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This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A six-pack of dirty narcs gets nailed in Philly, a trio of crooked jail guards gets popped in New York City, an upstate New York cop gets busted for providing heads-ups to suspects, and a former West Virginia cop heads to prison for ripping off pain pills. Let's get to it:

In New York City, three Rikers Island jail guards were arrested Tuesday on charges they smuggled prescription pills, cocaine, and other drugs into the jail. Current guards Steven Dominguez, 26, and Infinite Divine Rahming, 30, and former guard Deleon Gift went down in a sting operation. They now face charges including conspiracy, bribery, and drug possession.

In Troy, New York, a Troy police officer was arrested Wednesday on charges he tipped off drug suspects about an impending state police raid. Patrolman Brian Gross, a 10-year veteran of the force, was assigned to assist the State Police narcotics team and came under suspicion after five February drug raids failed to turn up any drugs. He is accused of informing one person of an impending raid, with that person then informing the raid target. He faces felony charges of tampering with physical evidence, and misdemeanor charges of official misconduct and second-degree obstructing governmental administration. He is free on his own recognizance.

In Philadelphia, six narcotics officers were arrested Wednesday on a host of corruption charges, including robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and drug dealing. They are accused of ripping off hundreds of thousands of dollars in drugs and cash from suspected drug dealers, kidnapping and threatening their victims, falsifying reports to conceal their theft of drug proceeds, and much, much more. The six charged are Thomas Liciardello, 38; Brian Reynolds, 43; Michael Spicer, 46; Perry Betts, 46; Linwood Norman, 46; and John Speiser, 44. Federal prosecutors asked that they be held without bail because of their proclivities toward violence.

In Clarksburg, West Virginia, a former Shinnston police officer was sentenced Monday to four to 16 years in prison for confiscating hydrocodone from people and then keeping the pills for himself. Charles Roscoe Henning III pleaded guilty last month to four counts of obtaining a controlled substance by misrepresentation by fraud, forgery, deception or subterfuge.

Chronicle AM -- July 30, 2014

Marijuana arrests are up in a third of the states, the drug czar's office responds to the New York Times, Dr. Carl Hart wins a literary award, Philly narcs get busted, and more. Let's get to it:

Bus ad for the Alaska marijuana legalization campaign.
Marijuana Policy

ONDCP Responds to New York Times Call to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. In a Monday night blog post, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) responded to the New York Times's Sunday editorial calling for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "Marijuana legalization is not the silver bullet solution," ONDCP proclaimed. "The New York Times editorial team failed to mention a cascade of public health problems associated with the increased availability of marijuana," the blog post reads. "While law enforcement will always play an important role in combating violent crime associated with the drug trade, the Obama Administration approaches substance use as a public health issue, not merely a criminal justice problem." Click on the link to read the whole post.

NORML PAC Endorses Constance Johnson for US Senate in Oklahoma. NORML PAC, the campaign and lobbying arm of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has endorsed state Sen. Constance Johnson (D) for the US Senate in Oklahoma. Johnson has been an advocate for medical marijuana and marijuana legalization and, this year, has been leading a petition drive to put legalization on the November ballot. "I'm incredibly thankful for NORML's endorsement, " said Sen. Johnson. "After years of stonewalling in the state legislature, I'm taking this fight to the people. It's time for the people of Oklahoma to speak on this issue." The Democratic primary is August 26.

Marijuana Arrests Up in Many States. Although annual marijuana arrests nationwide declined by 3.3% between 2008 and 2012, they increased in at least 17 states, according to a report published by NORML, Marijuana in the States 2012: Analysis and Detailed Data on Marijuana Use and Arrests. South Carolina and the District of Columbia saw the biggest increases, but DC has just decriminalized marijuana possession, so that should change soon. Marijuana arrests accounted for two-thirds of more of all drug arrests in five states: Nebraska (74.1%), New Hampshire (72%), Montana (70.3%), Wyoming (68.7%) and Wisconsin (67.1%).

Alaska Legalization Campaign Unveils News Bus Ads. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol In Alaska unveiled a series of bus ads yesterday in Anchorage that highlight the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol. The ads will appear throughout the week on city buses.

National Cannabis Industry Association Announces Food Safety Program for Edibles Makers and Responsible Selling Program for Retailers. The National Cannabis Industry Association will hold a ServSafe Food Safety training for edibles makers and a responsible selling program for budtenders in Denver next month. Click on the link to register.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Tells Health Department to Hurry Up with Medical Marijuana. Impelled by the deaths of two children with epileptic seizure disorders whose conditions could be alleviated with medical marijuana, Gov. Andrew Cuomo today sent a letter to the Department of Health urging it to find ways to "accelerate the process for this specific dire population." Cuomo added that he looked forward "to any progress you can make for the children of our state living with epilepsy."

Fired University of Arizona Medical Marijuana Researcher Loses Appeal. Dr. Sue Sisley, the University of Arizona researcher whose pending study of medical marijuana to treat PTSD among veterans was halted when she was fired last month, has lost an appeal to regain her job. Sisley is now looking for a new academic home to pursue the research.

Law Enforcement

Six Philadelphia Narcs Charged in Corruption Probe. The long-running scandal around Philadelphia's out-of-control narcotics units took another twist today when federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against six of them, including robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and drug dealing. They are accused of shaking down drug dealers and stealing hundreds of thousands in cash and drugs over a six-year period. Federal prosecutors asked that they be held without bail, given their violent histories.

Drug Science

Dr. Carl Hart's "High Price" Wins Science Writing Award. Dr. Carl Hart, a neuroscientist and associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University (and Drug Policy Alliance board member), has been awarded the PEN/EO Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for his memoir, "High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society." Read our review of "High Price" here.

International

Medical Marijuana Civil Disobedience Action in Italy. Activists affiliated with the Italian Radical Party have engaged in civil disobedience over medical marijuana by planting seeds to grow specifically selected marijuana plants to treat patients with multiple sclerosis. The move is a result of frustration with the lack of effective access to medical marijuana in the country, where only 60 patients manage to obtain Dutch-produced medical marijuana through the Public Health Service. Click on the link for more details.

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

Chronicle AM -- July 29, 2014

Marijuana Policy

New York gubernatorial candidate Randy Credico slams Cuomo on clemency. (credico2014.com)
Colorado, Washington Senators Urge White House to Intervene to Fix Muddled Federal Marijuana Policies. All four US senators from the legal marijuana states signed onto a letter to the White House yesterday saying that federal policies about marijuana in states where it is legal are "at odds with one another" and asking the administration to establish "consistent and uniform" guidelines across the federal government. "Without such guidance, our states' citizens face uncertainty and risk the inconsistent application of federal law in Colorado and Washington state, including the potential for selective enforcement actions and prosecution," wrote Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennett of Colorado and Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington.

Oregon Legalization Initiative Picks Up Endorsements. The New Approach Oregon marijuana legalization initiative has announced endorsements from three groups: the Oregon State Council for Retired Citizens, the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and the national group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

No Legalization Vote in Grosse Point, Michigan, After All. A marijuana legalization initiative won't be on the ballot in Grosse Point this fall after city officials disqualified some signatures over a technicality. One set of signatures had the wrong date on it, disqualifying 106 of the 596 signatures turned in and leaving the signature count at 490, five fewer than needed to make the ballot.

Albuquerque Decriminalization Initiative Supporters Hand in Signatures. Supporters of a decriminalization initiative in New Mexico's largest city handed in 16,000 signatures to city officials Monday. They need 11,203 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. A similar effort in Santa Fe came up short last week, but there is still time to gather more signatures there.

York, Maine, Selectmen Reject Putting Legalization Ordinance on Ballot; Advocates Will Have to Come up With More Signatures to Force Vote. If the people in York want to vote to legalize marijuana, they will have to do it themselves. The town Board of Selectmen yesterday voted not to put a legalization initiative on the November ballot, so now advocates will have to come up with 613 more signatures to force a vote.

Harm Reduction

UNODC Issues Call for Harm Reduction Proposals from Civil Society Organizations. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has issued a call for civil society organizations to apply for funding to support work in harm reductions. The proposals should be strategic initiatives addressing HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support among injection drug users. The deadline for applications is August 20. Click on the link for more details and to apply.

Law Enforcement

The Year's 27th Drug War Death. The Drug War Chronicle has been tracking deaths related to US domestic drug law enforcement activities since 2011. We're going to start including them here, beginning with the death last week of Ohio resident Agyasi Ector, 27, who was walking to his job when he was struck and killed by a vehicle being driven at high speeds as it was being chased by police doing a drug investigation. Police said they plan to charge the driver with murder, but hold themselves blameless in the high-speed pursuit. Click on the link for more details and for links to previous drug war deaths.

Sentencing

Paul Ryan's Poverty Plan Includes Nod to Sentencing Reform. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)'s plan to address poverty in America includes some mention of sentencing reform. He calls for reduced resort to mandatory minimum sentencing and encourages states to enact sentencing reforms as well.

Independent New York Governor Candidate Slams Cuomo Over Failing to Use Clemency Powers. Independent gubernatorial candidate and political gadfly Randy Credico accuses Gov. Andrew Cuomo of Grinch-like behavior in failing to exercise his power to grant clemency and pardons to prisoners and ex-prisoners. Cuomo has granted zero clemencies. Credico notes that previous governors have made use of that power, but that Cuomo is even worse than his father, Mario Cuomo, who "granted an enemic 33 pardons while bouncing and stuffing 30,000 poor blacks and Latinos into the 36 new state prisons he built with funds that could have been used for low cost housing or improving the school system."

(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.)

Pedestrian Killed in Drug Investigation Police Chase

An Ohio man walking to his job was struck and killed by a vehicle being driven at high speeds as it was being chased by police doing a drug investigation. Agyasi Ector, 27, becomes the 27th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WDTN 2 TV News, citing law enforcement sources, Trotwood Police began chasing a vehicle "as a result of a drug operation." During the chase, the fleeing vehicle reached speeds of up to 100 mph, Captain John Porter said.

The vehicle crashed on Shiloh Springs Road near Olive Road, where Ector was walking. He was struck by the vehicle and killed.

The two men in the fleeing vehicle, who have not yet been identified, were treated for non-life-threatening injuries at a local hospital. Police said they face possible charges of murder and felonious assault.

Captain Porter said that despite the fatal result of the high-speed pursuit, police did everything right.

"It wasn't the officer that crashed in this," he said. "It wasn't the officer that lost control in this particular situation. We prepare the officers very specifically on policy and procedure, and as far as we can tell from our preliminary investigation, our officers followed all of those policies and procedures."

WDTN 2 TV News obtained a copy of the department's pursuit policy. It says pursuits should be called off if "the risk of continuing the pursuit is greater to the member and the community than the risk the suspect poses to the community if they escape."

Trotwood, OH
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 28, 2014

The New York Times comes out for marijuana legalization, a Florida poll finds majority support for it, Rand Paul introduces a bill to wipe out the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. Let's get to it:

The nation's "newspaper of record" wants to free the weed. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Editorial Board Calls for End to Federal Marijuana Prohibition. What is arguably the most influential and respected newspaper in the United States is ready to free the weed. In a Sunday editorial, the New York Times called forthrightly for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," the newspaper proclaimed. "We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times's Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws."

Alaska Legalization Initiative Backers File Campaign Finance Complaint Against Foes. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska has filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission charging that the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign deceived the public trust when its campaign spokesperson, Kristina Woolston, said her employer, Northwest Strategies is donating its time to the campaign. State law requires that donations be filed as campaign contributions.

Florida Poll Finds 55% for Marijuana Legalization. A majority (55%) of Floridians are ready to legalize marijuana, a new Quinnipiac University poll has found. It looks to be a generational thing; 72% of people under 30 support it, but only 36% of people 65 and older do. The poll also had 88% support for medical marijuana.

More Michigan Towns to Hand in Local Decriminalization Initiative Signatures Tomorrow. Initiative organizers in Port Huron, Lansing, and Portage are preparing to hand in signatures for local decriminalization initiatives tomorrow. The Safer Michigan Coalition says organizers have already handed in signatures in 14 other towns: Frankfort, Huntington Woods, Mt. Pleasant, Pleasant Ridge and Utica; in prior weeks, they did so in Berkley, Grosse Pointe Park, Harrison, Hazel Park, Lapeer, Montrose, Oak Park, Onaway and Saginaw.

Santa Fe, New Mexican, Decriminalization Initiatives Comes Up Short on Signatures. A campaign to put a municipal decriminalization on the Santa Fe ballot in November has hit a bump. Only 3,569 of the 7,000 signatures it handed in were valid; it needs 5,763 to qualify. But campaigners still have more time to gather more.

Medical Marijuana

Bill to Allow Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Filed in US House. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) today introduced a bill that would exempt low-THC, high-CBD marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Staten Island Narcs Are NYPD's Most Sued. Seven of the 10 most sued NYPD officers work out of a Staten Island narcotics unit, according to an analysis by the New York Daily News. Those Staten Island narcs account for 21% of the more than 600 cases filed against NYPD officers in the past decade. Taxpayers have shelled out more than $6 million to settle suits against them. Most of the suits against them allege false arrests for charges that are later dropped. Detective Vincent Orsini, who has been sued 21 times since 2003, with payouts of nearly $1.1 million, is the most-sued cop on the Island.

Sentencing

Rand Paul Introduces Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties. The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It is not yet up on the congressional web site.

International

Gun Battles Continue in Northeast Mexico Across from US Border. Fighting between various Mexican drug cartel factions in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas continues. Gun battles in Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, left six suspected cartel gun men dead, including at least one killed by Mexican marines.

Florida Man Killed in Drug Bust Gun Battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belle Isle, FL
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More cops with pain pill problems, another jailer busted, another cop caught in a protection sting, and another cop gets caught peddling steroids and prescription drugs. Let's get to it:

In Pacific, Missouri, a Pacific police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he stole hydrocodone and oxycodone from the department evidence room. Arthur Tullock, 55, is accused of "appropriating" the pills for his own use. He is charged with two counts of theft of a controlled substance and is now out on bail.

In Dawson, Georgia, a Terrell County jail guard was arrested last Friday after he got caught bringing drugs into the jail. Jantzsen Richardson is charged with possession of marijuana, but more charges are pending.

In Waycross, Georgia, a former Pierce County sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Wednesday to 93 months in federal prison for protecting drug dealers. Randy Strickland, 55, agreed to act as a look-out for people he believed were dealing meth, but he was actually caught up in a sting by a snitch monitored by federal agents. He had only sought $100 for providing security.

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a former West Palm Beach police officer was sentenced last Friday to five years in prison for selling drugs while on duty, in uniform, and carrying his service weapon. Dewitt McDonald, 46, admitted illegally selling steroids and prescription drugs and copped to one count of carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking offense.

In Clarksburg, West Virginia, a former Shinnston police officer was sentenced Monday to four to 16 years in prison for confiscating hydrocodone from people, then removing pills from the pill bottles before turning them in to the evidence room. Charles Roscoe Henning III had pleaded guilty last month to four counts of obtaining a controlled substance by misrepresentation by fraud, forgery, deception or subterfuge.

Chronicle AM -- July 23, 2014

South Portland, Maine, will vote on marijuana legalization in November, medical marijuana researcher Dr. Sue Sisley's campaign to be reinstated is picking up steam, Mississippi officials get an earful at a public forum on a welfare drug testing law, and more. Let's get to it:

Evo Morales is not only president of Bolivia; he's also the president of the country's largest coca growers' union. (wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

South Portland, Maine, Marijuana Possession Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. Officials in South Portland confirmed today that a citizen initiative to make marijuana possession legal for adults within city limits has qualified for the November 2014 ballot. Citizens for a Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, submitted more than 1,500 signatures, and just 959 valid signatures of registered city voters were required. The South Portland City Council will consider whether to enact the measure or refer it to city voters at its meeting scheduled for August 4.

Delaware House Hearing on Marijuana Decriminalization Today. The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing on a decriminalization bill today. The amended version of House Bill 371 would make possession of up to an ounce a civil offense, punishable only by a fine. Under current law, small time possession is a misdemeanor that can garner up to six months in jail.

Medical Marijuana

National Herbal Medicine Industry Group Issues Guidelines for Medical Marijuana Manufacture. The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) today released medical marijuana manufacturing guidelines, completing its compendium of industry standards. The guidelines complement those set by American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) for the plant's identity, purity, quality and botanical properties.

Arizona Judge Rules Patients Can Sell to Other Cardholders. A Pima County Superior Court judge has thrown out charges against a medical marijuana patient who offered plants to sale to other cardholders for a $25 "donation," holding that the state's medical marijuana law is vague and can be interpreted as allowing for such activities. So far the ruling only applies to the case at hand, but local prosecutors have vowed to appeal, and a favorable higher court ruling would set precedent statewide.

Campaign to Reinstate Arizona Medical Marijuana Researcher Picks Up Steam. Veterans rallied yesterday at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix in support of medical marijuana researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, who says she was fired because of political opposition to her research on the use of medical marijuana for PTSD in veterans. A Change.org petition seeking her reinstatement now has 66,000 signatures (30,000 of them from yesterday alone) and a there is also a Facebook page supporting her.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Public Forum on Welfare Drug Test Law Leads for Calls to Amend It. A welfare recipient, civil liberties advocates, and Democratic politicians strong criticized the state's new law mandating drug testing for some welfare recipients at a public hearing yesterday. They called for it not to be implemented until it can be amended by the legislature. No one spoke in support of the law.

Law Enforcement

Orange County, Florida, Women Sue SWAT Team Over Violent Drug Raid. A mother and daughter are suing the Orange County Sheriff's Office after a SWAT team drug raid left a family dog dead and the daughter wounded by police gunfire inside their own home. The raid was aimed at a relative who didn't even live at the residence. Police found marijuana seeds and "drug paraphernalia" in the room where the relative had stayed, but charges against him were later dropped.

International

Bolivian President Wins Reelection as Head of Country's Largest Coca Growers Union; Vows to Expand Crop if Re-Elected as President. Evo Morales was a coca grower union leader before he was elected president of the country, and he's still a coca grower union leader. He was just reelected as head of the union, and he told union members that Bolivia needs a new law for coca production that would allow for expanded cultivation.

Chronicle AM -- July 21, 2014

The World Health Organization calls for drug decriminalization (and more), international drug reform and harm reduction groups warn of an AIDS prevention crisis, marijuana policy is popping up in some Republican primaries, and more. Let's get to it:

Times are changing when marijuana legalization becomes an issue in Republican primaries. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

MPP Urges Votes for Bob Barr in Georgia Republican Congressional Primary Tomorrow. The Marijuana Policy Project is calling on its Georgia supporters to get out and vote for Republican congressional candidate Bob Barr in the primary tomorrow in the state's 11th congressional district. Barr made a reputation in the 1990s as an arch-drug warrior, but has since become a staunch supporter of drug policy reform and civil liberties.

Kansas GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Challenges Incumbent With Platform That Includes Legalizing Marijuana. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is facing a long-shot challenge from Jennifer Winn, a small businesswoman whose son is facing a murder charge over a marijuana deal gone bad. She says she entered the race out of anger over that, and her platform includes legalizing marijuana and industrial hemp, as well as a broader call for drug policy reform. Her race is being watched as a sign of how damaged the state GOP is after years of Brownback's ultraconservative social and economic policies.

Washington State Rang Up $1.2 Million in Marijuana Sales in First Week. Only a handful of stores were actually open and supplies were limited, but the first week of legal marijuana sales in Washington still generated more than $1.2 million in sales, according to the state Liquor Control Board. It also generated $318,043 in taxes collected so far.

Despite Philadelphia City Council's Decriminalization Vote, Marijuana Possession Arrests Continue. Last month, the city council voted to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce, but Mayor Michael Nutter opposes the bill, and Police Chief Charles Ramsey vowed to continue marijuana possession arrests. He's lived up to his word. Since the bill was passed, 246 people have been arrested for pot possession, 140 of them charged only with pot possession. Of the 124 people charged with additional crimes, the vast majority were only drug charges. Mayor Nutter has until September to act on the decriminalization bill. He can sign it, veto it, or do nothing, in which case it becomes law without his signature.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Governor Signs Bill to Expand Access to Medical Marijuana. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) yesterday signed into law a bill that will expand the state's medical marijuana program by allowing people with seizure disorders to use it and by allowing minors to participate in it with parental consent. The measure is Senate Bill 2636.

New Mexico Backs Off on Medical Marijuana Program Changes. The state Department of Health announced last Thursday that it will not move forward with proposed rule changes that included limiting the number of plants patients could grow and requiring criminal background checks for patient growers. The department said there will likely be another hearing for public comments before new rules are finalized this fall.

Psychedelics

Memorial Event for Sasha Shulgin in Berkeley Next Month. The psychonauts at Erowid are hosting a memorial and community gathering in Berkeley next month to honor the memory of Dr. Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin, the legendary scientist of psychedelics who died early last month. Please RSVP if you are planning to attend; click on the link to do so.

Drug Policy

World Health Organization Calls for Drug Decriminalization, Broad Drug Policy Reforms. In a report on HIV treatment and prevention released earlier this month, the World Health Organization quietly called for drug decriminalization, needle exchanges, and opiate substitution therapy. The WHO's positions are based on concerns for public health and human rights.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Public Hearing on Welfare Drug Test Law Tomorrow. The Department of Human Services is holding a hearing tomorrow in Jackson to hear public comment on a new welfare drug testing law that was supposed to have gone into effect July 1. It was delayed to allow for a public hearing. The law is opposed by the ACLU and racial and social justice activists. Click on the link for time and location details.

Harm Reduction

Drug Reform and AIDS Groups Warn of "Global Crisis" in HIV Prevention Funding, Especially for Injection Drug Users. As the 20th International AIDS Conference gets underway in Melbourne, Australia, three drug reform, harm reduction, and AIDS groups have issued a report, The Funding Crisis for Harm Reduction, warning that because of donor fatigue, changing government policies, and an over-reliance on drug law enforcement, the goal of an "AIDS-free generation" risks slipping away. The three groups are Harm Reduction International, the International Drug Policy Consortium, and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Law Enforcement

In Forsythe County, North Carolina, Majority of SWAT Deployments are For Drug Raids. SWAT teams were designed to be used in extreme situations -- hostage-taking events, terrorist attacks, and the like -- but have been subject to mission creep over the years. Forsythe County is one example. In an in-depth report, the Winston-Salem Journal found that the Forsythe County SWAT team had been deployed 12 times in the past year and the Winston-Salem Police SWAT team had been deployed 40 days in the past year "mostly to execute search warrants for drugs."

International

Report on Illicit Drug Corridors Between Bolivia and Peru Published. In a report based on on-the-scene investigation, the Bolivian NGO Puente Investigacion y Enlace (PIE), led by former human rights ombudsman Godo Reinicke, has studied the drug and precursor chemical networks straddling the Peru-Bolivia border. Read the report, Corredores ilicitos entre Boliva-Peru, ¿Rutas escondidas y extrañas? in Spanish, or click on your translate button.

(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.)

US Drug Policy and the Border Child Immigration Crisis [FEATURE]

The mass migration of tens of thousands of children and adolescents from Central America festered for months before exploding into a full-blown border refugee/immigration crisis in the last few weeks, as images of hundreds of children warehoused in temporary holding facilities competed with equally compelling images of crowds of angry Americans loudly protesting their presence.

At the border. (COHA)
The finger-pointing is in full swing. Much of it centers on the need to "secure the border" and the Obama administration's alleged failure to do so. Other Republican critics blame the administration's alleged "softness" on child immigrants as a factor pulling the kids north. Democrats counter that the GOP's blockage of long-pending immigration reform is part of the problem.

A lot of the discussion centers around the "pull" factors -- those policies or social or economic realities that draw these immigrants toward the US, but equally at play are "push" factors -- those policies or social or economic factors that impel these emigrants to seek new, better lives outside their homelands.

And there is finger-pointing going on about that, too, with some loud and prominent voices placing a good share of the blame on prohibitionist US drug policies in Latin America -- their emphasis on law enforcement and military responses, their balloon effects, and their other unintended consequences.

The majority of the child immigrants are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America (the isthmus also includes Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama). Those Northern Triangle countries suffered not only devastating civil wars in the 1980s, with the US supporting conservative, often dictatorial governments against leftist popular guerrilla movements (or, in the case of Honduras, serving as a platform for counterinsurgency against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua), but also chronic poverty and income inequality.

They are also the countries feeling the brunt of the expansion of powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- who, in response to increased pressure from the Mexican government (assisted by US aid under the Merida agreement) began pushing south into the region around 2008. And they are countries where transnational criminal gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) have taken on an increasingly high profile, bringing high levels of criminal violence with them. (San Pedro Sula, Honduras, bears the dubious distinction of having the highest murder rate in the world.)

Honduran President Juan Fernandez is one of the prominent voices placing the blame for the crisis squarely on the war on drugs.

"Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration. A good part of (migration) has to do with the lack of opportunities in Central America, which has its origin in the climate of violence, and this violence, almost 85% of it, is related to the issue of drug trafficking," he said.

Former Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich has been another prominent voice pointing to the role of the drug war -- and earlier militaristic US interventions in the region. He let loose in a Facebook post last weekend.

"I've been watching media coverage of angry Americans at our southern border waiving signs and yelling slogans, insisting that the children -- most of whom are refugees of the drug war we've created -- 'go home' to the violence and death that war has created, and I wonder who these angry Americans are," he wrote. The "United States is not a detached, innocent bystander" when it came to the refugee crisis, he explained.

"For decades, US governments supported unspeakably brutal regimes and poured billions into maintaining them ($5 billion in El Salvador alone). Implacable opposition to communism -- often defined as virtually any reformer -- gave these regimes a blank check," Reich continued. "The result is a legacy of dealing with opponents through extreme violence and a culture of impunity. Judicial systems remain weak, corrupt, and often completely dysfunctional. After the cold war ended, the United States lost interest in these countries. What was left was destruction, tens of thousands dead, and massive population displacement. The percentage of people living below the poverty line is 54 % for Guatemala, 36 % for El Salvador, and 60 % for Honduras. More recently gangs, organized crime, and drug cartels feeding the US market have become part of this unholy mix."

While the president of Honduras and Democrats like Reich could have political incentives in what is an increasingly ugly and partisan debate over the crisis, a number of experts on the region -- though not all of them -- agree that US drug policies in the region are playing a major role in the affair.

"Although there are many factors, clearly the drug war is one of them," said John Walsh, senior associate for drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "There can't be any doubt that drug trafficking and efforts to repress it are part of the criminality and violence in Central America," he told the Chronicle.

"It's not the only explanation, of course," he added. "There are decades of weak institutions and long histories of violence in the area. But if you take into account the shifting trafficking patterns resulting from the US helping other governments in the region put pressure on the industry and shift routes through Central America, it has certainly added to the problems."

"We've been engaged in a drug war for 40 years, and everywhere we put pressure, it bulges out somewhere else," said Nathan Jones, fellow in drug policy at Rice University's Baker Institute in Houston. "In the Miami Vice era, we put pressure on the Caribbean, and the trade moved to Mexico. We dismantled the Cali and Medellin cartels in the early 1990s, and in hindsight, we know that also empowered the Mexican cartels."

The pattern keeps repeating, Jones said.

"Through the Merida Initiative, we put more pressure on the Mexican cartels -- and for very good reasons -- but that resulted in their dispersal into Central America. The Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel established alliances and began carving out chunks of Central America. They shifted to two-state and multi-stage trafficking operations and tried to minimize their risk by having their loads stop in various countries."

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez (wikipedia.org)
At the same time the Mexican cartels were pushing (and being pushed) into Central America, Central American gangs were rearing their tattooed heads. Ironically enough, gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) had their origins in another US war in the region: the Reagan-era effort to thwart the rise to power of popular leftist guerrillas.

"Deportation got us into this mess in the first place," said Jones. "We had immigrants coming from Central America during the wars of the 1980s. Some of them formed their own gangs after being rejected by Mexican street gangs in places like Los Angeles, and when they showed up in the criminal justice system, we deported them back to their home countries. We transnationalized those gangs in the process, and now the violence from those very gangs is resulting in another mass migration flow. And now we are proposing the same solution of deportation. This doesn't deal with root causes."

"I'm not a big proponent of the drug war as an explanation for everything," countered Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. "We need to stop thinking about the violence in Central America as a drug problem. It's a factor in the violence but not really a primary factor. Community based criminal networks involved in extortion, kidnapping, and other forms of criminal activity -- including retail drug markets -- are more of a factor," he told the Chronicle.

"There is virtually no state presence in most of the areas of highest violence so it's a little hard to blame the drug war," Olson continued. "Where the drug war has been the biggest problem has been when there are mass operations and mass detentions, but even those arrests have less and less to do with drugs and more and more to do with the criminalization of gang membership, extortion, and other things. We've got to stop seeing everything through the drug war lens."

"Criminal groups have diversified their business models," WOLA's Walsh conceded. "Drug trafficking is only one aspect, but the revenues are so huge that there is more money to buy weapons and corrupt officials, so it contributes to crime and impunity. There is no doubt this is part of the problem."

"This is a very complicated issue, with lots of causal factors, and blaming it solely on US policy has lots of shortcomings," said Alicia Magdalena Duda, a researcher with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA). "But the drug war and the violence is a big issue."

Assigning blame for the status quo is a backwards looking exercise, but what is to be done moving forward? There are divergences of opinion there, too.

"We have to recognize that just equipping these countries to chase drugs around in the interest of interdicting them for our purposes isn't contributing much to reducing violence and increasing public safety," said Walsh. "Drug enforcement as measured by how much they're interdicting has no impact at best, and probably makes things worse. Rather than foster the illusion that we can eradicate the drug trade, we need to steer law enforcement there to reduce violence by going after the worst, most violent actors rather than measuring success in tons seized."

"How to end the violence is a long-term issue," said COHA's Duda. "Those countries are facing extreme violence and poverty. To address this immigration crisis, we have to actively engage with them, and not just with monetary packages. One of the contributors to poverty is corruption, and corruption is rampant there. Ignoring that and just continuing with the present approach is not effective, either," she said.

Duda even broached a very controversial response, one that has also been heard in regard to Mexico and the prohibition-related violence there.

"Maybe they have to engage in peace talks with the gangs and cartels," she suggested.

"One of the great frustrations about Central America is that we supported those right-wing regimes during the Cold War, but we didn't deal with any of the underlying conditions, the grievances, the extreme income inequality, the crushing, grinding poverty," said Jones. "We need a sustained engagement with Central America, but we also have to leverage those host governments to do the right thing. We can't have a situation where wealthy elites are not paying their fair shares of taxes. We have societies fundamentally structured along wrong principles. It will take decades to turn things around, but it needs to happen."

"Our focus should be on reducing violence and addressing the factors that are actually driving the violence," said Olson. "This should include targeted law enforcement, but also prevention programs as well as gang intervention and reintegration programs. Only by reducing violence and the stranglehold criminal networks have on communities will people consider staying in place."

This is a complicated problem with no easy solutions and a lot of different suggestions. Whether prohibition and US drug policies have played a key role or only a supporting one, it does seem clear that, at best, they have not helped. At worst, our drug policies in the region have increased violence and corruption in the region, enriching the worst -- on both sides of the law.

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