Tag Archives: war on drugs

Jeff Sessions Wages War on Cannabis

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions is ready to wage war on cannabis. Or, should I say, he wants to return to the drug war of the 1980s.

I’ve warned you about this before. But the latest step taken by Sessions should ignite a real debate over states rights. Meanwhile, even after Sessions’s comments, cannabis has seen its biggest month ever in 2018.

This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

Legalized cannabis just had an incredible month. January 1 of 2018 was a huge day for marijuana legalization.

On that day, California, the country’s most populous state and, by the way, the world’s 6th largest economy, officially launched the recreational marijuana industry.

More than 400 businesses were licensed as of January 1. Cities, including Los Angeles—the most populous in California—began letting businesses sell cannabis for recreational use, adding dozens more approved licenses to the state’s total.

All of that happening, with the backdrop of Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempting to double down on his hatred of marijuana. And a move he made that, despite what he hopes, may actually increase legalized cannabis.

To understand that, we have to go back to 2013.

In 2013, the Obama administration letter issued a memo called the Cole memo that essentially told federal prosecutors to use discretion.

Specifically, it focused on states that had legalized cannabis or recreational and medical use. It told those prosecutors to use discretion, to focus not on businesses that comply with state regulations, but on illicit enterprises that create harms like selling drugs to children, operating with criminal gangs, selling across state lines, and so on.

That memo, on its own, was problematic because it still turned into criminals, parents who might live in a state like Georgia where cannabis oil is legal, but cultivating cannabis is not. Those parents have to cross state lines to get the cannabis they need, and that forces them to break the law.

But as messy as all of that was, Sessions just made it messier when last month he ordered that the Obama-era memo be rescinded.

So what does that actually mean?

It means that federal prosecutors no longer need to keep their hands, for most part, off of state licensed dispensaries. It also means that all U.S. Department of Justice enforcement memos issued before and after the Cole memo are now gone as well. That includes a 2014 memo dealing with money laundering laws. It gave guidance on how financial institutions should be dealt with if they want to provide banking for the cannabis industry.

But it also means something else. Because since Sessions has announced the rescinding of that memo, the backlash has come from a number of places—most importantly, from congress.

There is a now a push to create a federal law that will require the DOJ to leave alone states where the cannabis industry is legal. Members of Congress are all about money, and they will likely move to protect an industry that is expected to generate $2.3 billion in state tax revenue by 2020.

And, even after the Sessions move, another state has just legalized recreational marijuana use.

According to Vox.com:

“…after Sessions announced his new marijuana policy, Vermont legislators, with the support of Republican Gov. Phil Scott, legalized marijuana for recreational use. The law won’t allow sales — only possession and growing. But it’s a big move because Vermont is now the first state to have legalized marijuana through its legislature.”

So what you need to know is that Jeff Sessions may hate marijuana, but polling numbers prove that, by and large, the majority of Americans hate the drug war even more.

In fact, the latest poll from Gallup shows 64 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana—the highest number in half a century. Oh and, by the way, in that same poll, for the first time, a majority of Republicans favor legalization, with 51 percent expressing support.

The war on cannabis is coming to an end. But what would be almost ironic, is if Jeff Sessions’s attempt to revive that war, was the catalyst to finally ending it for good.

That’s Reality Check, let’s talk about it tonight on Twitter and Facebook.

Ex-AG Eric Holder: Pot ‘Ought to Be Rescheduled’

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently said that he believes that the federal government should end marijuana’s classification alongside heroin as a hardcore Schedule 1 narcotic with no medical use.

When asked during a comprehensive Tuesday PBS interview on criminal justice reform if marijuana should be decriminalized, Holder replied, “I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled. You know, we treat marijuana in the same way that we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate. So at a minimum, I think Congress needs to do that. Then I think we need to look at what happens in Colorado and what happens in Washington.

He also said of decriminalization, “That conversation I think ought to be had with regard to marijuana.

[RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Cannabis Oil Activist Shona Banda, Now Facing Felony Charges, Speaks Out]

Holder credited Tea Party Republicans with helping to create the right timing for his push for criminal justice reforms while in office and said, “That was a surprising thing. As much as the country was, or at least the federal government were drifting to the right, you were hearing things from people on the right that was supportive of this notion of the need for criminal justice reform. Now, coming at it from perhaps from a different angle, in some ways, people on the right were talking about bankrupting the government, making sure that we didn’t spend as much money as we were on prisons — you know, $80 billion a year or so. … So although on the federal side, there was a drift to the right, a rise of the Tea Party caucus, even among them there was this notion that yeah, we need to do something about our criminal justice system. So the timing was right.

The drug war I think is over. Certainly calling it the drug war should be over. But the battle against the narcotics problem in this country has to go on. But we need to take some different approaches, and it should not all be seen as just a criminal justice problem. It ought to be seen as a public health issue,” Holder said.

[RELATED: Shona Banda’s Attorney Plans to Fight Cannabis’ Classification As Schedule 1 Narcotic]

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition executive director and retired Baltimore Police Department and Maryland State Police Maj. Neill Franklin said in a press release on Holder’s comments, “I believe Holder’s statements will inspire more high-ranking officials to speak publicly about the injustices they see in our failed marijuana policies. Ultimately, his support will move us closer to ending marijuana prohibition for good.

Marijuana Majority chairman Tom Angell raised questions about Holder’s sincerity in comments with The Chicago Sun-Times and said, “It would have been a lot better if he’d exercised the power to get marijuana rescheduling done while he was still in office. … There’s absolutely no reason marijuana should be in Schedule I, and it would be absurd to keep passing the buck to Congress when federal law clearly gives the administration the power to act.

In September of 2014, Ben Swann released a Truth in Media episode tackling the federal government’s mixed messages on medical cannabis. Watch it in the below-embedded video player.


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Minn. Man Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison for Illegal Possession of BB Gun

The Minnesota Supreme Court is set to take on a case that will determine whether a BB gun is considered a firearm as it pertains to felons who have had their gun rights stripped due to a prior conviction.

37-year-old Minnesota resident David Lee Haywood was sentenced to five years in prison for possession of firearm by an ineligible felon during a 2013 incident in which officers found a Walther CP99 Compact .177 caliber BB gun in the glove box of his vehicle while arresting him for violating the terms of a no contact order.

Haywood’s gun rights had been stripped in 2005 following his conviction on felony drug charges. He is being represented in the case by public defender Thomas Handley Jr.

[RELATED: Fact Check: 355 Mass Shootings So Far in 2015?]

Courthouse News Service notes that Haywood was convicted on the firearms charge by Ramsey County District Court and that his conviction was subsequently upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Haywood claims that Minnesota statutes’ definition of a firearm is unconstitutionally vague and noted that Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines the word as “a weapon from which a shot is discharged by gunpowder,” which differs from a BB gun which discharges via compressed gas.

[RELATED: Update: Iowa Student Suspended For BB Gun Faces Misdemeanor, No Further Disciplinary Action From School]

In affirming the conviction, Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Michelle Ann Larkin wrote in her opinion, “Minnesota’s appellate courts have consistently interpreted the term ‘firearm’ as used within certain sections of chapter 609 to include BB guns.

She pointed to a case as precedent in which a man who committed a robbery with a BB gun pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery while armed with a dangerous weapon and was given a minimum sentence based on the interpretation that his possession of a BB gun constituted a firearm.

The record indicates that the BB gun looks like a miniature version of a standard Walther P99 [pistol]. The record also indicates that the BB gun has an effective range of approximately 350 yards and a substantial muzzle velocity,” wrote Judge Larkin.

Characterizing Haywood’s appellate argument, Judge Larkin added, “Haywood argues that the district court erroneously concluded that the BB gun in this case qualifies as a firearm under the statute and that the district court therefore erred by denying his motion to dismiss and by instructing the jury that a BB gun is a firearm under Minnesota law.

VIDEO: Charles Koch Rips Hypocrisy of Pot Criminalization

Billionaire philanthropist and Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch blasted the hypocrisy of pot criminalization’s disproportionate enforcement in an October interview on CBS This Morning.

In the interview, which can be seen in the above-embedded video, Koch said, “Some poor kid in the inner city smokes a joint, goes to prison, ruins his life, where we have a president who is more privileged, who smoked a joint, becomes president. We have a candidate who admits smoking a joint — he’s running for president. Now, where is the justice in that?

The controversial Koch brothers have long pushed for criminal justice reforms that would reduce or eliminate harsh criminal penalties for non-violent offenders.

[RELATED: Obama Praises Rand Paul, Koch Brothers in NAACP Criminal Justice Reform Speech]

Speaking in terms of principles, Koch said, “I think government is a social agency of coercion. Now that sounds horrible and bad, but we need coercion. Beyond that, government should only be doing those things where coercion works better than voluntary cooperation and competition… But the burden of proof needs to be on the government.

Koch told CBS correspondent Anthony Mason that he dislikes the tone that many Republican candidates have struck on immigration in 2016 presidential primary debates. “We need to reform our immigration policy, letting everyone in this country who’s going to make the country better and let in no one who is going to make it worse,” he said.

Describing his business philosophy, Koch explained, “The way to succeed long term is not to think how do I maximize profits, but how do… we maximize the value we create for others.

[RELATED: Charles Koch Blasts Crony Capitalism, Calls Subsidies ‘Welfare for the Wealthy’]

The Koch brothers are oft-vilified by political progressives who characterize their high levels of spending to promote political causes and candidates as efforts to buy elections.

I get a lot of death threats. I’m now on al-Qaeda’s hit list too. It gets pretty scary… I decided long ago I’d rather die for something than live for nothing,” said the billionaire.

He added, laughing off the challenges of pushing for his political views in the face of so much opposition, “My goal was to get more and more people to understand what makes their lives better, what’s fair, what’s a just society… You know, it’s hard to save the world when the world doesn’t want to be saved.

Tenn. GOP State Rep. to Draft Bill Decriminalizing Pot Possession Among Vets with PTSD

Tennessee State Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) said last week that he is drafting a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession by military veterans in the state who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rep. Faison told the Knoxville News-Sentinel, “Pills have side effects. … The No. 1 side effect is suicide. Twenty-eight veterans a day in America are committing suicide.

Aside from a bill legalizing low-THC cannabis oil that Gov. Haslam signed in May of this year, marijuana legalization and decriminalization advocates in the state have struggled to gain support for their initiatives.

[RELATED: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam Signs Cannabis Oil Legalization Bill into Law]

Faison, who claims to have never tried an intoxicant and whose sister was killed by an inebriated driver, says it takes “a special kind of stupid” to fail to recognize the medical benefits of marijuana in the case of war veterans who suffer from PTSD.

He said that his wife, who holds a master’s degree in nutrition, often says, “For most ailments man has, God has a remedy,” and added that he believes that marijuana can sometimes be used as a natural alternative to pharmaceutical drugs for certain ailments.

Faison’s bill will only decriminalize pot possession by veterans dealing with PTSD. Critics, such as Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville), who relayed an anecdote about a police officer who is wheelchair-bound by seizures, say that the effort is unfair because it does not allow non-veterans with PTSD and other ailments to seek treatment. However, Rep. Jones said that she would be willing to support Faison’s bill as an incremental step to allow a “little piece of the population” to obtain medical marijuana.

In September of last year, Ben Swann released a Truth in Media episode exposing the federal government’s mixed messages on medical marijuana. Watch it in the below-embedded video player.


Pot Advocacy Group Alleges Death Threats Issued by Drug Cartel

The marijuana legalization advocacy group ResponsibleOhio has been reportedly threatened, stalked, and victimized by thefts and cyber attacks at the hands of a local drug cartel.

According to Fox 19, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Secret Service have investigated the threats and are taking them seriously. One suspect, who allegedly stole $200,000 from the organization’s bank account before being caught by law enforcement attempting to steal an additional $300,000, is in custody.

ResponsibleOhio executive director Ian James said, “Law enforcement was pretty clear that this was a pretty heavy duty drug dealer. The fact that he was also an arms dealer gave them great pause and indicated that we should be concerned.” Officers reportedly found a photograph of Ian James’ husband standing outside a building in Cleveland on the suspect.

[RELATED: Ohio Recreational Pot Legalization Initiative Qualifies for Nov. 2015 Ballot]

In the above-embedded WCPO video, sports agent and ResponsibleOhio co-founder James Gould describes chilling recorded death threats that he allegedly received via “burner” cell phones from members of a drug cartel.

Why are you doing this? We’re going to f*** you up,” said the recorded voice on three different occasions over three weeks, according to Gould. He says that the group was also targeted by a cyber attack at a crucial point in its signature gathering process.

WCPO notes that according to campaign finance records, ResponsibleOhio subsequently spent $165,368 hiring the private security firm Carrol & Associates LLC to provide protection and investigate the threats.

It was scary,” said Gould.

[RELATED: Truth In Media Accelerates National Cannabis Discussion]

ResponsibleOhio’s marijuana legalization ballot measure Issue 3 will appear on Ohio’s general election ballot on November 3. The measure would create a framework for a legal recreational and medical marijuana industry in the state. Critics say the measure would establish a marijuana cultivation oligopoly, as it would constitutionally restrict pot production to 10 farms owned by ResponsibleOhio investors.

Ben Carson Says He Opposes Legal Pot, Would ‘Intensify’ Drug War

2016 GOP presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson told Glenn Beck on Wednesday that he opposes the legalization of marijuana and that he would “intensify” the federal government’s War on Drugs.

During a rapid-fire question-and-answer session on Glenn Beck’s radio program, seen in the above-embedded video at around the 1:30 mark, Beck asked Carson, “Do you continue the War on Drugs?

Absolutely,” replied Carson. “I intensify it.”

Glenn Beck followed up, “Let me ask you a question. How? I mean, it doesn’t seem to be working now.

Carson responded, “Well, go down to the border in Arizona like I was a few weeks ago. I mean, it’s an open highway, and the federal government isn’t doing anything to stop it.

Continuing his rapid-fire questioning, Beck asked, “Legalize marijuana?

I disagree with it,” responded Carson.

[RELATED: Christie Tells Colo. Pot Smokers to “Enjoy It” Now As He Will Bust Them As President]

During the round of questions, Carson also called warrantless NSA spying “terrible,” said that he supports building “the right kind” of border fence, and called for the development of a “double fence” with increased border patrols. He said that he would deport undocumented immigrants “if they qualify as illegals,” but that he would “give people the ability to register in a certain period of time and if they have pristine records and they are willing to work as guest workers under the circumstances that we survive, they could stay.

But they don’t become citizens and they don’t vote,” he added. He also said that he supports fining businesses that hire undocumented workers.

Carson said that he would not have invaded Iraq in 2003 based on what is known now, but he feels that U.S. ground troops are needed there now as a “stabilizing force” against ISIS.

[RELATED: Ben Carson: U.S. Dollar ‘Not Based on Anything. Why Would We Be Continuing to Do That?’]

Carson offered his support for domestic oil drilling and the development of the Keystone Pipeline. He also stated his opposition to national educational standards and expressed that, unless the organization changes, he supports de-funding and withdrawing U.S. participation from the United Nations.

For more election coverage, click here.

Christie Tells Colo. Pot Smokers to ‘Enjoy It’ Now As He Will Bust Them As President

New Jersey Republican Governor and former federal prosecutor Chris Christie issued a dire warning to pot users in states that have legalized marijuana while promoting his 2016 presidential campaign at a town hall meeting at Salt Hill Pub in Newport, New Hampshire on Tuesday. “If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it. As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws,” said Christie.

Christie claimed that he believes that marijuana is a gateway drug that alters the brain and criticized the Obama administration for choosing not to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where it has been legalized. “That’s lawlessness,” he said, according to Bloomberg. “If you want to change the marijuana laws, go ahead and change the national marijuana laws.

Reason notes that 2016 GOP presidential candidates Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, George Pataki, and Carly Fiorina have all stated that they support the right of states to craft their own policy on marijuana, citing the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Truth in Media’s Annabelle Bamforth reported back in April of this year that Christie had pledged, prior to launching his 2016 campaign, that, if he were to become president, he would enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized it.

Reason’s Jacob Sullum, who called Christie’s pot re-criminalization plan “utterly fantastical,” pointed out some of the difficulties facing the New Jersey Governor if he were to become president and attempt to stamp out growing marijuana industries in pot-legal states. “Three of the four states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, plus the District of Columbia, allow home cultivation as well as commercial production. A determined prohibitionist in the White House, aided by DEA agents and federal prosecutors, could make life difficult for state-licensed growers and retailers, albeit at the cost of antagonizing political leaders in the states with legal pot (a list that probably will have expanded by the time the next president takes office). Going after thousands of scattered home growers, each of whom is free to share his produce with friends and neighbors, would be considerably harder. The federal government simply does not have the resources for such an eradication campaign,” argued Sullum.

Christie, who currently sits at ninth in the polls among 2016 GOP presidential candidates according to a RealClearPolitics polling average cited by Bloomberg, is fighting to stay in the top 10 ahead of Fox News’ August 6 televised Republican presidential debate in which the top 10 out of 16 candidates according to national polls will be featured in a prime-time showdown at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Those candidates who fail to make the top 10 will be featured in a second-tier debate taking place earlier that day.

For more 2016 election coverage, click here.

Watch the Truth in Media Project’s Consider This video, embedded below, which examines some facts about non-violent inmates serving hard time under the federal War on Drugs.


DONEGAN: 46 Non-Violent Drug Inmates Freed, Thousands Upon Thousands Still Incarcerated

President Obama recently began a push for criminal justice reform by granting clemency last week to 46 hand-chosen non-violent low-level drug offenders serving extraordinarily long sentences, and by becoming the first U.S. president to visit a federal prison during last Thursday’s trip to the El Reno Correctional Institution in Oklahoma.

When [these inmates] describe their youth, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different from the mistakes I made, and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made. The difference is that they did not have the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes,” said President Obama according to The Wall Street Journal.

Obama’s emerging approach on low-level drug offenders is a welcome deviation from the big government policies that he has largely pursued under his presidency. However, the brave first step he’s taking in unwinding a broader War on Drugs that has warped the U.S. criminal justice system by attempting to use the threat of jail to impose healthcare best practices is a baby step at best. The Atlantic estimates that 95,265 non-violent drug inmates are currently languishing in federal prisons, and a vast array of federal War on Drugs policies remain in place, meaning that number is still set to climb over time. Also, U.S. states continue to imprison Americans under harsh state-level drug laws that have already impacted countless inmates. The above-embedded Truth in Media Consider This video puts into perspective some facts about the incarceration of non-violent offenders under the War on Drugs.

Some inmates rot away in cells on marijuana charges while Americans in other states freely consume commercially-produced edible cannabis products, exposing a rising contradiction in U.S. law as marijuana prohibition begins to face repeal in a growing number of states.

The criminalization of victimless activity such as drug use has empowered law enforcement officers to launch arbitrary criminal investigations against virtually anyone during any traffic stop or police encounter, rather than on the basis of reports by victims, changing the nature of the relationship between police and citizens. Now, some citizens fear that, if they call the police to report a crime, they too could become a suspect in a criminal investigation. The days of Andy Griffith are a thing of the past, as armor-clad officers now routinely batter down Americans’ doors in the middle of the night in sometimes-unannounced, guns-drawn raids.

African-Americans and Latinos are targeted at disproportionate levels under arbitrarily-enforced War on Drugs policies. Lost voting rights by drug felons represent significant levels of voter disenfranchisement, particularly among demographic groups like African American males who are typically subjected to profiling.

Meanwhile, the War on Drugs has failed at its goal of improving U.S. health outcomes. Addicts are more likely to hide their addictions to avoid incarceration. Witnesses to drug overdoses sometimes fail to call emergency services out of fear of prosecution by law enforcement, leading to needless fatalities. Drug cartels, fat with profits from providing illegal drugs to addicts, use their funds to purchase advanced weapons with which to terrorize Americans. Terrorist organizations use prohibition’s drug profits to finance their attacks on the U.S. and other nations.

[RELATED: N.H. Governor Signs Bill Granting Immunity for Victims, Witnesses Reporting Drug Overdoses]

President Obama has started a crucial conversation on the next steps that should be taken in unwinding an over-reaching federal War on Drugs. Restoring voting rights to non-violent felons, reforming sentencing guidelines, and letting states relax marijuana prohibition laws are all important policy moves. That said, these policies alone will not significantly transform a status quo where US drug laws now have their own lobbyists from the law enforcement and private prison industries who invest in politicians’ campaigns in an effort to obtain lucrative federal and state contracts.

Instead of discussing whether non-violent inmates are spending too long in jail for healthcare mistakes made with drugs, America should confront the broader issue of whether or not we should be incarcerating people for victimless “crimes” in the first place, at both the state and federal levels. While drug addiction is a serious issue that impacts countless families, it is a healthcare issue, and state and federal law enforcement resources are needed right now to tackle the very real violent and property crime threats that confront Americans.

History will remember the War on Drugs as a human rights disaster. Politicians in the future will pretend they never supported it. It is time to roll up our sleeves and begin the hard work of unwinding these laws nationwide on the state and federal levels.

NH Governor Signs Bill Granting Immunity for Victims, Witnesses Reporting Drug Overdoses

On Monday, New Hampshire Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan signed House Bill 270 into law, a bill designed to “encourage a witness or victim of a drug overdose to request medical assistance in order to save the life of an overdose victim by establishing a state policy of protecting the witness or victim from arrest, prosecution, and conviction for the crime of possession of the controlled drug that is the agent of the overdose.

Under the law, individuals “who in good faith and in a timely manner [request] medical assistance” for themselves or others “shall not be arrested, prosecuted, or convicted for possessing, or having under his or her control, a controlled drug… if the evidence for the charge was gained as a proximate result of the request for medical assistance.

In a statement on the bill, Governor Hassan said, “The rising rate of heroin and opioid overdoses is one of the most pressing public health and safety challenges facing our state.” She continued, “House Bill 270 will… help us save lives by encouraging people to seek emergency medical assistance for themselves or others without fearing prosecution for possession. And through our efforts with legislators from both parties, we developed a narrower bill to address some of the concerns of the Attorney General’s Office and the law enforcement community. I thank Representative Bouldin and the bipartisan group of legislators who worked this session to help us save more lives in the midst of this opioid epidemic.

Seabrook Police Department’s Acting Lieutenant Brett Walker told The Daily News of Newburyport, “This is an age old problem. People in the presence of an overdose victim sometimes won’t call us right away. They’ll wait and clean up the place before they call. Then, when we get there, we find the place clean and it can take a lot of coaxing to get them to tell us the person used heroin or other drugs.” Lieutenant Walker said that he hopes that the new law will help clarify that police and first responders in drug overdose situations “are trying to save lives and not trick anyone” into self-incrimination.

The Associated Press notes that the bill, which is set to take effect in 60 days, is designed to sunset on September 1, 2018.

House Bill 270 prevailed in bipartisan fashion, passing first in New Hampshire’s GOP-led House of Representatives and Senate before being signed by the state’s Democratic governor.

This law, referred to as the ‘good Samaritan law,’ is important because it encourages individuals present during an opioid or heroin overdose to call for life-saving medical assistance for overdose victims, granting them immunity from arrest in these instances. The intent of this law is to save the lives of overdose victims and this legislation takes another step towards addressing the heroin and opioid crisis that has affected communities across the state… I hope the legislature will continue to bring forward long-term solutions to end this critical drug epidemic in our state,” said State Senator Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry) in comments to the Londonderry Patch.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell Signs Bill Decriminalizing Simple Pot Possession

On Thursday, immediately after the Delaware Senate finalized the Delaware General Assembly’s approval of House Bill 39, which decriminalizes marijuana, Democratic Governor Jack Markell signed it into law. According to The News Journal, the new law allows people in the state to privately possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis without facing jail time or marring their criminal records.

However, those caught with small amounts of pot will be punished with a $100 civil fine and forced to surrender their marijuana to police. According to the above-embedded video coverage by CBS Philly, the law takes effect in six months.

Additionally, the bill’s legislative text notes, “The public use or consumption of an ounce or less of marijuana will be an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $200 or imprisonment for not more than 5 days. This penalty is in line with the penalty for possession or consumption of an open container of alcohol in most municipalities in the state… This bill does not repeal or modify existing laws relating to medical marijuana or penalties for the operation of motor vehicles under the influence.

A statement about the law by Kelly Bachman, a spokesperson for Governor Markell, read, “The governor remains committed to reducing the number of people entering the criminal justice system and refocusing resources where they are needed most and House Bill 39 supports these efforts.

Reuters points out the fact that Delaware law previously penalized simple marijuana possession with up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,150.

The bill was introduced by Representative Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington). Republican lawmakers in the state stood unanimous in their opposition to the bill, citing their view that decriminalization sends the wrong message to children.

This is a vote we’re going to really, really regret. Would you want your kid smoking weed? I think the answer is overwhelmingly no,” said State Senator Colin Bonini (R-Dover) in comments cited by The News Journal.

Despite this change to Delaware law, federal law still criminalizes the possession of marijuana, which it classifies, similarly to hardcore drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, as a Schedule 1 narcotic with no medical use.

[RELATED: Shona Banda’s Attorney Plans to Fight Cannabis’ Classification As Schedule 1 Narcotic]

In September of last year, Ben Swann released a Truth in Media episode tackling the federal government’s mixed messages on marijuana. Watch it in the below-embedded video player.


DC Mayor Announces New Hands-Off Policy on Low-Level Drug Dealers, Crackdown on Suppliers

On Monday, Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser held a press conference to announce what officials in her office are calling a new “comprehensive drug enforcement strategy” involving a shift in law enforcement priority away from the targeting of low-level drug dealers in order to free up resources for a focus on major suppliers.

According to The Daily Caller, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier also participated in the news conference and said, “We will shift away from outdated tactics focused on low-level users and target the suppliers who feed dangerous narcotics into the communities. This new drug enforcement strategy gives law enforcement and regulatory agencies the ability to crack down on the very suppliers that are responsible for these troubling proliferations.

Mayor Bowser said at the conference, “Far too many of our residents are still impacted by drug usage – whether because of drug sales occurring near their homes or because they or their family members suffer from drug addiction. It is my duty to provide the safest and healthiest environment for our residents and visitors. We will do that by innovating and adapting, and providing our public safety officials with the tools they need to get the job done. We will also make sure healthcare professionals have the resources to help people get the treatment they need to fight and recover from drug usage.

A statement from Mayor Bowser’s office noted that DC’s Metropolitan Police Department will be consolidating its seven vice units into two components, a “citywide drug unit under the MPD Narcotics and Special Investigations Division” and a new Criminal Interdiction Unit.

At the conference, Mayor Bowser also announced another plan to submit emergency legislation to the Council of the District of Columbia that would crack down on synthetic drugs like “K2, Scooby Snax, Bizzaro and Spice.” The bill, called the Sale of Synthetic Drugs Emergency Amendment Act of 2015, would stiffen penalties on businesses caught selling synthetic marijuana alternatives, which Bowser’s office characterized as forms of a “potent and dangerous hallucinogen that can lead to death.

14 Years After Decriminalization, Portugal’s Drug Fatalities Rank Second Lowest in EU

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs, replacing criminal penalties with civil penalties and court-ordered stints in drug treatment. As The Washington Post‘s Christopher Ingraham points out, supporters of the US War on Drugs have in the past offered up gloomy predictions as to the escalating rates of drug use that would eventually befall Portugal as a result of this policy change. However, new research into drug overdose fatality rates by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction demonstrates that Portugal has not suffered under the policy, but instead features the second-lowest drug overdose fatality rates in the European Union.


Meanwhile, the Transform Drug Policy Foundation notes that young adult past-year and past-month drug use, adult drug use, and HIV diagnoses among drug users have dropped since 2001.

Among Portuguese adults, there are 3 drug overdose deaths for every 1,000,000 citizens. Comparable numbers in other countries range from 10.2 per million in the Netherlands to 44.6 per million in the UK, all the way up to 126.8 per million in Estonia. The EU average is 17.3 per million,” wrote Christopher Ingraham for The Washington Post.

Opponents of Portugal’s policy have in the past predicted that drug use rates would rise in the European country. Office of National Drug Control Policy deputy director Thomas McLellan said of the move, “If you make any attractive commodity available at lower cost, you will have more users.

Columbia University Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse founder Joseph Califano once argued that “vigorous and intelligent enforcement of criminal law makes drugs harder to get and more expensive” and that any similar effort to decriminalize drugs in the US “will make illegal drugs cheaper, easier to obtain and more acceptable to use.” Califano continued, “The US has some 60 million smokers, up to 20 million alcoholics and alcohol misusers, but only around 6 million illegal drug addicts. If illegal drugs were easier to obtain, this figure would rise.

Not only have Portugal’s drug use rates dropped and drug fatality rates remained among Europe’s lowest, but the use of unsafe drug alternatives like bath salts and synthetic marijuana has plummeted below use rates in other nations.

Portugal’s national drug coordinator Dr. Joao Goulao, whom Christopher Ingraham credited as the “the architect of the country’s decriminalization policy,” cautioned that “it’s very difficult to identify a causal link between decriminalization by itself and the positive tendencies we have seen.” That said, these new numbers challenge the claims of decriminalization’s opponents, who said that Portugal would fall victim to rising drug use rates as a result of the policy.

In September of last year, Ben Swann released a Truth in Media episode challenging the US federal government’s mixed messages on marijuana prohibition and medical marijuana. Watch it in the below embedded video player.


Koch Brothers Launch Fight for Justice for Man Sentenced to 55 Years for Pot

“I sometimes drive near the prison where he’s held, and I think, ‘Gosh he shouldn’t be there. Certainly not as long as I had to send him there. … That wasn’t the right thing to do. The system forced me to do it,'” said former federal Judge Paul Cassell in comments to ABC News about the plight of Weldon Angelos, a father and rap record label founder whom Cassell was forced to sentence to 55 years for three low-level marijuana sales due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. In 2002, then 24-year-old Angelos, whose record label had recently attracted a collaboration with rap superstar Snoop Dogg, had also been moonlighting as a pot dealer. Federal authorities caught wind of his side gig and launched a sting operation against Angelos, purchasing small amounts of marijuana from him on three separate occasions through an informant. Angelos, who happened to be carrying a gun for protection which he did not brandish or use for any violent purpose, was subsequently tried and convicted on three counts of selling narcotics while in possession of a firearm. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws forced Judge Cassell to sentence Angelos to 55 years with no chance of parole, a near-life sentence for the Salt Lake City father of two.

“If he had been an aircraft hijacker, he would have gotten 24 years in prison. If he’s been a terrorist, he would have gotten 20 years in prison. If he was a child rapist, he would have gotten 11 years in prison. And now I’m supposed to give him a 55-year sentence? I mean, that’s just not right,” said Cassell of Angelos’ case.

According to The Daily Beast, Angelos’ plight caught the attention of the billionaire Koch brothers, whose millennial outreach group Generation Opportunity used some of the duo’s oft-demonized out-sized wealth to produce a documentary, which debuted last week at the Newseum in Washington DC, highlighting Angelos’ unjust sentence. The documentary release coincides with a broader Koch brothers initiative to promote criminal justice reform throughout 2015. A trailer for the film can be seen in the above-embedded video player.

“[This year] offers a unique moment in history in which people of different backgrounds and political leanings are coming together to facilitate a substantive dialogue on how to fix [the criminal justice system]. We can work towards a more just system that reflects the rule of law without overcriminalizing non-violent offenses,” said Generation Opportunity president Evan Feinberg in comments to The Daily Beast.

Weldon Angelos’ family requested two years ago that President Obama grant clemency for the father of two, who has already spent 11 years behind bars, but the administration has yet to respond. Lisa Angelos, Weldon’s sister, described the impact his incarceration has had on his children, “Being around them you can feel their heart ache, even though their laughter, and watching them play and do the fun stuff, you can still feel it. Seeing what they have gone through by losing their father, it just emotionally destroys me.”

The Koch brothers, who are often accused by left-leaning politicos of using their disproportionate wealth to buy elections in an effort to bend policies in favor of the rich and at the expense of the poor, have in the past used their hard-earned dollars to help poor people facing unjust prosecutions obtain legal representation.

Ben Swann took on the federal government’s mixed messages on marijuana prohibition in a September 2014 Truth in Media episode, seen in the player below.

MN Man Spent Months in Jail After Cops Mistook His Vitamins for Meth

In November of 2014, 31-year-old Mankato, MN resident Joseph Burrell had just finished a drug treatment program when cops pulled him over in a grocery store parking lot for driving without his headlights enabled. According to CBS Minnesota, officers searched his vehicle and found a bag of blue powder. A field test used on the powder tested positive for the presence of amphetamine, and Burrell was subsequently booked on two felony drug possession charges and taken to the Blue Earth County Jail, where he remained for nearly three months with his bail set at $250,000. Last month, just as he was about to stand trial for his alleged crimes, more thorough crime lab test results proved that the blue powder found in his car actually contained vitamins, rather than meth, prompting prosecutors to drop the charges.

KMSP-TV Fox 9 notes that Burrell said, “I believe the prosecutor in Blue Earth County was dragging their feet. I got arrested November 14, 38 days later, he finally sends the alleged amphetamines for the [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension] lab to get final test results.” Burrell added, “I was furious, I was hot, I was pissed off. At the same time it was like, unbelievable.” It took nearly three months for prosecutors to obtain results from the crime lab’s analysis of the evidence. Burrell was released and the charges were dropped just before he was set to stand trial in February of 2015.

Burrell, who had been working to get his life back on track in a drug treatment program at the time that he was stopped, had an extensive criminal record, including prior drug, kidnapping, domestic assault, and stalking charges.

BenSwann.com previously reported on the plight of a Georgia woman who was arrested on felony methamphetamine possession charges after officers found a spoon encrusted with residue in her car during a traffic stop. She was released after spending over a month in jail when lab test results proved that the substance found on the spoon consisted of SpaghettiOs, rather than methamphetamine.

DEA Kept Secret Database of Americans’ Phone Calls

Collected Calls to Countries ‘Linked to Drug Trafficking’

by Jason Ditz, January 16, 2015

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was revealed to have conducted secret surveillance of Americans’ phone calls overseas, in an operation that was totally separate from the already publicized NSA program.
The Justice Department revealed the secret database in a criminal case this week, saying the DEA had been collecting information about Americans who were making calls to “certain countries” that they’d linked to drug trafficking.

The scope of the program remains uncertain, as only its base existence was revealed in the case, and the fact that Iran was one of the countries targeted in the program.

The program was active for years, though the Justice Department claims they ended the program in September of 2013. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D – VT) is pressing for additional information on the scheme.

Police Wish List Reportedly Being Used to Train Cops on What to Seize from Drug Suspects

Civil asset forfeiture is a legal construct under which governments seize property that is believed to have been used for or obtained through criminal activity. While the practice has been in place for quite some time throughout history, it has been ramped up as a feature of the War on Drugs. Under current rules, police often seize property like cash, cars, and homes from innocent family members of suspects, accused suspects who are eventually proven innocent, and other individuals who did not commit a crime. Since cops can seize any item that was believed to be involved in a crime, even from owners who themselves are innocent, without the same level of due process afforded to a criminal defendant, stories of abuses in which innocent people have had their property taken without recourse are starting to appear in the news with increasing frequency. The above-embedded video by the Institute for Justice demonstrates criticisms and examples of abuses that have been pointed out by opponents of civil asset forfeiture.

The fact that police departments can seize certain desired items and then put them to use has created an incentive for officers to seize property on the basis of the usefulness of the items in question, rather than on the basis of the insidiousness of the criminal activity being perpetrated. According to a report by The New York Times on civil asset forfeiture training seminars for police, officers have been instructed to watch for and seize big ticket items on police departments’ wish lists while patrolling the streets.

Allegedly, cops are being trained to focus on seizing items such as expensive cars, cash, and flat screen TVs which departments can put to use. The seizure of less useful items is discouraged. As an example, cops were told that computers are not worthwhile to seize as police agencies already have too many of them. Officers were also coached on how to argue against the complaints of innocent property owners who are facing property seizure under civil asset forfeiture despite not breaking any laws.

In fact, Las Cruces, New Mexico city attorney Harry S. Connelly Jr. was caught on tape back in September in videos leaked by the Institute for Justice coaching officers to be careful in how they seize property to make sure that it is eligible to be taken by describing a scenario in which officers were so excited to seize a luxury car that they failed to wait for the inebriated owner to take control of his vehicle before attempting to arrest him and seize it. Said Connelly, “And we always try to get, every once in a while, like, maybe a good car. There was a stakeout at a bar, and this guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new, just so beautiful. I mean, the cops were undercover and it was like, ‘Ahh!’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like, ‘Oh my goodness, we can hardly wait!’ So he goes in the place and they refuse to serve him because he’s drunk… and our police are just as excited as they can be, and he walks outside, and just as he’s about to touch the car, our police officer goes, whap, ‘You’re under arrest!’… [The suspect] didn’t have control of the vehicle. You don’t have to drive the vehicle in New Mexico to control it — sleep in it, lay on it, do whatever you want, and so we thought, damn, we got a 2008 Mercedes Benz… and lo and behold, we finally get the facts that he didn’t have control, and we have to like, gulp, back goes his car, cause… we didn’t wait… That’s just one of the little goodies that we got.”

Connelly was also caught admitting that he sometimes works with police to help them obtain items from suspects for their wish lists, saying, “If you want the car, and you really want to put it in your fleet, let me know — I’ll fight for it.”

Gary Bergman of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia defended civil asset forfeiture in comments to The New York Times, saying, “All they hear is the woman was left on the side of the road and the police drove off with her car and her money, no connection to drugs. I’m not saying that that doesn’t happen — it does. It should not. But they never hear about all the people that get stopped with the drugs in their cars, in their houses, the manufacturing operations we see, all the useful things we do with the money, the equipment, vehicles. They don’t hear about that.”

Critics have complained that civil asset forfeiture, as it works under the War on Drugs, creates an incentive for police to take property from innocent people in an effort to equip their departments with wish list items. It is worth noting that, while civil asset forfeiture has a particular association with drug crime, it is also sometimes used to obtain property connected to other types of crime as well.

GA Man Suffers Armed Raid After Cops Confuse Okra for Pot

Last Wednesday, Georgia retiree Dwayne Perry woke up to the sound of a low-flying chopper hovering above his home. Then, armed officers appeared at his door with a K-9 in tow. Perry told WSB-TV 2, “I was scared actually, at first, because I didn’t know what was happening.”

Investigators were apparently conducting aerial sweeps of the area to look for cannabis plants and mistook Perry’s okra garden for a marijuana grow operation. Possession of cannabis remains illegal in Georgia. “Here I am, at home and retired and, you know, I do the right thing. Then, they come to my house strapped with weapons for no reason. It ain’t right,” said Perry.

Okra is a plant with edible seed pods that are often an ingredient in many southern staple dishes, including gumbo. It is commonly grown in gardens and on farms throughout the south and across the state of Georgia. When WSB-TV 2 asked Georgia State Patrol Captain Kermit Stokes how the mistake could have been made, he sent a sample photograph of the okra and replied, “We’ve not been able to identify it as of yet. But it did have quite a number of characteristics that were similar to a cannabis plant.” Okra plants have five leaves, unlike cannabis plants which have seven.

After officers failed to find marijuana on the property, they apologized to Perry. However, the innocent retiree worries that his reputation in the community might have been affected. Perry, who lives in Cartersville, says he has been receiving constant calls from friends and neighbors asking why such an overwhelming police presence conducted a raid on his home.

In the 1989 case Florida v Riley, the US Supreme Court ruled that police do not need to obtain a warrant or probable cause before conducting random helicopter flyovers above private property to search for marijuana. As police departments across the country begin acquiring unmanned surveillance drones with the capability to capture images in much greater detail than what would be possible with the naked eye, new questions are being raised as to what homeowners should consider a reasonable expectation of privacy. California is currently grappling with this debate, as Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a bill that would have required officers to obtain a warrant before using a drone to spy on a homeowner’s property.

In related news, Ben Swann recently released a new Truth in Media episode on medical cannabis. Watch it in the player, embedded below.

Jailed Woman Released After Lab Test Proved Spoon Residue Was SpaghettiOs, Not Meth

“Uh oh, SpaghettiOs.” 23-year-old Gainesville, Georgia woman Ashley Gabrielle Huff was released from Hall County Jail on Thursday September 18 after residue, found on a spoon in a car in which she was a passenger, tested positive for SpaghettiOs, rather than crystal meth. According to Gainesville Times, she was arrested on July 2 by the Gainesville Police Department on felony meth possession charges when the encrusted spoon was found, as officers believed the dried spaghetti sauce to be residual meth particles. She maintained her innocence from the beginning, pointing out immediately that the spoon had been used for its intended purpose — eating food, rather than as drug paraphernalia.

Initially, Huff, who had never before faced felony or drug-related charges, was released from jail through a drug court program, but was reincarcerated on August 2 after she missed a scheduled appointment. She remained in jail for 47 more days, as she could not afford to post bond, before crime lab results confirmed her claim that the spoon residue was indeed spaghetti sauce, rather than meth. Prosecutors subsequently dropped the felony charges against Huff. Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh issued a dismissal notice, which said, “The Crime Lab report showed no controlled substances on the spoon submitted for testing.”

Chris van Rossom, a public defender who was assigned to Huff on Aug 11, told Gainesville Times, “From what I understand, she was a passenger in a car and had a spoon on her, near her, and I guess the officer, for whatever reason, thought there was some residue… She’s maintained all along that there’s no way in hell that’s any sort of drug residue or anything like that.” Van Rossom explained Huff’s side of the story, saying, “I think she said it had been SpaghettiOs.”

Prior to her release, Huff’s attorney had chosen to move forward with a plea bargain, despite her innocence, in an effort to get her out of jail as quickly as possible. In the article “The Case Against Plea Bargaining,” Timothy Lynch from The Cato Institute argued that plea bargains themselves encourage prosecutors to threaten defendants with terrifying charges in an effort to get them to waive their right to a trial, noting that over 90% of criminal cases are never tried before a jury. Huff’s attorney Chris van Rossom told Gainesville Times, “I think what the unfortunate part about her case is that she was probably willing to take the felony to close out her case so that she get out of jail, even though she always maintained innocence.” The lab results ultimately exonerated Huff in the nick of time, preventing her from potentially pleading guilty to a crime she did not commit.

Madison, WI Police Chief Endorses Legalization of Marijuana for Recreational Use

In a recent interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, WI Police Chief Mike Koval called the War on Drugs an “abject failure” and endorsed the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. He bolstered his argument by pointing out the fact that the city’s African American population is being cited or arrested for marijuana offences at twelve times the rate of Caucasians, parroting the concerns of national figures like US senators Rand Paul and Cory Booker, who have been pushing for criminal justice reform in the wake of the drug war’s disproportionate application on the basis of race. Chief Koval said that he believes that taxes taken from marijuana sales should be used to fund drug treatment programs and drug courts to help addicts beat hard narcotics like heroin without facing incarceration.

Chief Koval told the Wisconsin State Journal, “We’ve done such an abysmal job using marijuana as a centerpiece of drug enforcement that it’s time to reorder and triage the necessities of what’s more important now.” He pointed to states like Washington and Colorado where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use as examples of what could be done in Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin, marijuana remains totally illegal, and the state’s marijuana legalization initiatives have gained little political traction so far. Wisconsin did recently pass a bill that allows patients suffering from seizure disorders to possess non-psychoactive cannabidiol without facing criminal penalties, though critics have called the bill legally unworkable due to the fact that it does not provide a way for patients to get their medication legally. On Mother’s Day of this year, 7-year-old Lydia Schaeffer, whose mother lobbied heavily for the cannabidiol legalization bill, passed away from the seizure-causing Kleefstra syndrome while waiting for the bill to be implemented. The state has yet to pass a bill legalizing marijuana for broader medical use, though Wisconsin State Representative Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) introduced legislation to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes earlier this year, so the possibility remains on the horizon.

Madison Police Chief Koval made news earlier this summer when he commented on the clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, MO. In an interview with WISC-TV News 3, seen below, Koval described his strategy for dealing with protests, which differs starkly from what was seen in Ferguson. Said Koval, “You don’t show up in hard gear with riot gear and a facial visor. You show up in soft gear. That way, I think you take the anonymity away from the crowd. You develop yourself as a relational person to the crowd, and in that sense, you’re less likely to see these things go more viral in terms of the proclivity to violence.”

In related news, Ben Swann just released a new Truth in Media episode, which can be seen in the player below, exposing the truth about politicians’ mixed messages on medical cannabis. The episode, which primarily concerns the fact that the government denies the efficacy of cannabis as medicine while owning the patent on medical cannabis, features discussion on how some state governments like Wisconsin are legalizing cannabidiol but not legalizing other psychoactive forms of medical cannabis, thus under-serving sick patients who need treatment.