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Outrageous Massachusetts Drug Bill Would Send You to Prison and Steal Your Car -- No Drugs Needed

p>With the support of state law enforcement, a Massachusetts Democratic state representative has filed a drug war bill that would send violators to prison for a mandatory minimum two years (five years for a second offense) and allow police to seize their vehicles -- all without the presence of any actual drugs.

Sponsored by Rep. Stephan Hay (D-Fitchfield), the measure, House Bill 1266, makes it a crime to have a hidden compartment in one's vehicle or to try to add one -- and it presumes that any hidden compartment in a vehicle is for "for the purpose of transporting or distributing controlled substances" and related contraband, such as cash or weapons. As the bill specifies in its asset forfeiture section:

Proof that a conveyance contains a hidden compartment as defined in this section shall be prima facie evidence that the conveyance was used intended for use in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances.

This is a legislative attempt to redefine reality in the name of drug war priorities akin to South Dakota's law deeming meth use or possession by a parent as child abuse. Despite that law, meth use is not child abuse, although it could lead to it. Similarly, having a hidden compartment in a car does not mean one is involved in trafficking, although one could be. But in both cases, legislators seek to twist reality to sync with prohibitionist -- and punitive -- ideology.

Only one state, Ohio, has a similar law on the books, and it has only been used once, but that one instance should be disturbing. In 2013, state troopers stopped Norman Gurley and discovered a secret compartment in his vehicle. They found absolutely no drugs but arrested him anyway on charges he broke the secret compartment law. That case briefly became a national news sensation before fading into obscurity, but it still lives: Gurley is set for a jury trial in December.

Police in Massachusetts are supporting this bill not only because it gives them one more tool in their war on drugs, but also because they get to keep any cars they seize. Massachusetts has the worst civil asset forfeiture laws in the country, and unlike states that are lining up to end forfeitures without a criminal conviction, as neighboring Connecticut did this week, cops only need to reach the threshold of probable cause that someone's cash or car or other property is related to a crime to seize it. This bill would make it all the easier, and they wouldn't even need to find any drugs.

"Shocks the Conscience": South Dakota Forcibly Catheterizes Three-Year Old in Drug War [FEATURE]

The state of South Dakota is practicing a form of drug war excess tantamount to torture, according to a pair of federal lawsuits filed by the ACLU on June 28. One suit charges that law enforcement and medical personnel subject drug suspects to forcible catheterization if they refuse to submit to a drug test.

Welcome to the Forced Catheterization State
The second suit charges even more outrageous conduct: State social workers and medical personnel subjecting a screaming toddler to the same treatment.

Let's be clear here: We are talking about a person having a plastic tube painfully inserted in his penis without his consent and with the use of whatever physical force is necessary by agents of the state. In the name of enforcing drug laws.

Law enforcement has an incentive to coerce people into consenting to warrantless drug tests -- with the realistic threat of forced catheterization -- because its state laws punish not just possession of drugs, but having used them. Under the state's "internal possession" or "unlawful ingestion" statutes, testing positive for illicit drugs is a criminal offense.

"Forcible catheterization is painful, physically and emotionally damaging, and deeply degrading," said ACLU of South Dakota executive director Heather Smith in a statement announcing the filings. "Catheterization isn't the best way to obtain evidence, but it is absolutely the most humiliating. The authorities ordered the catheterization of our clients to satisfy their own sadistic and authoritarian desires to punish. Subjecting anyone to forcible catheterization, especially a toddler, to collect evidence when there are less intrusive means available, is unconscionable."

In the case of the toddler, the ACLU is suing on behalf of Kirsten Hunter of Pierre and her thee-year-old son. According to the complaint, their ordeal began on February 23, when police arrived to arrest her live-in boyfriend for failing a probationary drug test. Accompanying the cops was Department of Social Services (DSS) caseworker Matt Opbroeck, who informed Hunter that she and her children would have to take drug tests, and that if she failed to agree, her two kids would be seized on the spot.

Under such coercion, Hunter agreed to take herself and her kids to St. Mary's Avera Hospital to be tested the next day. Here, in the dry language of the legal filing, is what happened next:

Ms. Hunter was met by [SMA medical staff] and told that she and her children needed to urinate in cups on orders of DSS.

At the time, A.Q., was not toilet-trained and could not produce a sample in a cup.

Even though other methods, such as placing a bag over his penis, would have yielded a urine sample, [SMA medical staff] immediately began to hold him down and to catheterize him.

At the time, [they] did not inform Ms. Hunter of altemative methods of getting a urine sample or explain the risks associated with catheterizing a child.

Ms. Hunter did not know that she could object nor was she given any opportunity to object. Ms. Hunter did not speak with or see a doctor.

A.Q. was catheterized and screamed during the entire procedure.

On information and belief, A.Q. was catheterized with an adult-sized catheter.

Ms. Hunter was humiliated and upset about A.Q.'s catheterization.

A.Q. was injured physically and emotionally.

In the aftermath of the state-sanctioned assault, three days later, A.Q. had to be taken to a hospital emergency room 100 miles away in Huron for constipation and pain and discomfort in his penis, and he had to return again to ASM two days after that, where he was diagnosed with a staph infection in his penis.

Hunter and the ACLU are suing DSS caseworker Opbroeck, Opbroeck's bosses, Department of Social Services Secretary Lynn Valenti and DSS Division of Child Protective Services Director Virginia Wieseler, and St. Mary's Avera, Registered Nurse Katie Rochelle, Nurse Practitioner Teresa Cass, and four unnamed SMA medical employees.

The ACLU argues that forcible catheterization of A.Q. violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches, the Fifth Amendment's right not to be forced to testify against oneself, and the 14th Amendment's due process clause because "it shocks the conscience, it was not medically necessary, and it was not reviewed by a judge." The lawsuit seeks monetary relief as well as declaration that the procedure is unconstitutional.

"The Fourth Amendment guarantees people the right to be free from unreasonable government searches," said Courtney Bowie, ACLU of South Dakota Legal Director. "There is nothing reasonable about forcibly catheterizing a child. The Constitution's purpose is to protect people from government intrusions exactly like this."

There is nothing reasonable about forcibly catheterizing drug defendants, either -- especially when the only drug use suspected is of marijuana -- but the second lawsuit filed by the ACLU alleges the practice is widespread among law enforcement agencies in the state, including repeated allegations of forced catheterizations after the victims have agreed to provide urine samples, the sole reason being that police involved could "gratify their sadistic desires," the complaint says.

"State agents, including law enforcement officers, in multiple cities and counties in South Dakota have conspired to attempt to rationalize, justify, and illegally forcibly catheterize drug suspects, and illegally coerce drug suspects to provide urine samples by threatening them with illegal forcible catheterization if they will not voluntarily provide a urine sample," the complaint says.

The conspiracy violates the civil rights not only of those subjected to forced catheterization, but those threatened with, the ACLU argues.

The lawsuit has five plaintiffs, all of whom were subjected to the procedure, and lists 20 unnamed police officers from Pierre, Sisseton, and the Highway Patrol, as well as one named Pierre officer, and the cities of Pierre and Sisseton. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to stop the practice, as well as "compensatory and punitive damages."

Chronicle AM: SD Sued Over Forced Catheterization of Toddler for Drug Test, More... (6/30/17)

The ACLU sues South Dakota over the forced drug testing of a toddler, Detroit residents again sue the dope squad for killing dogs in pot raids, Pennsylvania's governor signs an asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Trump's EPA head stops California from setting pesticide regulations for marijuana crops.
Marijuana Policy

EPA Rejects California's Request to Recognize Allowable Marijuana Pesticides. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt last week rejected the state's request to recognize acceptable pesticides for pot crops. Pruitt used the fact of marijuana's continuing illegality under federal law to justify the decision: "Under federal law, cultivation (along with sale and use) of cannabis is generally unlawful as a schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. The EPA finds that the general illegality of cannabis cultivation makes pesticide use on cannabis a fundamentally different use pattern."

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Health Department Issues Dispensary Permits. The Health Department announced Thursday it had granted 27 medical marijuana dispensary permits. Each permit holder can open up to three dispensaries. They will be permitted to begin selling medical marijuana in six months. Click on the link for a list of permit recipients.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed into law Senate Bill 8 on Thursday. The bill does not end civil asset forfeiture, but does impose a higher burden of proof on law enforcement before forfeitures can take place, mandate a hearing before any seized real property is forfeited, and add protections for third-party property owners.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Sued Over Forced Catherization of 3-Year-Old for Drug Test. The ACLU of South Dakota has filed a pair of lawsuits over the forced use of a catheter to take a urine sample from a three-year-boy to test for drugs as part of a child welfare investigation. The suit comes in the case of a Pierre woman whose boyfriend violated probation by testing positive for illegal drugs. Child protective workers then told the women her children would be taken away if she did not submit them to a drug test. The federal lawsuit names as defendants the state of South Dakota and the hospital whose employees actually performed the procedure.

Law Enforcement

Detroit's Dog Killing Drug Cops Sued for Third Time. A Detroit couple has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Detroit Police alleging officers needlessly and maliciously killed their three dogs during a July 2016 marijuana raid after officers refused to let them retrieve the animals from the back yard. That brings to three the number of active lawsuits filed against Detroit cops for killing dogs during pot raids. The culprit is the department's Major Violators Unit, which conducts hundreds of raids a year in the city, and which has left a trail of dead dogs in its wake. One officer alone has killed 69 dogs.

Illinois Supreme Court Rules County DAs Can't Form Their Own Dope Squads. The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday the county prosecutors cannot form their own policing units to conduct drug interdiction efforts, including traffic stops. The ruling came in a case involving the State Attorney's Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Unit created by the LaSalle County district attorney. The unit operated for five years, mainly stopping cars on their way to and from Chicago. Previously, state appeals courts had ruled that the units were an overreach of prosecutorial authority, and now the state's highest court has backed them up.

Marijuana Legalization Dramatically Cuts Traffic Stop Searches

In states where marijuana has been legalized, traffic stops resulting in searches by state police are down dramatically, according to a new analysis from the Marshall Project and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

With marijuana possession being legal, police in legal states can no longer assume criminal activity merely because of the presence of pot, which would have given them probable cause to conduct a search. And that means fewer interactions between drivers and police, reducing the prospect of dangerous -- or even deadly -- clashes.

But even though the number of searches dropped for all racial groups, black and brown drivers are still being subjected to searches at a higher rate than whites, the study found. And because the report only studied state police (Highway Patrol) stops, not stops by local law enforcement, which patrols urban areas with higher minority population concentrations, it may understate the racial disparity in traffic stop searches.

The report is based on an analysis of data from researchers at Stanford University, who released a report this week studying some 60 million state patrol stops in 31 states between 2011 and 2015, the most thorough look yet at national traffic stop data. The results from the legal pot states of Colorado and Washington are striking.

In Colorado, the number of traffic stop searches dropped by nearly two-thirds for whites, 58% for Hispanics, and nearly half for blacks. In Washington, the search rate dropped by about 25% for whites and Hispanics, and 34% for African-Americans.

Still, racial disparities in search rates persisted in both states. In Colorado, the search rate for black drivers was 3.3 times that for whites, and the rate for Hispanic drivers was 2.7 times that for whites. In Washington, blacks were twice as likely to be searched as whites, while the search rate for Hispanics was 1.7 times that of whites.

The traffic stop search data parallels what happened with marijuana arrests in legal states. In Colorado, for instance, a 2016 Department of Public Safety report found that while the number of pot arrests dropped by nearly half after legalization, the arrest rate for blacks was still nearly three times that of whites.

"Legalizing marijuana is not going to solve racial disparities," said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. "We need to do a lot more before we get at that."

But legalizing marijuana does reduce the number of traffic stop searches, and given the fraught relationship between police and the citizenry, especially communities of color, that is a good thing in itself.

Customs Seizes Childproof Marijuana Lock Boxes, Calls Them "Drug Paraphernalia" [FEATURE]

In a prime illustration of the perversities of the war on drugs, US Customs has seized a shipment of a thousand lock boxes aimed at allowing marijuana, tobacco, and pharmaceutical users to keep their stashes safe from kids. Customs has officially designated the boxes as drug paraphernalia, even though everyone involved concedes the boxes are aimed at preventing drug use by kids.

The stash cases were designed by and destined for Stashlogix, a Boulder, Colorado, firm established in the wake of marijuana legalization in the state in 2012 to address a mini-panic over news reports about the dangers of marijuana for kids. Those reports were generally overstated, but the need for secure stashes for pot and other potentially dangerous goodies remained.

"People didn't have ways to safely store these items out of reach of kids, other than up on shelves or in sock drawers," Stashlogix cofounder Skip Stone told the Washington Post. So he and a partner founded the company to market cases and containers "for the storage and transport of medicine, tobacco, and other stuff."

The company's small, lockable cases, with tiny jars and odor-neutralizing inserts included, were a hit with customers. "People love the product," Stone said. "They use it for all sorts of things, but cannabis is definitely one of them. They keep it locked, they feel safer, they feel more responsible."

So the company geared up production, placing orders with a Chinese factory, but things came to a crashing halt on April 28, when Customs seized 1,000 of the storage cases.

"This is to officially notify you that Customs and Border Protection seized the property described below at Los Angeles International Airport on April 28, 2017," read a letter received by Stashlogix. The agency had seized the bags, valued at $12,000, because "it is unlawful for any person to import drug paraphernalia."

Stashlogix's childproof pot lock box
When challenged by Stashlogix, Customs conceded that "standing alone, the Stashlogix storage case can be viewed as a multi-purpose storage case with no association with or to controlled substances," but it pointed out that the odor-absorbing carbon inset could be used to hide the smell of weed, and it cited favorable reviews of the product in the marijuana press, concluding "that there exists one consistent and primary use for the Stashlogix storage cases; namely, the storage and concealment of marijuana."

The federal government doesn't officially recognize the legality of medical or recreational marijuana, and Customs is following decades-old drug war paraphernalia laws to achieve a perverse result: Making marijuana potentially riskier in places where it is legal. After all, half of current pot smokers are parents, and this application of federal policy is making it more difficult for them to keep their kids out of their stashes.

Stone is appealing the ruling, but in the meantime, he's had to write off an additional $18,000 worth of goods still outside the country and lay off his three employees. He's looking for a domestic manufacturer for his cases, since Customs can't mess with domestic goods and the DEA hasn't made paraphernalia a high priority, but the ultimate solution lies in Washington.

"It's going to take an act of Congress to clear up some of these contradictions between state and federal law," he told the Post. "These paraphernalia laws are outdated. Keeping kids safe should be more important than outdated regulations."

Chronicle AM: Trump Signs Unemployment Drug Test Bill, WVA MedMJ Bill House Vote, More... (4/3/17)

President Trump signs a bill that will expand the drug testing of people seeking unemployment benefits, the West Virginia House is taking up medical marijuana, Colorado legislators have crafted a plan to deal with any federal attack on recreational marijuana, and more.

President Trump has signed a bill undoing Obama administration rules limiting unemployment drug testing. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Seeks to Avoid Thwart Possible Fed Crackdown by Classifying Legal Marijuana as Medical. In what the Associated Press called "the boldest attempt yet by a US marijuana state to avoid federal intervention in its weed market," the legislature is considering Senate Bill 17-192. The bill would allow retail marijuana licenses to be transferred into medical marijuana licenses. The measure has already passed out of the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee and the Senate Finance committee and has a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Michigan Hash Bash Draws 10,000+. Ann Arbor's annual celebration of marijuana drew the largest crowd in years this past weekend, with more than 10,000 people showing up to light up and voice support for marijuana legalization. Michigan nearly became the first Midwest state to put legalization to a vote last year -- coming up just short on signature gathering -- and activists there are vowing to try again in 2018.

Kansas City Voters to Decide on Decriminalization Tomorrow. Residents of Kansas City, Missouri, will vote Tuesday on whether to approve the Question 5 decriminalization ordinance. Under the proposal, people 21 and over caught with less than an ounce would face no more than a $25 ticket.

Wichita Pot Defelonilization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. Wichita activists hope the second time is the charm. A successful 2015 defelonization initiative was stuck down by the state Supreme Court on a technical issue. Now, the activists say they are preparing a new campaign to put the issue on the August municipal ballot. Under their proposal, small-time pot possessors would face a misdemeanor charge and a maximum $50 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Governor Signs a Dozen Medical Marijuana Bills. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a dozen bills aimed at regulating the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Bills that actually modified the law required a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature. For a complete list of the bills and what they do, click on the link.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Hearing Today. After a delay over the weekend at the request of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, the House is taking up the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, today. Shott was expected to introduce an amendment during today's hearing before a vote is taken.

Drug Testing

Trump Signs Unemployment Drug Testing Bill Into Law. President Trump last Friday signed into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that will allow states to expand the pool of unemployment benefits applicants who can be drug tested. The bill undid an Obama administration rule that limited unemployment drug testing to professions where drug screenings are the norm. The bill passed Congress with no Democratic support in the Senate and only four Democrats in the House.

Harm Reduction

JAPA Issue Focuses on Naloxone. The March-April issue of the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association is devoted to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. It contains nearly 30 letters, research reports and research notes on issues related to pharmacists and naloxone. The articles appear to be all open access, too. Click on the link to check 'em out.

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Reform Bills Filed Today, DEA Scorched on Seizures, More... (3/30/17)

The Congressional Cannabis Caucus is getting down to business, yet another poll shows strong (and increasing) support for marijuana legalization, Trump names an acting drug czar, a California safe injection site bill is moving, and more.

The DOJ's inspector general is not impressed with DEA asset forfeiture practices. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New General Social Survey Poll Shows Jump in Support for Legalization. Support for marijuana legalization surged last year, according to new data released by the General Social Survey. The poll has support for legalization at 57% in 2016, up five points from 2014.

Package of Federal Marijuana Reform Bills, Including Legalization, Filed Today. The Congressional Cannabis Caucus flexed its muscles Thursday as members of Congress filed a package of bills aimed at creating a "path to marijuana reform" at the federal level and protecting and preserving marijuana laws in states where it is legal. Two Oregon politicians, Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) led the charge, announcing a bipartisan package of three bills, including a marijuana legalization bill reintroduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), as well as a pair of bills aimed at cleaning up "collateral issues" such as taxes, regulation, banking, asset forfeiture, descheduling, research, and protection for individuals. Click on the link to read our feature story and see more about the bills.

Vermont Legalization Bill Hits Snag. The effort to legalize marijuana took a detour Tuesday when the House leadership indefinitely postponed a vote on House Bill 170 after it became apparent it didn't have enough votes to pass. The bill isn't dead, but it has now been sent to the House Human Services Committee, where it will sit until the leadership thinks it has come up with enough votes to pass.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Tax Bill. The Senate voted 31-1 Wednesday to approve House Bill 1580, which would impose a 4% tax on medical marijuana at each transaction. The tax would be levied on growers' sales to dispensaries and again on dispensaries' sales to individuals. The tax would sunset in 2019 after raising an estimated $3.6 million. The bill had already passed the House, but was sent back there for a concurrence vote after amendments were added in the Senate.

Colorado Legislators Vote to Rein In Medical Marijuana Home Grows. The state Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to approve House Bill 17-1220, which would limit the number of medical marijuana plants grown at a single residence to 12. Under current law, up to 99 plants are allowed. The bill now heads to the governor's desk.

West Virginia Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate voted Wednesday night to approve Senate Bill 386, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for specified medical conditions. The bill now heads to the House of Delegates.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Report Scorches DEA Over Asset Forfeitures. The Justice Department inspector general's office has released a report on DEA cash and asset seizure practices that warns the way DEA operates may pose a risk to civil liberties. The report noted that most seizures result from direct observation by DEA agents or local police, leading to concerns about the potential for racial profiling. The report examined a hundred asset forfeiture cases, and found that fewer than half advanced ongoing investigations. "When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution," the report said.

Drug Policy

Trump Nominates Richard Baum as Acting Drug Czar. The president has nominated Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) veteran and Georgetown University adjunct professor Richard Baum to be acting drug czar. While some of Baum's remarks over the years have drawn controversy, he is generally viewed by insiders as having a public policy approach as opposed to a drug warrior approach.

Harm Reduction

California Bill to Allow Supervised Injection Sites Advances. A bill that would create a five-year exemption from the state's drug laws to allow for the operation of supervised injection facilities advanced in the Assembly last week. The Assembly Health Committee voted 9-4 to approve Assembly Bill 186. The bill now goes to the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Chronicle AM: IL Legal MJ Bill Filed, CA Bill Bars Helping Feds Attack Legal MJ, More... (3/23/17)

Illinois lawmakers want to see marijuana legalization; California lawmakers want to protect marijuana legalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Block Cops From Aiding Federal Pot Crackdown. Six Democratic legislators have filed Assembly Bill 1578, which would bar state and local law enforcement from cooperating in any federal enforcement activities aimed at state-legal marijuana operations. "Prohibiting our state and local law enforcement agencies from expending resources to assist federal intrusion of California-compliant cannabis activity reinforces… the will of our state's voters who overwhelmingly supported Proposition 64," said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), the lead author of the new bill.

Illinois Lawmakers File Legalization Bill. A group of Chicago Democratic legislators have filed a marijuana legalization bill by amending an existing bill, House Bill 2353. The measure would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults (a half-ounce for non-residents), set up a system of legal marijuana manufacture and distribution $50 per 28 grams on all cannabis flowers, and give state regulators 180 days to get a system up and running.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court Rules Lawsuit From Man Jailed Over Bottle of Vitamins Can Advance. An Illinois man jailed for two months after police claimed the pills in his vitamin bottle were ecstasy despite lab tests that showed they weren't can continue to pursue his federal civil rights claim, the US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. Elijah Manuel, who is black, said officers pulled over the vehicle in which he was riding, falsely claimed they smelled marijuana, screamed racial slurs, then claimed their field drug test indicated his vitamins were ecstasy. Police continued to hold him in jail even after other tests verified the pills were not ecstasy until prosecutors eventually dropped the case. "No evidence of Manuel's criminality had come to light in between the roadside arrest and the county court proceeding initiating legal process; to the contrary, yet another test of Manuel's pills had come back negative in that period," according to the opinion. "All that the judge had before him were police fabrications about the pills' content. The judge's order holding Manuel for trial therefore lacked any proper basis. And that means Manuel's ensuing pretrial detention, no less than his original arrest, violated his Fourth Amendment rights."

International

Vietnam Sentenced Nine to Death for Drug Trafficking. A court in Hoa Binh province sentenced nine men to death for trafficking more than a thousand pounds of heroin in a trial that ended Tuesday. Vietnam sentences dozens of people to death each year; about a third of them for drug offenses.

Chronicle AM: More State Forfeiture Bills, Colombia Drug Farmers Organizing, More... (1/24/17)

Colorado high court rules cops don't have to give your legal weed back if they seize if, changes in the Arkansas medical marijuana law go to the governor, there's more asset forfeiture activity in the states, Colombia's drug crop growers organize, and more.

Asset forfeiture abuses are leading to corrective efforts in more and more states. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Supreme Court Says Cops Don't Have to Give Seized Marijuana Back. The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that police cannot be forced to return marijuana to a defendant acquitted of pot crimes, because that would cause them to violate the federal Controlled Substances Act. "The return provision requires law enforcement officers to return, or distribute, marijuana," the decision says. "Thus compliance with the return provision necessarily requires law enforcement officer to violate federal law." Three justices disagreed, however, saying that the CSA "immunizes federal and state officers from civil and criminal liability in the circumstances at issue here." But they lost.

Virginia Bill to End Drivers' License Suspension for Possession Advances. A bill that would undo an existing state law requiring the suspension of drivers' licenses for people convicted of pot possession was approved by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee Monday. The measure, Senate Bill 1091 still need approval from the full chamber.

Texas Judge Recommends No Punishment for Teacher Who Smoked Pot in Colorado. A teacher who admitted legally consuming marijuana while in Texas should not face any legal or professional penalty, an administrative judge has ruled. The Texas Education Agency sought to suspend the teacher's license for two years after she handed in a urine sample that tested positive for marijuana. The judge found that the teacher was not "unworthy to instruct" and that there was no evidence to suggest she was under the influence of marijuana while teaching. The TEA will have to make a final decision.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Legislature Approves Changes to Medical Marijuana Law. With the state Senate's approval Monday, House Bill 1058 now goes to the governor. It passed the House last week. The bill removes a requirement that doctors declare the benefits of medical marijuana outweigh the risk to the patient. It also specifies that patient information submitted to qualify for medical marijuana is "confidential," but would not be considered "medical records" subject to the Health Information Privacy Protection Act.

Illinois State Treasurer Asks Trump for Clarity on Banking for Medical Marijuana Industry. State Treasurer Michael Frerichs said Monday he sent a letter to President Trump urging him to give clear guidance to the banking industry on marijuana. Frerichs said currently federal law makes it difficult for legal businesses to get loans and restricts customers to cash-only transactions.

North Dakota House Approves Bill Preventing Worker's Comp from Paying for Medical Marijuana. The House overwhelmingly approved House Bill 1156 Monday. Passed in response to voters' approval of a medical marijuana initiative in November, the bill prevents the state Workforce Safety and Insurance agency from paying for medical marijuana to treat a workplace injury. Legislators said marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Kratom

Florida Kratom Ban Effort Gets Senate Companion Bill. Rep. Kristin Jacobs' (D) lonely crusade to ban kratom is not quite as lonely today. Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson has filed Senate Bill 424, which, like Jacobs' House bill, would add the active ingredients in kratom to the state's list of controlled substances.

Asset Forfeiture

Alaska Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. State Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole) has filed House Bill 42, which would end civil asset forfeiture by requiring law enforcement obtain a criminal conviction before property is seized. "This has to do with the belongings that are taken," Wilson said. "They still can seized. But now there will be a process for those who were not involved to be able to get their items back without a lengthy proceeding and have to get an attorney to be able to do that."

Oklahoma Asset Forfeiture Bill Coming Back. State Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) will once again file asset forfeit legislation this year. The bill would require convictions before asset forfeiture unless the property is valued at more than $50,000, if the person denies any connection to the property, or is deported or otherwise unavailable. Similar efforts in past years have been blocked by strong law enforcement lobbying efforts.

Wisconsin Asset Forfeiture Bill Filed. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is preparing an asset forfeiture reform bill that would require a criminal conviction before any seizure takes place, that any seizure be proportional to the offense, and that proceeds from forfeitures be directed to state general funds, and not law enforcement. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Drug Testing

North Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Tom Campbell (R-Grafton) has filed Senate Bill 2279, which would require the state Department of Human Services to develop a procedure for testing welfare applicants suspected of illegal drug use. The bill would deny benefits for a year to applicants who refuse a drug assessment, refuse a drug test, or don't participate in a treatment program. Similar legislation has been introduced the last three sessions. The Department of Human Services does not support it.

International

Colombia Coca, Opium, and Marijuana Farmers to Form Association. The growers are planning to found the National Coordinator of Coca, Marijuana, and Opium Growers to try "to forge a common negotiating front with the government to influence any potential agreements on drug control that come as a result of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The organization would have national reach and appears to be an effort to create a political coalition with the aim of directly negotiating with the government. Notably, such a coalition could form a future political support base for an eventual FARC political party. By linking the future of a FARC party to the issue of forceful eradication, which the group would almost assuredly oppose, the pace of eradication in Colombia could end up slowing even further," Stratfor reported.

Stingray: Privacy, Surveillance, the War on Drugs, and Your Phone [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by independent investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Raymond Lambis is a free man -- at least for now.

He was looking at 10 years to life on federal drug charges, but the case was built on a controversial technology -- "Stingray" -- and in a precedent-setting 2016 decision widely celebrated by legal experts and privacy advocates, a federal judge ruled that use of the device without a search warrant violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable search and seizure.

The decision -- and the technology -- has implications that go far beyond the shadowy world of drug dealers and DEA agents. Stingray is a generic term for a cell-site simulator, a device that can mimic cell towers as a means of tracking down cell phones. Law enforcement can use Stingray to pick up phone calls, voicemail messages, and text messages, and to pinpoint the physical location of a targeted phone to within a few feet.

In the Lambis case, federal prosecutors argued that they didn't need a warrant to use the wide-ranging Stingray, but federal district court Judge William H. Pauley shot them down.

"Absent a search warrant," Judge Pauley held in his 14-page opinion, "the government may not turn a citizen's cell phone into a tracking device."

But that's exactly what DEA agents did to build their case against Lambis. They used Stingray to locate his cell phone inside his family residence, then conducted a warrantless search of his bedroom and uncovered a large amount of cocaine.

Federal prosecutors had a fallback argument -- that even if a warrant were necessary to track Lambis' phone, once his father gave agents at his door permission to enter and Lambis then "consented" to a search, the search should be allowed -- but Pauley wasn't having that, either.

"The procurement of a 'voluntary' consent to search based upon a prior illegal search taints that consent," he held.

US District Court Judge William H. Pauley
But if federal prosecutors have their way, the DEA and other federal agents will be able to do it again. In September, prosecutors from the US Attorneys Office for the Southern District of New York filed an appeal of Pauley's decision with the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We're obviously disappointed about that," Lambis' attorney Alan Seidler told Drug War Chronicle.

So is the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Rebecca Jeschke, a digital rights analyst for the group, told the Chronicle that if the government wins on appeal, everyone's privacy will be eroded.

"As we use cell phones more and more, a successful appeal will touch nearly every American," she said.

A successful appeal would be salt in the wounds of legal scholars and privacy advocates who hailed Pauley's forceful decision in Lambis as a major victory against warrantless surveillance by the government.

"This is the first federal ruling I know of where a judge squarely ruled that the Fourth Amendment required police to get a warrant to use a Stingray, and further, suppressed evidence derived from warrantless use of the technology," ACLU Attorney Nathan Wessler told the New York Times at the time. "After decades of secret and warrantless use of Stingray technology by law enforcement to track phones, a federal judge has finally held authorities to account."

According to an ACLU report, at least 60 state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies in 23 states have used Stingray to suck up citizens' cell phone data.

Stingray in the Lambis Case

According to court documents, the trail to Raymond Lambis' front door began with a DEA investigation into an alleged drug pipeline importing large amounts of cocaine from South America beginning in early 2015. DEA agents obtained a wiretap warrant to glean information about the numbers dialed from a specific cell phone.

After agents obtained the warrant, they monitored messages off a Blackberry between two suspected drug traffickers. During one particular conversation agents overheard a voice referring to someone named "Patilla," whose phone had a 646 area code.

Messages between Patilla and the other, unnamed party indicated that Patilla could supply hydrochloric acid, which is used by traffickers in the heroin-refining process. DEA agents then got a warrant to order the phone company to provide "approximate location," or "cell-site location information" (CSLI).

A frequent complaint of defense attorneys and privacy advocates has been that law enforcement, and DEA agents in particular, will mislead judges into thinking the warrant they sign off on is to get specific cell-site information from a carrier when what agents are really doing is using Stingray to locate a person's phone or actual address. As the Chronicle reported in 2013, "The Stingray technology not only raises Fourth Amendment concerns, it also raise questions about whether police withhold information from judges to monitorcitizens without probable cause.That's what happened in Lambis.

In the Lambis case, DEA Special Agent Kathryn Glover obtained a warrant seeking cell-site data and location information for that 646 phone, but did not tell the judge DEA would be using Stingray to conduct a search to pin down Lambis' exact location.

"So they went to the effort to get a warrant, but then didn't tell the judge they intended to use that same warrant to use a Stingray," ACLU technology specialist Christopher Soghoian told Ars Technica. "It is so important for federal courts to recognize that use of a Stingray is a search of a Fourth Amendment-protected place, and not only is a warrant required, but the court authorizing the surveillance must be told they are authorizing the use of a Stingray."

But the phone carrier's CSLI data, which Agent Glover said in her warrant application would be used to track down the 646 phone, only guided DEA agents to the "general area" of Broadway and 177th Street in Manhattan. To pinpoint the 'house or building where the phone most likely resided with its owner the DEA unleashed Stingray to first zero in on the exact building and then on the exact apartment.

A DEA technician using a hand-held Stingray walked through the building until he picked up the strongest signal -- coming from inside the Lambis apartment. Then, DEA agents knocked on the door, and Lambis' father allowed the gun-toting agents inside. When agents asked if anyone else lived there, the elderly man knocked on his son's door, and Lambis opened it up only to be confronted by the DEA.

Faced by the agents in his home, he then consented to a search of his bedroom, where agents discovered a kilo of cocaine, empty ziplock bags, a scale, and eight cell phones. He was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and other drug-related charges. It was Lambis' defense motion to throw out that evidence as a result of an unlawful search that led to Pauley's ruling.

The States Aren't Waiting for the Federal Courts

The courts aren't the only place Stingray is running into headwinds. Thanks to decisions like that in the Lambis case, some states have begun passing privacy legislation aiming at protecting citizens' cell phone data from warrantless searches by Stingray or similar cell-site simulators used by police. Among them are California, Illinois, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington.

"Citizens have the right to expect that they will not have their personal information investigated by police without a warrant," said Rep. Edith H Ajello (D-Providence) after passage of a 2016 Rhode Island bill that prohibits obtaining cell phone data by cell-site technology.

"Requiring a warrant won't make it difficult for police to do their job," concurred Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-North Providence). "It's essentially updating search warrant law for the information age."

"As advances in technology enable police to more efficiently investigate and solve crimes, it's important that we help them to know they are following state laws and the Constitution," said Illinois Sen. Daniel Bliss (D-Evanston) upon passage of similar legislation there in 2016. That law, the Citizen Privacy Protection Act, went into effect January 1.

While the states aren't waiting for the federal courts to provide protections, the Lambis decision and related controversies over Stingray technology have created such a firestorm that the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security are now requiring agents to obtain a warrant before using Stingray in investigations. But that could change if the appeals court rules in the government's favor. Stay tuned.

Journalist Clarence Walker can be reached at cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com.

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