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Two More Drug War Deaths This Week

A Virginia man was shot and killed by police Tuesday after a drug investigation turned into a chase and confrontation, and a Florida man died Wednesday after swallowing drugs in a bid to avoid arrest by a police drug task force. Walter Brown III and Michael Antoine Rodriguez become the 14th and 15th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, citing police sources, Brown was sitting in a car with another man outside the Southside Garden apartments in Portsmouth when police conducting surveillance for drug activity suspected he might have been selling drugs. The other man got out of the passenger seat, but Brown, in the driver's seat, drove away. Police chased him through Portsmouth until he pulled onto the lawn of a residence and ran up to the front door. (It was Brown's house.)

An officer used a stun gun on Brown without being able to subdue him, police said. Brown and the officer struggled into the house, down a hallway, and into a bedroom before two other officers arrived. Brown was again hit with a stun gun, again to no avail. Police said he then pulled out a handgun. One officer yelled "Gun!" and tried to grab it from Brown's hand, and another officer opened fire, shooting Brown three to five times.

Medics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Brown's wife, Octavia, was in the house at the time. She told reporters she had been ordered out of the room where her husband and police were fighting. Then she heard shooting. She said police would not let her see her husband's body. She said he had just gone out to pick up lunch before going to work.

"Why would they take him from us?" she asked. "Why would they take him from his kids?"

She said police treated her husband like an animal.

"He didn't drink, he didn't smoke, he was a family person," she said. "He did not have a weapon."

Police said they recovered a handgun from the scene.

"I know my son had emotional problems all his life," said Walter Brown, Sr., who said his daughter-in-law had called him to tell him his son was dead. "He had problems with authority. He didn't like nobody grabbing on him. He would fight back," he said. "No matter if it was drug-related or whatever, it could have been handled a different way."

Meanwhile, according to The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, citing police sources, on Wednesday, the Broward County Drug Task Force was conducting an undercover drug operation in Oakland Park when Rodriguez, 38, showed up shortly before 10:00pm carrying a methamphetamine delivery.

When Rodriguez saw narcs approaching to arrest him, he swallowed the drugs. Detectives tried to stop him, but failed. They then called for medical assistance, and Rodriguez was taken to Holy Cross Hospital nearby. He then went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead.

Florida Cops Sell Man Drugs in Sting, Then Gun Him Down

Police conducting an undercover, street-level, reverse drug sting in Putnam County, Florida, shot and killed one of their targets Friday night as he attempted to drive away from the scene. Andrew Anthony Williams, a 48-year-old black man, becomes the 11th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to local press accounts, all relying on law enforcement sources, deputies and detectives from the Putnam County Sheriff's Office were conducting a "reverse sting" where they posed as drug dealers, sold unwary customers small amounts of drugs, and then arrested them.

Deputies had successfully sold drugs to and arrested 10 people, but when they identified themselves and tried to arrest Williams, who was number 11, he declined. "[H]e drove away quickly and hit a tree," the St. Augustine Record reported.  "The man next backed up toward the deputies, then put the vehicle into drive and turned toward some of them, the Sheriff’s Office said. Four deputies fired at the oncoming vehicle almost simultaneously, the Sheriff's Office said."

News 4 Jax had it this way: "…when they tried to arrest Williams, he took off in a blue SUV and, swerving to avoid deputies, ran into a tree. Williams then backed up and tried to take off again toward deputies causing four of them to open fire on Williams SUV, hitting him an unknown number of times."  

Williams was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. One deputy was wounded in the gunfire, but that bullet came from another deputy's gun, according to the Sheriff's Office. (In the headline for its story about the incident, News 4 Jax neglected to mention that anyone had been killed, going with "Putnam County deputy hit by bullet fired at suspect.")

The Sheriff's Office did not identify the four deputies involved in the shooting, but was quick to make available Williams' criminal history, which including charges for drugs, fleeing, eluding, resisting arrest, and battery on a law enforcement officer.

The four deputies are on paid administrative leave.

This killing should raise a few questions, both about the nature of the operation itself and about what actually occurred.

Reverse drug stings are a controversial tactic, sometimes arguably justifiable at the higher echelons of the drug trade, where selling sizeable quantities of drugs to a player to see where they go help crack a drug ring, but that logic isn’t at work here, where the only result is to round up some street drug buyers and drag them into the criminal justice system. Is having deputies pretend to be drug dealers to bust small-time users really the county's best use of its law enforcement resources?

And then there's the no-witness "he was going to run me over" defense used by the police to justify the killing. It happens not infrequently. Williams may have decided that getting busted on a minor dope charge was worth trying to murder a group of police officers with his vehicle. But could it have been that he was just trying to get away?

It'll be up to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which investigates officer-involved killings, to get to the bottom of it. 

Keystone Heights, FL
United States

Chronicle AM: USA Today Slams Asset Forfeiture, NY Times on AFT Drug Stash House Stings, More (11/20/14)

A new Maine legalization group lays out its vision, take your medical marijuana card when you go to Nevada next year, asset forfeiture gets ripped by USA Today, the New York Times takes a look at a questionable law enforcement practice, and more. Let's get to it:

Highway patrol or highwayman? Asset forfeiture gets more criticism. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

New Maine Legalization Group Wants Home Grows, Social Clubs. Calling itself Legalize Maine, a new group has emerged with a plan to free the weed there. Group organizer Paul McCarrier said his plan is "home grown" -- a jab at the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has been laying the groundwork for statewide legalization there for the past several years -- and would allow for home cultivation, the use of marijuana in social clubs, and an 8% tax on sales. MPP has not released details of what it will propose for the 2016 ballot, but its local initiatives in the state did not address home cultivation or allow for social clubs. Click on the link to read more detail on the Legalize Maine plan.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Pharmacy Board Punts on Reclassification. The Board has decided to defer a decision on whether to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II under state law until its January meeting. The Board could have decided at its Wednesday meeting to recommend to the legislature that marijuana be rescheduled after a public hearing Monday, but while it said marijuana does have medical use, it also worried that it has high abuse potential. The board was (in)acting on a petition from Des Moines medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen.

Nevada Will Honor Medical Marijuana Cards from Other States. Once dispensaries begin to open in the state next year, people holding medical marijuana recommendations from other states will be able to purchase marijuana there.

Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture Should "Go Away," Says USA Today. USA Today has joined the growing ranks of newspapers calling for state and federal civil asset forfeiture reform. In a Wednesday editorial, the country's third-largest daily circulation newspaper said asset forfeiture had come "unmoored" from its original intent of taking the profit out of crime and now appeared like something "one might expect in a banana republic, not the United States." The newspaper called for action on pending federal asset forfeiture reform bills and ended its editorial thusly: "Civil asset forfeiture is government at its absolute worst -- intimidating helpless citizens for its own benefit. It needs to go away."

Law Enforcement

New York Times Examines ATF Fake Drug Stash House Rip-Off Stings. The Times turns a jaundiced eye to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' (ATF) use of imaginary stash-house stings, where undercover agents entice people into participating in what they thought were robberies of drug stash houses, only to be arrested and imprisoned, sometimes for decades. The newspaper notes that although most of the stings have survived legal challenges, some federal judges are now throwing out such cases. One federal judge in Los Angeles threw out a case earlier this year, citing "outrageous government misconduct" with the ATF "trawling for crooks in seedy, poverty-ridden areas -- all without an iota of suspicion that any particular person has committed similar conduct in the past." Almost all of the people wrapped up in the stings have been brown or black. Clarence Walker has covered this issue for the Chronicle here and here.

International

Argentina As Latin America's Newest Drug Trafficking Hub. Argentina is emerging as a new drug trafficking hub, according to this analysis in World Politics Review. Author Benoit Gomis points to a number of factors ranging from geography to the size of the Argentine drug market, as well as infiltration by regional drug operations, weak law enforcement, and corruption. Gomis suggests one thing Argentina can do is emulate its neighbor Uruguay, which legalized marijuana last year in a bid to undercut the drug trade. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

Chronicle AM: Pot Legalization Trifecta, CA Sentencing Reform Passes, FL MedMJ Fails, More (11/5/14)

Marijuana wins in Alaska, DC, and Oregon; medical marijuana barely loses in Florida, California defelonizes drug possession offenses, New Jersey reforms the bail system, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy        

Alaska Legalizes Marijuana. In a trifecta for marijuana legalization initiatives Tuesday, Alaska has joined Oregon and Washington, DC, in voting to free the weed. That makes it the fourth state to do so. It won with 52% of the vote. Measure 2 allows adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (three mature). It also allows individual growers to possess the fruits of their harvest. It will set up a complete system of commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, and distribution under the purview of the Alcohol Control Board -- or, if the legislature chooses to create it, a Marijuana Control Board.

Oregon Legalizes Marijuana. Oregon has become the third state to legalize marijuana. Voters Tuesday approved Measure 91, which will legalize personal marijuana possession and cultivation and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. According to election results compiled by The Oregonian, with two-thirds of the votes counted, the initiative was winning with 53.7% of the vote. [Update: Measure 91 finished up with an even more impressive 55.9%.] Under Measure 91, adults 21 and over will be able to possess a half-pound of pot and grow up to four plants. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will be charged with drafting regulations and overseeing implementation of the will of the voters. It will act in consultation with the state Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Health Authority.

Washington, DC, Legalizes Marijuana. Voters in Washington, DC, today overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which will make it legal for adults to possess and cultivate small amounts of marijuana in our nation’s capital. Partial election results from the DC Board of Elections Tuesday night had the initiative winning handily with around two-thirds of the vote. It was at 64.5% with 11% of precincts reporting at 10pm, the lowest figure of the day. [Update: Initiative 71 finished up with 64.7%.] That was enough for supporters to call the election. Because of District law, the initiative could address legal marijuana commerce. That is the purview of the DC city council, which has already demonstrated its friendliness to marijuana law reform by passing decriminalization earlier this year. The council is already considering a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana commerce.

GOP Congressmen Threatens to Try to Block DC Legalization. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is saying he will try to block the legalization initiative just passed by DC voters. "Actions by those in DC will result in higher drug use among teens," Harris told The Washington Post. "I will consider using all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action, so that drug use among teens does not increase." Earlier this year, Harris got the House Appropriations Committee to back a rider that would have blocked the DC city council's decision to decriminalize marijuana, but that rider didn't make it into the final DC appropriations bill.

South Portland, Maine, Votes to Legalize; Lewiston Does Not. Voters in South Portland voted 52% to 48% to approve a local legalization initiative, but voters in Lewiston did not. The measure there got only 45% of the vote. Portland, the state's largest city, passed a similar measure last year.

Massachusetts PPQs on Marijuana Legalization Pass. Non-binding public policy questions asking voters whether they approved telling their elected representatives they wanted to legalize marijuana passed in all 14 districts where they were on the ballot. Activists have been placing marijuana reform PPQs on the ballot each election since 2000, and they've never lost one. This year, most passed with more than 70% approval; the lowest passed with 54%.

Michigan Towns Split on Marijuana Initiatives. Marijuana legalization, decriminalization, or lowest law enforcement priority measures were on the ballot in 11 towns. They won in Saginaw, Berkeley, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Port Huron, and Mt. Pleasant. They lost in Lapeer, Harrison, Onaway, Frankfort, and Clare. The state's largest cities have already approved similar measures.

New Mexico Non-Binding Decriminalization Initiatives Pass Big in Bernalillo, Santa Fe Counties. Non-binding, county level decriminalization initiatives won big in the state's largest and third-largest counties. Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) voted 59% in favor, while Santa Fe County (Santa Fe) produced an impressive 73% in favor.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Wins Majority, But Not Enough to Pass. Florida's Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative was defeated in today's election, even though it won a majority of votes. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needed 60% of the vote to be approved. According to the Florida Division of Elections, with 96% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Amendment 2 had 57.52% of the vote.

Mixed Bag for California Local Initiatives. Local measures to tax marijuana businesses passed in two Riverside County towns, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, as well as in Santa Cruz city and county and Shasta Lake City. But measures to loosen restrictions on cultivation failed in Butte, Lake, Nevada, and Shasta Counties, and measures to allow dispensaries were rejected in Blythe, La Mesa, and Encinitas. The town of Weed approved dispensaries, but also approved an outdoor cultivation ban.

Drug Testing

California Initiative to Drug Test Doctors Fails. Proposition 46, was drafted and backed by trial lawyers and was actually primarily about increasing the caps on medical malpractice liability payments. Drug testing doctors was added on after it proved popular in focus groups. Not surprisingly, Prop 46 was opposed by a powerful and deep-pocketed set of medical interests in what was one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in state history. It ended up with only 32% of the vote. [Update: With the rest of the votes counted, Prop 47 won with 58.7%, and Prop 46 lost with 32.8%.]

Sentencing Policy

California Initiative to Turn Drug Possession Felonies Into Misdemeanors Passes. Proposition 47, will change drug possession (and some other low-level non-violent offenses) from felonies to misdemeanors. It is viewed as a significant step in reducing mass incarceration and a retreat from the war on drugs. The popular vote in favor of Prop 47 comes just two years after voters approved another sentencing reform initiative, that one reforming the state's notorious "three strikes" law. Prop 47 got 57% of the vote.

New Jersey Bail Reform Initiative Passes. New Jersey voters have approved Public Question No. 1 to reform New Jersey’s bail system.  The narrowly-worded question allows judges to deny bail to dangerous individuals, but it ushers in broader bail reform because it is linked to comprehensive legislation, already signed by the governor, that overhauls the state’s broken bail system. The legislation implements wide-ranging reforms including non-monetary release options for low-risk individuals; a system under which pretrial release decisions are based on risk rather than resources; the use of risk assessments for suspects enabling courts to make individualized determinations of what conditions of release are appropriate; establishment of a pretrial services unit within the court system that will provide appropriate levels of monitoring and counseling for those awaiting trial.

Law Enforcement

NYPD Ordered to Quit Doing Marijuana "Buy Busts." The NYPD has been ordered by the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) to quit doing penny ante pot "buy and bust" operations. The head of each borough's dope squad was summoned to NYPD headquarters last week and told to knock it off.  Police were told to focus on more dangerous drugs. The New York Post published the story, replete with unnamed law enforcement sources complaining about the move. 

Oklahoma Woman Killed Fleeing Police in Drug Bust

An Oklahoma City woman was shot and killed by police as she attempted to drive away from a drug bust and hit an officer on foot earlier this month. Karen Cifuentes, 19, becomes the 33rd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

The incident occurred September 3, but didn't come to our attention until the passenger in Cifuentes' car was charged last Friday with murder in her death.

According to The Oklahoman, citing law enforcement documents, undercover police witnessed what they thought to be a drug deal in the parking lot of a liquor store. As officers approached, Cifuentes backed the car out of the parking lot at a high rate of speed, mowing down metal poles and jumping the curb as she fled.

The reporting does not make clear whether the undercover officers ever identified themselves as police.

As she drove away down a nearby surface street, she hit an officer on foot, who shot her "as she was accelerating." The reporting does not make clear whether the officer shot her before or after she hit him. An earlier report from KFOR Newschannel 4, however, says Cifuentes struck the officer first and that the officer suffered "minor injuries."

Cifuentes was apparently the girlfriend of passenger Juan Manuel Aguilera Perez, 24, who reportedly threw a bag of cocaine from the car as the pair fled. Perez is now charged with first degree murder, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and possession of drug proceeds ($400 in cash).

Because Perez's was allegedly in the midst of the commission of a felony -- drug sales -- when police shot Cifuentes, under Oklahoma law he can -- and has been -- charged with murder in her death.

Oklahoma City, OK
United States

Florida Man Killed in Drug Bust Gun Battle

A Belle Isle, Florida, man died Wednesday during a gun battle with undercover deputies trying to seize a package from his home. Giles Harrison Carter, 29, becomes the 26th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WOFL Fox 35 Orlando, citing police sources, undercover Orange County sheriff's deputies belonging to the department's narcotics unit were attempting to intercept a package from a home when Carter opened fire, then retreated inside his house. Deputies said he barricaded himself inside and continued to exchange gunfire with them.

"During the shooting, the deputies had some conversation with him [Carter]. They were identified," said Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings during a news conference held on Wednesday afternoon. "He [Carter] had a handgun. At that point, the gun was pointed directly at them, is what I'm being told at this time. They fired at him, he retreated into the home and came back and fired another volley of rounds at the deputies."

Sheriff Demings did not say whether the undercover deputies "were identified" as such by Carter before that point.

An Orange County SWAT team was called in to rescue the deputies, who were "pinned down by the gun fire." After a brief conversation between Carter and the SWAT team, the team entered the home and reported finding him dead.

It's not clear whether Carter was shot by police or died at his own hand. Nor is it clear whether he was the intended recipient of the package or what was actually in it.

Carter, an Army veteran, had been arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia last Friday. But other than that, he had no criminal record, his attorney in that case said.

"Mr. Carter is fairly new to the area, and he had previously been in the US military. He told me he was a veteran, and we were approaching the State Attorney's Office about avoiding prosecution completely and looking into a pre-trial diversion program to keep his record clean, so that he could obtain and maintain security clearances with the federal government," said attorney John Gihon. "Mr. Carter, he was a smart guy. He was intelligent and educated, and it really came across in the short time that I knew him. To find out now that he's dead; that's really a shock to me."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) will conduct the deputy involved shooting investigation and the Orange County Sheriff's Office Professional Standards section will conduct an administrative review.

Belle Isle, FL
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 14, 2014

Happy Bastille Day! And speaking of which, the US Sentencing Commission is reporting heavy public response to its proposal to make some sentencing reforms retroactive. Meanwhile, marijuana remains on the move, the good burghers of New York will pay for another drug war killing, millennials loosen up on drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

A new ad from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Earns $150,000 in Excise Taxes From First Three Days of Limited Legal Marijuana Sales. Legal pot sales in Washington started last Tuesday with only a handful of shops open across the state, but by last Friday, the Washington Liquor Control Board reported that the sales had generated almost $150,000 in excise taxes alone. The excise tax is 25% imposed on producers when they sell to retailers and another 25% imposed on consumers when they buy retail. The figure doesn't include state and local sales taxes.

Colorado Recreational Marijuana Sales Declined for First Time in May. Retail pot shops sold $21 million worth of marijuana in May, down 5% from the $22 million sold in April. The combined 4/20 celebrations and High Times Cannabis Cup that same weekend may have had something to do with the high April figures. Also, tax-free medical marijuana sales remain strong and still exceeded recreational sales in April, coming in at $32 million.

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off With Innovative Bathroom Ads. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has begun its campaign to get a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot with "bathroom-themed ads, which are scheduled to appear in restrooms at more than two dozen restaurants and bars across Las Vegas throughout July and August." The ads highlight the costs of marijuana prohibition.

South Portland, Maine, Activists Hand in Signature for Municipal Legalization Referendum. Citizens for Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, today handed in 1,521 signatures to place a legalization initiative on the municipal this November. The group needs 959 valid voter signatures to qualify. Similar efforts are underway in York and Lewiston; Portland passed a similar measure last year.

Medical Marijuana

Berkeley City Council Gives Initial Approval for Free Medical Marijuana for the Poor and Homeless. The Berkeley city council last week gave initial approval for an ordinance that would require dispensaries in the city to set aside 2% of their medical marijuana to be given away free to poor and homeless residents who are patients. A second reading is set for next month.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Law Not Working. South Carolina's new law allowing for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil is stymied because no one in South Carolina is making it and federal law prohibits it being shipped across state lines. The new law does create a study committee to determine how to grow the plants and manufacture the oil in state, but it looks like that is years down the road.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Trial of Grower. Protestors gathered in Hendersonville this morning to protest the trial of a man they say is a medical marijuana grower. Todd Stimson is charged with numerous marijuana cultivation and related offenses. His trial starts this afternoon.

Drug Policy

Poll of Millennials Finds Majority for Marijuana Legalization, One in Five for Cocaine Legalization. A new Reason-Rupe survey finds that 57% of millennials support legalizing marijuana and a surprising 22% support legalizing the use of cocaine. Majorities of millennials said people should not be jailed or imprisoned for using marijuana (83%), ecstasy (68%), cocaine (63%), or heroin (61%). Click on the link above for more top lines, cross tabs, and methodological details.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Gives Up on Testing Some State Workers, But Not All. Gov. Rick Scott's (R) dream of imposing drug testing on all state workers has faded further after attorneys representing the state last month filed court documents conceding that nearly a thousand job classes are ineligible for drug testing. But Scott has yet to concede that his plan to force state workers to undergo mandatory suspicionless drug testing is unconstitutional, despite lower court rulings against him. He's vowing to go to the US Supreme Court.

Law Enforcement

New York City Pays $2 Million for Undercover Narc's Killing of Unarmed Man on His Mother's Doorstep. Shem Walker, 59, was shot and killed when he attempted to run off shady characters loitering on his mother's apartment building doorstep. The shady characters were undercover NYPD narcotics detectives. Walker punched one of the plain clothes narcs, who responded by shooting him three times and killing him. Now, the good burghers of New York will pay out $2.25 million to settle the family's lawsuit against the city. No criminal charges were filed against the officer.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Got 65,000 Letters Regarding Sentencing Retroactivity. The US Sentencing Commission reports that it had received some 65,000 letters regarding its plans to make the changes to drug sentencing guidelines that reduce many drug sentences retroactive. The Commission will hold a public meeting on the issue on Friday. Click on the link for more details and to read the letters.

International

Honduras President Blames US Drug Policy for Refugee Crisis. In an interview published today, President Juan Hernandez blamed US drug policy for creating violence in Central American countries and thus propelling a surge of migration toward the US. He said US anti-drug policies for generating prohibition-related violence first in Colombia and Mexico and now in Central America. "Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration."

Denver Man Shot, Killed in Undercover Drug Operation

A Denver man was shot and killed during an undercover drug investigation last Wednesday afternoon. Joseph Valverde, 32, becomes the 24th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Denver Post, citing Denver Police Chief Robert White, Valverde was shot and killed in the parking lot of Overland Pond Park. White said that when uniformed Denver police officers arrived to arrest Valverde, he pulled a gun. An officer then opened fire, striking Valverde.

White said Valverde threatened officers, but did not fire his weapon. He was pronounced dead later at a local hospital.

Denver 9 News, which first named the victim, reported that Valverde was shot by a SWAT team member, that police sources said the bust involved "a significant amount of cocaine" and that "law enforcement believed the suspect was very violent and dangerous."

In a separate story, Denver 9 News reported that Valverde had prior convictions for drug possession, assault, weapons charges, and criminal mischief.

Denver, CO
United States

Chronicle AM -- June 20, 2014

Two killer narcs face consequences for their actions, New York is set to become the 23rd medical marijuana state, the Pope comments on drug policy, prohibition-related violence flares in Mexico and Peru, and more. Let's get to it:

Killed by a Utah narc. Finally, there might be some justice for Danielle Willard. (facebook.com)
Marijuana Policy

FDA Studying Whether to Reclassify Marijuana. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is studying whether marijuana should be moved from Schedule I -- no medical use, high potential for abuse -- to a less restrictive schedule. The agency is acting at the request of the DEA, which is considering another rescheduling petition. Federal agencies have fended off efforts to reschedule marijuana for more than 40 years. The FDA reviewed marijuana's classification in 2001 and 2006 and found no reason to change it then.

Medical Marijuana

New York to Become 23rd Medical Marijuana State. The New York legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (R) reached a last-minute compromise on medical marijuana this week, and today, the state Senate and Assembly approved the compromise bill, Program Bill 57. Gov. Cuomo says he will sign the bill into law, making New York the 23rd medical marijuana state.The bill is more limited than many patients and advocates would have preferred. It forbids smoking medical marijuana, although patients may vaporize or consume it in edibles. It also forbids using the raw plant. And it limits access to those with specified qualifying conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

Drug Policy

Pope Says Nope to Dope. Pope Francis told participants at a drug control conference that he opposes marijuana legalization, and he's not so sure about using opiate maintenance to treat heroin users. 'Drugs are an evil, and with evil you can't give way or compromise," Francis said. "Even the partial legalization of so-called recreational drugs, besides being questionable on legal grounds, doesn't produce the intended effects," according to the text of his remarks posted on the Vatican web site.

California Set to End Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons. The California legislature has approved a bill that will once again allow people with drug felonies to obtain food stamps. A 1996 federal law barred drug felons from food stamp programs, but also gave states the ability to opt out. With the passage of Assembly Bill 1468, which Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is expected to sign, California will have done so. Only 12 other states continue to ban drug felons from getting food stamps.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Injury Free Medication and Drug Overdose Prevention Summit Coming Next Month. State agencies and non-profits will take part in medication and overdose prevention summit on July 14 in Raleigh. Click on the lick for more details.

Law Enforcement

Utah Narc Charged With Manslaughter in Death of Danielle Willard. Former West Valley City Police undercover narcotics officer Shaun Cowley has been charged with manslaughter in the November 2012 shooting death of Danielle Misha Willard. Willard, who was unarmed, was shot and killed as she backed up her car in an apartment building parking lot. Cowley and another officer, who were investigating heroin sales, claimed they feared for their lives, but prosecutors didn't buy it. "Mr. Cowley acted in a reckless manner, and the evidence that we have does not support that his life was in danger or give him the justification to use the force that he did," said Salt Lake County prosecutor Sam Gill. The case has already resulted in a major shake-up in the department, and Willard's family has already filed a civil lawsuit.

Georgia Narc Must Pay Millions to Family of Pastor He Killed in Drug Investigation. A federal judge has ruled that Georgia undercover narc Billy Shane Harrison used unreasonable force in the killing of Pastor Jonathan Ayers and must pay his widow $2.5 million. Harrison shot and killed Ayers in a convenience store parking lot as Ayers attempted to drive away from undercover officers approaching him. They thought Ayers had some connection with a woman they were investigating, but he was just acting as a pastor.

International

Cartel Drug Wars Inflaming Mexico's Tamaulipas State. Dozens of people have been killed and numerous others have gone missing in Mexico's northeastern state of Tamaulipas since April as factions of the Gulf Cartel fight for dominance there. Click on the link to read more.

Peru Clashes Leave Soldier, Shining Path Guerrillas Dead. A Peruvian army soldier and three suspected Shining Path guerrillas have been killed in gun battles this week between security forces and suspected drug traffickers in the VRAE (Valleys of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers), a major Peruvian coca producing region. The soldier died fighting "narco-terrorists," Peruvian authorities said.

Chronicle AM -- June 4, 2014

Legendary chemist Alexander Shulgin has died, the fight for medical marijuana in New York continues, Chicago sues Big Pharma over prescription opiates, Britain's black police association wants a look at legalization in the US, pot politics continues to get big play in Bermuda, and more. Let's get to it:

Britain's National Black Police Association wants the government to study marijuana reform in the US. (nbpa.co.uk)
Medical Marijuana

Compromise Could Be Coming on New York Medical Marijuana Bill. Two key players in the New York legislature, Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) met yesterday in an effort to find a compromise between their two bills that could lead to passage of a bill before the session ends in two weeks. The Assembly has already approved Gottfried's bill, but the Senate has yet to act on Savino's. Being able to actually smoke marijuana may be an item for discussion.

Ecstasy

Legendary Chemist Alexander Shulgin, "Godfather of Ecstasy" Dead at 88. Alexander Shulgin, the Berkeley-based research chemist who turned the psychotherapeutic community on to MDMA (Ecstasy) died Monday at his Northern California home. In addition to his work with MDMA, Shulgin also created more than 200 other psychedelic compounds. His life's work is distilled in two books PIKHAL (Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved): A Chemical Love Story and TIKHAL (Triptamines I Have Known and Loved): The Continuation. The DEA considers those books handbooks for illicit psychoactive chemistry.

Prescription Drugs

Chicago Sues Pharmaceutical Companies; Claims They Contributed to Prescription Drug Surge. The city of Chicago has filed a lawsuit against five drug companies -- Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Actavis -- charging they deceived the public about the risks and benefits of highly potent and effective opiate pain relievers. "For years, Big Pharma has deceived the public about the true risks and benefits of highly potent and highly addictive painkillers in order to expand their customer base and increase their bottom line, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. The lawsuit claims the companies violated city laws against consumer fraud and misleading advertising. The city is seeking cash damages in an unspecified amount, but said it is not seeking to ban the medications.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission to Hold Public Hearing Next Week on Retroactivity for New Drug Quantity Sentencing Tables. On Tuesday, June 10, the US Sentencing Commission will hold a public hearing to gather testimony from invited witnesses on the issue of whether the amendment to the drug quantity table sent to Congress in April should be applied retroactively. The Commission will not be voting on the issue of retroactivity at this hearing, and that issue is open for public comment until July 7. A tentative hearing agenda is available here​.

More Than a Thousand Religious Leaders Call for Federal Drug Sentencing Reform. Some 1,100 religious leaders representing 40 different faith groups have signed onto a letter to Congress supporting passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act (S1410/HR 3382), which would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenses. The sign-on was sponsored by the Faith in Action Criminal Justice Reform Working Group.

Law Enforcement

Sarasota, Florida, Cops' Reverse Sting on Nickel Bag Marijuana Buyers Raises Eyebrows, Civil Liberties Concerns. Police in Sarasota, Florida, went undercover to sell nickel bags of weed to unsuspecting customers in a city park and then charged them with "purchase of marijuana," a felony punishable by up to five years in state prison. The operation has critics calling foul and questioning whether the operation was a good use of police sources, whether it violated the civil rights of some defendants (including a mentally ill man), and why it targeted users instead of dealers.

International

British Black Police Group Call for Government to Examine US States' Marijuana Legalization. Britain's National Black Police Association wants the British government to examine marijuana legalization in US states, with an eye toward moving in the same direction in the UK. "We've had our current approach to drug laws for 20 years. If we can learn anything from the US I think we should to see whether we can get some better outcomes," said Nick Glynn, vice-president of the group. "There about a million stop and searches carried out in England and Wales every year. Around half of those are focused on street possession of cannabis so there's a lot of time spent dealing with that very low level offense. In the US they've done it in separate areas instead of across the whole country so maybe that's something we can replicate here."

Georgia Prime Minister Denies Rumors He Plans to Legalize Marijuana, But.... Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili today denied rumors he plans to free the weed, but he did say that punishments for "soft drugs" may be reevaluated. Under current Georgian law, possession of marijuana can get you seven to 14 years in prison, although the state seems more interested in revenues from fines than in actually imprisoning people.

Bermuda Opposition Leader Stands By His Backing of Medical Marijuana; He Gave It to His Asthmatic Daughter. Opposition leader Marc Bean said Tuesday that he "absolutely" stands by his remarks last week supporting marijuana as a medicine and that he used it to treat his young daughter for asthma. He originally spoke out last week as the House of Assembly debated the findings of the Cannabis Reform Collective, which is calling for medical marijuana, decriminalization, and eventual legalization He also said he had smoked the stuff himself. "I was a Rastaman, full fledged -- I lit the chalice," Bean said.

Bermuda Parliamentary Select Committee Recommends Drug Testing for Legislators. A parliamentary joint select committee has issued a report recommending random, suspicionless drug testing of legislators because they are "guardians of public morality" and any drug use by them "calls into question their ability to uphold the principles of public morality and the rule of law and to lead by example. They might want to speak to Marc Bean first.

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