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oD Drug & Criminal Justice - Front Line Report: March 21, 2012

This week we take in the "Branson Follies" as The UK's most fun-loving Billionaire goes on the offensive with President Obama, challenging the US to seriously consider decriminalization of drugs. Meanwhile, more reports emerge showing the criminally disproportionate nature of the racial disparities in American criminal justice, including yet another case of police indifference to the murder of an unarmed Black youth. And in Mexico, despite calls by the cartels to curb violence during an upcoming Papal visit, 10 decapitated heads were recently discovered in Acapulco, more victims of Mexico's devastating drug war. ~ CS

Richard Branson: "America Needs to Open Up the Debate on Decriminalization"

In a debate sponsored by Google + and Intelligence Squared last week, I supported the motion that "it is time to end the war on drugs." I continued the discussion in Washington D.C. at an event hostedby The Atlantic two days later. For over 40 years, global efforts to punish drug users have failed to stem the drug trade and instead caused epidemics of violence and crime. Throughout Europe and Latin America, and in many U.S. states, a similar debate is playing out: Can and should the drug war be replaced with drug regulation that supports individuals with health issues and focuses law enforcement on serious criminals? This debate should be taken up by President Obama and his Republican rivals as well.

1.6 million Americans were arrested for non-violent drug crimes. Each of those convicted and imprisoned cost taxpayers about four times more in jail then they would in treatment. A stunning $51 billion is spent incarcerating drug users in America even though most of them have done no harm to others. Ironically, many come out of prison hardened, violent criminals. And the system is racist: even though blacks and whites have similar levels of drug use and drug dealing, blacks are 10 times as likely to be incarcerated for drug crimes.

This election year, America needs to open up the debate on decriminalization of drug use to consider reforms in-line with the recommendations of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, on which I served alongside former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso.

Source: Huffington Post

Online Debate Breaks Global Drug Policy Reform Taboo

Last year, the Global Commission on Drug Policycalled for an open debate on the global war on drugs. On Tuesday night, they went a long way to achieving this objective. A live debate streamed via YouTube entitled 'It's Time to End the War on Drugs' was watched by millions over the world. This pioneering method of engagement on social and political issues has given the drug war debate a global audience that was unthinkable a few years ago.

Non-governmental organisations and prominent individuals have tirelessly worked to propel this once marginal debate into the public realm. In doing so, they have garnered unprecedented public support and raised the issue on the global political agenda.

An impressive line-up of public figures advocated for global drug policy reform-at King's Hall in London and via video-link at 'Google hangouts' across the globe- including Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil, Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico and Sir Richard Branson. They represent an eclectic mix of professional backgrounds: former heads of state, businessmen, journalists. It points to the mainstreaming of the movement and its increasingly diverse support base. Specialist NGOs are now working together with key international players, to strategically push for change.

Source: Huffington Post

Richard Branson: I Asked for Weed at White House

When you go to a White House state dinner and you're lucky enough to get some face time with the president, what do you ask the president?

"I asked him if I could have a spliff," businessman and Virgin Group honcho Richard Branson told a crowd gathered at The Atlantic's Washington offices Thursday, the day after attending the dinner for British Prime Ministe David Cameron.

"But they didn't have any," Branson continued, according to a video of the event as he recalled his effort to procure weed the night before at the White House.

What's he smoking? Well, Branson is a longtime advocate for the legalization of marijuana - and an admitted recreational pot puffer - and spoke at an Atlantic Exchange panel discussion titled "Benchmarching the War on Drugs." Branson appeared alongside The Atlantic's Washington Editor-At-Large Steve Clemons and Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

So passionate is Branson's work on the issue that one audience member asked him if he'd be a Al Gore of the movement and work on a documentary on the errors of drug policies. (Branson declined, saying his son is a far better documentarian than he could ever be.)

Source: Politico

1 in 3 Black Men Go To Prison? The 10 Most Disturbing Facts About Racial Inequality in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searchedduring a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.

Source: The American Prospect/Alternet

Walking While Black: Florida Police Resist Calls to Arrest Shooter of Unarmed Teen, Trayvon Martin

The Justice Department and the FBI have announced they will conduct a criminal probe of the killing of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the ensuing police investigation that allowed his killer to walk free. Martin, an African-American student at Michael Krop Senior High School, was visiting his father in a gated community in the town of Sanford, Florida, on February 26 when he walked out to a nearby convenience store to buy candy and iced tea. On his way back, Martin was spotted by the shooter, George Zimmerman, who had been patrolling the neighborhood. Zimmerman has told police he was attacked by Martin from behind. But in the tape of Zimmerman’s own 911 call to the police, Zimmerman tells the dispatcher he is the one following Martin. The Miami Herald reports Zimmerman had taken it upon himself to patrol the neighborhood and had called police 46 times since January 2011 to report suspicious activity or other incidents. We play excerpts of the 911 calls and speak with Jasmine Rand, an attorney who heads the civil rights division at Parks & Crump Law Firm, which is representing Trayvon Martin’s family. "I think we have all of the evidence in the world to arrest him. And I think what the state attorney is trying to do is to try the case and the investigation, and that’s not the state attorney’s job," Rand says.

Source: Democracy NOW!

How Legal, Medical Marijuana Got One Couple's Children Violently Snatched Away

Law enforcement forced entry into the home of Daisy Bram, then violently ripped her three-week old newborn from her arms because she is a medical marijuana patient.

At 8am on the morning of September 29, 2011, the Butte Interagency Narcotic Task Force (BINTF) forced entry into the home of Daisy Bram and her husband Jayme Walsh. Law enforcement officers arrested the couple and working jointly with Child Protective Services, seized their children — including their 3-week-old suckling newborn, Zeus, who was violently ripped from his mother’s arms. He and his 15-month-old brother, Thor, were snatched and placed in a stranger’s home. Neither of these nursing babies had ever been away from their parents.

Source: Alternet

How Can a Man Who Won an Appeal, And a Major Supreme Court Case, Still be Locked Up for Life?

Antoine Jones won in court but the feds are making him sit in jail until they can try him once again

So, a guy gets convicted in a cocaine conspiracy case and sent to prison for life without parole, but wins on appeal and then wins again in a landmark US Supreme Court ruling on search and seizure law that overturns his conviction and forces dramatic changes in the way federal law enforcers go about their work. You would think this guy would be a pretty happy camper, getting back to his life and enjoying his freedom after sticking a thumb in the federal government's eye. But you would be dead wrong.

Meet Antoine Jones, the Jones in US v. Jones, last month's Supreme Court case in which the high court held that tracking a vehicle's movements by placing a GPS tracking device on it without first obtaining a search warrant is constitutionally impermissible. That ruling set off an earthquake under the Justice Department, evidenced this week with reports that the FBI has turned off some 3,000 GPS tracking devices that were in use.

Source: Drug War Chronicle

High Times Senior Executive Busted For Marijuana Trafficking

High Times magazine’s advertising executive and senior writer Matthew Woodstock is allegedly one of Manhattan’s oldest and biggest marijuana wholesaler.  The Manhattan district attorney’s office has charged Stang with wholesale distribution of multiple tons of marijuana which is alleged to have been grown indoors near the Miami, Florida area.

Matthew Woodstock Stang, otherwise known by the alias “Magazine Guy” on the marijuana scene, was first arrested in 2010 and is currently free on a $500,000 bail bond.  $100,000 of the bail had to be paid in cash. Stang’s attorneys are currently in negotiations with the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Source: The Inquisitr

Jailed for life at age 14: US supreme court to consider juvenile sentences

Court to decide constitutionality of cases like Quantel Lotts's – who as a teenager was handed a life sentence without parole.

Quantel Lotts does have one last hope. On Tuesday the US supreme court, the highest judicial panel in the land, will consider whether children should be sentenced to die in prison for homicides committed when they were 13 and 14.

At the oral argument, the lawyer for Jackson and Miller, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, will say that life without parole for such young kids is a violation of the eighth amendment of the US constitution that prohibits "cruel and unusual punishment". He will also argue that such sentences fly in the face of modern understanding of adolescence – the changing nature of the brain, the social pressures on teenagers, the change inherent in their transition from childhood to adulthood.

In recent years the supreme court has been gradually whittling away the harshest sentences for kids. In 2005 it ruled that it was unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for crimes committed under the age of 18, and two years ago the court ruled that juveniles who commit crimes in which nobody is killed cannot be given life without parole.

But that still leaves about 2,500 people in America sentenced to die in prison having been 17 or younger when they committed their crime. Within that group, 79 prisoners were, like Quantel Lotts, just 13 and 14 years old at the time.

Source: Guardian UK (CONTAINS VIDEO INTERVIEW)

Chicago police detained journalists covering girl's murder

Two journalists were handcuffed and detained by Chicago police outside a hospital over the weekend as they waited to speak with the family of a 6-year-old girl who was murdered. A video of the incident shows WGN reporter Dan Ponce and NBC Channel 5 photographer Donte Williams being handcuffed and taken into custody after police stated they were "creating a scene," while they -- along with other journalists -- waited on a public sidewalk to interview family members of the girl, a drive-by shooting victim. Police held the two journalists in a police wagon at the scene for 10 minutes before releasing them without any charges.

"Your First Amendment rights can be terminated if you create a scene," the detaining officer is heard telling the journalists in the video. "Your First Amendment rights have limitations."

The U.S. Supreme Court stated, over 70 years ago in Hague v. Committee for Industrial Organization, that First Amendment rights are at their strongest on public streets and sidewalks, as those locations have forever been used "for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens and discussing public questions."

Source: Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press

Gov. Scott signs into law plan to test state workers for drugs

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Monday a controversial proposal to allow Florida agencies to randomly test state workers for drugs.

The proposal, which has been clouded over questions about its constitutionality, passed the House and the Senate in the final week of this year’s legislative session.

The Drug Free Workplace Act will allow state agencies to randomly test up to 10 percent of their workforce once every three months. It will also allow agencies to fire employees the first time they test positive for drugs. Current law only allows random drug testing for “safety sensitive” positions, and prohibits agencies from firing workers who test positive once, opting for treatment programs instead.

Source: Miami Herald

WORLD

BFP Exclusive: U.S. Transit Hub-Base in Kyrgyzstan for Afghan Heroin

Today Turkish Weekly ran an investigative piece on the newly appointed chief of police in Osh-Kyrgyzstan. The new police chief Suyun Omurzakov, who used to be a deputy minister of interior, has been known as a highly influential drug lord, a leader of organized criminal groups, and he was the subject of a criminal investigation in the past.

Since 2001 Kyrgyzstan has been hosting the Transit Center at Manas (formerly Manas Air Base) as the transit point for US military personnel coming and going from Afghanistan, and pays 200 million for continued use of the facilities. For years the base has been riddled with scandals and fiascos.  Last December Boiling Frogs Post EyeOpener Investigative Report took a closer look at “The Manas Question: Drugs, Revolution & Terrorism on the Road to Afghanistan.

Source: Veteran's Today

In Mexico, extortion is a booming offshoot of drug war

Almost every segment of the economy and society, including businesses, teachers and priests, has been subjected to extortionists who exploit fear of cartels.

From mom-and-pop businesses to mid-size construction projects to some of Mexico's wealthiest citizens, almost every segment of the economy and society has been subjected to extortion schemes, authorities and records indicate. Even priests aren't safe.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Mexico police find 10 heads outside slaughterhouse

ACAPULCO, Mexico - Mexican authorities have found 10 severed heads dumped outside a slaughterhouse in a town in northern Guerrero state. They are still looking for the bodies.

A statement from the Teloloapan police says the heads of seven men and three women were left with a message that appears to threaten the La Familia Michoacana drug cartel. The warning says: "This is going to happen to all those who support the FM."

La Familia is based in Michoacan state, adjacent to Guerrero. Both Mexican states have suffered in recent years from fighting among drug gangs. Authorities say La Familia has been severely battered in the fighting.

Source: Associated Press

Mexican cartel says no violence during papal visit

MEXICO CITY - Banners purportedly signed by one of Mexico's drug cartels and hung in Guanajuato promise there will be no violence during next weekend's visit to the state by Pope Benedict XVI, an official said Sunday.

At least 11 banners signed by The Knights Templar gang were found in five municipalities, including the city of Leon, where the pope begins his trip Friday, an official at the state Attorney General's Office said.

Source: Associated Press

¿Privatize U.S. war on drugs?

The Department of Defense United States, the Pentagon is delegating its fight against drug trafficking through multimillion-dollar contracts with private companies that are responsible for providing advice, training and carry out operations in drug producing countries and with links to so-called "narco-terrorism", including Latin America.

Source: BBC News/BBC Mundo

New Exile Nation Videos

Peace in Medicine: Inside California's Medical Cannabis Industry

Carl Kerwick, CFO of Peace in Medicine Healing Center in Sebastopol, California, takes you on a guided tour of their flagship dispensary, and explains the pitfalls of attempting to operate such a business in the current political climate.

This video was produced by Charles Shaw for "After the War on Drugs: Envisioning a Post-Prohibition World,"  an openDemocracy symposium held in London UK, Sept 16-17, 2011. Produced by openDemocracy, The Exile Nation Project, KnowDrugs.net, and the Tedworth Charitable Trust.

THE EXILE NATION PROJECT - INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS BAVA

Chris Bava is a former heroin trafficker who served 8 years in Federal prison following a worldwide sting operation in the late 1980s.

Chris also struggled with addiction before and after his stint in prison, which eventually motivated him to move to Tijuana, Mexico, to seek out ibogaine, a variation of the African plant medicine, Iboga, which has shown a remarkable ability to interrupt addiction.

Today, Chris continues to live in Tijuana, advocating for the cities' thousands of homeless street addicts.

About the author

Charles Shaw is an award-winning journalist, editor and filmmaker, and the author of the critically-acclaimed memoir Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics & Spirituality. He is currently working on a new film called I’m Still Here, a documentary on Trauma and Healing that will be released in 2015.


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