arrest teenage offenders. The move comes nearly four years after Britain reclassified marijuana as a less-serious Class C drug, giving officers the discretion to either arrest or issue warnings.
Members of European Parliament Chris Davies (UK) and Marco Cappato (Italy) after cannabis civil disobedience arrest, Manchester police station, December 2001 (
According to ACPO, "These guidelines do not encourage the same offender being repeatedly warned for possession of cannabis. Where it can be verified that an offender has received two previous cannabis warnings then a further warning should not be considered."

But for people who have not had two previous cannabis warnings, ACPO said, "A police officer finding a person aged 18 or over in possession of a substance that they can identify as cannabis and who is satisfied that the drug is intended for that person's own use should not normally need to arrest the person."

At the same time, the ACPO guidelines said police could find "less intrusive ways" of dealing with teens caught with marijuana than arresting them. The group suggested that officers take the kid home to his parents and keep a record of the incident.

A similar "three-strikes" policy was considered by ACPO in 2002, but scrapped before the warning system was put in place. This latest guidance from ACPO responds to widespread concerns that the current situation leads to uncertainties among police and the public alike. Police have complained that many people they encounter believe marijuana has been legalized, while marijuana users complain that they are still being arrested.

So, when is someone likely to be arrested instead of warned for marijuana possession? According to the ACPO, an arrest may be warranted when:

  • The name and/or address of the suspect are not known or there are reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name given is a real name.
  • It is necessary to prevent the offender suffering physical injury or causing injury to someone else.
  • If a locality has been identified through the National Intelligence Model as one where there is fear of public disorder associated with the use of cannabis which cannot be effectively dealt with by other means, such as where an open drugs (cannabis) market causes harm to communities.
  • It is necessary to protect a child or vulnerable person from the offender.
  • It is necessary to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offense.

A report issued this week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Institute for Criminal Justice Policy Research, "Policing Cannabis as a Class C Drug" , suggests that much of the uncertainty and inconsistency lies with the police themselves. According to that report, in four police areas studied, police arrested marijuana possessors or smokers between 78% and 58% of the time. The decision to arrest or not depended on a variety of factors, including the attitude of the officer, the attitude of the offender, local policies, and the amount of marijuana seized.

"When cannabis was reclassified as a Class C drug, guidelines were issued advising officers to give street warnings for most possession offences, arresting only in aggravating circumstances," the report noted. "We found that street warnings were issued for under half of possession offences. Over half of officers were against the downgrading and many said that cannabis arrests often led to the detection of more serious crimes. In fact, we found that this occurred in less than one percent of cases."

Almost half of police officers complained of the unfairness of having to arrest teenagers -- a policy that has now changed. One police officer interviewed for the study said: "It just seems a bit unfair for a 16-year-old to get nicked for it and an 18-year-old in the same group to get a slap on the wrist and that's it."

The study also found that police seemed to encounter marijuana offenders more often among members of Britain's ethnic minorities. "People from black and minority ethnic groups were heavily over-represented amongst offenders in three of the sites and somewhat over-represented in the remaining site," the study reported. "Whilst the study cannot disentangle the factors that might explain this over-representation, it clearly highlights the need for police forces to monitor trends closely in the disposal of possession offences."

Op-Ed: It's time to end pointless war on drugs

United States
Zanesville Times Recorder (OH)

Law Enforcement: Florida County Will Pay for Manhandling Men in Errant Drug Bust Caught on Videotape

Florida's Pinellas County has agreed to pay $100,000 to two men mistakenly arrested and roughed up by deputies from the sheriff's department's narcotics division. Fortunately for the men, Desmond Small, 26, and Christopher Lobban, 20, the incident was caught on videotape from a camera in a car rental office where the bad bust went down.

The August 17 incident occurred when deputies following a vehicle thought to be carrying drugs lost track of it. Minutes later, another pair of deputies spotted what they thought was the same vehicle and followed it to the car rental agency. When the vehicle's occupants got out and entered the car rental office, the deputies burst in with guns drawn and forced Small and Lobban to the floor. One deputy put his foot on the back of Small's head and and repeatedly pushed his face into the floor. Small suffered abrasions to his face and a cut to his mouth that required stitches. Rental agency employees said the carpet he was lying on was so bloodstained they had to throw it out. The video also showed two officers exchanging high-fives over their big bust, and one of them apparently stomping on Small's leg as he lay cuffed on the carpet.

Although rental agency employees who witnessed the arrest said Small and Lobban did not resist, the deputies accused Small of not cooperating. "I don't think they were resisting other than just being kind of shocked," rental employee Brad Bess told the St. Petersburg Times.

"I was like, 'What the hell is going on?'" Small said in an interview with sheriff's investigators released Wednesday. "I said, 'Sir, I didn't do anything.'"

The $100,000 pay-out to the two men was approved by County Attorney Susan Churuti. She said that given the results of the sheriff's department's investigation, the pair could have sued the county for civil rights violations, wrongful arrest and personal injury.

The two narcotics deputies, whose status as undercover agents apparently protects them from having their identities revealed, are now serving 12-day suspensions without pay and are on workplace suspension for a year.

But at least one county commissioner doesn't think that's enough. "If I were sheriff, I think I would send a stronger message that that kind of conduct is unacceptable," Commissioner Kenny Welch said. "And I'm not sure I want to see those two particular officers working narcotics in South County. I plan to raise that issue with the sheriff."

Law Enforcement: Woman Arrested Over Flour-Filled Condom Wins $180,000 in Suit Settlement

A Bryn Mawr college student who was arrested and jailed for three weeks on drug trafficking charges for carrying condoms filled with flour will be paid $180,000 by the city of Philadelphia in a settlement announced this week. Janet Lee was carrying the condoms, which women at the college used as toys to squeeze when they were stressed out, in her carry-on baggage as she boarded a Christmas season flight home to Los Angeles. Airport screeners found the condoms, and Philadelphia police said preliminary drug tests indicated the condoms contained opium and heroin.

Lee spent the next three weeks in the Philadelphia jail as authorities ignored her protestations of innocence. It was only when later drug tests failed to confirm the presence of drugs that she was released.

After her release from jail and the dropping of the charges, Lee filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city. It was scheduled to go to trial Thursday, but city officials announced Wednesday that they had agreed to pay Lee $180,000 to settle the suit.

"Under the circumstances, something went terribly wrong," Lee's lawyer, Jeffrey Ibrahim, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We're trying to ensure that nothing like that ever happens again."

Lee, a freshman at the time of her arrest, said she had no idea drug traffickers used condoms to carry drugs. "I was naive, really stupid," she said.

[Editor's Note: Condoms are used by "mules" who swallow them filled with drugs and have them in their stomachs when flying into the country; they are not a preferred packaging for drugs carried outside the body, say in one's carry-on baggage.]

Naivete, however, is not yet a criminal offense in this country, and neither is carrying flour in a condom. Now, the city of Philadelphia is paying for its drug war zealotry, although it refuses to admit to wrongdoing or liability.

Medical Marijuana: Colorado Case Will Test State's Law

A Fort Collins couple will be the first in Colorado to seek to use the state's medical marijuana law as a defense to marijuana cultivation and distribution charges. James and Lisa Masters pleaded not guilty to the charges last Friday and face a March trial.

The couple was arrested last August when police arrived at their home to check on the welfare of their two children, girls aged four and six. According to a police affidavit, a police officer smelled marijuana in the house, and the couple told officers they had doctors' recommendations to use marijuana, which they were growing for that purpose.

The Masters and their attorneys filed a motion last fall to have the charges dismissed, arguing that they were protected by the state's medical marijuana law. The couple, both registered medical marijuana patients, said they grew the pot solely for themselves and other patients on the state registry. But in October, District Judge Jolene Blair rejected that motion, saying the couple did not have proper documentation showing they are caregivers for registered patients.

According to the Colorado criminal code, the state Department of Public Health and Environment is charged with creating "a confidential registry of patients," not patients and caregivers. But the code also charges the department with creating an application form for would-be patients, and on that form, patients are required to fill in information about caregivers.

Last fall, when the Masters were first arraigned, their attorney, Rob Corry, argued they were within the bounds of the state medical marijuana law. While there is no state registry card for caregivers, he said, the Masters were designated as such by properly registered patients. "The majority of voters in this state said medical marijuana should be available. My hope here is the jury will follow the law and show some compassion for patients who need help," Corry said.

But at least one Colorado official argued that in order for someone to have protection as a caregiver, patients must list that person on their applications. It appears that the Masters case will resolve that apparent ambiguity in the law. If the Masters lose, they face up to six years in state prison and the loss of their children, whom police seized after their arrest despite the lack of any evidence of abuse or neglect. It took the couple eight weeks to win the return of their children.

"The Masters are being targeted for helping sick people. This test case has the potential to increase vital access to medical marijuana by expanding the legal definition of 'caregiver' to allow those with significant responsibility for the care of seriously-ill individuals to cultivate and provide them with medical marijuana," said co-counsel Brian Vicente.

Law Enforcement: Small-Time Drug Possessors No Longer Charged as Felons in Wichita -- Cops Grumble

Under Kansas law, possession of any amount of hard drugs is a felony, but officials in Wichita, where the criminal justice system is shuddering under the weight of drug charges, have decreed that people caught with less than a quarter-gram of methamphetamine or cocaine are to be instead charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, given notice to appear in court, and released. Some Wichita police are grumbling about the change.

The latest step in a decade-long de-escalation of drug prosecutions in Wichita came in November, when police officials removed narcotics detectives, prosecutors, and the state forensic lab from the loop when presented with small-time drug possessors. Now, such busts are automatically treated as misdemeanor paraphernalia charges -- unless the arrestee has a criminal history or is a gang member -- and the arrestees are released instead of being booked into jail.

Before 1993, local prosecutors routinely charged people with felony drug possession if any testable trace of drugs could be found, as in residue on crack pipes. After that, they raised the threshold to "testable" amounts, which they held to be one-tenth of a gram. Two years ago, at the request of the police, the threshold was raised a quarter-gram.

"To be honest with you, there's so many paraphernalia cases that we could clog the District Court system if we charged them all as felonies," Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz told the Wichita Eagle. The city prosecutes some 1,600 to 1,700 drug cases a year.

While the Wichita police are officially behind the new standards, some beat officers are unhappy with the policy changes and think drug users are getting off too easy, Sgt. Chester Pinkston, president of Wichita's Fraternal Order of Police, told the Eagle. "There has definitely been some grumbling about it," he said, noting that the union has not taken a stance on the policy.

But Gary Steed, sheriff of surrounding Sedgewick County, whose deputies still pursue felony charges for small amounts of cocaine or meth, said he sympathized with Wichita officials. "You can't hardly blame them for using their resources the best way they can," he said.

Irony: Newark Launches "Ground War" To Curb Drug Trade Violence

From The New York Times:

NEWARK, Jan. 8 — Mayor Cory A. Booker and his police director announced the formation of a new narcotics division today to try to defeat a stubbornly high murder rate, firmly linking the trade in illegal drugs to the city's persistent violence.

There's a link, alright. And in time politicians will come to understand that it is prohibition which makes drug-trade violence inevitable. Surely we can't keep addressing community problems with hollow rhetoric like this:

The new 45-person unit, led by a deputy chief, will tackle the city's drug trade as it if were a "ground war," he said.

So basically they're proposing a war on violence. It won't work. It can't work because drug-trade violence stems from an absence of regulation, not a shortage of armed police ready to kick doors in on an informant's tip.

In fact, temporary successes achieved through "ground war" tactics frequently increase violence as new competitors rush to replace those removed from the market by law-enforcement. Nor should anyone disregard the abundant collateral damage that occurs when armed raids are conducted based on tips from shady criminal informants.

The New York Times isn't responsible for making this argument, but they should at least acknowledge it. The discussion of drug-trade violence is incomplete and unproductive when the contributing role of drug prohibition goes unmentioned.

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United States

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