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Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 50,000 people, including more than 15,000 in 2010 and another 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrests or killings of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Thursday, January 26

In Ciudad Juarez, a man was shot and killed inside a restaurant in front of dozens of customers. Several people who were with the victim ran from the scene.

Friday, January 27

In Nuevo Laredo, four gunmen and a soldier were killed during a fire fight. The incident began when gunmen traveling in six vehicles opened fire on an army patrol. Five soldiers were wounded and taken to a local hospital.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least ten people were murdered in several incidents. Ten more would be killed on Saturday.

Saturday, January 28

In Torreon, five people were gunned down by a group of men wielding assault rifles. Four other individuals were wounded in the incident.

In Monterrey, three bodies were found dead along with a message from a criminal organization.

Monday, January 30

In Sinaloa, the commander of army forces in the state said that marijuana and poppy growers have been severely hampered by drought and that his forces are detecting fewer grow sites than in previous years. Another army spokesman said that the drought did not mean a drop-off in overall cartel production.

In Nuevo Leon, police announced the capture of a suspected Zeta who allegedly confessed to killing 75 people, at least 36 of whom were taken from passenger buses. Enrique Elizondo Flores, "El Arabe," was arrested on January 20 but authorities say they delayed the announcement to give them time to verify his claims. Over 90 people were killed in three bus attacks thought to have been carried out by the Zetas in January and March 2011.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least seven people were killed.  In one incident, three gunmen were killed in a fire fight after attacking the police. At least eight municipal police officers have been killed in January in attacks that have been blamed on the New Juarez Cartel. In other incidents, a couple was murdered in an industrial park, a man was shot dead on a bus, and a body was found in a car after having been kidnapped on Sunday.

In Guasave, Sinaloa, three soldiers were killed during a fire fight with armed men. According to reports, an army patrol was chasing several vehicles with armed men who resisted. Several gunmen were also reported killed but the bodies were taken away. A pickup truck and several weapons were left abandoned at the scene. After the shooting, a tense standoff took place between soldiers and municipal police forces, who had ignored distress calls from the soldiers involved in the shooting.

In Monterrey, seven suspected Zetas were arrested on kidnapping and other charges. Two victims were rescued from their safe house.

Tuesday, January 31

In Mexico City, a top official confirmed that an army general and 29 of his troops are on trial for crimes they committed while operating in the Ojinaga, Chihuahua border area in 2008 and 2009. General Manuel Moreno and his underlings are accused of committing at least 10 killings and reselling seized narcotics, as well as stealing property during raids. They were originally charged in August 2009.

Off the coast of California, a motorboat laden with over a ton of marijuana was intercepted by authorities. Three Mexican nationals were arrested.

In Mexico City, Mexican prosecutors announced that three former Tamaulipas governors are being investigated. Authorities have declined to say why exactly the men are being investigated, however.

[Editor's Note: We are no longer going to keep a running tally of the death toll; the figures are too unreliable. The latest figures below were released by the Mexican government in January.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600
 
Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Partial Body Count for 2011 (official): 12,093*

Total Body Count (official): 47,705*

* Official figures through September 30, 2011. Unofficial estimates put the entire year's death toll at around 16,000, meaning more than 50,000 people had been killed by the end of 2011.

Mexico

Medical Marijuana Update

From action in state legislatures to raids at dispensaries, there's no let-up in the medical marijuana action around the nation. Here's the latest:

National

Last Thursday, Americans for Safe Access filed an appeal brief in the DC Circuit to compel the federal government to reclassify marijuana for medical use. In July 2011, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denied a petition filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC), which was denied only after the coalition sued the government for unreasonable delay. The ASA brief filed is an appeal of the CRC rescheduling denial.

Alabama

The Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 25), which seeks to enact legal protections for authorized medical marijuana patients, has been marked for reintroduction in the Alabama legislature for the session starting on February 7th. It is currently assigned to the House Committee on Health. A separate medical cannabis bill, House Bill 66, has also been prefiled in the House and is also before to the House Committee on Health.

California

Last Tuesday, Union City issued a temporary ban on dispensaries, suspending the approval of business licenses or permits for medical marijuana dispensaries and their operations for 45 days. But the recently opened CHA Wellness Center was still operating as of the weekend and said it had every right to. City officials disagree.

Also last Tuesday, the Fresno city council voted to extend a temporary moratorium on outdoor grows for another 10 months after Police Chief Jerry Dyer told the council the grows were a magnet for crime and violence. Fresno Police say there have been at least five shootings and one homicide as the result of outdoor growing operations within the city limits. Police say many big marijuana growing operations have already moved indoors. Dyer said he expected to have a permanent outdoor cultivation ordinance ready by April.

Last Friday, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed issued a memo calling for the city to kill its medical marijuana ordinance. He cited the California Supreme Court's decision to review four medical marijuana cases dealing with varying interpretations of the state's law, as well as potential ballot initiative that could go before the voters in November. The city will remain in talks with dispensaries and will continue to collect taxes on them.

On Sunday, the last dispensary in La Puente closed its doors in response to the ongoing federal crackdown. La Puente Co-op was the last of three city dispensaries to go out of business in response to threat letters from the Southern California US Attorney. Azusa Patient Remedies and Trinity Wellness Center shut down the previous week. The San Gabriel Valley town was once home to 10 dispensaries.

On Monday, the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients said it had provided the Los Angeles city council with two motions to regulate dispensaries. The move comes as the council inches toward a total ban. The first motion, "public nuisance abatement," proposes that city officials start enforcing current laws to deal with complaints like loitering and sales to minors, just as the police handle such problems around liquor stores. The second motion calls for a "ban with abeyance" or a soft ban, which would create a ban that allows patient associations to prove that they that are operating in compliance with local and state law, allowing the ban to be held in abeyance as long as they continue to be in compliance.

Also on Monday, narcotics officers from the LAPD Devonshire Division raided and shut down the last dispensary in Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. The raid was at the Herbal Medical Care facility, and three people were arrested for suspicion of possession of marijuana for sale, 50 pound of marijuana and 156 plants were seized, and so were the dispensary's medical records. Police vowed to "target" some 200 other San Fernando Valley dispensaries. Since December 2008, police in the Devonshire Division have shut down 37 of what were once 60 dispensaries operating there.

Also on Monday, San Francisco announced it would resume licensing and inspecting dispensaries. The move comes after the agency said last week that the application process was suspended. Under clarified rules, existing dispensaries must sign a statement swearing that all medical marijuana sold on-site is cultivated in California and comes from a grower who is a member of the dispensary's nonprofit collective. New applications stopped being processed in December following a ruling in a state appeals court. In that case, Pack vs. the City of Long Beach, the court ruled that California cities violated federal law by regulating and permitting medical marijuana. That ruling was vacated when the California Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal, and San Francisco's city attorney gave the health department the green light to resume its program January 20, but the department had announced last week that all applications were still on hold indefinitely.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco controller's office reported that dispensaries in the city did an estimated $41 million in sales last year, generating $410,000 in medical marijuana sales tax revenues.

Also on Tuesday, Senate Bill 129 died for lack of action in the state legislature. Introduced by Sen. Mark Leno and sponsored by Americans for Safe Access, the bill would have protected the employment rights of medical marijuana patients.

Also on Tuesday, DEA agents and local law enforcement raided the Balboa Medical Center in Kearney Mesa, near San Diego. They seized medicine and medical records, but made no arrests.The raid came after similar raids on dispensaries in the area last week.

Hawaii

House Bill 1963
, which seeks to restrict the state's medical marijuana program and remove chronic pain as a qualifying condition for patients, is set for a hearing Thursday in the House Committees on Health and Public Safety and Military Affairs.

Montana

On Monday, the Missoulian reported that DEA agents investigating medical marijuana distribution had asked witnesses whether state Sen. Diane Sands (D-Missoula) might be involved in a marijuana conspiracy.Sands has been deeply involved in the state's battles over medical marijuana. She is not the only legislator being looked at; at least one more said he would not speak publicly for fear of "additional harassment."

Vermont

The Vermont Department of Public Safety has announced guidelines for the state's first medical marijuana dispensaries
. Dispensaries must operate as nonprofits and must be more than 1,000 feet from schools or daycare facilities. Would-be operators will have to pay $2,500 just to apply for one of the four dispensary certificates. If approved, dispensaries would pay the state $20,000 dollars for the first year, and $30,000 in the years to follow. Patients can go to dispensaries by appointment only, and only one patient at a time is allowed in the dispensary. There are also stiff requirements for inventory control, building security, and background checks for operators and employees.

Virginia

On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee killed a resolution that would have asked the governor to petition to DEA to reschedule marijuana. The resolution had been filed by Delegate David Englin (D-Alexandria).

Washington

Last Thursday, 42 state legislators signed a letter asking the DEA to reschedule marijuana so that it could be prescribed and sold in pharmacies. That same day, lawmakers introduced a resolution to the same effect. It is scheduled for a hearing Friday in the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee. The letter and resolution piggyback on Gov. Christine Gregoire's existing petition to reschedule marijuana, which is also supported by a handful of other states.

Montana Marijuana Initiative Saddles Up [FEATURE]

Provoked by heavy-handed federal raids and prosecutions aimed at medical marijuana providers and prodded on by the Republican-dominated state legislature's virtual repeal-disguised-as-reform of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, Montana advocates are now rolling out an initiative campaign for a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in Big Sky County.

Now organized as Montana First, this is largely the same group of activists and supporters who last summer and fall organized the successful signature-gathering campaign to put the IR-124 initiative on the November 2012 ballot. That initiative seeks to undo the legislature's destruction of the state medical marijuana distribution network.

And now they're back for more, and they're cutting to the chase.

Constitutional Initiative No.110 (CI-110) is short and sweet. It would add two sentences to the state constitution: "Adults have the right to responsibly purchase, consume, produce, and possess marijuana, subject to reasonable limitations, regulations, and taxation.  Except for actions that endanger minors, children, or public safety, no criminal offense or penalty of this state shall apply to such activities."

In addition to those two sentences, the actual ballot language informs voters which part of the constitution is to be amended, notes that "federal criminal laws regarding marijuana will not be changed by the passage of this initiative," and specifies that it would go into effect July 1, 2013, if approved by the voters.

Passage of the initiative would not directly repeal the state's marijuana laws, but would render them moot, a legal vestige of a bygone era, like laws requiring that horses in front of bars be tethered to rail posts.

"The personal use of marijuana should never result in criminal penalties," explained Barb Trego, a former deputy reserve sheriff in Lewis & Clark County and the measure's proponent. "Whatever you think about marijuana, it's easy to see that we have higher priorities for our law enforcement resources," she said.

"This measure is as simple as it can be," she continued. "The basic principle is clear as day. After voters pass it, there will be work to do to define limits and regulations. This is an appropriate task for elected leaders after the voters signal their preference to stop arresting and jailing adults for personal use of marijuana."

To qualify for the ballot, campaigners need to gather some 45,000 valid voter signatures, and Montana law also requires that those signatures include 10% of voters in at least 40 of 100 of the state's electoral districts. They have until June 22.

While campaigners can point with pride to the successful signature-gathering campaign of a few months ago, this time around, it is going to be more difficult, for a couple of reasons. First, because this is a constitutional initiative, organizers will have to gather more than double the number of signatures they needed for I-124. Second, because the state's once thriving medical marijuana distribution industry has been decimated by state and federal action, the opportunities for fundraising within the industry have largely evaporated.

"We anticipate a mostly volunteer effort; we just don't see any way to have a paid signature-gathering effort, said Montana First treasurer John Masterson, who is also the founder and head of Montana NORML. "We'd like to be able to pay six or seven zone coordinators, people we can count on to work long hours and oversee the petition effort, and we'd like to raise enough money to retain a consulting firm that specializes in making the ballot."

While relying on volunteer efforts to get an initiative on the ballot is usually a death knell for campaigns in high population states -- in California you need more than 500,000; in Michigan, more than 322,000 -- Montana is a different story. Last year's signature-gathering campaign was almost entirely all-volunteer, and it generated a cadre of nearly a thousand petitioners. That's a relatively large activist base for a state with not quite a million residents.

And then there's Montana itself, with its tradition of rugged individualism and suspicion of government. This year, for example, other initiatives being circulated include one that would allow for jury nullification and one that would  "reserve to the people" -- not the legislature -- the right to amend or repeal initiatives, as well as a legislative initiative that would bar mandated health insurance purchases that is already set for the ballot.

"Montana is highly independent," said Masterson, "and it's not just a right-wing thing. Our Democratic Gov. Schweitzer opposed REAL ID. Montana really values its independence, and these continuous and ongoing federal intrusions have people of all political stripes outraged."

It's hard to say what will happen, said political consultant and communications specialist Kate Chowela, who was deeply involved with both the IR-124 campaign and the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, but who is "not officially tied to anybody" right now.

"We need bigger signature numbers than last year, and we've been taking a real beating here," she said. "It will depend on whether people are beaten down or whether they feel called to stand up in the face of injustice. And this is happening in a very dynamic world with a lot of instability as well, with the state of the economy, Occupy Wall Street, the elections. All of these things bump up against and influence each other."

"The people in Montana found out they were not safe, the businesses weren't safe, the patients weren't safe, even being a legislator isn't safe," Chowela said, referring to the recent news that the DEA was investigating state legislators for supposed links to marijuana distribution conspiracies. "To some extent, this is the citizens coming back and looking for a way to make their position clear and look for a sense of safety that we have lost completely."

"We believe our initiative really solves a big part of the marijuana problem in America," said Masterson. "By eliminating all penalties for responsible adult use, we send a message to the federal government that if you want to prohibit this plant, Montana does not agree and will not participate in your campaign. That's how alcohol Prohibition crumbled. We think that Montanans will see that a regulated marijuana commerce and the right of adults to access marijuana is far preferable to the harm and damage caused by prohibition, to say nothing of the waste of our police resources."

The petitions have been printed up, the volunteers are hitting the pavement, and the clock is ticking down toward June. A legalization initiative has already been approved for the ballot in Washington, and one is awaiting almost certain certification in Colorado. Similar initiative campaigns are already underway in California, Michigan, Missouri, and Oregon, but Montana could be the best bet for making it a legalization initiative trifecta come November.

MT
United States

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 50,000 people, including more than 15,000 in 2010 and another 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrests or killings of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Friday, January 20

In Durango, a high-ranking aide to Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was shot and killed by an army special operations unit. Luis Alberto Cabrera Sarabia, "the Engineer," is thought to have been responsible for cartel operations in Durango and parts of Chihuahua. One gunman was killed in the operation and eleven were taken into custody. Four soldiers were wounded during the gun battle.

Saturday, January 21

In Ciudad Juarez, a police officer was shot and killed on his way to work. A police spokesman said the officers were in a private vehicle when they were cut off by another car and several men opened fire.

In Sonora, a high-ranking Sinaloa Cartel figure was captured near the city of Cananea. Fidel Mancinas Franco is thought to have been in charge of cartel operations in Nogales, Agua Prieta, Naco and Cananea. He is also wanted in the United States in connection with the deaths of 11 migrants in 2009.

Sunday, January 22

In Atoyac de Alvarrez, Guerrero, eight men were killed at a funeral for a man shot days earlier. The men were attacked by men wielding automatic weapons.

In Acapulco, three bodies were found in an empty lot. Another individual was found decapitated in a car and a fifth died during an exchange of fire with the police.

Monday, January 23

In Veracruz, Mexican marines took over the duties of the local transit police. The move is designed to root out corrupt elements of the force, which, like the Veracruz municipal police, is thought to have been thoroughly infiltrated by organized crime groups.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least eight people were murdered. In one incident, four men were shot and killed when gunmen stormed a house in the south of the city. Earlier in the day, a naked body bound in duct tape was thrown from a moving car, along with a note from a criminal group.

In Saltillo, Coahuila, four gunmen were killed by the army. A local university was temporarily locked down during the incident.

Also in Saltillo, army and police forces conducted operations inside several penal facilities looking for drugs, weapons and other suspicious items.

Tuesday, January 24

Near Mexico City, five police officers were ambushed and killed as they made a traffic stop in Ixtapaluca. The officers had stopped a vehicle when a taxi and a minivan pulled up and they were shot at by gunmen with assault rifles. Police suspect the incident was an attempt to free people who had been taken into police custody.

Across Ciudad Juarez, banners threatening the municipal police were hung at various locations. Some of the notes also mention police Chief Julian Leyzoala by name. The banners were taken down and police stations in the city were put on high alert.

Two officers were shot and killed as they traveled in a private Ford Mustang in the city. At least five municipal police officers have been killed so far in 2012.

[Editor's Note: We are no longer going to keep a running tally of the death toll; the figures are too unreliable. The latest figures below were released by the Mexican government in January.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600
 
Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Partial Body Count for 2011 (official): 12,093*

Total Body Count (official): 47,705*

* Official figures through September 30, 2011. Unofficial estimates put the entire year's death toll at around 16,000, meaning more than 50,000 people have been killed by the end of 2011.

Mexico

Medical Marijuana Update

Here's our weekly look at medical marijuana news from around the country. There's plenty going on--and late breaking news from California Wednesday afternoon.

California

On January 11, the city of Upland filed a motion that would allow it to close the G3 Holistic dispensary. The motion seeks to vacate a stay granted by the 4th District Court of Appeal in Riverside to G3 back in June. The co-op and the city disagree over whether the stay allows the dispensary to stay open despite an injunction granted to the city in August 2010 by the West Valley Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga.

Also on January 11, Mendocino County officials confirmed that the feds are threatening to sue over the county's marijuana cultivation permit program. The warning was delivered during a meeting a week earlier, county officials said. The program is already suspended pending resolution of a court case about whether local governments can regulate activities prohibited by federal law. Supervisors will consider amending its medical marijuana ordinance at the January 24 meeting.

On January 12, Shasta County medical marijuana advocates fell short in their effort to gather enough signatures to force a recent county ordinance restricting marijuana growing onto a ballot before it became law that day. Nor Cal Safe Access needed 6,544 valid signatures  to place a referendum on the ballot. Organizers didn't have an exact count, but said they gathered "thousands." It wasn't enough. The ordinance bans growing inside residences but allows it in detached accessory structures and sets limits for outdoor growing regardless of how many patients live at a residence.

Last Thursday, federal prosecutors filed a forfeiture complaint against the Sacramento Holistic Healing Center. The feds said the center had been warned in October it was operating within a thousand feet of an elementary school and high school and told to cease operations.

Also last Thursday, the owner of the Regenesis Health dispensary in Adelanto was arrested by San Bernadino County sheriff's deputies. Ramsey Najor, 69, of Hesperia was arresting for violating municipal codes and suspicion of assault on a peace officer after he dragged a deputy with his car as he fled the scene.

Also last Thursday, the Sonoma County Planning Commission recommended a cap on dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. The planners want to limit the number at nine. The Board of Supervisors will have to vote on it later. There currently are six permitted dispensaries in the unincorporated area of Sonoma County and another three pending applications. In addition there are four dispensaries within city limits: two in Santa Rosa, one in Cotati and one in Sebastopol. Those cities also have caps that prohibit additional shops. The remaining six cities in the county ban dispensaries.

Last Friday, Lake County authorities reported that dispensary numbers are dwindling. Supervisors decided last month that they are not authorized land uses in the county's jurisdiction and have moved forward with the abatement process to close them down. Of 10 dispensaries that were operating in unincorporated areas of the county, as few as three are still open.

Also last Friday, a second dispensary has opened in Murrieta despite a citywide ban. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club has been hit with thousands of dollars in fines and several code violations every day. Owner Eric McNeil said he plans to fight the ban in court. The first dispensary to open, the Cooperative Medical Group, which opened in July, is now closed by court order after going several rounds with the city's attorneys. They are still awaiting a final court decision in that case.

Also last Friday, the LA city council's Public Safety Committee approved a motion to ban dispensaries in the city. The motion now moves to the city council and Planning Commission, which next meets January 26. The motion would indefinitely shutter the estimated 300 dispensaries in the city. The motion is the work of Council Member Jose Huizar, who said he was responding to the Pack v. City of Long Beach ruling, which held that that city's ordinance, which is similar to LA's, violated federal law by attempting to regulate the sale of a federally banned drug.

On Tuesday, an East Palo Alto dispensary announced it was closing its doors because of threats from the feds. The Peninsula Care Givers Collective said it was losing its lease after its landlord received a letter from the federal government threatening to seize the building. The city had passed an ordinance in July banning dispensaries, but Peninsula Care Givers was already open by then and refused to close. The city had been pursuing civil remedies. East Palo Alto police Chief Ron Davis said the city had contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office for help in shutting down Peninsula Care Givers.

On Tuesday, the DEA and local law enforcement raided the Green Tree Solutions dispensary in Kearney Mesa. It was the fourth raid on a San Diego area dispensary in less than a week. The DEA raiders were met by protesting patients and advocates.

Also on Tuesday, the DEA raided three Costa Mesa dispensaries, along with their owners' homes. The targeted businesses were American Collective, Otherside Farms and Simple Farmer.

Also on Tuesday, the Monroe city council voted to extend a moratorium on dispensaries for 180 days, and will revisit the issue in 60 days.

Also on Tuesday, the Poway city council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries, collectives and cooperatives.The ordinance will go into effect within 30 days if the council adopts it at its February 7 meeting.
 

On Wednesday afternoon, the California Supreme Court said it would review two controversial medical marijuana cases. In Pack v. City of Long Beach, the appeals court held that federal law preempted the city's ability to regulate dispensaries and in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center, the appeals court held that cities could ban dispensaries altogether. The two rulings have been used by elected local officials to back away from regulating dispensaries and toward banning them.

Colorado

Last Thursday, federal prosecutors sent threat letters to 23 dispensaries and their landlords across Colorado warning that they must shut down within 45 days or "action will be taken to seize and forfeit their property." The letter was sent to dispensaries operating within 1,000 feet of a school.

Last Friday, state Sen. Steve King said he would reintroduce a drugged driving bill. The bill would set a per se limit on THC, meaning police would not have to prove actual impairment, only that the driver's THC levels exceeded the limit. Such laws are fervently opposed by the state's medical marijuana patients, who managed to block one last year.

Idaho

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill, HB 370, was introduced in the Idaho House. It is the brain child of Rep. Tom Trail (R-Moscow), who filed similar legislation last year. It got an informational hearing in the House Health & Welfare Committee, but didn't proceed. HB 370 would permit patients with debilitating medical conditions to be dispensed up to 2 ounces of marijuana every 28 days; they'd have to get it from state-authorized "alternative treatment centers."

Michigan

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a pair of medical marijuana cases that could clarify the state's murky law. In one case, the issues include when someone using marijuana must have consulted a doctor and received a state-issued registration card to be legally protected under the medical marijuana law. In the second case, the court must consider what constitutes an "enclosed, locked facility" under the law.

That same day, an Oakland County circuit court judge dismissed the case against seven employees of the Clinical Relief dispensary in Ferndale. Clinical Relief was the first dispensary raided back in August 2010, and since then Michigan's Court of Appeals has ruled that person-to-person marijuana sales through dispensaries are illegal, but that ruling hadn't been made when the Ferndale workers were arrested, so the judge dismissed the case. Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said she plans to appeal.

Montana

Last Friday, federal prosecutors filed charges against four more people in their ongoing offensive against the medical marijuana industry in the state. They are 33-year-old Christopher Durbin, 40-year-old Justin Maddock, 29-year-old Aaron Durbin and 33-year-old Trey Scales. Christopher Durbin also is charged with structuring, or making bank deposits of less than $10,000 in order to avoid IRS reporting requirements.

New Jersey

On January 11, Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon said he would file a bill that would keep the state's medical marijuana growers from running afoul of zoning laws. The move comes after several New Jersey communities have blocked dispensaries or grows through zoning laws.

Last Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he would not force towns to allow medical marijuana facilities. He said he would veto O'Scanlon's bill if it came to that.

On Wednesday, patients and supporters rallied at the statehouse steps in Trenton to protest Gov. Christie's failure to implement the state's medical marijuana law. The protest and press conference came two years after the measure was signed into law. There are still no dispensaries in New Jersey.

Ohio

Last Thursday, backers of a medical marijuana initiative filed language with Attorney General Mike DeWine in a first step toward getting the measure on the November ballot. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment of 2012, accompanied by nearly 3,000 signatures, will be submitted to DeWine to review the language summarizing the proposal. This is the second time the amendment has been submitted; the first proposal was rejected last year after DeWine said it did not fairly summarize the measure. If approved, backers will need to collect 385,245 signatures to get it on the ballot. A competing proposal, the Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment, has already been approved for signature gathering.

Virginia

Last Thursday, a bill, House Joint Resolution 139, requesting the governor to seek rescheduling of marijuana was filed in Richmond. Governors in four medical marijuana states have already called for rescheduling.

Washington, DC

On Tuesday, the DC city council approved emergency legislation limiting the number of marijuana cultivation permits in each ward to six. The measure came after residents of Ward 5 complained that because zoning restrictions closed off large swathes of the city to grows, their neighborhoods would be inundated.

Two More US Drug War Deaths This Week

Two men were shot and killed in separate incidents by police enforcing drug laws this week. California resident Angel Molina and Little Rock, Arkansas resident Angelo Clark become the 3rd and 4th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Police told local media in Shafter, California, that Shafter police went to a residence during a drug investigation Monday night and when they arrived, they encountered two people in the driveway. Police said they were searching the two men when they found a gun on Molina, 37. Police said Molina then tried to grab the gun, and Officer Joseph Hayes shot him in the chest.

He was taken to the Kern Medical Center, but died less than an hour later. The district attorney's office is investigating the incident. Officer Hayes is on administrative leave.

In Little Rock, police told local media a SWAT team was serving a pre-dawn search warrant at an alleged drug house when they were confronted by Clark, who they said was holding an AK-47 directed at officers. He was shot by police and died at the scene.

Police said they had been investigating the residence since early December and undercover narcotics detectives had bought crack cocaine from Clark, 31, who lived there. But there was no mention of crack being seized at the home. Instead police reported finding a small marijuana growing operation, pot plants, scales and other drug paraphernalia, a loaded AK-47 clip, and a .40 caliber hand gun.

The unnamed SWAT officer who pulled the trigger is now on administrative leave. The Little Rock Police Department is conducting separate detective division and internal affairs investigations.

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 45,000 people, including more than 15,000 in 2010 and approximately 12,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrests or killings of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Wednesday, January 4

In Altamira Prison in Tamaulipas, a clash between groups of rival inmates left 31 dead. Another 13 were wounded in the incident, which began when a group of men stormed a wing of the prison which they were forbidden from entering. Local media reported that the fighting was between members of the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, but that has not been confirmed. Later on, twenty prisoners were detained for their part in the fight.

Thursday, January 5

In Michoacan, five bodies were found abandoned in a burning SUV. Authorities believe the five men were all cartel gunmen killed during intense gun battles between rival local criminal organizations.

In Tijuana, a Sinaloa Cartel figure was arrested. Omar Cabrera Bengoecha, "R-12," is alleged to be a former municipal police officer who worked for a faction of the Tijuana Cartel that broke away from the Arellano-Felix Organization and allied with El Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel. In 2008, Cabrera Bengoecha was dismissed from the police force for his involvement in illicit narcotics transport.

Saturday, January 7

In Nuevo Leon, authorities announced the arrest of four men for participating in a kidnapping cell. One of the men was suspended professional goalkeeper Omar "El Gato" Ortiz. It is alleged that the gang -- which is tied to the Gulf Cartel -- participated in at least 20 kidnappings.

Monday, January 9

In Michoacan, 13 bodies were discovered dumped at a gas station near the town of Zitacuaro. At least two of the dead were minors. All the dead individuals were male and most had been shot in the head and tortured. A message left at the scene led authorities to believe the killings are in relation to the ongoing struggle between La Familia Michoaca and an offshoot group known as the Knights Templar.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least seven people were murdered in two multiple homicides. In one incident, a woman and three men were taken from their home by five heavily armed gunmen and executed. According to reports, the suspects wore black uniforms and said they were federal police officers. While the five men searched the home for drugs, at least ten other gunmen stood watch outside.

Tuesday, January 10

In Nuevo Leon, an army patrol killed four gunmen during an engagement near the municipality of Cerralvo, about 50 miles from the Texas border. A woman was seriously wounded in the fighting, but it is unclear if she was a kidnapping victim or lived at the rural location. Several weapons and vehicles were captured.

In Washington, the Treasury Department said in a statement that they were placing two Mexicans and a Colombian national on Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers list for their involvement with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, whom they called the world's most powerful drug trafficker.

In Ciudad Juarez, one municipal police officer was killed and five others wounded after being attacked by a group of gunmen. Five civilians were also wounded in the attack.

In Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, authorities disarmed a car bomb left outside a state police facility.

Wednesday, January 11

In Mexico City, two bodies were found in a burning SUV left outside a high-end shopping mall in the city's Sante Fe area. A note left at the scene was signed by a local organization known as the "Hand with Eyes." Both victims had been decapitated.

[Editor's Note: Our 2011 estimated death toll is 12,150, pending the release of official figures. Our new 2012 death toll is also an estimate.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 12,150

Total Body Count for 2012: (approx.) 100

TOTAL: > 46,000

Mexico

Time to Rethink Drug Raids, Police Trainers Say

With a 15% increase in shooting deaths of law enforcement officers last year, and with this year kicking off with an Ogden, Utah, drug raid that left one officer dead and five more wounded, some police trainers are saying it is time for police to rethink their tactics, USA Today reported Wednesday.

Time for an attitude adjustment? (Image: Barton County Sheriff's Office, Kansas)
Some 68 law enforcers were killed by gunfire last year, 10 of them while serving search warrants or on multi-agency raids. While only three of them died doing work directly related to drug law enforcement -- two US Marshals were shot and killed in separate raids trying to arrest drug fugitives and one Florida police officer was killed trying to search suspicious persons for drugs -- the bloody Ogden raid has focused attention on drug raids.

In that raid, aimed at Matthew Stewart, an Army veteran with no criminal record who was supposedly "self-medicating" with marijuana he grew himself, a local drug task force forced its way into his home only to be met with ferocious gunfire. When the bullets stopped flying, Ogden Officer Jared Francom was dead and five of his comrades and Stewart were wounded. Prosecutors said this week they would seek the death penalty for him.

But that won't bring back Officer Francom, and police need to reevaluate their tactics, said Pat McCarthy, who advises police agencies across the country.

"The days of knocking down doors in drug cases should be over. Given what's going on now, you have to consider other options," McCarthy told USA Today. "Police should focus on trying to lure suspects out into the open or just "wait them out," he said. "It's time to change our thinking, Cops are exposing themselves to increasing danger many times over, and it's just not necessary."

The Justice Department will host a meeting later this month with researchers and law enforcement officials to review tactics and training in the wake of the officers' deaths.

Of course, it's not just police who died in drug raids. The Chronicle's tally of domestic drug war deaths last year includes 13 civilians who were killed by police in drug raids on residences.

Five Utah Police Wounded, One Killed in Drug Raid

[Editor's Note: Again this year, we are trying to track all deaths directly attributable to US domestic drug law enforcement operations. We can use your help. Let us know if you come across an incident that you think qualifies. To see the 2011 drug war deaths, go here.]

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/agent-jared-francom.jpg
Agent Jared Francom
An Ogden, Utah, police officer was shot and killed and five others wounded, two in critical condition, in a drug raid on an Ogden home the night of January 4. The resident was also wounded and is in custody facing as yet unspecified charges. Although police aren't saying, it appears the target was a personal marijuana grow. Agent Jared Francom becomes the first person killed in US domestic drug law operations this year.

According to the Deseret News, citing police sources, Agent Francom died at the Ogden Regional Medical Center early last Thursday. He was assigned to the Weber-Morgan Metro Narcotics Strike Force when he was killed.

Twelve members of the strike force were attempting to serve a warrant when a gun battle erupted. Police said they were doing a "knock and enter" warrant, meaning they would knock on the door and enter if no one responded. When the entered the residence, they were met with gunfire. They later found the resident wounded and hiding in a shed.

The resident and suspected shooter is Matthew David Stewart, 37, who worked a midnight shift at a local Walmart and whose previous criminal record consisted of a misdemeanor conviction for driving without insurance in 2005 and a citation for not wearing a seat belt in 2004.

Police did not specify what the warrant was for, but Stewart's father, Michael Stewart, told the Deseret News his son had "mental difficulties" and was self-medicating with marijuana. The elder Stewart also said he believed his son was growing marijuana, but only for himself. He added that Stewart was probably sleeping before going to work when the 8:40 pm raid happened and he reacted the way he did because he awoke to people in his house.

Police are not releasing further details on the raid pending completion of their internal investigations.

Ogden, UT
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Here's the latest from the medical marijuana skirmishes:

Arizona

A federal judge Wednesday threw out a lawsuit filed on behalf of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) that had blocked the implementation of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana dispensary program. Brewer and state health officials had sued to ask the court for clarification about whether the state's medical marijuana law was preempted by federal drug laws, saying they feared going forward would put state employees at risk of federal prosecution.

California

On December 21, California Attorney General Kamala Harris sent a letter to top lawmakers in which she warned that any efforts to regulate medical marijuana via the legislative process will be limited by the state constitution and by the federal government's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act. In the letter, she noted that an appeals court ruling (Pack v. Superior Court) found that state regulation of large scale medical marijuana cultivation "stands as an obstacle to federal enforcement efforts and is therefore preempted by the Federal Controlled Substances Act."

But Harris also noted that because Proposition 215 was enacted by voter initiative, any legislative regulation that would "undo what the people have done" would be unconstitutional under state law. Still, Harris wrote, the legislature needs to intervene because there are "significant unresolved legal questions" regarding parts of the initiative that allow for collaborative cultivation and the legality of dispensaries.

"I hope that the foregoing suggestions are helpful to you in crafting legislation," Harris concluded. "California law places a premium on patients' rights to access marijuana for medical use. In any legislative action that is taken, the voters' decision to allow physicians to recommend marijuana to treat seriously ill patients must be respected."

Also on December 21, the Happy Wellness Center in Newark reopened a week after being raided by state agents. "There's no way that me, the way I am, could just sit back and not open," said the center's CEO, Justin Hammer. "If I felt we were doing anything wrong, anything illegal, I wouldn't be here." The Happy Wellness Center operated for 105 days before the raid and originally opened before the city ban on such operations. An attorney for the collective says only a court order will change their position.

On December 23, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department returned 2 pounds of medicinal marijuana to a dispensary from which it was seized earlier this month. The move came after a Superior Court judge the same day ordered them to return the medicine. It had been seized in a December 1 raid at the Common Roots Collective.

On December 23, two Long Beach dispensary operators, Jon Grumbine and Joseph Byron, were found guilty of marijuana trafficking after prosecutors argued the men operated the businesses for profit, which is forbidden under state law.

On December 26, medical marijuana patients rallied and marched in San Diego to protest the federal crackdown and recalcitrant local authorities. A crowd of 50 to 75 people showed up, including Democratic Congressman Bob Filner, who is running for mayor. 

On December 28, Riverside County officials said they had begun legal action to close down about three dozen dispensaries in unincorporated areas. The county asked a Riverside County Superior Court judge to declare Platinum Collective in Home Gardens a public nuisance. The county is seeking civil penalties of $1,000 for each day Platinum Collective has been open since March 7, when the business was notified it was operating illegally, and wants reimbursement for the cost of abatement, investigation and enforcement. Dispensaries are illegal under a ban the Board of Supervisors approved in 2006.

On December 29, veteran activist Steve Kubby filed a municipal initiative in South Lake Tahoe to control marijuana odor and rewrite restrictive cultivation rules. The city has 15 days from then to write a title and summary so the signature-gathering process can begin.

In late December, San Francisco's Market Street Co-op announced it would close January 9 due to pressure on its landlords from the feds. "A San Francisco Assistant United States Attorney threatened our landlords with property forfeiture if the cooperative does not stop dispensing cannabis at our current location," the dispensary noted.

On New Year's Eve, Sacramento's One Love Wellness Center closed its doors. The dispensary had had its bank account seized by federal authorities in September after a Treasury Department criminal task force alleged that the dispensary structured $102,713 in deposits in small amounts to skirt rules requiring financial establishments to report all deposits of $10,000 or more to the Internal Revenue Service. No charges have been filed, but One Love was under additional pressure after Sacramento US Attorney Benjamin Wagner sent out a notice threatening its landlord with seizure of its property if marijuana sales continued on site. One Love said the move will cost 20 jobs. The dispensary also noted that it had paid more than $227,000 into state coffers in sales taxes last year and nearly $50,000 to the city of Sacramento. About two dozen dispensaries remain in the city, but nearly a hundred Sacramento County dispensaries have been shut down since supervisors decided they weren't permitted in unincorporated communities.

On Tuesday, medical marijuana patients in Shasta County began seeking to oust Sheriff Tom Bosenko in the latest skirmish in the on-going war between them and county officials. Bosenko was handed a recall notice Tuesday by patient and advocate Rob McDonald after he suggested tightening restrictions on medical marijuana cultivation in the county. Recall notices are being prepared for supervisors David Kehoe and Les Baugh, though neither has been presented yet, McDonald said. He is also targeting for recall Redding City Council members Patrick Jones, Francie Sullivan and Rick Bosetti in response to the city's dispensary ban, passed in November.

Also in Redding, Shasta County Superior Court Judge Stephen Baker granted the city of Anderson's request for a preliminary injunction against the Green Heart, the city's only dispensary. The judge gave Green Heart until next Tuesday to appeal.

Also on Tuesday, in Lakeport, the Lake County Board of Supervisors rescinded an October cultivation ordinance in response to a successful referendum petition. The Lake County Citizens for Responsible Regulations and the Lake County Green Farmers Association want less stringent rules than those passed by the board. The board could have let the voters decide in a special election, but decided that would be too expensive, and just repealed the ordinance.

And also on Tuesday, Riverside County officials raided numerous dispensaries in the Lakeland Village area. Police, county code enforcement, and a county attorney came knocking on doors to let dispensaries know they must shut down within 72 hours or face legal action. The move came after the county Board of Supervisors last month authorized county attorneys to sue any dispensaries still open in unincorporated areas of the county.

Colorado

On December 22, Colorado became the fourth state to ask the DEA to reschedule marijuana. The head of the state Department of Revenue made the request in compliance with state law. Colorado now joins Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington in seeking rescheduling.

Rhode Island

On December 27, Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox said he will personally petition the federal Department of Justice to see how Rhode Island can open the large-scale dispensaries for growing and selling marijuana that advocates have long sought. Fox disagrees with Gov. Lincoln Chafee's decision to halt the process of issuing dispensary permits in the face of federal threats.

Washington

On December 15, state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles released a summary of a proposed comprehensive medical marijuana bill. The Cannabis Defense Coalition had some issues with it; click the link to find out more.

On December 21, a state medical board that regulates medical marijuana has scheduled a hearing in Renton for January 11 to consider adding Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as qualifying conditions.

On December 27, the town of Castle Rock approved zoning regulations for medical marijuana gardens. Under the zoning rules, group gardens only are allowed in two commercial areas east of Interstate 5 near exits 48 and 49. The gardens must not be able to be viewed from public streets and must be locked or otherwise secured. Any planned group garden also must be inspected by city officials. The city is trying to keep gardens away from schools and public areas.

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