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Chronicle AM: NH Decrim Back From the Dead, 4/20 MJ Sales Topped $37.5 Million, More... (4/27/16)

Americans spent a lot of money on weed for 4/20, Dana Rohrabacher endorses California's AUMU pot legalization initiative, New Hampshire decrim rises from the dead, and more.

Marijuana Policy

4/20 Pot Sales Hit $37.5 Million. Americans spent more than $37.5 million on legal marijuana purchases on the 4/20 stoner holiday, according to MJ Freeway, a global cannabis business seed-to-sale tracking software provider. That's up by more than 30% over 2015.

Conservative GOP Congressman Endorses California's AUMA Legalization Initiative. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) has announced his support for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalization initiative. "As a Republican who believes in individual freedom, limited government and states' rights, I believe that it's time for California to lead the nation and create a safe, legal system for the responsible adult use of marijuana," said Rohrabacher. He is the second California congressman to endorse the initiative. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) announced his support last week.

Michigan House Approves Marijuana Drugged Driving Study Bill. The House voted 107-1 Tuesday to approve House Bill 5024, which would create a commission to research and recommend a threshold for THC that would establish evidence of impaired driving. The bill now goes to the Senate.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Reemerges. The decriminalization bill had been killed, but the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 12-7 Tuesday to bring decrim back to life. The committee voted to amend Senate Bill 498, which deals with discretion in sentencing, to make possession of up to a quarter ounce of marijuana a civil infraction instead of a misdemeanor. The bill will come before the House next month.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Poll Finds Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Utah Policy poll has two out of three (66%) of Utahns in favor of medical marijuana, with only 28% opposed. The poll comes after the legislature failed to pass a medical marijuana bill this year. If the legislators are listening to their constituents, they will pass it next year.

Law Enforcement

Family of Florida Man Slain in Marijuana Raid Awarded $500,000. The family of Derek Cruice, who was shot in the face and killed during a small-time marijuana raid in Deltona, Florida, in March 2015, will receive $500,000 in a settlement from Volusia County. Cruice was unarmed when he was shot in his living room by a Deltona police officer. The officer was never charged with a crime.

International

Israeli Police Won't Stop Busting People for Marijuana. Even though a former police commissioner has called for the country's police to reexamine their approach to marijuana in the face of increasing acceptance of its use, police aren't taking up the suggestion. Instead, police have decided that "enforcement policies should continue as they are." One police officer said he needed to be able to bust drug users in order to get at dealers.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Detroit's dope squad scandal continues to fester, a Louisiana head narc gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and more. Let's get to it:

In Houma, Louisiana, the head of the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office narcotics division resigned Monday, just days before he faces a federal court hearing. Major Darryl Stewart is accused of stealing more than $1,000 in federal money between April 2011 and December 2012. The money was for an underage youth drinking prevention program. Stewart appears in federal court on those charges Friday.

three Detroit police officers were indicted Wednesday on federal charges they conspired to bust drug dealers, steal their stashes, and even sell the stolen drugs themselves. Lt. David Hansberry, Officer Bryan Watson and Officer Arthur Leavells are part of a larger group of 11 Detroit Police Narcotics Unit officers named in civil cases alleging similar misconduct. These indictments supersede April 2015 indictments and add more charges. The federal government says the men surveilled big drug deals, then struck, "using their police authority to extort drugs, money and personal property." Hansberry faces 18 felony charges, Watson faces 16, and Leavells faces two, even though he's already copped to conspiracy to distribute drugs and is looking at a four-year mandatory minimum.

In Easton, Pennsylvania, a former East Stroudsburg University police officer pleaded guilty last Thursday to what are essentially "doctor shopping" charges. Matthew Bill, 42, had faced more than a dozen felony charges for obtaining hundreds of prescription pain pills by visiting at least 19 doctors. He copped to three counts of procurement of a controlled substance by fraud and was sentenced to three years' probation. 

Highway Drug Dog Searches: Two Diverging Trends in the Case Law [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Last year, in one of the Roberts' court's rare decisions not siding with law enforcement, the US Supreme Court ruled that police could not detain people pulled over for traffic violations in order to await the arrival of a drug-sniffing police dog. Once the traffic violation was dealt with, motorists were free to go, the court held.

"Absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures," wrote Justice Ruth Ginsberg for the court's 6-3 majority in Rodriguez v. United States.

That case was a necessary antidote for police practices that evolved after the Supreme Court's decision in Illinois v. Caballes a decade earlier. In that case, the high court held the use of drug dogs during a traffic stop did not violate Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unwarranted searches and seizures because, in the court's rather involved reasoning, people carrying drugs have no expectation of privacy. Unlike the use of infra-red cameras to peer inside homes, which the court disallowed in an earlier case, the use of drug dogs would only reveal drugs, not other intimate details of one's life, so that was okay.

What came after Caballes was repeated reports of people being stopped for alleged traffic infractions on the highway, then forced to wait on the side of the road in a sort of legal limbo ("Am I under arrest?" "No." "Am I free to go?" "No.") for the arrival of a drug dog to conduct a search of their vehicles. Then, when the drug dog would "alert" to the presence of drugs, police had probable cause to search the vehicle, find the drugs, and arrest and charge the driver.

What also came after Caballes was people being arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for drug offenses after being detained for lengthy periods. Asserting that their rights had been infringed by the lengthy detentions, some of them appealed, arguing that the evidence against them should be suppressed because it was unconstitutionally obtained.

The situation festered until the Rodriguez decision was announced. Police would no longer have a free hand to hold people against their will while awaiting the drug dog's arrival. That should have reined in the cops, but it hasn't exactly worked out that way. Instead, two distinct lines of post-Rodriguez drug dog jurisprudence have emerged, one seeking to uphold and strengthen it, but the seeking to find work-arounds for drug-hunting police and their canine helpers.

Representative of Rodriguez's positive impact was last month's Kentucky Supreme Court decision in Davis v. Kentucky. In that case, an officer pulled over Thomas J. Davis for crossing the center line, administered field sobriety tests that Davis passed, then asked for Davis's consent to search the vehicle. Davis refused to consent to a vehicle search, at which point the officer had his drug dog sniff the exterior of the car, despite Davis's protests. The dog alerted, the car was searched, and police found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

At trial, Davis moved to have the evidence suppressed as fruits of an unlawful search, but he lost at the trial level and reached an agreement to plead guilty while preserving his right to appeal the ruling on the motion. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the conviction and sent the case back to the trial court.

"As recently clarified by the United States Supreme Court in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), a police officer may not extend a traffic stop beyond its original purpose for the sole purpose of conducting a sniff search -- not even for a de minimus period of time," the state high court concluded. "Under Rodriguez, any nonconsensual extension of the detention beyond the time taken to verify Appellant's sobriety, unless accompanied by additional grounds to believe other criminal activity was afoot, was unconstitutional… With no articulable suspicion to authorize an extended detention to search for drugs, [the officer] prolonged the seizure and conducted the search in violation of Rodriguez and Appellant's Fourth Amendment protections."

"While Davis isn't perfectly clear, it strongly suggests that the use of drug dog without reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed offends the reasonableness clause of the Fourth Amendment, said John Wesley Hall, a Little Rock criminal defense attorney, former head of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL), and author of Search and Seizure, 5th Ed.

Keith Stroup, the founder and currently counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), liked what he saw in Davis, too.

"This is a great decision," Stroup said. "It will help a lot of drivers, but it doesn't totally write drug dogs out. With no articulable suspicion to authorize an extended detention to search for drugs, the police are out of luck."

Police erred in this case, Stroup said, but not in the sense that the court meant.

"The mistake the cops made is that they didn't lie and claim they smelled marijuana," he said. "They will learn very quickly that the first thing to say is 'I smell marijuana.' Then they can at least do a search of the passenger compartment."

Still, Stroup pronounced himself pleasantly surprised at the ruling.

"In some states, the Supreme Court is very law enforcement-oriented and willing to give police the benefit of the doubt. That this came out of Kentucky is promising," he said.

The Kentucky case shows how the courts are applying Rodriguez to protect the rights of motorists, but other post-Rodriguez cases are heading in a different direction. As Hall notes on his Fourth Amendment blog linked to above, various US district and appellate courts are bending over backwards to find ways to allow drug dog searches to continue without any reasonable suspicion a crime is being committed.

"Dog sniff by second officer while first officer wrote ticket didn't extend stop," he wrote describing a case> out of the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Dog sniff during the normal computer checks are valid," is how he characterized another case in federal district court in Georgia.

"GA holds that a dog sniff of a car before dispatch confirms ID is valid because it didn't extend the traffic stop," he wrote about another Georgia case.

The upshot of these and similar cases is that they provide an opening for police to get their drug dog searches in simply by delaying what should be routine, quickly accomplished, procedures, such as verifying license, registration, and outstanding criminal warrants. "I severely disagree with that case law," said Hall. "It just offends every sense of justice and privacy. It makes a car a target without any reasonable suspicion whatsoever, and it essentially rewards the cop with the drug dog in his car."

And he scoffs at the reported delays in those routine procedures. "The cops deliberately delay the response," he said. "As fast as these computers are, if it takes more than 60 seconds, it's complete bullshit. Or they call in the drivers' license number and it takes forever for the call to come back, so the cop can sit there and chat with you and try to find excuses to come up with reasonable suspicion.

Clearly, Rodriguez hasn't settled the issue. While law enforcement is now somewhat constrained in the use of drug-sniffing dogs on the highway, police -- and friendly courts -- are working assiduously to find ways to continue to use them. Ironically, the current state of the law could result in not fewer but more drug dogs on the highway, because under some of these rulings, the police officer who has a dog with him can get away with a quick sniff, while the officer who has to call and wait for one to arrive would be out of luck.

And that means the litigation likely isn't over. "The Supreme Court is going to have to take this up one of these days," said Hall. "This whole idea of pulling people over with dogs smacks of Nazi Germany."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Oklahoma sheriff and his deputy went a bit too far with asset forfeiture efforts, a Louisiana sheriff and his narcs went a bit too far in mistreating prisoners, and more. Let's get to it:

In Abingdon, Virginia, a Washington County jail guard was arrested March 22 on charges he was smuggling drugs into the jail. Guard Justin Andrew Brown, 22, went down after officials were tipped that a guard was smuggling contraband. Brown now faces charges of intent to distribute an imitation controlled substance, conspiracy to distribute a Schedule II drugs, and attempt to deliver drugs to a jail. He was jailed at the same place he worked until he made bail days later.

In Berkeley Township, New Jersey, an Ocean County juvenile justice officer was arrested last Tuesday as she allegedly prepared to make a heroin sale in parking lot near an elementary school. Erica Kotelnicki, 35, is charged with heroin distribution. A search of her home yielded more heroin, cocaine, scales, and cash. She has been suspended without pay.

In Columbus, Indiana, a former Columbus police narcotics supervisor was arrested last Wednesday on charges he stole drugs from the evidence room. Jeremy Coomes, 38, supervised the Columbus Police Narcotics Unit until October 2015, when an audit turned up various discrepancies, including missing drugs. An Indiana State Police investigation pointed to Coomes, who they said took drugs and sometimes replaced them with different items. He faces a number of charges, including possession of methamphetamine, possession of cocaine, theft, and official misconduct.

In Wagoner, Oklahoma, the Wagoner County sheriff and a deputy were arrested last Thursday over their efforts to use civil asset forfeiture to take $10,000 from a motorist. Sheriff Bob Colbert and Deputy Jeffrey Gragg claimed they were going by the book in seizing what they claimed were drug proceeds, but a grand jury disagreed, indicting them on conspiracy, bribery, and extortion charges. Colbert and Gragg pulled over a driver and his passenger, then arrested them for "possession of drug proceeds" when they declared they owned the cash. The driver then asked what he could do to stay out of jail and Gragg told him that the only way he was "going to go home was to disclaim his ownership in the $10,000." The sheriff and his deputy then released the pair and deleted records of their arrests. The money was placed in the sheriff's asset forfeiture fund.

In Edcouch, Texas, a former Edcouch police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he took cocaine from a March 2013 drug seizure. Vicente Salinas allegedly switched out four of 15 bundles of cocaine that had been turned over to the Hidalgo County Task force. No word on what the official charges are.

In New Orleans, a ninth Iberia Parish sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty last Thursday in a growing investigation into the sheriff's office. Deputy Jeremy Hatley pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights and making false statements in a case that centers around the repeated beating of inmates by deputies, including six former department narcotics agents. The deputies who copped pleas are expected to testify against Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal and Lt. Gerald Savoy, who had initial court appearances last week.

In Leesburg, Virginia,a former Loudon County sheriff's deputy was found guilty last Thursday of stealing $229,000 from the department's asset forfeiture program. Frank Pearson, 45, was found to have been sticking his hand in the cookie jar for more than a decade, even though he bizarrely claimed to have no memory of doing so. He's looking at up to 10 years in prison.

In Miami, a former Miami Police officer was sentenced last Friday to nearly four years in state prison for taking money for offering protection during drug deals. Jose Maldonaldo Dick, a seven-year veteran of the force, had been charged with two counts of armed cocaine trafficking, which is punishable by up to life in prison, but copped to a single count of providing protection for a drug dealer and being paid to do so. Dick has already spent 18 months behind bars awaiting trial.

Chronicle AM: NYPD Targets Addicts for Felony Dealing Busts, DC Cannabis Club Ban, More... (4/5/16)

Bernie talks pot in Wisconsin, Pittsburgh is a mayor's signature away from pot decriminalization, the DC city council votes to ban social consumption, NYPD narcs are targeting street addicts for felony trafficking busts, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Talks Marijuana Legalization in Final Wisconsin Speech. Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders sought to win votes in Wisconsin Sunday night by not only hitting his standard themes of economic inequity, but also emphasizing his progressive marijuana and drug policy approach, including removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. "Today, under the Federal Controlled Substance Act, marijuana is listed as a schedule one drug alongside of heroin," said Sanders. "Now we can argue when scientists do the pluses and minuses of marijuana, but everyone knows marijuana is not a killer drug like heroin." The Vermont senator also addressed racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement: "(Criminalization of marijuana) becomes a racial issue as well, because it turns out that blacks and whites smoke marijuana at equal levels," Sanders said. "Blacks are four times more likely to get arrested for marijuana than are whites."

Pittsburgh Council Approves Decriminalization. The city council voted 8-1 Tuesday to make small-time marijuana possession a summary offense rather than the misdemeanor mandated by state law. Mayor Bill Peduto now has 10 days to sign the ordinance. Possession of small amounts will now be punishable by a $25 fine, with a $100 fine for smoking in public.

DC Council Votes to Ban Marijuana Social Clubs. The council voted 7-6 Tuesday to uphold a ban on marijuana consumption outside of private homes, making the ban permanent. The move is a reversal from the council's earlier position, which was to enact a temporary ban and set up a task force to study the issue.

Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Reform Groups Call for Hearings on CARERS Act. The Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access, and the National Cannabis Industry Association have all issued calls for the US Senate to take up the CARERS Act (Senate Bill 683), which would protect state-legal medical marijuana activities from federal interference. The bill, filed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) has been stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than a year. Committee Chair Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) has refused so far to let it move.

Oklahoma CBD Bill Advances. Last year, the legislature approved a bill allowing children with epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oils, and now it is moving to allow adults to use it as well. A Senate committee approved House Bill 2835, which would remove the age restriction. The measure has already passed the House and awaits a Senate floor vote.

Law Enforcement

NYPD Is Busting Low-Level Addicts for Small-Time Drug Sales, But Ignoring Dealers. The NYPD is using undercover narcotics officers to seek out drug addicts, ask them for help in scoring drugs, give them money to make the buy, and then arresting them on felony drug trafficking charges. The narcs didn't even bother to go after the dealers the small-time addicts were scoring from, the New York Times reports. Last year, nearly 5,000 people were charged with dealing small quantities of heroin or cocaine.

International

Europe Spends $27 Billion a Year on Illicit Drugs, Monitoring Agency Says. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said in a report Tuesday that EU citizens shell out about $27 billion for illicit drugs each year."Illicit drug production and trafficking remains one of the largest and most innovative criminal markets in Europe," Europol director Rob Wainwright said in a statement.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays 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.)

Virginia Cop Gunned Down Last Week Was Doing a Drug War Training Exercise

The Virginia State Trooper shot and killed at the Greyhound Bus Station in Richmond, Virginia, last week died while on a drug war training exercise aimed at patrons of the transportation hub.

Trooper Chad Dermyer, 37, was gunned down by James Brown III, an Illinois man with a lengthy criminal record, who in turn was shot and killed by Dermyer's colleagues. Two women were wounded in the gunfire, neither with life-threatening injuries.

The two fatalities come as a shock, but hardly a surprise. According to Drug War Chronicle, which has been tallying deaths directly related to domestic drug law enforcement activities since 2011, the killings bring this year's total to eleven. Over the past five years, drug war deaths have occurred at a pace of roughly one a week, and this year so far is about on track.

Of those 50 or so drug war deaths each year, only a handful have been police officers. But Dermyer is the second law enforcement officer to be killed upholding drug prohibition in a 10-day period: An Indiana deputy was killed March 22 in a misbegotten midnight drug raid over a single syringe.

In Richmond last Thursday, as Fox 10 TV reported:

State Police were at that station for a training exercise on how to intercept drugs at bus terminals, which are often critical transfer points for narcotics. Dermyer had just been training for his new position around 2:40 when he was shot by a man he approached as part of that training, according to State Police.

"The male subject pulled out a handgun and shot Chad multiple times," Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. W. Steven Flaherty said. "The male subject continued firing his weapon, as two state police troopers opened fire."

The Washington Post added a bit more detail:

[State Police Superintendent W. Steven] Flaherty said Dermyer and other troopers were at the station to train for what is called a counterterrorism and criminal interdiction unit. The unit is assigned to public transit areas and highways to identify and question people deemed suspicious. It is a way of intercepting drugs and guns.

Dermyer, wearing a dark blue uniform that resembles fatigues, had started to question the man when the assailant pulled out a gun and shot the trooper, police said. Dermyer was not wearing a protective vest.

Flaherty said the conversation lasted about 30 seconds. He said he did not know what drew Dermyer's attention to the man. Two other troopers returned fire, police said. Flaherty said the squad's training assignment was: " 'If you see some suspicious behavior, go over and engage and have a conversation.' That was what was taking place here."

While it may have been a "training exercise," what police were doing was surveilling and accosting real people in real life. And it got very real indeed when Dermyer stopped Brown, who was armed and who had an extensive criminal record, with arrests on counts ranging from the petty -- "failure to obey police, resisting a corrections officer, numerous drug charges" -- to the ugly -- "aggravated battery of a pregnant woman" -- to the quite serious -- "murder, intent to kill, aggravated battery with a firearm, felony possession of a weapon." (It's not clear which of those arrests actually resulted in convictions and on what charges.)

According to his aunt, who helped raise him and with whom he stayed until she kicked him out in December, Brown really didn't like cops. The aunt, Edith Brown of suburban Chicago, told WTVR News Brown had been to prison and had had enough.

"He said he would never go back to prison again," she said. "He would fight it out with them. He had a lot of anger about the police in the past," she said. "He pretty much thought he wanted to be infamous... in terms of having a showdown. He always praised those people who got into shootouts with police."

It's difficult to tease out the role of drug prohibition in the incident where Dermyer's and Brown's lives intersected -- and ended. It's embedded in an intricate tapestry of race and class, crime and criminalization, permanent paranoia and militarized policing. But the war on drugs is one of the threads, and now, two more people are dead.

Richmond, VA
United States

Chronicle AM: More Obama Commutations, SC Town Pays Big for Killing Teen in Pot Bust, More... (3/30/16)

The president has commuted sentences for another 61 federal drug offenders, Maine legalizers are fighting to get their signatures validated and their initiative on the ballot, a South Carolina town pays out big for the death of a local teen in a small-time pot bust, and more.

Zach Hammond's family has settled a lawsuit over his death in a small-time pot sting operation gone bad. (Hammond family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Senate Approves Marijuana DUID Bill. The Senate voted 19-14 Wednesday to pass LD 1628, which establishes a blood level for THC over which the driver is presumed to be impaired. The bill sets the limit at 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, the same as the states of Colorado and Washington. The bill now goes to the House.

Maine Legalization Campaign Gets Hearing On Invalidated Signatures. At a court hearing Wednesday, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol fought to get more than 17,000 invalidated signatures reinstated. The campaign accused Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap of using an "unconstitutionally vague" interpretation of election laws to invalidate the signatures -- all of which were notarized by the same person. Dunlap said the notary's signature didn't match his on-file signature. By invalidating the 17,000 signatures, Dunlap ensured that the initiative campaign would not qualify for the November ballot. The court has until April 11 to render a decision.

Oregon Governor Signs Marijuana Edibles Bill. Gov. Kate Brown Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 1511, which allows people 21 and over to purchase edibles and extracts at dispensaries. The bill also allows recreational pot stores to sell medical marijuana tax-free to registered patients.

Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Patients Protest Proposed Medical Marijuana Tax. Protestors gathered at the State House Tuesday to just say no to Gov. Gina Raimondo's (D) plan to impose a tax on patient and caregiver growers. "We have pain, we have cancer, taxing us is not the answer," they chanted. Under her plan, caregivers would have to pay $350 per plant and patients who grow their own would have to pay $150. The protest took place just before the House Finance Committee took up the proposal.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Full Transcript of President Obama's Atlanta Remarks on Heroin and Pain Pills. The White House has released the full transcript of the discussion panel in which President Obama took part Tuesday as part of the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta. Click the title link for the transcripts.

Law Enforcement

Family of Zach Hammond Settles Police Killing Lawsuit. The South Carolina teenager was shot and killed by police last summer as he sat in his pick-up truck. The teenage girl who was his passenger was the target of an attempted bust over the sale of a bag of weed, and police shot Hammond as he attempted to pull away from the scene. His family has settled the lawsuit for $2.1 million. State investigators last year concluded that the killing was justified, but the city has just paid up.

Sentencing

Obama Pardons More Drug Offenders. President Obama today granted clemency to 61 more federal drug offenders, more than a third of whom were serving life sentences. That brings to 248 the number of sentences commuted by Obama, more than the six previous presidents combined. He was also set to meet today with people whose sentences had been commuted by previous presidents to discuss their experiences with reentry and how the process can be strengthened. On Thursday, he will hold a Life After Clemency briefing at 2:00pm EDT, which can be viewed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A crooked Louisiana deputy working on a DEA task force pleads guilty, an Ohio reserve police officer gets caught slinging ecstasy, and more. Let's get to it:

In Rocky River, Ohio, a Linndale reserve police officer was arrested last Tuesday on charges she was slinging marijuana and ecstasy. Reserve Officer Jonida Alicka and her sister, Denisa, are accused of obtaining ecstasy in Canada and distributing it in Ohio. They are both charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and ecstasy.

In Mount Holly, New Jersey, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday on charges he was selling drugs to inmates. Guard Jacquae Hollinshead went down after a long-term investigation by the Department of Corrections into prisoner drug use at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility. She is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, official misconduct, money laundering, and providing contraband to inmates.

In Covington, Louisiana, a former Tangiapahoa Parish sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty March 11 in a scheme to re-sell seized drugs. Johnny Domingue, 27, was arrested in January for crimes that occurred while he was a member of DEA task force. A second Tangipahoa deputy was arrested on similar charges last month. They were both accused of stealing oxycodone pills and cash during one drug raid, stealing methamphetamine and cash in another, and Domingue was accused of also breaking into the evidence room and stealing 20 pounds of marijuana.

Drug War Idiocy: One Indiana Deputy Killed, Another Wounded in Midnight Drug Raid Over a Syringe

Howard County Sheriff's Deputy Carl A. Koontz, 27, was shot and killed and Sgt. Jordan F. Buckley, 35, was shot and wounded in a midnight drug raid gone wrong Sunday night in Russiaville, Indiana. The target of the raid, Evan Dorsey, 25, was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside the mobile home that was raided.

According to Drug War Chronicle, which has been tallying deaths directly related to domestic drug law enforcement activities since 2011, the killings bring this year's total to nine. Over the past five years, drug war deaths have occurred at a pace of roughly one a week, and this year so far is right on track.

In this case, they died over a syringe. That's right -- as the Indianapolis Star reported, the deputies were serving an arrest warrant on Dorsey for failure to appear in court over possession of a syringe.

The deputies went to the mobile home where Dorsey was staying shortly after midnight Sunday. According to Howard County Sheriff Steven Rogers, they were part of a team that included sheriff's deputies, Kokomo police officers, and the Russiaville town marshal.

Rogers said officers knocked on the door and announced their presence, but got no answer. He said the deputies "were shot as they entered the home."

Roger's account (or the Star's reporting) doesn't make clear just exactly how officers "entered the home." No one answered the door, so they either just opened it and entered or broke it down and entered. In either case, there were now armed intruders in the residence in the middle of the night. They were met with gunfire from Dorsey.

A SWAT team was called to the scene, but got no response from Dorsey. Two hours later, the SWAT team entered the home and found Dorsey dead of a gunshot wound. An autopsy released Monday described the wound as self-inflicted.

The death of a sheriff's deputy and a citizen in this incident should call into question the decision-making that led to the fatal encounter. Is failure to appear in court for possession of a syringe such a serious offense that it requires a midnight drug raid? In a nation where owning guns is seen as an inalienable right, should police be risking their lives breaking into homes in the night when they could reasonably assume an armed resident might mistake them for intruders? And above all, in retrospect, was it worth it?

While some states have legalized the possession of syringes without a prescription, many continue to criminalize their possession through drug paraphernalia laws. In Indiana, possession of a syringe is a violation of the paraphernalia law, and possession of a syringe with any detectable amount of an illicit drug exposes carriers to drug possession charges.

Russiaville, IN
United States

Myths, Moralism, and Hypocrisy Drive the International Drug Control System

Julia Buxton is Associate Dean and Professor of Comparative Politics at the School of Public Policy, Central European University, Budapest. Follow her on Twitter: @BuxtonJulia

This article is published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and CELS, an Argentine human rights organisation with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.

In April 2016, the international community will convene for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS). This event, held two years early due to the urgency of the drug situation and intensity of drug-related violence, presents an opportunity to question the fundamentals of international drug policy. Despite overwhelming evidence that a century-long quest to control human behavior and drug markets through international treaties and national legislation has failed, there is little expectation of change. The vested interests in retaining the status quo are significant, with sclerosis legitimized through the recurrent exhortation to improve international co-operation.

Major institutional and policy change is required and will ultimately be unavoidable. The treaty system and international drug control institutions stemming from the first international drug conference in 1909 have set us on an orientation within drug policy that does not reflect the dynamics of global drug markets or protect us from drug related harms. Control efforts and resources are skewed toward drugs such as cocaine and heroin, when synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine dominate markets. Enforcement is focused on countries of the global south, when the global north is the world’s key zone for the manufacture and export of illicit substances, and where the bulk of drug trade profits are realized.  

Framed by history

 

From its initiation, the drug control system has responded to the perceived risk from narcotic plants grown in the global south. In 1909, the ‘great powers’ of the day met in Shanghai to discuss controls on opium, a freely traded commodity derived from opium poppy. The result was a seismic market shift, overturning centuries of colonial engagement in opium poppy cultivation in far flung empires of south Asia, and ending the popular use of opium for purposes of pain or pleasure.

The resulting 1912 International Opium Convention of The Hague was the first international drug treaty. It set the intellectual and institutional direction for the drug control system, strategies and approaches that operate today. To put it another way, today we respond to the complex, transnational challenges of HIV/AIDS, internet-based drug sales and international organized crime through a framework devised by imperial powers at a time when women could not vote or wear trousers, when nose size and skin color were seen to determine brain size and civility, and when addiction was understood as a problem of ‘godlessness’.

Over the course of a century, the treaty system has evolved through to the most recent 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, incorporating into the control system a diversity of plants, weeds, shrubs and chemicals deemed “evil” and harmful to the “health and welfare of mankind”. At no point has the United Nations, which administers and oversees the treaty system, reconsidered first principles – as set out in 1912 and institutionalized in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs – that it is desirable or even possible for states to prohibit access to a selected range of intoxicating substances. 

Sovereign states remain locked into the goal of eliminating, or at least significantly curbing the production, distribution and use of drugs. They must cooperate on international control efforts and, in line with the 1961 Single Convention, they are required to treat participation in the drug trade as “punishable offenses when committed intentionally”, and as “serious offenses […] liable to adequate punishment particularly by imprisonment or other penalties of deprivation of liberty”.

A legacy of failure

 

These efforts to control human behavior and to terminate the supply of harmful substances cannot succeed, even if recurrently stepped up, militarized and coercively enforced. According to the latest figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 1 out of 20 people between the ages of 15 and 64 years used an illicit drug in 2013. This is despite punitive national policies to prevent consumption, including by depriving users of illegal drugs of their freedom, access to their children, employment and medical care, and even their right to life.

The use of cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamines remains a ‘global habit’ in a borderless world, configured around a sophisticated, lucrative and innovative transnational market that supplies a diversity of ever cheaper drugs to an estimated 246 million people.  

The 1961 Single Convention looked to eliminate opium use within 15 years, with a 25-year schedule for cocaine and cannabis. In 1998, the UN promoted a “drug-free world”, to be achieved within ten years, and a host of cultivating countries have, over the decades, committed to achieving zero-cultivation of narcotic drug crops. But just as demand reduction targets have never been met, neither have those relating to supply. At over 7,000 tons in 2014, opium production reached its highest level since the 1930s. There was an estimated 120,000 hectares under coca bush cultivation in 2013 (with potential for the manufacture of 662 to 902 tons of cocaine). Meanwhile, as stated in the UNODC’s “World Drug Report 2015”, advances “in cannabis plant cultivation techniques and the use of genetically selected strains have led to an increase in the number of cannabis harvests, as well as in the yield and potency of cannabis”.

As set out by Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UNODC, “we have to admit that, globally, the demand for drugs has not been substantially reduced and that some challenges exist in the implementation of the drug control system”. This acknowledgement has not led to any questioning of mission, or the plausibility of prohibiting access to certain drugs – even with evidence that nine out of ten users are not considered dependent or problematic. Neither has there been engagement with the reality that making certain substances illegal has made them more attractive to produce and supply. Criminalization has converted freely growing plants into billion dollar crops, high profit margins incentivize illicit supply, while the ‘success’ of drug seizures serves only to elevate prices. A utopian goal is being pursued through a strategy that makes it unachievable. 

A northern bias

 

In policy and implementation, drug control remains overwhelmingly preoccupied with opium poppy and coca leaf. International counter-narcotics efforts and assistance – both military and development – have focused on ‘producer’ states such as Colombia, Bolivia and Peru (coca leaf), Mexico (opium poppy) and south Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Burma and Laos PDR (opium poppy). However, as successive UNODC World Drug Reports demonstrate, opioids and cocaine are not the most widely consumed drugs, or arguably the most dangerous.

Contemporary drug markets, measured in terms of seizures and reported use, are increasingly dominated by synthetic drugs: ‘Amphetamine Type Substances’ (ATS) such as methamphetamine and amphetamine, as well as Ecstasy (MDMA) and a raft of ‘New Psychoactive Substances’ (NPS) of which 450 were reported in 2014. The key manufacture and export zones for these drugs are not the global south, but west and east European countries and north America. Patterns of drug flows are the reverse of the dynamics envisioned in the treaty framework. The old delineation of consumer and producer states no longer exists, and the global north is now the key producer region, including for cannabis.

This raises the more difficult question of accounting for the inconsistent application of counter-narcotics efforts, and the gross inequalities in terms of costs and impacts. An estimated 164,000 people were killed during the counter-narcotics surge of 2007 to 2014 in Mexico, a death toll higher than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. But the thought of militarizing supply control in the Netherlands – a leading producer country – on the level experienced by Mexico, is unconscionable. Why are Colombia, Bolivia and Afghanistan acceptable theaters for violent weaponized counter-narcotic operations, and not Poland or Canada?

Moreover, the lack of high level violence in the drug markets of these northern producer countries signifies that illicit markets can be peaceful. From this perspective, it is the disruptive market interventions, weapons flows and training of paramilitary counter-narcotics units that are the drivers of violence in the global south, not the drug markets themselves. Similarly, in relation to northern interventions, how can it be the case that the EU and US fund cannabis eradication in the global south while legalizing or decriminalizing domestically? 

The north’s deflection of its leading role in the drug trade is institutionalized in the treaty system and international drug control institutions. The result is that we have remarkably little information about the evolving threats to mankind’s ‘health and welfare’ posed by synthetics. As set out in the preface to the 2013 World Drug Report, ATS use “remains widespread globally, and appears to be increasing in most regions”, with crystalline methamphetamine “an imminent threat”. Yet while we have each hectare of coca and opium meticulously researched, there is a paucity of data and information on the manufacture of synthetic drugs, or their consumption. It was not until 2008 that the UNODC launched dedicated ATS analysis through the UNODC Global SMART Program(Synthetics Monitoring: Analyzes, Reporting and Trends), with the aim of generating, analyzing and reporting on the synthetic drug market, and improving global responses to the rise in ATS manufacture, trafficking and consumption.

Drug control is constantly re-legitimized by a moral narrative of protecting health, welfare and security. Yet by downplaying the role of European and North American countries in the drug trade, and the historical salience of synthetic markets by default, the system is creating public health risks, it cannot anticipate change in dynamic markets, and it has an insufficient evidence base for policy. Indicative of this is the acknowledgement in the 2016 World Drug Report that, “the sheer number, diversity and transient nature of NPS currently on the market partly explain why there are still only limited data available on the prevalence of use of many NPS. Those difficulties also explain why both the regulation of NPS and the capacity to address health problems related to NPS continue to be challenging.”

In 2012, the International Narcotic Control Board that monitors treaty enforcement, set out that, “dividing countries into the categories of “drug-producing”, “drug-consuming” or “transit countries” has long ceased to be realistic. To varying degrees, all countries are drug-producers and drug-consumers and have drugs transiting through them.” Despite institutional acknowledgement of market transformations, the new geopolitical realities of the drug trade are not reflected in enforcement activities, in the language of drug control institutions, or in the allocation of resources for research, education, treatment and rehabilitation. These remain concentrated on coca and opium poppy, cocaine and heroin.

From the local to the global level, we are, with some small exceptions, locked into arcane, counterproductive and illogical policies that violate fundamental rights and freedoms, spread disease, exacerbate violence, and which impede development – in the view of other UN agencies. The UNODC, which sits in an institutional silo, uses the benign term “unintended consequences” to refer to the wholly negative impact of counter-narcotics policies and how these are disproportionately borne along stratified racial, class and geographic lines. The myths, Victorian moralism and hypocrisy that frame international drug policy need to be confronted if we are to progress to rights-based interventions that genuinely reduce harm. In other words, drug policies which are fit for the twenty-first century.           

This article is published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and CELS, an Argentine human rights organization with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.

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