Later On

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The Forever War: The drug war marches on

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Joe Haldeman wrote a very good science-fiction novel derived from his experiences in the Vietnam War. Titled The Forever War, it presented the devastating futility of a war that continues to be fought beyond all reason, and the War on Drugs seems cut from the same cloth. Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

We may have legal pot in two (and counting) states, as well as a majority of Americans in favor of nationwide legalization, but the drug war still marches on, in all of its punitive glory. First, an update to a story posted here last week. Unfortunately, Shona Banda has lost custody of her son, at least for the short term:

A medical marijuana advocate has lost custody of her 11-year-old son at least temporarily and could face possible charges following comments the boy made during a drug education program at school.

The case of Shona Banda, 37, was forwarded Monday to the district attorney’s office for a decision about charges, Police Capt. Randy Ralston said. Possible charges include possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia and child endangerment, the department said in a news release.

No arrests have been made.

The divorced mother said she did not get custody of her son back following a hearing Monday, after Kansas authorities had placed the boy into protective custody.

“That’s OK – I am not giving up,” Banda said. “I will, I will get him and I am not going to stop until I do.” . . .

A gag order has since been issued in the custody case, Banda said. Her attorney, Sarah Swain, did not respond to a phone message left at her office.

I guess that’s one way to stop the public backlash over this outrageous case–just use a gag order to forbid Banda from letting the public know what’s going on. (Remember, Kansas has some of the worst laws in the country when it comes to forcing transparency from law enforcement agencies.)

Next we turn to Mississippi, for the latest example of the drunk informant system run amok.

Each year, the tiny four-person Lafayette County Metro Narcotics Unit recruits on average 30 confidential informants, many of them college students. Around half of those arrested by Metro Narcotics in 2014 were first-time offenders, and the unit made three times as many arrests for marijuana as for any other drug. For two decades those arrests helped win nearly half the unit’s total budget from federal grants designed to help fight America’s War on Drugs. When the drug war began to cool down, and the federal funding dried up, local institutions stepped up to keep the unit alive. Thanks to money from the city and county governments and the University of Mississippi, Lafayette County Metro Narcotics continues busting college kids and turning them into informants by threatening them with hard time or the shame and lifelong burden of a drug record.

“Lafayette County Metro Narcotics Unit is a mill that functions exclusively through the recruitment of college student CIs to rat out other students,” said Tom Levidiotis, a former prosecutor who handled drug cases in the local district attorney’s office. “It’s such an enterprise here.”

It will probably take one or two of those kids getting killed before this nonsense is stopped.

Rachel Hoffman, 23, was killed in Florida in 2008 during a failed attempt to buy guns and drugs from two suspects. Her death led the state legislature to pass a law that prohibited officers from promising reduced charges in exchange for CI work. In January, Andrew Sadek, a 20-year-old college student in North Dakota, was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head. He had been working as a CI after getting arrested for selling $80 worth of weed. In October 2013, Eric Sinacori, a 20-year old student at UMass-Amherst, died of a heroin overdose. He had agreed to work as a CI for the campus police department the year before, after he sold $20 worth of LSD to an undercover campus police officer. Officers searched his apartment and found various drugs and a hypodermic needle. Neither his parents nor the school were notified about his suspected heroin use.

In January, after an internal review of the campus police CI program, UMass-Amherst ended it. The review found that college students were “particularly vulnerable to coercion.”

Meanwhile, even as lawmakers, the Justice Department, and editorial boards are turning on the practice of civil asset forfeiture, at the local level the practice doesn’t appear to be slowing down at all.

A handful of small Los Angeles County cities seize large amounts of cash and cars using a controversial federal law that allows them to confiscate property even when owners aren’t charged with a crime, according to a report published by an advocacy group that promotes decriminalization of drugs.

The seizures by police in South Gate, Beverly Hills, Baldwin Park and other relatively small cities dwarf those made by much larger police departments in California from 2006 through 2013, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Pomona reaped more than $14 million, exceeding assets collected in the considerably larger cities of Oakland, Long Beach, Fresno and Bakersfield combined, said the report, which is expected to be published Tuesday morning.

California law enforcement agencies received nearly $600 million from civil asset forfeitures under federal law from 2006 through 2013, according to the Drug Policy Alliance’s report. State forfeitures brought in about $140 million.

Even tiny cities took in sizable amounts of forfeiture revenue by working with the U.S. Department of Justice. Vernon, with 112 people, took in nearly $1 million; and Irwindale, with fewer than 1,500 residents, received more than $800,000, the report said. Beverly Hills collected more than $7.3 million; La Verne more than $3 million; and South Gate more than $7.6 million.

The report said police departments use forfeited assets to buy cars, computers, helicopters and air surveillance equipment, and to pay for overtime. Cities have increased asset forfeitures at a time when their budgets were being slashed and some appear to have improperly budgeted for future forfeiture revenue, said the report, which called for federal audits of cities as well as legal reform.

Don’t count on the institutions that benefit from the drug war to phase themselves down as public opinion begins to turn. In fact, the prospect of reform only seems to encourage them to intensify their efforts. If change is in the offing, you best reap what you can, while you still can.

Finally, count Marco Rubio among the GOP 2016 contenders who would reverse course in Washington and Colorado. These Republicans. All about federalism (“states’ rights”) and small government, except when . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2015 at 3:08 pm

Feds Quietly Admit Pot Helps Cancer Patients

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Apparently even the Federal government is changing its mind: the National Institute on Drug Abuse now states that cannabis might be useful as a medicine, which means that it definitely should not be Schedule I drug; a drug is Schedule I if it meets the following 3 criteria:

  1. The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
  2. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  3. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

Cannabis does not meet the criteria—not that the Federal government cares. Or, more specifically, not that President Obama cares, since he could remove cannabis from Schedule I with a stroke of the pen.

Here’s the story by James Joiner in The Daily Beast:

As the movement to end marijuana prohibition continues to steamroll its way through the United States, a formerly bitter rival may be softening its stance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a government agency tasked with researching and combatting drug abuse, has offered a subtle change to the language on its page dedicated to marijuana.

On their website, drugabuse.gov, in the language under “How Might Cannabinoids Be Useful As Medicine,” they have noted:

“For instance, recent animal studies have shown that marijuana extracts may help kill certain cancer cells and reduce the size of others. Evidence from one cell culture study suggests that purified extracts from whole-plant marijuana can slow the growth of cancer cells from one of the most serious types of brain tumors. Research in mice showed that treatment with purified extracts of THC and CBD, when used with radiation, increased the cancer-killing effects of the radiation (Scott, 2014).”

Viewed on archive.org’s Wayback Machine, the agency’s former stance is much less positive. For example, a section visible last month titled “Misperceptions of Safety”—including a chart that the agency says “could indicate that use of marijuana could begin to rise again in future years” based on a poll of high schoolers’ views of marijuana—has been deleted.

Still, NIDA spokesperson Kathryn Kaplan says any changes to the fact sheet don’t necessarily reflect a policy shift. . . [God forbid that a Federal agency ever admit that it was wrong. – LG]

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2015 at 9:46 am

Law enforcement wiretaps by crime

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Wiretaps

Via Radley Balko.

And despite the effort, the War on Drugs is pretty much a failure. It would be interesting to know how things would have turned out if we had approached drug addiction as a medical rather than criminal problem, and allowed the legal use of drugs. One thing: we would have saved many billions of dollars and not have funded criminal empires that seem to have destroyed Mexico and came close to destroying Colombia.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2015 at 8:58 am

We may finally see an end to the DOJ’s prosecution of state-legal marijuana

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Despite President Obama’s words (never a reliable guide in any case) and despite AG Eric Holder’s explicit memo, both of which directed US Attorneys not to pursue marijuana cases in which the provider or patient was following state law, US Attorneys—particularly in California—have vindictively prosecuted people who were in total compliance with state law. No actions have been taken against such prosecutions by Obama or Holder, so it is clear that neither of them really had any serious intention of preventing the problem—just more broken promises from Obama and his administration.

But now there may be help. Eric Eckholm reports for the NY Times:

Charles C. Lynch seemed to be doing everything right when he opened a medical marijuana dispensary in the tidy coastal town of Morro Bay, Calif.

The mayor, the city attorney and leaders of the local Chamber of Commerce all came for the ribbon-cutting in 2006. The conditions for his business license, including a ban on customers younger than 18 and compliance with California’s medical marijuana laws, were posted on the wall.

But two years later, Mr. Lynch was convicted of multiple felonies under federal law for selling marijuana. He is one of hundreds of defendants and prisoners caught up in the stark conflict between federal law, which puts marijuana in the same class as heroin with no exception for medical sales, and the decisions by many states to authorize medical uses.

“I feel so left out of society,” said Mr. Lynch, 52, who is out on bond and appealing his conviction, from a battered trailer behind his mother’s house here in northwestern New Mexico. He is waiting to see if he must go to prison.

Now, though, a legal wild card has been injected into his case and those of several other defendants in California and Washington State.

In December, in a little-publicized amendment to the 2015 appropriations bill that one legal scholar called a “buried land mine,” Congress barred the Department of Justice from spending any money to prevent states from “implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

In the most advanced test of the law yet, Mr. Lynch’s lawyers have asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to “direct the D.O.J. to cease spending funds on the case.” In a filing late last month, they argued that federal officials continuing to work on his prosecution “would be committing criminal acts.”

But the Justice Department strongly disagrees, asserting that the amendment does not undercut its power to enforce federal drug law. It says that the amendment only bars federal agencies from interfering with state efforts to carry out medical marijuana laws, and that it does not preclude criminal prosecutions for violations of the Controlled Substances Act. [This is the same Justice Department whose head, Eric Holder, instructed attorneys not to pursue cases against marijuana vendors and patients who are in compliance with state law, with President Obama promising that such cases would not be pursued. But it’s clear that both Holder and Obama are being ignored with impunity. This is bade: they are simply not in control. Holder and Obama cannot enforce their own specific instructions. – LG]

With the new challenge raised in several cases, federal judges will have to weigh in soon, opening a new arena in a legal field already rife with contradiction and paradox. At latest count, 23 states plus the District of Columbia permit medical marijuana. Four states have authorized recreational sales as well.

“If any court, especially the Ninth Circuit, declares that the provision precludes federal prosecution of state-compliant individuals, this will be huge,” said Douglas A. Berman, a professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University and editor of the Marijuana Law, Policy & Reformblog.

Such a ruling could put federal courts in the odd position of determining “when a state actor is complying with state law,” said Mr. Berman, who used the metaphor of a buried land mine.

In Mr. Lynch’s case, prosecutors have urged the appeals court to put off considering the issue until the hearing on his criminal appeal and sentence — which is not likely until late this year at the earliest — but also indicated they will not back down.

In a March 23 brief, Mr. Lynch’s federal public defender, Alexandra W. Yates, wrote that any delay would mean that “the Department of Justice’s illegal actions — and their chilling effects on California’s medical marijuana system — would continue unabated.”

Some also call the government’s quest for delay a cynical ploy as officials wait to see whether the provision is renewed by Congress in the next fiscal year.

The California sponsors of the December amendment, including Representatives Sam Farr and Barbara Lee, both Democrats, and Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, say it was clearly intended to curb individual prosecutions and have accused the Justice Department of violating its spirit and substance. . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2015 at 1:09 pm

U.S. secretly tracked billions of calls for decades

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The government of the US has been moving in a bad direction for years. Brad Heath reports for USA Today:

The U.S. government started keeping secret records of Americans’ international telephone calls nearly a decade before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, harvesting billions of calls in a program that provided a blueprint for the far broader National Security Agency surveillance that followed.

For more than two decades, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed logs of virtually all telephone calls from the USA to as many as 116 countries linked to drug trafficking, current and former officials involved with the operation said. The targeted countries changed over time but included Canada, Mexico and most of Central and South America.

Federal investigators used the call records to track drug cartels’ distribution networks in the USA, allowing agents to detect previously unknown trafficking rings and money handlers. They also used the records to help rule out foreign ties to the bombing in 1995 of a federal building in Oklahoma City and to identify U.S. suspects in a wide range of other investigations.

The Justice Department revealed in January that the DEA had collected data about calls to “designated foreign countries.” But the history and vast scale of that operation have not been disclosed until now.

The now-discontinued operation, carried out by the DEA’s intelligence arm, was the government’s first known effort to gather data on Americans in bulk, sweeping up records of telephone calls made by millions of U.S. citizens regardless of whether they were suspected of a crime. It was a model for the massive phone surveillance system the NSA launched to identify terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks. That dragnet drew sharp criticism that the government had intruded too deeply into Americans’ privacy after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked it to the news media two years ago.

More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials described the details of the Justice Department operation to USA TODAY. Most did so on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the intelligence program, part of which remains classified. . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

If you read the entire article, you see egregious government overreach, all for the sake of fighting a war on drugs that we should never have begun, a war that has failed to achieve its goals while providing great wealth to criminal organizations and more or less destroying the government of Mexico, giving us a failed state on our southern border. The war on drugs also damaged our own government’s integrity and corrupted countless officials. And it did not work, an important point: it cost many billions of dollars, and it did not work, and it was destructive right down the line.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2015 at 11:29 am

Prolific Pardoner? Obama Grants Clemency to 22 Prisoners This Week, But Has Denied Thousands

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Annie Waldman reports in ProPublica:

President Obama commuted the sentences of 22 people on Tuesday, doubling the number of commutations he has granted during his administration in just one day. The decision follows a push from the Justice Department last year to grant clemency to nonviolent prisoners, many of whom had been sent to prison under the harsh sentencing laws and aggressive anti-crime policies that were originally implemented during the 1980s and 1990s.

Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and the founder of the nation’s first law school clinic on federal commutations, said that the President’s action is not only historic, but also represents a commitment. “This is intended to be a message of hope,” Osler told ProPublica. “There are thousands of Americans who are going to read this and say that’s like my case or my father’s case. Now, the President has to follow through and take that seriously.”

In April 2014, the Justice Department announced a new initiative to fast-track clemency petitions for prisoners who, under today’s sentencing laws, would have received a substantially lower sentence for the same offense. To speed up the application process, the Justice Department introduced new criteria to help prioritize the petitions, stating that the agency would prioritize non-violent offenders who had served more than 10 years of their sentences.

Alongside the announcement of the new initiative came the removal of the Justice Department’s Pardon Attorney, Ronald Rodgers. In 2012, ProPublica and the Washington Post revealed that Rodgers had failed to disclose critical information in recommending that the White House deny the petition of Clarence Aaron, who was sentenced to three life terms for minor involvement in a drug deal.

Following our reporting, Obama granted Aaron clemency, after he spent two decades in prison.

Like Aaron, all of the individuals who were granted clemency this week were serving sentences longer than 10 years for non-violent drug crimes. The White House reported that President Obama penned letters to each of them.

“Thousands of individuals have applied for commutation, and only a fraction of these applications are approved,” the President wrote in one letter to Terry Andre Barnes, who was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison in 2005 for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

“I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity.”

Margaret Love, who served as U.S. Pardon Attorney for the Justice Department from 1990 to 1997 and now represents petitioners, recognizes the need for further action. “I know that the President is committed to redressing some of the wrongs of federal sentencing,” she said, “but I think he is going to need to put a system in place for handling hundreds as opposed to dozens of cases that deserve a sentence reduction.”

A ProPublica review of Justice Department statistics in 2012 found that Obama granted fewer petitions for pardon than the four preceding presidents at similar points during their administrations. To date, Obama has granted only 3.4 percent of petitions for pardons and commuted less than one percent of petitions for clemency. He has denied more than 9,000 petitions. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2015 at 3:45 pm

Why we must end the War on Drugs: DEA agents had ‘sex parties’ with prostitutes

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John Bresnahan and Lauren French report in Politico:

Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration reportedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by drug cartels in Colombia, according to a new inspector general report released by the Justice Department on Thursday.

In addition, Colombian police officers allegedly provided “protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties,” the report states. Ten DEA agents later admitted attending the parties, and some of the agents received suspensions of two to 10 days.

Story Continued Below

The stunning allegations are part of an investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general into claims of sexual harassment and misconduct within DEA; FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the U.S. Marshals Service. The IG’s office found that DEA did not fully cooperate with its probe.

The congressional committee charged with federal oversight is already promising hearings and an investigation into the allegations.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz told POLITICO on Thursday he wanted the agencies involved to swiftly fire those involved and that his panel would immediately start digging into the allegations.

“You can’t ignore this. This is terribly embarrassing and fundamentally not right,” the Utah Republican said. “We need to understand what’s happening with the culture … anytime you bring a foreign national into your room, you’re asking for trouble.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2015 at 2:00 pm

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