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Chronicle AM: UT Defelonization Proposed, TX Pot Bills Coming, Afghan Opium Fiasco, More (10/22/14)

Texas will see marijuana reform legislation next year, "Brownie Mary" Democratic Clubs come to California's East Bay, Utah will consider drug defelonization, Afghan poppy fiasco, and more. Let's get to it:

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Project Takes Aim at Texas. The Marijuana Policy Project is working with legislators in Austin to craft a trio of marijuana reform bills to be pre-filed next month. One would decriminalize pot possession, one would allow medical marijuana, and one would be a tax and regulate legalization bill. Click on the title for more details.

California "Brownie Mary" Democratic Clubs Spread to East Bay. Pro-marijuana legalization Democrats have organized the first "Brownie Mary" Democratic Club in the East Bay area. "Brownie Mary" Rathbun was a pioneering medical marijuana activist in San Francisco in the days before Prop 215, and the clubs are a means to articulate a marijuana reform agenda in Democratic Party circles. Now, Alameda County has one. There are others in Los Angeles, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, and San Francisco counties.

Sentencing

Utah Could Defelonize Drug Possession, Make Other Sentencing Reforms. The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice Wednesday unveiled a sweeping series of proposed criminal justice reforms, including reducing simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Other proposals would make drug sales the lowest degree felony and rework "drug free zone" statutes to focus on crimes where children are present. The proposals are expected to go before the legislature in January.

Law Enforcement

A Tale of Two Texas SWAT Drug Raids Where Officers Were Killed. Mother Jones magazine examines the results in two recent Texas SWAT drug raids that left police officers dead. In one case, the shooter was a white marijuana grower. In the other, the shooter was a black man who had a glass pipe. Guess which one got charged with murder and which one didn't. A good, provocative read; check it out at the link.

International

US Spent $7.6 Billion to Fight Afghan Opium Poppy Cultivation, But It's Now at An All-Time High. The US special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction has called into question US drug policy there after finding that, despite the US spending $7.6 billion to fight the opium trade since it invaded in 2001, the amount of land dedicated to poppy cultivation is at an all-time high of 523,000 acres. "In past years, surges in opium poppy cultivation have been met by a coordinated response from the US government and coalition partners, which has led to a temporary decline in levels of opium production," John Sopko said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and other top US officials. "The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of those prior efforts,"he said on Tuesday. "With deteriorating security in many parts of Afghanistan and low levels of eradication of poppy fields, further increases in cultivation are likely in 2014," he added.

Chronicle AM: CA Decrim Report, Afroman's Back, Pill ODs Drop, Colombia Synthetic Drug Trade, More (10/15/14)

A report on decriminalization in California has good news, state-level marijuana legalization could be an impetus for the US to modify international drug treaties, pain pill deaths are down (but heroin deaths are up), New Zealand has a different take on employee drug testing, and more. Let's get to it:

Afroman's got a whole new positive take on "Because I Got High."
Marijuana Policy

Report: California Decriminalized, and Nothing Bad Happened. A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines California's experience with marijuana since decriminalization went into effect at the beginning of 2011. It finds that "marijuana decriminalization in California has not resulted in harmful consequences for teenagers, such as increased crime, drug overdose, driving under the influence, or school dropout. In fact, California teenagers showed improvements in all risk areas after reform." There's lots of good number-crunching and analysis. Click on the second link to read the whole thing.

Afroman Revised: Good Things Happened "Because I Got High." California rapper Afroman burned up the charts in 2001 with his catchy lamentation about the perils of being a stoned-out couch potato, but now, thanks to NORML and Weedmaps, he's back with a new version of "Because I Got High," and he's singing a different tune. He eased his glaucoma thanks to the "cannabis aroma" and he can deal with anxiety attacks without Xanax, he sings. The song's new lyrics praise the benefits of marijuana in a number of ways, all supported by scientific evidence, says NORML, which has been working with Afroman for several years. Click on the title link to view the video.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Patients Protest Over Medical Marijuana Implementation. Several dozen patients and advocates rallied outside the Department of Public Health in Boston Tuesday to call on the department and the governor to get the state's medical marijuana program moving. Voters legalized medical marijuana nearly two years ago, but: "We have zero cannabis plants in the ground to serve the patients," said Mickey Martin, a medical marijuana activist. "It's unacceptable to make patients wait." The protestors are calling for the state to immediately open up the program, get dispensaries up and running, and ease restrictions on "hardship cultivation" so more patients can grow their own.

Drug Policy

Brookings Report Sees Marijuana Legalization as Chance to Update International Drug Treaties. A report from the Brookings Center for Effective Public Management, "Marijuana Legalization is an Opportunity to Modernize International Drug Treaties," says that the Obama administration's tolerance of legal marijuana in the states creates tension with international drug control treaties and that, as state-level legalization spreads, the US should consider "narrowly crafted treaty changes" to "create space within international law for conditional legalization." The US could, for now, argue that even allowing state-level legalization is compliant with the treaties, but that argument will not hold water if legalization spreads, the authors say. Click on the report link to read the whole thing.

Opiates

Prescription Pain Reliever Deaths Drop for First Time in Years, But Heroin Deaths Up. For the first time since 1999, deaths from prescription opiates declined in 2012. The number of prescription opiate ODs quadrupled to nearly 17,000 by 2011, before dropping to 16,007 in 2012, a decline of 5%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal officials are crediting crackdowns on "over-prescribing" and the expansion of prescription drug monitoring programs. The decline in prescription opiate ODs follows a tapering off of the rate of increase that began in 2006. Before that, ODs had increased at a rate of 18% a year beginning in 1999; after that, the rate of increase declined to 3% through 2011. But with the crackdowns has come an apparent shift to heroin among some prescription opiates, and with that is a rising heroin OD death toll. Heroin ODs jumped 35% from 2011 to 2012, reaching 5.927 that year.

Prescription Drugs

Pennsylvania Prescription Drug Monitoring Bill Goes to Governor's Desk. A bill that would establish a prescription drug monitoring database has passed the House. Senate Bill 1180 already passed the Senate in May, and after a pro forma housekeeping vote there, goes to the desk of Gov. Tom Corbett (R), who has said he will sign it. The legislation would track all prescriptions for Schedule II through Schedule V drugs, which is a bit too far for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. The rights groups said it had privacy concerns, and that low abuse potential Schedule V drugs should not be tracked.

Law Enforcement

"Baby Bou Bou" SWAT Raid Protestors March to Atlanta Federal Courthouse. Supporters of Bounkham "Baby Bou Bou" Phonesevahn, the Georgia toddler severely burned by a flash bang grenade during a botched SWAT drug raid, marched to the federal courthouse in Atlanta Tuesday to press for federal action in the case. A local grand jury refused to indict any of the officers involved. The group, included a lawyer for the family, met with US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates to discuss possible federal charges. Yates' office said it is considering the case.

International

New Zealand Arbitrator Throws Out Positive Marijuana Test Firing. The Employment Relations Authority has overturned the firing of a man forced to take a drug test after an anonymous caller told his employer he had been smoking pot in a parking garage. The Authority held that the company was not entitled to force the man to take a drug test. The company was ordered to pay $14,000 in damages and lost wages.

Colombia Massacre Opens Window on Black Market Synthetic Drug Trade. Eight reported drug traffickers involved in trying to dominate the trade in synthetic stimulants were gunned down outside Cali recently, and TeleSur TVhas a lengthy and interesting report on what it reveals about the fragmented nature of the drug trade there and the role of the new synthetics in it. The new drugs, such as 2CB, known colloquially as "pink cocaine," are popular with elite youth, and are now apparently being produced in-country. The lucrative trade is leading to turf wars, with the Cali killings being the most evident example.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A suburban St. Louis cop spoils his department's first day in operation, a Minnesota jail guard gets charged with slinging meth, and Denver cops have to pay out big time for a bad drug raid. Let's get to it:

In New Flordell Hills, Missouri, a New Flordell Hills police officer was arrested last Wednesday< on charges he was pilfering pills from the evidence room. Officer Jeremy admitted stealing the tranquilizer after he was involved in a crash the following day and the pills were found in his possession. He is charged with stealing and possessing a controlled substance, and has now resigned. It was the first day for the new suburban St. Louis police force.

In Minneapolis, a Hennepin County jail guard was indicted last Friday on charges he was part of a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy. Guard Ashley Mariakas, 26, was one of 11 people indicted in the case, which involved the distribution of 26 pounds of meth. Mariakas is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute meth and two counts of actual distribution. She is not accused of peddling meth at the jail.

In Denver, a jury awarded $1.8 million to a family in a wrongful prosecution case on September 26. The case stemmed from a 2009 raid on a home previously occupied by drug dealers and prostitutes, but into which a new family had moved. Denver Police entered the home without a warrant, then arrested the family on trumped up charges of interference with a police officer and misdemeanor assault. All the charges were later dropped.

Chronicle AM: Carl Sagan Pot Papers Released, Supreme Court Takes Up Highway Drug Dog Detentions, More (10/8/14)

The Library of Congress unveils writings on marijuana and drug reform from astronomer Carl Sagan, pot pops up in the Oklahoma Senate race, the Supreme Court will take up the issue of how long police can detain someone on the side of the road waiting for a drug dog, the "Baby Bou Bou" SWAT raid case isn't over yet, and more. Let's get to it:

Carl Sagan
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Pops Up in Oklahoma US Senate Race. Even in Oklahoma, though that is not really a big surprise, given that Democratic contender state Sen. Constance Johnson is a leading Sooner advocate for legalization. At a debate in Stillwater with Republican contender US Rep. James Lankford, Johnson surprised no one by standing by her well-known position on pot. And Lankford surprised no one by opposing it. Click on the link to get some flavor.

Carl Sagan's Writings on Marijuana, Drug Policy in New Library of Congress Exhibit. The Library of Congress in Washington, DC, has made available to the public a huge trove of astronomer and PBS "Cosmos" host Carl Sagan's papers relating to marijuana and drug policy. Sagan was a proponent of marijuana and drug reform, and Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority has penned a nice piece about the collection and its release. Click on the title link to read it.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Restrictive Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Committee Assignment. The bill, Senate Bill 1182, passed the Senate last month, but is being slowed down by Republicans in the House. It was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, but Republican members said it would have to have at least two public hearings before going to a committee vote. With only four working days left in the legislative session, that isn't going to happen this year.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court to Rule on Roadside Detention of Motorists While Cops Await Arrival of Drug Dogs. How long can police hold a driver on the side of the road while waiting for a drug dog to arrive to do a sniff (which the Supreme Court considers not a search)? The US Supreme Court agreed yesterday to take up a case that could decide that issue. In the case, a Nebraska man was stopped for an alleged traffic infraction and ticketed by the officer 21 minutes later. But he remained detained by the officer for another six minutes, until backup arrived. The officer then used the dog to sniff the car, the dog alerted, a search ensued, and methamphetamine was found. The man pleaded guilty, but appealed, saying his detention after the ticket was written amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Oral arguments will be presented early next year. The court opinion will likely be announced by June 2015.

Family of Toddler Burned in Georgia SWAT Drug Raid Seeks Federal Charges. After a Georgia grand jury declined to indict any police officers in the botched drug raid that left toddler Bounkham "Baby Bou Bou" severely injured when a SWAT officer through a flash-bang grenade in his play pen, his family is seeking a meeting this week with federal prosecutors in hopes of getting federal charges filed. While the local grand jury failed to indict, it was highly critical of law enforcement practices in the case. "There should be no such thing as an emergency narcotics investigation," the jurors wrote in their report. Georgia US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement that her office is looking into it. "Federal authorities have been participating in the investigation of this terrible incident, and now that a state grand jury has declined to return an indictment. We will review the matter for possible federal charges," said Yates.

International

Bolivian Presidential Candidates on Drug Policy. The PanAm Post has a nice analysis of the drug policy positions of the various candidates in the Bolivian presidential elections set for Sunday. While sitting President Evo Morales has won kudos for his coca policies, he has not undertaken any broader reform initiatives, such as drug decriminalization or legalization. Neither have any of the other candidates. The candidates are united in their "prohibitionist insanity," the article notes. Morales is expected to be reelected.

El Chapo Guzman Indicted in New York for Murders. Mexico's imprisoned Sinaloa cartel leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, has been indicted for 12 murders in an indictment issued by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn. He and his successor, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, were also charged with money-laundering more than $14 billion in drug profits. But don't look for him to be heading for New York any time soon; he faces numerous charges in Mexico, as well.

Mexican Drug Gang Hit Men Linked to Mass Murder of Student Teachers in Guerrero. The attorney general for the state of Guerrero said Tuesday that some of the 44 rural teachers' college students who went missing last week after clashing with police in the city of Iguala were probably executed by drug traffickers working with crooked police. Two men who identified themselves as members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang have supposedly confessed to killing at least 17 of them. Authorities have found a mass grave containing 27 bodies. The state attorney general said it appeared local police arrested the students, then handed them over to the hit men. The students were said to be political radicals and had been protesting against local officials. This sort of repressive political violence is nothing new in Guerrero, but the mass murder is one of the largest in recent Mexican history.

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.)

Chronicle AM: Dallas to Stop Marijuana Arrests, Rick Steves Campaigns, DEA Agent Makes Fake Facebook Page, More (10/7/14)

It's crunch time for those marijuana initiatives, Dallas will quit making small-time pot arrests, Colorado's governor disses the voters, Pennsylvania's medical marijuana bill is stalled, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Dallas to Quit Arresting People for Small-Time Marijuana Possession. Starting in January, police in Dallas County, Texas, will only ticket -- not arrest -- people caught in possession of two ounces or less of marijuana. But those cited will still face misdemeanor charges, a fine of up to $2,000 and up to six months in jail (though that is rarely the case). The state legislature in 2007 voted to allow jurisdictions to implement cite-and-release, but only a handful of locales in the state have exercised that option.

Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off in Lewiston, Maine. The campaign to legalize marijuana locally through ballot initiatives in Lewiston and South Portland, Maine, kicked off its final month of electioneering with a rally today in Lewiston. The effort is led by the Marijuana Policy Project and is part of a plan to legalize the herb statewide in the near future. Portland, the state's largest city, passed a similar initiative last year.

Rick Steves Hits the Road for the Oregon Legalization Initiative. The charming and mild-mannered PBS travel show host is kicking off a 9-stop tour in support of Measure 91. Steves, who lives in next-door Washington state, also played a critical role in that state's successful 2012 legalization initiative.

DC Council Votes to Strengthen Law to Seal Records for Past Marijuana Arrests. The DC Council voted unanimously today in favor of a bill that would improve the process by which a person can seal criminal records pertaining to conduct that has since been decriminalized or legalized. The council is expected to take a final vote on the bill in late October and it will then go to Mayor Vincent Gray for his review. The council decriminalized marijuana possession earlier this year, and the Measure 71 possession and cultivation legalization initiative appears poised to pass in November.

Colorado Governor Says Voters Were "Reckless" to Legalize Marijuana. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said during a campaign debate with Republican challenger Bob Beauprez that Colorado voters were "reckless" for voting to legalize marijuana. "Any governor that looks at doing this before we see what the consequences are, I would view it as reckless," he said. But what about voters who voted for it? "I think for us to do that without having all the data, there is not enough data, and to a certain extent you could say it was reckless. I'm not saying it was reckless because I'll get quoted everywhere, but if it was up to me I wouldn't have done it, right. I opposed it from the very beginning. In matter of fact, all right, what the hell -- I'll say it was reckless." Hickenlooper may call voters "reckless," but he has overseen the good faith implementation of the voters' will. Beauprez opposes marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Appears Stalled in House. The state Senate last month passed a restrictive medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 1182, but even that appears to be too much for the Republican-controlled House. Spokesmen for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County) said the body wants to carefully study the bill, including holding public hearings. That means there is virtually no chance it will come to a vote this session. But some Democrats have some legislative maneuvers planned, including trying to attach it to another bill, so stay tuned.

Law Enforcement

Grand Jury Fails to Indict Cops in "Baby Bou Bou" Georgia SWAT Raid. A grand jury in Habersharm County has decided against charging any police officers in a botched drug raid in which a toddler was severely injured by a flash-bang grenade thrown by a SWAT officer. "Baby Bou Bou" Phonesvanh's nose was nearly blown off his face and he spent weeks hospitalized after the raid, in which no drugs were found and no one was arrested. The county has also refused to pay the child's medical bills. Look for a civil suit to come.

DEA Agent Set Up Fake Facebook Page in Woman's Name Without Her Consent. A DEA agent investigating a drug case took over a woman's identity, creating a fake Facebook page in her name and posting racy photos from her seized cell phone. The woman was a minor player in a drug case and didn't know her identity had been commandeered until friends asked her why she was posting racy photos. The woman hadn't even set up a Facebook page of her own. DEA Agent Timothy Sinnigen set up the fake page and used it to communicate with at least one drug suspect. Now, the Justice Department is arguing in federal court that it was perfectly okay for him to do so. Click on the link to read the whole sordid tale.

Sentencing

Ten Percent Drop in Federal Prison Sentences of a Year or More. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University reports that the number of federal prison sentences of a year or more has dropped by 10% over the past five years. Only about one in four people convicted of federal crimes received sentences of greater than a year. Drug offenders accounted for nearly one-third (32.4%) of them. The TRAC data doesn't specify whether this figure has gone up or down in the past five years.

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.)

Georgia Homeowner Killed in Fruitless Drug Raid

A Georgia SWAT team shot and killed an armed homeowner during a September 24 drug raid sparked by the word of a self-confessed meth addict and burglar who had robbed the property the previous day. No drugs were found. David Hooks, 59, becomes the 34th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WMAZ TV 13, Laurens County sheriff's deputies with the drug task force and special response team (SWAT team) conducted a no-knock search on Hooks' home in East Dublin on the evening of the 24th. When the raiders burst through the back door of the residence, they encountered Hooks carrying a shotgun. Multiple deputies opened fire, shooting and killing Hooks.

According to his family, Hooks was not a drug user or seller, but was a successful businessman who ran a construction company that, among other things, did work on US military bases. Hooks had passed background checks and had a security clearance.

The search warrant to raid Hooks' home came about after a local meth addict named Rodney Garrett came onto the property two nights earlier and stole one of Hooks' vehicles. Garrett claimed that before he stole the vehicle, he broke into another vehicle on the property and stole a plastic bag. Garrett claimed he thought the bag contained money, but when he later examined it and discovered it contained 20 grams of meth and a digital scale, he "became scared for his safety" and turned himself in to the sheriff's office.

Hooks' family, however, said that Garrett had been identified as the burglar and a warrant issued for his arrest the day after the burglary. He was arrested the following day; the raid happened that same night.

Garrett's claims were the primary basis for the search warrant. But investigators also claimed they were familiar with the address from a 2009 investigation in which a suspect claimed he had supplied ounces of meth to Hooks, who resold it. Nothing apparently ever came of that investigation, but the five-year-old uncorroborated tip made it into the search warrant application.

And it was enough to get a search warrant from a compliant magistrate. Hooks family attorney Mitchell Shook said that even though the warrant was not a no-knock warrant, the Laurens County SWAT team did not announce its presence, but just broke down the back door of the residence.

Shook said David Hooks' wife, Teresa, looked outside and saw people with hoods on the evening of the raid and woke up her husband. Fearing the burglar or burglars who had struck two nights earlier had returned, Hooks armed himself.

"David and Teresa were under the impression that the burglars were back and that a home invasion was imminent," the family said in a statement. "David armed himself to protect his wife and his home. Despite the fact that the illegal search warrant did not have a 'no knock' clause, the Drug Task Force and SRT members broke down the back door of the family's home and entered firing in excess of 16 shots. These shots were from multiple firearms and from both 40 caliber handguns and assault rifles. Several shots were fired through a blind wall at David with the shooters not knowing who or what was on the other side of the wall. The trajectory of the shots, coupled with the number of shots infers a clear intent on behalf of the shooters to kill David Hooks."

"The task force and the SRT members broke down the back door of the family's home and entered, firing an excessive sixteen shots. There is no evidence that David Hooks ever fired a weapon" said Shook.

Nor was there any evidence he was involved in drugs. As Shook emphasized, after the shooting, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted an intensive 44-hour search of the property and came up with not one item of contraband.

Hooks' family is called on the Laurens County district attorney to do its own investigation of the killing after he receives the GBI's report and "take whatever action the law and justice demands." It is also calling on Sheriff W.A. "Bill" Harrell to immediately suspend all the officers involved until the investigations and any prosecutions are settled.

East Dublin, GA
United States

Chronicle AM: CO MedMJ Crackdown, Heroin ODs Up, Mexican Soldiers Charged in Massacre, More (10/2/14)

A Colorado legislative panel wants to tighten up on medical marijuana, a South Carolina legislative panel studies medical marijuana, the CDC says heroin overdoses are up, a North Carolina county engages in more drug war same old-same old, and there's news from Mexico, too. Let's get to it:

cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Colorado Lawmakers Want to Crack Down on Medical Marijuana. A state legislative panel, the Marijuana Revenues Interim Committee, yesterday recommended filing legislation that would tighten up the medical marijuana caregiver system and clarify that local governments can collect taxes on recreational marijuana. The bill would require all primary caregivers to register with the state. Officials fear that their inability to track caregiver grows under the present system is helping the black market. The bill would limit caregivers to six plants per patient and limit patients to one caregiver. Medical marijuana supporters questioned why a committee charged with revenue issues was concerning itself with medical marijuana laws.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Panel Meets Today. A joint legislative panel studying the uses of medical marijuana in the state is meeting at the Medical University of South Carolina today. It's the first of three meetings to be held around the state to gather information. The state last year approved a CBD cannabis oil bill; these meetings are designed to help lawmakers gather information and refine the state's marijuana and hemp laws.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

CDC Report Says Heroin Overdose Death Rate Doubled. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that the heroin overdose death rate doubled between 2010 and 2012 in the 28 states covered in the report, but that twice as many people died from prescription opiate overdoses. The study says two things appear to be driving the increase in heroin overdoses: widespread exposure to prescription opiates and increasing rates of opiate addiction, and easier availability of heroin. Click on the link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Craven County, NC, Makes Penny-Ante Drug Roundup. After a "two-month investigation," the Craven County Narcotics Unit and the New Bern Police Narcotics Unit (CNET-the Coastal Narcotics Enforcement Team) rounded up 16 drug suspects this week, but the charges are less than impressive. Of the 16 people arrested in the big bust, five were charged only with possession of drug paraphernalia (which was also tacked onto nearly everyone else's charges, too), two were charged solely with failure to appear in court, and one was charged with possession of marijuana in jail. Five were charged with "possession with intent to sell" various drugs and one with "possession with intent to sell" marijuana. One person was charged with possession of meth precursors. Of the 16 arrested, only one was arrested on an actual drug trafficking charge.

International

Mexican Special Forces Grab Beltran-Leyva Cartel Head. Hector Beltran Leyva, head of the Beltran Leyva cartel since his brother Arturo was killed by Mexican marines in 2009, was captured at a San Miguel de Allende restaurant yesterday. It's another coup against the cartels for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which has also captured Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and at least two leaders of the feared Zetas cartel.

Three Mexican Soldiers Charged With Murder in Massacre of 22. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam announced late Tuesday that three soldiers have been charged with homicide in the shooting deaths of 22 people killed in Mexico state on June 30. The military originally said they were cartel members who died in a shoot-out with troops, but witnesses described them being executed after surrendering. Just last week, the Defense Ministry had charged eight of the soldiers with crimes against military justice.

Chronicle AM: UMass Snitch Policy Review, Baby Bou Bou SWAT Grand Jury, More (9/30/2014)

Medical marijuana news from several states today, the Baby Bou Bou SWAT raid case is before a grand jury, UMass examines its student snitch policy, DA candidates in Houston are fighting over drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Mississippi Group Wants Legalization Initiative. A group of activists filed a petition Monday with the secretary of state's office seeking a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. This is the first step in putting a measure before the voters. The group is called Mississippi for Cannabis. We're not sure if these are the same folks, but there is a Legalize Marijuana in Mississippi Facebook page.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Supreme Court Hearing Patient's Wrongful Firing Lawsuit Today. The state Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who worked for the Dish Network until he was fired four years ago for testing positive for marijuana. Dish Network argues that even though medical marijuana is legal under state law, it is still illegal under federal law, and the firing was thus justified.

New York US Senators Ask Feds to Approve State's Request to Transport Medical Marijuana Across State Lines. US Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Charles Schumer (D) Monday sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) request for the Justice Department to allow the state to import high-CBD cannabis oil from out of state. "As members of Congress whose constituents suffer from these illnesses, we feel that the federal government ought to do what it can to help these children," the senators wrote. "Therefore, we are requesting that you provide the state of New York with a waiver that would prohibit federal prosecution for the importation of cannabidol in the rare cases where medical marijuana is imported between two states with legalized medical marijuana, and the amount is small, finite and prescription-based."

Second Annual Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Festival This Weekend. The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition is hosting the festival to celebrate the eighth year of the state's medical marijuana program. Click on the link for more details.

Wisconsin Activists Target Recalcitrant Legislators With Billboards. Sick and tired of seeing bills blocked in the state legislature, medical marijuana activists are targeting two key opponents, Republican state Sens. Mary Lazich and Leah Vukmir, in a newly unveiled billboard campaign. The billboards urge readers to call the two senators and ask them why Wisconsin patients have no access to medical marijuana.

Drug Policy

Harris County, Texas, (Houston) DA Race All About Drugs. A debate over the weekend between Republican incumbent Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson and Democratic challenger Kim Ogg was all about drugs. The candidates both suggested that they would allow some low-level marijuana possession offenders to avoid permanent criminal records, although Ogg would go further than Anderson. They also tussled over whether or not to press felony charges for trace amounts of cocaine or crack pipes, with Anderson taking the harder line. Click on the link for more flavor.

Prescription Opiates

Doctors' Group Issues Pain Reliever Guidelines, Says Not Appropriate for Many Cases. The American Academy of Neurology has released a new position paper, Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain, that says the risks of opioid pain relievers outweigh their benefits in treating chronic headaches, low back pain, and fibromyalgia. "Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction," the group concludes. The position paper calls for increased screening, monitoring, and drug testing of opioid-using pain patients, but has little to say about actually treating chronic pain.

Law Enforcement

UMass to Review Whether to Allow Students to Act as Drug Snitches. In the wake of the heroin overdose death of a student who had been arrested by campus police on drug charges, but who was allowed to become an informant for police, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst said Monday it would review the program that allows police to recruit students as snitches. Questions have been raised about whether the program gets students appropriate treatment for drug problems and whether the students' parents are notified of violations, as they are with alcohol violations.

Georgia Grand Jury Hearing Evidence on "Baby Bou Bou" SWAT Raid. A Habersham County grand jury Monday began reviewing evidence in the case of "Baby Bou Bou," the toddler who was seriously injured when a SWAT team member on a drug raid threw a flash bang grenade into his play pen. The SWAT team found neither drugs nor the individual they were seeking. The grand jury will review the evidence surrounding the drug raid and determine if criminal charges should be filed against authorities who executed it.

International

Eleven Killed in Mexico Cartel Clashes in Chihuahua. Mexican prosecutors said clashes last Friday between Sinaloa and Juarez cartel members in the town of Guachochi, Chihuahua, in the Tarahumara mountain range, left 11 people dead. No Mexican security forces were involved, they said. The isolated region, home to the Tarahumara Indians, has been the scene of repeated clashes between rival drug gangs.

Canadian Drug Reformers Rally in Ottawa. Drug reformers, health lobbyists, and the Liberal Party's health critic, Hedy Fry, gathered on Parliament Hill Tuesday to advocate for more enlightened drug policies. Current policies unfairly criminalize drug users and don't effectively treat addiction, they said. Click on the link for more detail.

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.)

Did Miami Police Wrongfully Execute Four, Including Their Informant? [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Part II of his series on ATF Fake Drug Stings Across America.

During the 1980s, Miami was a rich, glittering, southern city, awash in cocaine, and all sorts of other illegal drugs. The drug scene was so heavy and dangerous, its real-life drama inspired the popular Miami Vice TV series and the classic movie Scarface, as well as the more recent Cocaine Cowboy, an award-winning documentary based on the city's cocaine trafficking scene.

Today, Miami is no longer in the spotlight, but the drug business is still booming. And now there's a new twist: Law enforcement has made the dangerous world of the illicit drug trade even more dangerous by creating schemes to deceive would-be players into robbing drug trafficking stash houses that don't exist, setting up confrontations between robbers and police or robbers and homeowners over crimes cooked up by law enforcement itself.

The "fake robbery sting" is the brainchild of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), and the pro-active tactic has proven wildly popular, with state and local law enforcement agencies across the country engaging in the stings, particularly in the inner cities. In Miami, the results have included the mass killings of suspects by police SWAT teams under highly questionable circumstances.

A 2011 "fake robbery sting" that left four people dead -- including a police informant -- gunned down by a Miami-Dade SWAT team, has brought the program into harsh relief. Tricked by an informant into believing the residence was loaded with marijuana and large amounts of cash, the four men showed up armed and wearing ski masks.

SWAT officers shot and killed all four of them, including informant Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, 39, an ex-con who helped police set up the sting. Also killed by police were Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., age 52, Jorge Lemus, 39, and Antonio Andrew, 36.

A fifth suspect Gonzalez-Valdez Jr., the son of Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., was the only survivor. Police arrested him at the scene in the getaway vehicle, an Cadillac Escalade located outside the targeted residence. Gonzalez- Valdez Jr. later pled guilty to a litany of brutal home invasion robberies and got 27 years in federal prison.

The dead informant, Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia (Dade County)
Prosecutors investigated the killings, but got little cooperation from the SWAT team. Of the 11 officers involved in the mass killing, only four -- one from each fatal scene -- agreed to give statements to investigators, and only as long as no prosecutors were present. The other seven officers refused to give statements.

Prosecutors decided not to prosecute any of the police involved, making it clear as they did that they were frustrated by their inability to bring charges and that they believed serious police misconduct was involved. Especially damning to police was the State Attorney's Office (SAO) memorandum on the resolution of the case. The SAO report found one killing justified, but barely minced words about the rest of the lethal operation and police cooperation with investigators:

"Due to a number of unusual, counter-intuitive, suspicious and/or disturbing factors present in the other three shootings, we cannot state definitively that those shootings were legally justified. Nevertheless, because we do not have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to disprove the version of events given by the three officers and are thus compelled to accept their testimony as truthful [bolding and italics in original],… there is insufficient evidence to prove an unlawful killing of Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, Antonio Andrew, or Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. by any of the other 10 officers involved in the events of June 30, 2011."

That claim of legal compulsion drew a scoffing rebuke from Jeanne Baker, an attorney for the ACLU of Florida. "There's no rule of law that says that the prosecutors when evaluating a case are compelled to accept as truthful the testimony of the subject of the investigation," she told Miami NBC 6 News.

The SAO report further accused the officers of lying to investigators, moving dead bodies, and possibly planting evidence. The shootings were so disturbing that the State Attorneys went so far as to say "the officers weren't necessarily innocent."

The prosecutors' outrage was palpable, but what really lit up the city was the release by NBC 6 News of a video tape from a police helicopter's infrared camera that showed a replay of the men shot multiple times, although it appeared the men had not fired a shot at the officers and actually had surrendered.

Confronted with the now public video evidence, Miami police officials went on the offensive, expressing resentment that NBC Channel 6 got access to the secret police helicopter surveillance video. Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson asked the State Attorney's Office to investigate how the video tape showing the shootings fell into the hands of reporters.

A police spokesman said the informant, Rosendo Betancourt, defied officers' orders not to go onto the property, and that the officers, hidden in the dark, said it appeared the would-be robbers were trying to reach for weapons.

But consider the case of Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. The one weapon -- fully loaded -- that was allegedly his was located a few yards from where his body was found. Police had shot him 40 times as cowered against a tree in the fetal position. Police did not explain how Gonzalez-Valdez was threatening them with a weapon yards away from him.

Police officials also complained about the release of information in a State Attorney's Office report revealing that Betancourt, had been wearing a well-disguised audio wrist watch to record conversations. Betancourt could be seen wearing the watch during a surveillance video recorded earlier on June 30, 2011, the day of the killings.

Betancourt had been given code words to signal to police that he was their informant, and the audio surveillance from his watch would have showed whether or not he did so. But the audio wrist watch somehow went missing.

"That would've been a critical piece of evidence," said Jose Arrojo, a Chief Assistant at the State's Attorney Office.

Although police managed to thwart any attempt to prosecute them, the taxpayers of Miami-Dade have not been so fortunate. In July, the city agreed to pay $600,000 to the families of three of the men to settle a deadly force lawsuit. Betancourt's family didn't settle, and their lawsuit against the city remains pending.

The Redland sting -- named after the neighborhood where it went down -- remains one of the bloodiest episodes in a city that has seen its share of questionable police killings. And it raises serious questions about police misconduct and impunity.

"Are there questions marks? Of course. There are too many questions marks," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle admitted in an interview with Miami's NBC Channel 6.

Fernandez-Rundle said it was reasonable to conclude that based on the evidence that the officers acted with negligence and may have violated proper police procedures by shooting the men, particularly when an analysis of audio recording of the shooting proved "definitely" that six of the officers did not hear a gunshot from one of the dead men, nor did anyone find a rifle belonging to any of the men, as reported by an officer who said Jorge Lemus had a rifle.

Fernandez-Rundle also cited as another factor in her decision not to file charges a Florida appeals court decision that, she said, held "that any violation of police procedures and training is not admissible as evidence in criminal cases."

"The cops violated his civil rights," Jesse Dean-Kluger, an attorney involved in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Antonio Andrew, told the Miami New Times in 2012. Dean-Kluger argued the cops led the men into a scheme to expect an armed confrontation with drug dealers.

Deadly Operation: An Informant Comes Forward

So where did everything began in the first place? While most people snitch to avoid going to prison or for the easy money, police said Betancourt walked into a Miami-Dade robbery detail in June 2011 out of a sense of moral duty. He told a harrowing tale about being "sick and tired" of extreme violence inflicted on victims by a group of brutal home-invasion robbers.

Betancourt said the violence carried out by the men he knew personally included savage beatings, the cutting of one man's scrotum, using a hammer to pound the toes and fingers of the victims, cutting off fingers, and issuing threats to cut off childrens' fingers to force parents to reveal hidden valuables and money.

Police investigators questioned Betancourt as to how he knew so much about the crimes, Betancourt explained the men regularly sold him the stolen goods that were taken during the robberies. He identified Roger Gonzalez Valdez Sr., Jorge Lemus, Antoinio Lewis and Gonzalo-Valdez Jr. -- as the men responsible for the violent robberies Miami-Dade cops were already investigating.

Police developed a scheme to Betancourt as an informant to lure the men into a plot to rob a drug dealer's marijuana stash house in Redland, a suburb of Miami.

Attorney Matthew Leto is representing the Betancourt-Garcia family. (hlhlawfirm.com)
Between 8:00pm and 8:30pm on June 30, 2011, the men arrived at the "fake drug house" located at 18930-216th Street SW in Redland. Once the men agreed on an entry plan, they cut through a fence to reach the house -- and as they trudged closer; suddenly, police snipers, hidden among the shadows, armed with Colt M4 Commando assault rifles, stormed out from different directions in the dark to pursue the men who, now aware they'd been set up, scattered throughout the property. It is unclear if the officers commanded the men to "halt," but officers fired upon each suspect.

The first suspect killed, an armed Jorge Lemus, was shot to death while crouching down behind a vehicle. Informant Rosendo Betancourt died next in a hail of bullets. An overhead police helicopter infrared camera captured Betancourt surrendering to police with his hands up in the air. Next, police ordered Betancourt to lie on the ground, and crawl towards the officers. Betancourt complied.

The SAO report stated Sergeant Manuel Malgor then ordered Betancourt to turn over, and at this point, according to Malgor, this is when the informant got blasted 23 times -- just as it appeared to Malgor that Betancourt reached for his gun. Indeed a weapon was found in Betancourt's waistband but the lawyers representing Betancourt's family suspected the police planted the gun.

They had other questions, too. Why didn't Betancourt utter the code word assigned by police: "I'm heading to Disney World -- or help!" And what happened to the missing audio watch that Betancourt was wearing to record conversations between himself, the police and the robbers, a watch that could be clearly seen that he was wearing during the "real time" surveillance -- only a few hours before he was killed.

Aerial video footage did not actually capture Sgt. Malgor and fellow officers shooting Betancourt, thus, the prosecutors said, they "could not disprove the Sergeant's story," but they seriously questioned why the officer did not handcuff Betancourt as he laid on his stomach.

"The police let him down," a family member lamented.

Antonio Andrew was shot a dozen times while lying on the ground. Again, the officers claimed Andrew reached for a gun, although State prosecutors determined the officers gave contradictory orders.

For example, one officer hollered at Andrew, "Don't move your hands, and let me see your hands underneath your waistband." When Andrew obeyed the second command, an officer said Andrew made a quick movement towards his waist area. And this is when officers fired a dozen shots, killing Andrew instantly.

When a NBC Channel 6 reporter asked Assistant State Attorney Don Horn how someone can make a simultaneous move for his waistband -- when an officer said Andrew's hands were already in his waistband, Horn replied in disgust, "I don't know. It made no sense to me."

Even more disturbing, Horn wasn't able to question the officer (why) he gave obvious conflicting commands or ask the officer any other question because the officers, as mentioned earlier, would only speak to investigators if no prosecutor was present.

Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. either dropped or discarded his gun as he tried to flee the scene. Police eventually found Gonzalez cowering at the base of a tree. The officer seen on the released video behind the tree with Gonzalez's "back" to him said in his statement that Gonzalez made a quick move into his waistband, a move that allegedly forced the officers to open fire, striking Gonzalez 40 times out of 50 shots fired.

But prosecutors question whether the officer had a good view of Gonzalez near the tree, as the officer claimed. "Our repeated reviews of the video caused us to question whether the officer... was even in a position to see what he saw," the attorneys wrote.

State prosecutors also said the evidence showed that officers moved Gonzalez-Valdez's body after they shot him dead. Here's why prosecutors suspected this: a black hand-held police radio was found in Gonzalez's hand.

"We have a system of justice that require apprehension, prosecution, conviction and sentencing," said attorney Justin Leto of Miami, who handled the wrongful death lawsuit for Jorge Lemus and Antoinio Andrew. "I don't see any evidence indicating these people needed to be shot on sight," Leto said.

Justin Leto's brother Matthew is representing the Betancourt family in its pending federal lawsuit.

"The police did not take care of Mr. Betancourt like they promised," said Matthew Leto.

That lawsuit appears to be the end of the story. Four men are dead -- gunned down by police in an operation more reminiscent of an elite military anti-terror raid than of what we traditionally think of as civilian law enforcement -- and there is no legal accountability. Impunity is something we criticize in heavy-handed Latin American or Middle Eastern governments, but perhaps we need to look in the mirror.

Miami, FL
United States

Chronicle AM: Mexican Coca, Saudis Behead Another Trafficker, Feds Raid LA Fashion District, More (9/11/14)

A federal CBD medical marijuana bill picks up more sponsors, so does a federal asset forfeiture reform bill, Georgia advocates want whole whole plant medical marijuana, Mexico's first coca patch is busted, Saudi Arabia beheads another drug offender, and more. Let's get to it:

Coca plant. Mexico has found its first plantation. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

York, Maine, Selectmen Refuse to Put Legalization Initiative on Ballot, But… Town selectmen voted against putting the initiative from Citizens for a Safer Maine on the November ballot, but since petitioners have already gathered sufficient signatures to force the issue, they can get their petition notarized to be placed on the ballot. York will join Lewiston and South Portland in voting on initiatives this year; Portland approved one last year.

Medical Marijuana

Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up More Sponsors. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act (HR 5226), which would exclude cannabidiol (CBD) from the definition of marijuana, has gained new sponsors. It now has 19 cosponsors -- 11 Democrats and eight Republicans. The latest are Reps. Ann Wagner (R-MO), Matthew Cartwright (D-PA), and Chris Stewart (R-UT).

Georgia Advocates Call for Whole Plant Medical Marijuana, Not Just CBD Oil. As legislative hearings in Macon continue to examine the use of CBD oil, medical marijuana advocates are calling for whole plant medical marijuana. "The cannabis plant contains many compounds that have proven to be effective in treating a variety of conditions," said Georgia C.A.R.E director James Bell. "We should not be determining who can and cannot benefit from this healing plant."

Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 5212, now has five cosponsors. The latest are Reps. Stevan Pearce (R-NM), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Reid Ribble (R-WI). All cosponsors so far are Republicans. The bill, filed by Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-MI), would increase citizen protections against federal asset forfeiture actions.

Law Enforcement

Feds Raid LA Fashion District in Cartel Money Laundering Probe. More than a thousand law enforcement officers spread out across LA's fashion district Wednesday, raiding more than 60 warehouses, storefronts, and residences, arresting nine people and seizing $65 million in cash that they said was being laundered for Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The feds called the mass bust Operation Fashion Police.

International

OAS Head Claims Regional Consensus on Drug Reform. Speaking in front of the Inter-American Dialog in Washington, DC, Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said Wednesday that regional leaders have reached consensus on four drug policy reform issues: to emphasize a public health approach, to seek out alternatives to incarceration, to stay strong against organized crime, and to work on strengthening regional institutions. Insulza's remarks come ahead of an OAS Special General Assembly to be held in Guatemala next week.

Mexico's First Coca Plantation Discovered in Chiapas. Mexican soldiers have seized more than 1,600 coca plants being cultivated in southern Chiapas state, near the Guatemalan border. Mexican military and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) officials said it was the first time coca planting had been discovered in the country. "It's a pretty troubling discovery," said UNODC Mexico representative Antonio Mazzitelli. It could amount to "a small-scale experiment to see if there is a possibility of replicating" coca production in Mexico. Coca is currently grown only in the Andes, although there is nothing stopping it from being cultivated elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia Beheads Another Drug Offender. Authorities in Saudi Arabia Tuesday beheaded a Pakistani national convicted of smuggling "a large quantity of heroin." They have executed at least seven other drug traffickers in recent weeks, and 49 people overall so far this year. It's unclear how many of the 49 were drug offenders.

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