U.S. Pot Policy A Mixed Bag On Symbolic 4/20

Eight states have legalized recreational marijuana use, but 600,000 Americans are arrested every year and Attorney General Jeff Sessions may step up enforcement of federal anti-pot laws.

Today, April 20, is an important day symbolically for marijuana. With 600,000 Americans facing pot charges every year, this year’s landscape is very much a mixed bag for backers of marijuana legalization, reports McClatchy Newspapers. The number 420 is code for smoking marijuana, dating to 1971, when five friends at California’s San Rafael High School began meeting each day at 4:20 p.m. to get high. Marijuana backers had unprecedented success at the polls in 2016, with voters in eight of nine states supporting initiatives to expand access to the drug. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week proposed to legalize pot for recreational use by 2018, seeking to join California, Washington and six other states that have already done so.

The domestic U.S. industry remains under a cloud amid worries that President Trump’s administration may move to shut down the state operations by enforcing the federal ban against the drug. The legal limbo is expected to last at least until July 27, the deadline set by Attorney General Jeff Sessions for a Justice Department task force to review marijuana policies. Sessions, a longtime marijuana foe, called the plan part of a larger effort to reduce crime. Some legalization backers want Congress to vote to end marijuana prohibition before the Trump team takes action, but those prospects are extremely slim. To increase pressure on lawmakers, legalization backers made plans for a pot giveaway near the U.S. Capitol beginning at noon today.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Homeland Security Chief Vows Marijuana Enforcement

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says the federal government will continue to make pot arrests. Critics say he is wrong in calling marijuana a “potentially dangerous gateway drug.”

Two days after downplaying the role of marijuana in drug enforcement, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly changed course, saying his agency would continue to arrest and investigate those who traded in it in violation of federal law, McClatchy Newspapers reports. “Let me be clear about marijuana: It is a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs,” he said in his first major speech. “Its use and possession is against federal law and until that law is changed by the United States Congress, we at DHS, along with the rest of the federal government, are sworn to uphold all the laws that are on the books.”

Marijuana advocates, who are watching to determine whether the Trump administration will deal a blow to state-level legalization efforts, said Kelly was defying science in taking a hard line on pot. Eight states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington – and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana in some form and another 20 permit the sale of pot for medical purposes. DHS should stick to security and leave the science to the scientists,” said Mason Tvert of the Denver-based Marijuana Policy Project, told McClatchy. “This is a knee-jerk reaction among a certain generation of people that still think of marijuana as this vile, horrific substance and have yet to accept the fact that it is actually less harmful than alcohol.” Legalization advocates say Kelly’s claim that marijuana is a “gateway drug” has been thoroughly debunked by scientific studies.

from https://thecrimereport.org

20,000 Tainted MA Drug Cases Being Dropped Today

Massachusetts’ highest court said cases tainted by the mishandling of former state chemist Annie Dookhan should be thrown out by today.

Thousands of drug cases tainted by disgraced former Massachusetts state chemist Annie Dookhan are expected to be marked for dismissal today after more than four years of litigation and a high court decision that forced the hands of prosecutors across the commonwealth, the Boston Herald reports. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union expect that 20,000 cases will be set for dismissal today by prosecutors. The ACLU, the state public defender’s office and private attorneys have urged mass dismissal for years. “It’s great for the people who were convicted by this evidence because they can finally get out from underneath the crippling collateral consequences of a drug conviction,” said the ACLU’s Matthew Segal. “Hopefully this will help those people get housing and jobs and get on with their lives.”

The state’s Supreme Judicial Court in January gave prosecutors until today to list all of the convictions they want to dismiss. For the rest, district attorneys are required to certify in a letter that they can and will produce evidence — not handled by Dookhan — that could secure a guilty verdict if they are forced to go to trial again. “I look forward to seeing what looks like a major step by the (district attorneys) as a result of the … decision,” said Anthony Benedetti of the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

from https://thecrimereport.org

CO Pot-Driving Citations Down, Officials Still Worry

33% fewer motorists are cited for driving under the influence of marijuana in Colorado, but 55 percent of users say in a survey they believe it is safe to do so.

The number of Colorado citations for driving while under the influence of marijuana dropped by 33.2 percent in the first quarter of 2017 compared with the same period last year, but the number of people using marijuana and then driving continues to be a concern for officials, reports the Denver Post. “We’re still troubled by the fact that marijuana users are still telling us they routinely drive high,” says Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Sam Cole. “We’re pleased with the awareness, but we’re not so pleased with the behaviors that are actually happening.” Cole said that in a survey by his agency, 55 percent of marijuana users said they believed it was safe to drive under the influence. Three years ago when recreational marijuana was legalized, the agency started a “Drive High, Get a DUI” campaign to raise awareness that driving while stoned was illegal.

Among survey respondents who said they used marijuana within the last 30 days, half of marijuana users say they have driven high.” Despite that, the Colorado State Patrol reported that from January to March, 155 people were cited for marijuana-use-only impairment while driving, compared to 232 cited from January to March of 2016. The number of citations noting combined alcohol and marijuana use also declined, with 50 in the first quarter of 2017 compared with 69 in the first three months of 2016. “Are the citations going down? Yeah, but is the number of people using marijuana and then driving going down? I don’t know how to quantify that,” said Nate Reid , a patrol spokesman.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Haamid Zaid: A Not So Quiet Easter Morning at Walmart

     At eleven o’clock on Easter Sunday morning, March 31, 2013, Haamid Ado Zaid drove to the Walmart store on the east side of San Jose, California. After circling the parking lot a couple of times in his red Oldsmobile Cutlass, the 33-…

     At eleven o'clock on Easter Sunday morning, March 31, 2013, Haamid Ado Zaid drove to the Walmart store on the east side of San Jose, California. After circling the parking lot a couple of times in his red Oldsmobile Cutlass, the 33-year-old sideswiped two parked cars before plowing through the front entrance of the building.

     Twenty feet into the store, Zaid jumped out of his car carrying a blunt object. As seventy customers and employees looked on in horror, Zaid started attacking people with the weapon. He struck one of his victims, a cashier, on the head causing serious injury. The employee had to be hospitalized.

     Officers with the San Jose Police Department, following a struggle, took Zaid into custody. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, hit-and-run (the parked cars), driving under the influence of drugs, and resisting arrest.

     The crazed Walmart attacker was held without bond in the Santa Clara County Jail. He was later evaluated by a mental health practitioner who revealed what everybody already knew: The man was a nutcase on drugs.

     In December 2016, Zaid dropped his insanity defense and pleaded guilty to ten counts of felony assault with a deadly weapon, felony vandalism, and reckless driving. Superior Court Judge Daniel Nishigaya, in January 2017, sentenced Haamid Zaid to eight years in prison.

     Haamid Zaid, at the time of his attack on Walmart and the innocent people there, was on parole. Serious crimes by criminals on parole has become a serious problem in California. The criminal justice system in that state has broken down. 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

New Drug Czar Backs Hard Line on Enforcement

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) said he’d like to put nonviolent drug offenders in some sort of “hospital-slash-prison.”

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) will be President Trump’s director of drug control policy (the “drug czar,”) says a report from CBS News. Marino’s congressional voting record is that of a hard-liner on marijuana issues, and he recently said that he’d like to put nonviolent drug offenders in some sort of “hospital-slash-prison,” reports the Washington Post. Under President Obama, the office retired the phrase “war on drugs,” preferring rhetoric centered more on public health than criminal justice. Whether that approach continues is an open question. Former drug czars have been publicly agitating to “bring back the war on drugs.”

Marino appears to be in that camp as well, but the drug czar’s office has played a limited role in setting policy. It coordinates drug control strategy and funding across the federal government. With the selection of Marino, another piece of Trump’s drug control strategy falls into place. In Congress, Marino voted several times against a bipartisan measure to prevent the Justice Department from going after medical marijuana businesses in states. (The measure ultimately passed.) He voted against a measure to allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients, as well as against another measure to loosen federal restrictions on hemp, a non-psychoactive variant of the cannabis plant with potential industrial applications.


from https://thecrimereport.org

Sessions Plans to Bring Back Federal War on Drugs

With his new aide Steven Cook, the Attorney General plans to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences, the Washington Post reports.

Law enforcement officials say Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his assistant Steven Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences, the Washington Post reports. They are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ’90s from the peak of the drug war, an approach that had fallen out of favor in recent years as minority communities grappled with the effects of mass incarceration. Cook, a former street cop who became a federal prosecutor based in Knoxville, Tn., saw nothing wrong with how the system worked — not the life sentences for drug charges, not the huge growth of the prison population.  “The federal criminal justice system simply is not broken. In fact, it’s working exactly as designed,” Cook said at the Washington Post last year.

The Obama administration largely ignored Cook, who was president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. Now, Sessions has brought Cook into his inner circle at the Justice Department, appointing him to help undo the criminal justice policies of Obama and former attorney general Eric Holder. Crime is near historic lows in the U.S.,but Sessions says that the spike in homicides in several cities, including Chicago, is a harbinger of a “dangerous new trend” that requires a tough response. Advocates of criminal justice reform argue that Sessions and Cook are going in the wrong direction to a strategy that tore apart families and sent low-level drug offenders, disproportionately minority citizens, to prison for long sentences. “They are throwing decades of improved techniques and technologies out the window in favor of a failed approach,” said Kevin Ring of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). Sessions helped prevent a federal sentencing reform bill from getting to the Senate floor last year. “Sessions was the main reason that bill didn’t pass,” said Inimai Chettiar of the Brennan Center for Justice. “He came in at the last minute and really torpedoed the bipartisan effort.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Pittsburgh Drug Overdose Deaths Continue Rising

“Fentanyl is like a whole new ballgame,” said Allegheny County health director Karen Hacker. “People are dying the first time they try it.”

When surging drug overdose deaths finally prompted Pennsylvania state legislation last year, many policymakers warned that there would be no immediate reversal of the trend. That has proved true, at least in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County and likely statewide, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The county medical examiner says 613 people died from drugs last year, a jump of 44 percent over the prior year, largely due to fentanyl and heroin. “I would say my heart aches,” said county Health Department Director Karen Hacker. “We’ve been deeply involved in this issue. … It just feels like you get this new drug on the market, and you’re just chasing it. We’re just not able to get ahead of it.”

The overdose numbers “don’t surprise me,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. Statewide overdose numbers may not be final until June. Wolf believes they will reflect similarly rising drug deaths. The 2015 fatal overdose total of 424 in Allegheny County — and 3,383 statewide — shocked many. Last year’s much higher county total is nearly three times the 2010 overdose toll. That was before prescription painkillers broadened the market for heroin, and dealers began spiking their drugs with fentanyl. Most heroin sold on the streets now contains some fentanyl. Some bags now contain mostly fentanyl, which can be 100 times stronger than heroin. “Fentanyl is like a whole new ballgame,” Hacker said. “People are dying the first time they try it.” Fentanyl was present in more than 60 percent of last year’s overdose victims in Allegheny County, heroin in more than 50 percent, and oxycodone in 10 percent. Many bodies tested positive for multiple drugs.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Seizures of Southbound Cash Rise at Mexican Border

Money from voracious U.S. appetite for illicit drugs, along with guns, has “enabled the cartels to obtain the power then have,” says Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Scott Brown.

Mexican drug cartels rake in billions of dollars in annual profits from the sale of heroin, methamphetamines and other drugs in the U.S., the New York Times reports. The money has to make its way south somehow. Though the cartels sometimes hire legitimate companies to buy goods like silk and ink cartridges and export them to Mexico, where they are sold for pesos, a more common method is to simply pay someone to drive the cash over the border. President Trump has talked about “bad hombres” streaming in from Mexico. Officials say an equal part of the problem is the flow of money going from north to south, a product of Americans’ voracious appetite for illicit drugs.

“It’s the money and the guns that have enabled the cartels to obtain the power they have,” says Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Scott Brown. “I’m a firm believer that if we can keep the cartels from getting their profits, over time, that has a lot more impact than seizing the drugs.” Since 2008, customs officers at ports of entry along the southern border have seized $300 million in cash heading into Mexico in commercial vehicles and passenger cars. Customs officers and border patrol agents say that money, which was found while following up on tips or stumbled upon during random stops, is a small fraction of the actual total. So far this year, said, seizures of southbound cash are up 48 percent through March: $18.6 million compared with $12.6 million over the same period last year. The officials said the increase was probably because the agency was able to deploy more officers to look for money and guns amid a decline in apprehensions of undocumented migrants on the border.

from https://thecrimereport.org

U.S. Allows States More Medicaid For Drug Treatment

The federal government grants waivers to states that allow federal dollars for addiction treatment in facilities with more than 16 beds.

In the throes of an opioid epidemic that killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, the nation’s supply of residential treatment slots falls far short of the number needed to serve everyone who walks in, gets dropped off by police, or is transferred from a hospital or crisis center. Waitlists persist almost everywhere, primarily because of a growing number of people addicted to heroin and prescription painkillers, reports Stateline. To boost the number of beds available for low-income residents, the federal government has granted California, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York a waiver of a Medicaid rule that prohibits the use of federal dollars for addiction treatment provided in facilities with more than 16 beds. Seven other states — Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Utah and Virginia — are seeking similar permission.

Last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told governors that the agency would continue the Obama administration’s waiver policies for residential facilities with 16 or more beds. The 16-bed provision was originally intended to discourage investment in what the 1965 Medicaid law called “institutions for mental disease,” and to instead promote the expansion of smaller, community-based mental health and substance abuse centers. Sidestepping the 16-bed prohibition means millions in new federal Medicaid dollars will flow to treatment centers that now rely on limited state and local grants. The federal government is encouraging all states to seek a waiver of Medicaid’s residential treatment rule, but only if the care is offered as part of a comprehensive set of addiction services for low-income people.

from https://thecrimereport.org