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Chronicle AM -- June 5, 2014

An Arkansas marijuana legalization initiative can start signature-gathering, DC's medical marijuana program now includes more eligible conditions, Tennessee's governor unveils his prescription drug plan, Canada's mandatory minimum sentencing law is being challenged, and more. Let's get to it:

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets scolded by the medical marijuana movement.
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel yesterday approved the popular name and ballot title for a constitutional amendment initiative that would legalize marijuana. Supporters of the Arkansas Hemp and Cannabis Amendment now have just over one month -- until July 7 -- to submit more than 78,000 valid voter signatures in order to qualify for the November ballot. A medical marijuana initiative sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care is already in the signature-gathering phase.

Medical Marijuana

Group Targets DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for Not Voting to End DEA Interference in Medical Marijuana States. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is now running TV ads criticizing Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee as "out of touch" for voting against a measure to bar the DEA from interfering in medical marijuana states. Wasserman Schultz was one of only 18 Democrats who voted against it while 170 Democrats voted for it. The ads are running on MSNBC in South Florida, where her district is.

DC Medical Marijuana Program Adds New Qualifying Conditions. The DC Department of Health has approved new conditions for which patients will be able to use marijuana. They are seizure disorders, Lou Gehrig's Disease, decompensated cirrhosis, cachexia or wasting syndrome, and Alzheimer's. Hospice patients will also be allowed to use marijuana. Previously, the DC program had been restricted to people suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and muscle spasticity.

Heroin

Ohio Democratic Candidates Call for Tougher Action Against Heroin. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper are calling for tougher action against heroin. FitzGerald said he wants tougher enforcement on dealers and that rising heroin use should be treated as a public health emergency. And Pepper called for heroin overdose deaths to be treated like murder. FitzGerald added that not enough dealers are going to prison, especially after a sentencing reform bill passed. The Ohio Republican Party responded calling the Democrats "tone deaf" and "ghoulish," saying that Gov. John Kasich (R) has been a strong advocate on the issue, and besides, Attorney General Mike DeWine's (R) office had just indicted two heroin dealers last week.

Prescription Drugs

Tennessee Governor Rolls Out Prescription Drug Plan. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) Tuesday unveiled his seven-point program to battle problems associated with prescription drug use. "Prescription for Success: Statewide Strategies to Prevent and Treat the Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic in Tennessee" calls for reducing the prescribing of prescription opiates, reducing overdose deaths (including through enactment of a 911 Good Samaritan law), increasing prevention, early intervention, and treatment, and increased cooperation among state agencies and between the state and other entities. While it has a law enforcement component, that doesn't seem to be emphasized. [Ed: There are some good provisions in this document, but reducing the prescribing of pain medications needs to be handled with great care. Although more people are getting opiates now, not all of the people who need them are, and it could easily get even worse for pain patients.]

Drug Testing

California Initiative to Drug Test Doctors Qualifies for Ballot. An initiative that requires random, suspicionless drug and alcohol testing of doctors has qualified for the November 2014 ballot, according to the Secretary of State's office. It also requires doctors to report any other doctor they suspect of being impaired by drugs or alcohol. It also increases the cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, which may the initiative's main goal. Legislative analysts estimate it could cost the state "at least in the low tens of millions of dollars annually" in higher malpractice costs and up to "hundreds of millions of dollars annually" because of changes in the amount and type of health care services provided.

Law Enforcement

In Massive Heroin Sweep, New Jersey Police Arrest Seven Users for Every Dealer. New Jersey cops arrested 325 people during an eight-week heroin sting, but only 40 of them are accused of selling heroin. The rest are alleged heroin users. Authorities said all were arrested on relatively low-level charges and all would have a chance to go through treatment programs, but the head of the state's drug court program said she wasn't sure the system could accommodate all of them.

International

New Zealand Workers Win Drug Testing Case. Workers at a mill who were subjected to mandatory drug tests after two marijuana plants were found growing on the site were treated unfairly and must be compensated, the Employment Relations Authority has ruled. The mill owner had argued that the discovery of pot plants was "reasonable cause" to drug test everybody, but the authority disagreed. "This is a victory for our members, and a victory for common decency and respect," says Ron Angel, a union organizer for timber workers. "Drug testing has to be about proving actual impairment at work - not treating workers as guilty until proven innocent."

Canada Battle over Mandatory Minimum Sentences Heads to BC Appeals Court. A case that could eventually overturn the Conservative government's mandatory minimum sentence scheme for drug offenses is being heard in the BC Court of Appeals today. Earlier this year, a BC provincial court judge ruled unconstitutional an automatic one-year prison term for a person repeatedly convicted of drugs. Lawyers for the government appealed; thus today's hearing. The case is that of Vancouver Downtown Eastside resident Joseph Lloyd, a long-time drug user with 21 previous convictions who was convicted last fall of trafficking small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and meth. The provincial court judge held that mandatory minimum sentences amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Bolivian Village to Bake Coca Birthday Cake for UN Head Ban Ki-Moon. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will be in Bolivia when his birthday rolls around on June 15, and the mayor of Cobija, Ana Lucia Reis, says they are going to bake him a coca birthday cake. "The idea is that Ban tries the coca and realizes that coca is part of our culture and is not cocaine," she said.

Smuggler Shooting Immediately Tests Border Patrol's New Force Policy

Last Friday, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske announced new policies designed to reduce the use of deadly force by Border Patrol agents. Hours later, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed marijuana smuggler Luis Arambula, 31, as he fled on foot through an Arizona golf course. Arambula becomes the 20th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

The killing is bound to put CBP's new use of deadly force policies to the test. According to the CBP's new handbook, the use of deadly force is authorized only when there is imminent danger of death or serious injury to the agent or someone else. Deadly force is not to be used "solely to prevent the escape of a fleeing subject," but can only be justified when the person "has inflicted or threatened to inflict serious physical injury or death" and the person's escape poses an imminent threat of serious injury or death to the agent or others.

But that doesn't appear to be the case with Luis Arambula. Border Patrol Agent Daniel Marquez shot him nine times as he ran through a golf course after his vehicle got stuck as he fled from agents. Agents had tried to pull him over on Interstate 19, but he didn't stop, instead getting off the highway, onto an access road and then a surface street into the golf course.

Two agents chased him on foot for a quarter mile, then Marquez opened fire. Agents claimed that Arambula made "punching out" motions with his arms, as if he were aiming a gun at that in a two-handed stance, but Pima County sheriff's deputies investigating the incident said Arambula was unarmed.

The Pima County Sheriff's Office is investigating the killing. We shall see how CBP handles this first challenge to its new deadly force policy.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More cops with prescription pill problems, more jail guards tempting fate. Just another week in drug war police corruption. Let's get to it:

In Bennington, Vermont, a former Bennington County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Wednesday on charges he was selling prescription drugs through a woman with whom he was having an affair. He is charged with three felony counts of narcotic sale, seven misdemeanor counts of narcotic possession, felony counts of extortion, forgery, and a misdemeanor count of neglect of duty by a public officer. He has been fired from his job as a deputy and is now out on bail, but under house arrest.

In Sunset, Louisiana, a Sunset police reserve office was arrested last Wednesday on charges he stole prescription drugs from the department. Reserve Officer Ronald Anthony Duplechain Jr., 39, went down after someone told the police chief evidence was missing and the department's video surveillance system then showed Duplechain entering the department and walking out with an evidence bag that contained pills seized in a traffic stop earlier that day. Duplechain later put the bag back, minus the pills. He is charged with malfeasance in office.

In Grapeland, Texas, a former Grapeland police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he resorted to fraud to obtain prescription drugs. Monty Allen Clark, 37, went down after a local doctor contacted the Department of Public Safety to report that someone had fraudulently obtained drugs through a prescription. Clark was that someone, and he is now charged with second-degree obtaining controlled substances with a fraudulent prescription. Clark tried to fill a prescription for Adderall and forged the doctor's name on the prescription.

In St. Martinville, Louisiana, a St. Martin Parish jail guard was arrested Monday on charges he was smuggling marijuana and other contraband into the St. Martin Parish Correctional Center. Marshall Babineaux, 22, faces one count of malfeasance in office, one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and two counts of introduction of contraband in a penal institution. At last report, he was jailed at his place of employment.

In San Jose, California, a San Jose police officer was arrested Tuesday after the owner of a storage unit complained of a marijuana odor, police found a large amount of pot inside, and the police officer was identified as the renter of the storage unit. Officer Son Vu, 42, a 20-year veteran of the department, is now charged with felony counts of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He was in jail Tuesday evening and has been placed on administrative leave.

In New York City, a Rikers Island jail guard was convicted last Wednesday of smuggling marijuana and other contraband into the jail. Khalif Phillips, 31, was found guilty after a one-week trial. He's set to be sentenced on September 25.

Chronicle AM -- June 4, 2014

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

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

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

Ecstasy

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

Prescription Drugs

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

Sentencing

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

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

Law Enforcement

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

International

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM -- June 3, 2014

That Georgia drug raid last week that left a toddler seriously burned and in a medically-induced coma continues to spark outrage, the DC pot possession and cultivation legalization initiative is halfway there, New York's governor signs a deal for CBD medical marijuana trials that critics say isn't nearly enough, a former Brooklyn DA is in hot water over misusing seized drug money, and more. Let's get to it:

Baby "Bou Bou" is in a medically induced coma after a SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into his crib during a drug raid.
Marijuana Policy

DC Initiative Halfway There on Signature Count. The Washington, DC, initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana has collected some 30,000 signatures, of which it says some 12,500 are actually valid. It has until July 7 to come up with the 22,500 valid signatures needed to make the November ballot. Signature-gathering is in full swing; campaign head Adam Eidinger said he expected another 10,000 raw signatures by early next week.

Rhode Island Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Today. The state Senate Judiciary Committee was set to hold a hearing today on Senate Bill 2379, the Marijuana Regulation, Control and Tax Act. It would allow adults to possess up to one ounce and grow one plant, and create a regulated and taxed system of marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Signs Deal for CBD Trials; Medical Marijuana Say That's Not Good Enough. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced today that his administration has signed a deal with GW Pharmaceuticals to do a trial of its high-CBD, no-THC seizure drug Epidiolex. But medical marijuana advocates said the plan is too limited and will take too long, and Cuomo should be backing the Compassionate Use Act, a full-blown medical marijuana bill, instead of trying to blunt efforts to pass it by enacting half-measures.

South Carolina Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Into Law. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) yesterday signed into law Senate Bill 1035, which will allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures in children with epilepsy. The new law calls for a clinical trial at the Medical University of South Carolina, as well as a committee to study the feasibility of growing new strains in the state.

Asset Forfeiture

Ex-Brooklyn DA Accused of Using Seized Funds to Finance Reelection Campaign. Former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes may have used drug money seized from dealers to pay a campaign political consultant more than $200,000, according to a report from New York City's Department of Investigations. The money didn't help; Hynes was defeated in his bid for reelection. Now, he could face larceny charges.

Law Enforcement

Georgia Governor Wants to See Results of Investigation into SWAT Drug Raid That Left Toddler Badly Burned. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said Monday he was awaiting the results of an investigation into a drug raid last week in which a SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into a residence. That grenade landed in a crib when a 19-month-toddler, Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh, was sleeping, burning his face and chest and leaving him in a medically-induced coma at a local hospital. No drugs were found in the raid, no guns were found in the raid, and the person sought by police wasn't there. "Any time you have bad facts like this one, it does give you cause for concern," Deal said. "It's one of those things that require a thorough investigation… to know what if anything we can learn from it." Deal's comments came as public outrage over the incident is growing. Attorneys for the Phonesvanh family are calling for state and federal investigations into the raid.

In Winona County, Minnesota, the Drug War Dominates the Court Docket. Here are the latest results from the Winona County Circuit Court in Winona, Minnesota: Drug charges accounted for 50% of the 10 cases charged this week. There were two people charged with meth possession, one with meth possession and trafficking marijuana, one with trafficking amphetamines, and one for "felony second-count marijuana possession." The other charges were one DUI, one child sex assault, one domestic battery, one carrying a concealed weapon (and drug paraphernalia), and one burglary. Winona County butts up against the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota.

International

Southeast Asia's Tough Anti-Drug Policies Actually Exacerbating Opium Production, Report Says. A new report from the Transnational Institute, Bouncing Back -- Relapse in the Golden Triangle, finds that tough anti-opium cultivation policies by governments in Southeast Asia, especially Myanmar, have had a balloon effect, pushing production into areas outside the control of central governments. Instead of aiming to be drug-free by 2015, which is the current goal of the ASEAN nations, regional governments should rethink their policies and find "least harmful ways" to manage the issue.

Georgia's Drug Policies Remain Regressive, Repressive. A lengthy article from Eurasianet.org examines drug policies in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and finds them largely stuck in the dark ages. A few grams of marijuana can still earn someone years in prison, while treatment and prevention don't get much emphasis. Suspected drug users can be forced to submit urine samples for drug testing, then arrested and jailed or fined if they test positive. The fines are a lucrative income stream for the Georgian government. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

Tampa SWAT Team Kills Armed Man in Marijuana Grow House Raid

A Tampa, Florida, police SWAT team attempting to carry out a drug search warrant shot and killed a man they said pointed a gun at them Tuesday night. Jason Joseph Westcott, 29, becomes the 19th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to Bay News 9, citing police sources, the residence had been under surveillance after undercover officers bought "narcotics" there on several occasions since March. A SWAT team was used in the raid because police knew Westcott had guns in the home.

The Bay News 9 story used anodyne language to describe the raid, saying only that police "entered" the residence. It is not clear from the reporting whether this was a no-knock raid or how the police entered the residence.

Police said one man in the front of the house surrendered when the SWAT team entered, but that Westcott, who was found armed in a back room, pointed his gun and officers and was then shot.

Although police repeatedly referred to "narcotics," the only "narcotic" Westcott was accused of selling was marijuana. Police found a hydroponic marijuana grow in his home.

Westcott had no prior criminal record except for one incident of driving without a license.

Tampa, FL
United States

ATF's Operation Gideon Raises Questions of Fairness, Justice, and Race [FEATURE]

Special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Part I of a series on the ATF's Operation Gideon, targeting inner city "bad guys" with drug house robbery stings

Early in May, a panel of judges from California's 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied petitions for an "en banc" hearing that would have allowed the full court to consider overturning long prison sentences for four would-be robbers seduced by an informant into believing they were about to rip-off a stash house loaded with drugs.

The stash house was fictional, those drugs never existed, and the brains behind the plot were not criminals, but federal agents.

The denial of the petition was not a unanimous decision, and it revealed deep fissures on the appeals court. Dissenting judges argued that the practice of enticing poor young men into robbing stash houses raised questions not only of fair play, but also of constitutionality. The dissenters were particularly concerned that federal agents targeted primarily minority neighborhoods filled with desperate, unemployed young men tempted by the lure of fast cash.

"The sting poses questions of whether the government intentionally targets poor minority neighborhoods, and thus, seeks to tempt their residents to commit crimes that might well result in their escape from poverty," Justice Stephen Reinhardt wrote in a blistering dissent. He also called it "a profoundly disturbing use of government power that directly imperils some of our most fundamental constitutional values."

The case involved four Phoenix men -- Cordae Black, Kemford Alexander, Angel Mahon and Terrance Timmons -- who were convicted in 2010 on charges of conspiracy to distribute more than five pounds of cocaine, as well as federal firearms charges, for a fake drug rip scheme set up by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). All four are now serving prison sentences of 13 to 15 years.

Even though federal appeals court judges have joined defense attorneys in calling the ATF drug rip schemes "outrageous conduct," they are not an anomaly, but are instead part and parcel of ATF's Operation Gideon, a nationwide program. The ATF, federal prosecutors, and the Phoenix police said a press release announcing a pilot sweep that rolled up 70 people, including Cordae Black and his crew, that Gideon "involved the deployment of some of ATF's most experienced undercover operatives to team with local agents and police investigators by conducting sting investigations involving violent home invasion crews."

According to a USA Today investigative report, as of last year, the feds had already locked up more than a thousand people who its agents had enticed into conspiracies to rob fake drug stash houses. And it's not just the AFT. The DEA often uses the fake drug rip-off schemes, as well.

US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt
The argument at the 9th Circuit in the Phoenix case centered on entrapment and whether ATF agents illegally enticed the defendants into the crime through "outrageous government conduct" beyond that allowed by entrapment doctrine.

Relying on the US Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in US v. Russell, where the court upheld such schemes if the defendant showed a predisposition to commit the offense, 9th Circuit Judges Susan Graeber and Raymond Fisher rejected claims of entrapment and outrageous conduct by the agents, and argued that the reverse sting was within legal boundaries of law enforcement tactics, which includes officers working undercover to infiltrate criminal organizations.

Fisher and Graeber said the agents' actions were reasonable when they offered the men the opportunity to make money by committing a drug robbery. The pair also held the defendants failed to show they lacked "predisposition to commit the offense."

That provoked a sharp retort from a second dissenter as well, Judge John T. Noonan.

"Today our court gives approval to the government tempting people in the population at large currently engaged in innocent activity, and leading them into the commission of a crime, which the government will then prosecute," he wrote.

It's not just the 9th Circuit. Fake drug stash operations that only target inner-cities have ignited a firestorm of controversy, including other caustic remarks from the federal bench.

"There is a strong showing of potential bias in the robbery stings," US District Court Judge Rueben Castillo wrote in an order last year. Castillo noted that since 2011, federal agents have used such stings to lock up at least 26 people in the Chicago area -- and that all of them were either black or Hispanic.

Federal officials retort that they are not engaging in selective prosecution based on race, but are going where known felons often commit violent home invasion-type drug robberies.

But defense attorneys argue that the operations target people who weren't doing anything, entice them with visions of easy wealth, set them up, and then throw the book at them.

"What the ATF is doing is basically targeting low-level criminals for high-level crimes," said attorney Tara Loveland, who is representing Cordae Black on appeal.

The case against Black and his codefendants raises serious questions about racial profiling. According to evidence introduced at the original trial -- and subsequently heard again at the re-hearing (via the appellate brief) -- ATF Agent Richard Zayas had a paid informant travel from Miami to Arizona to find "bad guys" in a "bad part of town."

That prompted Judge Reinhardt to say that Zavas' instructions obviously meant the informant should recruit people from minority communities. The targeting of the fake drug house robbery scheme was a practice "that creates the appearance of selective prosecution based on race and wealth inequality," he said.

"It is a tragedy when ATF has to drum up a crime that didn't exist," attorney Eugene Marquez, who represented Cordae Black at trial, told the Chronicle.

Chicago Operation Gideon suspect William Alexander just before his arrest (atf.gov)
Defense attorneys who represented the defendants on appeal argued that "fake drug stings initiated by ATF amount to entrapment because there were no drugs -- and none of the defendants would have agreed to participate had it not been for a paid snitch and the ATF's scheme of enticing the men to arm themselves with weapons to rip-off a large quantity of drugs that automatically brings severe mandatory prison sentences."

"Our defense was outrageous conduct and sentencing entrapment," Marquez explained.

But 9th Circuit majorities weren't listening to the defense attorneys. In a separate ruling, they reiterated their original decision denying defense counsel's motion to overturn the original convictions.

"There is no bright line dictating when laws enforcement conduct crosses the line between acceptable and outrageous," Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote for the majority. Outrageous government conduct can only occur when government agents engineer and direct a "criminal enterprise from start to finish -- or creating new crimes merely for the sake of pressing criminal charges," he argued.

Judge Reinhardt again dissented.

"In this era of mass incarceration, in which we already lock up more of our population than any other nation on earth, it is especially curious that the government feels compelled to invent fake crimes and imprison people for long periods of time for agreeing to participate in them -- people who but for the government's scheme might not have ever entered the world of major felonies," Reinhardt wrote.

If getting set up and convicted in a sting weren't bad enough, the defendants also got hit with longer sentences based on the imaginary amounts of drugs that were going to rob. Marquez explained that his client, Cordae Black, was hit a 10-year mandatory minimum because the ATF pretended the imaginary drug house had more than five kilos of cocaine in it.

But while jurists and defense attorneys grumbled, the ATF was pleased with its handiwork.

Arizona ATF agent Thomas Mangan welcomed the convictions of Black and his partners, as well as appeals court rulings upholding them. The stings had resulted in over 70 Arizona arrests, and the crew had "ample opportunity to back out, but had remained committed to carry out the robbery until they were arrested," he said in the Operation Gideon press release.

While court-approved enticement has a lengthy pedigree in this country, so does "outrageous government conduct" that can take it over the line into entrapment. A classic case is that of legendary automaker John Delorean, who was acquitted of cocaine conspiracy charges in 1984, even though prosecutors had Delorean on videotape wisecracking and saying that the cocaine stuffed inside a suitcase was "good as gold."

But Delorean's attorney was able to convince the jury that the FBI had leaned on a convicted drug smuggler, James Hoffman, to draw Delorean into a trap, complete with thinly-veiled threats if Delorean backed out of the sting.

"Without the government there would be no crime," Delorean's attorney told the jury.

Taking Down the Phoenix Crew

Putting together a fake drug robbery stings is like assembling the cast of a gritty crime drama. The Phoenix reverse sting worked against Cordae Black and his eager crew in typical take-down fashion. ATF agent Richard Zayas recruited a paid informant to frequent seedy bars and diffferent places in the "bad part" of town -- to find receptive players to rip-off a drug house. Zayas's informant met Shaver "Bullet" Simpson, a big-talking guy ready to play.

Zayas's informant duped Simpson into believing he had a friend with information on a stash house filled with drugs worth thousands of dollars. Simpson boasted he could find some tough-ass homies to do the job. Agent Zayas reminded Simpson that everyone involved with the plot must keep their mouths shut, and not talk about what goes down.

"My people straight," Simpson replied. "I hate snitchers."

Following the informant's meeting with Shaver Simpson, he introduced "Bullet" to undercover ATF Agent Richard Zayas, who fronted himself off as a disgruntled drug courier interested in having someone rob a dope house owned by Zayas's supposed cartel's connections. Zayas informed Simpson that Simpson's homeboys would need the "balls to do it because this ain't no easy lick."

Simpson then posed a question to Zayas: "My goons want to know whether they need to kill the people in the house."

Zayas responded nonchalantly that he "didn't care what they did as long as they took care of business."

Hooked like a fish, Simpson swallowed the bait, "Don't worry Daddy," he told Zavas. You got a real Jamaican (expletive), that's my family business; it's where I worked; I got this shit down to a science, man."

The beat goes on. Press conference announcing latest round of Operation Gideon busts, Stockton, CA, 2014 (atf.gov)
The trap was set. Shaver Simpson, the braggart, strangely, didn't show up for the showdown. But the work crew did. Once Cordae Black, Terrence Timmons, Kemford Alexander and Angel Mahon showed up at the designated meeting spot, the ATF agents and local police took the hapless crew down with guns drawn. A search of their vehicles produced four loaded weapons (which, according to the appellate brief, Zava insisted the crew have with them).

Despite Simpson's bravado about not being a snitch and hating such creatures, he pounced on the first opportunity to become one by testifying against his four homies. Still, at trial, Simpson accused ATF agent Richard Zayas of pressuring him to quickly find as many guys he could find to pull off the robbery.

Same Sorts of Cases, Different Results

In another Operation Gideon case, Chicago native William Alexander, a street-level crack dealer and beauty school dropout, got stung in a fake drug robbery on February 23 2011, along with his cohorts Hugh Midderhoff and David Saunders. All three were convicted of possession with intent to deliver five or more kilos of cocaine, along with firearms charges. To win a new trial, Alexander's lawyer argued on appeal that ATF's systematic strategy of sending informants into "bad parts of town" to recruit "bad people" meant that racial profiling played a vital role in Alexander's case.

His appeal brief noted that in the 17 stash house robbery stings prosecuted in the Northern Illinois Federal District since 2004, blacks were disproportionately represented. Of the 57 defendants, 42 were black, eight Hispanic, and seven white.

His appeal was denied -- because he couldn't show that the ATF and prosecutors intended racially disparate outcomes.

"To establish discriminatory intent, Alexander failed to show the decision makers in (his) case acted with discriminatory purposes -- and that the Attorney General and US Attorneys has broad discretion to enforce federal criminal laws," the appeals court held.

Antuan Dunlap and his heavily-armed posse-mates, Cedrick Hudson and Joseph Cornell Whitfield, had better luck. They were released from jail in an ATF drug house rip-off scheme when California US District Court Judge Otis Wright ruled the ATF crossed the line into entrapment.

Prosecutors had argued that Dunlap "manifested his propensity to commit robberies" by claiming to have engaged in similar activities in the past, and thus, "the defendant's words justified the reverse sting."

But in a 24-page stinging rebuke, the angry judge said the ATF engaged in "outrageous conduct" by enlisting people in "made-up crime" just so they could bust eager volunteers in drug stings. "Society does not win when the government stoops to the same level as the defendants it seeks to prosecute -- especially when the government has acted solely to achieve a conviction for a 'made-up' crime, Wright wrote. He also noted that such tactics "haven't brought down the crime rate nor taken drugs off the streets."

But the ATF and DEA fake drug rip-off schemes remain in full-swing across the nation despite the brewing controversy over tactics some defense attorneys and jurists regard with loathing. If the Justice Department will investigate whether the stings are aimed disproportionately at minority communities remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Phoenix crew sits in federal prison, while their attorneys plan an appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Next in the series: ATF's Deadly Takedown in Fake Drug Robberies.

Chronicle AM -- May 29, 2014

Minnesota becomes the 22nd medical marijuana state, the California Senate passes a medical marijuana regulation bill and a bill equalizing crack and powder cocaine offenses, a new study reports on who current heroin users are, there are a series of votes set for today to rein in the DEA, a Canadian court allows heroin-assisted treatment trials to move forward, and more. Let's get to it:

Cocaine is cocaine, whether rock or powder, and the California Senate has voted to treat it like that. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Support for Legalization at 42%. A Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll released today has support for marijuana legalization at 42%, with 52% opposed. The poll conducted by the Glengariff Group of Chicago surveyed 600 voters. It has a margin of error of +/ -4%. "There is a sharp difference in attitudes on marijuana legalization among voters under and over the age of 40," said pollster Richard Czuba. "And while Democratic voters support legalization of marijuana, independents and Republican voters strongly oppose legalization." Click the link for more demographic details.

Washington, DC, Initiative is Sweating the Signature-Gathering. Organizers of the DC initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana -- but not the legalization and regulation of marijuana sales -- are "a little nervous" about the progress of their signature-gathering campaign. They have until July 7 to collect 22,373 valid voter signatures. They had collected some 19,000 raw signatures by Monday, but of the 16,734 that have been processed, only 5,360 have been found to be valid.

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington) today introduced a decriminalization bill, House Bill 371. It would make possession of up to an ounce a civil offense with a maximum $100 fine for people 21 and over. Currently, possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) today signed into law the medical marijuana bill approved earlier this month by the legislature. It allows for eight distribution centers across the state to by supplied by two medical marijuana manufacturers. The bill does not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana; but it can be vaped or eaten. Some medical marijuana groups are calling the law "overly restrictive."

California Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. The state Senate yesterday approved Senate Bill 1262, sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Anaheim). It is supported by cities and law enforcement, and would impose tighter controls on dispensaries, cultivation, and recommending. A competing bill, Assembly Bill 1894, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) was expected to be voted on today. If both pass their respective houses, look for a compromise.

Drug Policy

Congress Set to Vote Today on Four Amendments to Reign in DEA. Congress is set to vote today on at least four amendments aimed at reigning in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). One would prohibit DEA from interfering in states that allow medical marijuana; another would prohibit it from blocking hemp seed imports in states that have approved hemp research; a third would prohibit it from undermining state laws that allow for hemp cultivation; and a fourth would reject a proposed $35 million increase in the DEA's FY 2015 budget.

Heroin

Today's Heroin Users Are Mainly Young, White and Not in the Big City, New Study Finds. A new research article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that, unlike the heroin boom of the 1960s, most heroin users today are young white men whose opiate habits overwhelmingly started with prescription pain pills. "Our data show that the demographic composition of heroin users entering treatment has shifted over the last 50 years such that heroin use has changed from an inner-city, minority-centered problem to one that has a more widespread geographical distribution, involving primarily white men and women in their late 20s living outside of large urban areas," the authors concluded.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Prosecutor "Sending a Message" Charges Five Teens With Murder in Teen Girl's Overdose Death. Washington County Attorney Pete Orput has charged five local teenagers with murder in the January death of a 17-year-old girl who died after taking a new synthetic hallucinogen. "We think there's a moral obligation to keep kids free of drugs," said Orput. "We're sending a message that suppliers will be held fully to account." Those charged include a 19-year-old, an 18-year-old, and three 17-year-olds. Orput said the three minors will be charged as adults. The 19-year-old is accused of being the dealer; the others bought some of the drug and shared it among themselves and the dead girl.

Customs to Curtail Searches of General Aviation Aircraft Not Crossing Borders. After loud complaints from private pilots that their domestic flights were being searched for drugs by Customs agents, the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) has announced it will curtail the searches. An official told National Public Radio yesterday that "his agency has heard pilots' grievances and the program is being altered so as not to needlessly affront law-abiding pilots." The Airline Operators and Pilots Association has been raising a stink about the issue for the past year, saying it has received more than 50 reports from members who recounted their encounters with law enforcement at airports.

Georgia SWAT Team Throws Flash-Bang Grenade, Burns Toddler in Drug Raid. A 2-year-old child was burned when members of the Habersham County Special Response Team deployed a "distraction device" as they executed a drug search warrant early yesterday morning. The raid came a day after a snitch made a drug buy at the home and reported no children present. The raiders got themselves a no-knock warrant and breached the door of the home. "What had happened was there was a playpen -- a Pack N Play -- that was pushed up against the door, and when they breached the door it wouldn't open up because of the Pack N Play," Sheriff Joey Terrell said. "It was just wide enough to toss the flash bang in, then they had to physically push it [Pack N Play] on out of the way to get in. That's when the team medics saw the child, stopped at the child, took the child out and began first aid. "The door that we entered was the door that we bought dope out of -- that's why entered at that door," Terrell said. "Our team went by the book. Given the same scenario, we'll do the same thing again. I stand behind what our team did," he maintained. He blames the target of the warrant. Read the whole story at the link.

Sentencing

California Senate Approves Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. The state Senate Wednesday approved a bill that would equalize the penalties for crack and powder cocaine sales and make it easier to get probation for either. The measure is Senate Bill 1010, introduced by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). It now goes to the Assembly.

International

Peru Names Former Defense Minister as New Drug Czar. President Ollanta Humala has named former Defense Minister Luis Otorala as the new head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency, DEVIDA. He replaces Carman Masias. Otarola said that while eradication of coca crops will continue, greater emphasis will be placed on economic alternatives for farmers. Hardline critics said the move and the new emphasis "showed a weakening in the resolve of the government" to confront the drug trade. Peru is once again the world's leading coca and cocaine producer.

Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced in Philippines. Rep. Rodolfo Albano III has filed a medical marijuana bill in the Philippine legislature. House Bill 4477, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Bill, is intended "to provide accessible, affordable, safe medical cannabis to qualifying patients."

British Columbia Supreme Court Grants Injunction for Heroin Treatment Study to Continue. Canada's BC Supreme Court today granted an injunction for an exemption from federal drug laws for participants in the SALOME study (The Study to Assess Long-term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness). The injunction will allow doctors in the study to continue prescribing heroin to patients for whom other treatment options have been ineffective.

Chronicle AM -- May 28, 2014

Look out 2016, here comes Nevada! Also, a US congressman rips into NYPD over marijuana arrests, a New York medical marijuana bill passes the Assembly, Dallas pays out big time for police misbehavior, former DEA head Asa Hutchinson wants more drug war for Arkansas, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol yesterday commenced its campaign to put a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. Two Nevada politicians who are members of the campaign, Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and former Republican Senate Caucus executive director Joe Brezny, were the first to sign the petitions. Canvassers need to come up with 101,000 valid voter signatures by November. If that happens, the measure goes to the legislature. If the legislature declines to act or rejects the measure, it goes to the voters in November 2016.

Oak Park, Michigan, Activists Sue Over Decriminalization Initiative Delay. The Safer Oak Park Coalition has filed a lawsuit against city officials charging that they are delaying efforts to put a decriminalization initiative before the voters. The Coalition handed in more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot on April 27, but city officials said it was too late to have a ballot measure ready for the August primary election. Unless the lawsuit prevails, Oak Park residents will have to wait until November to vote on the issue.

New York City US Congressman Rips NYPD Over High Marijuana Arrest Numbers. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, called on the NYPD yesterday to quit arresting so many people for minor pot possession. More than 28,000 were arrested last year -- 86% of them black or brown -- even though Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D) called the mass arrests and the racial disparity in them "unjust and wrong." The rate of arrests so far this year has dropped by 9%, but that's still 7,000 pot busts in the city this year alone, and the numbers were heading up at quarter's end. Arrests topped 50,000 in 2011, before NYPD was instructed to quit violating the spirit of the state's decriminalization by arresting people for "open possession" after intimidating them into emptying their pockets.

Washington State Parolees Can Smoke Marijuana. The Washington Department of Corrections says it will stop testing the state's 14,000 parolees for THC because marijuana is now legal in the state. "We don't want to hold them to that level, when, as a citizen, you wouldn't be held to that level either," a department spokesperson explained. The department isn't endorsing marijuana use, she added, "We are simply aligning with state law."

Medical Marijuana

New York Assembly Passes Comprehensive Medical Marijuana Bill. The Assembly Tuesday approved Assembly Bill 6357, a comprehensive medical marijuana bill, by a margin of 91-34. This is the fifth time the Assembly has passed a medical marijuana bill, only to see them die in the Senate. This year, a bill is moving in the upper chamber, and a key committee head has signaled if he may be willing to let it come to a vote -- if the Senate leadership agrees.

North Carolina Lawmaker Files Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. She said she would, and now she has. Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret County) Tuesday filed a bill to allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for people suffering "intractable seizures." The measure is House Bill 1220.

Drug Policy

Former DEA Head Asa Hutchinson Vows More Drug War if Elected Arkansas Governor; Democratic Foe Says He's Tough on Crime, Too. Former DEA head Asa Hutchinson, running as a Republican for the Arkansas governor's seat, Tuesday unveiled a plan to address drugs and crime that includes $1 million a year in additional funding for the state's parole system, $300,000 a year for reentry programs for ex-convicts, and more, as yet unspecified, money for the State Police, more drug courts, more drug task forces, and maybe even a new prison. He also hinted that he might want to "re-tweak" a 2011 sentencing reform bill to give prosecutors "more flexibility" in prosecuting property and drug crimes. Hutchinson's Democratic opponent, former US Rep. Mike Ross, also "has a strong record of being tough on crime and supporting our law enforcement community," his campaign retorted Tuesday.

Law Enforcement

City of Dallas Keeps Paying Out for Police Misbehavior. Last week, the Dallas city council approved a $105,000 settlement to a man beaten unconscious by police during a fruitless drug raid. It's just business as usual in Dallas, where the pay-out was just the latest in a series of series of high-profile, six-figure lawsuits against the Dallas PD in recent years, including at least one other drug-related case. The city council approved the most recent settlement without debate.

International

Australia's New South Wales Greens Launch Medical Marijuana Bill. The NSW Greens Tuesday launched their campaign to pass a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. The bill, the Drug Legislation Amendment (Use of Cannabis for Medical Purposes) Bill 2014 would allow people suffering from terminal illnesses to possess up to 15 grams of marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. The bill is in line with the recommendations of a cross-party Upper House inquiry into the issue last year.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The Dallas city council pays out for another brutal drug raid, and a Florida narc can't keep his crack straight. Let's get to it:

In Dallas, the Dallas city council approved a $105,000 settlement last Wednesday for a man beaten unconscious during a Dallas police drug raid in 2010. Danny Cantu said police threw a flash-bang grenade in his home, broke down his doors, and violently assaulted him. Police said they used a no-knock search warrant and aggressive tactics because they thought he was a major drug dealer, but all they found was a sawed off shotgun and a tenth of a gram of cocaine. Cantu was never charged with a crime, and the council approved the payment without debate. It is just the latest in a string of high-profile, six-figure lawsuits against the department in recent years.

In Palm Beach, Florida, a Palm Beach sheriff's department narcotics detective was arrested last Tuesday for lying about crack cocaine buys in a search warrant. Detective Joaquin Fonseca is accused of saying he bought the crack at a house he raided, but video surveillance showed that his efforts to buy crack there were actually rebuffed. Dash cam video from Fonseca's car showed that he bought crack from a different dealer and used that as evidence for the search warrant. And when he was booked into the jail, he was found to be carrying more crack cocaine. He is charged with official misconduct, cocaine possession, and making false statements.

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