Asset Forfeiture (STDW)
A Mississippi police chief shoots himself during an investigation into asset forfeiture funds, a Massachusetts police officer shoots herself during an investigation into thefts from her evidence room, an Ohio cop goes to prison for lying on drug search warrants and stealing big time, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]In Braintree, Massachusetts, somebody has been stealing from the police evidence room, according to an audit released Wednesday. The audit found that the Braintree Police Department is missing nearly 5,000 pieces of drug evidence, 60 guns, 4,700 pieces of property evidence, and $407,000 in seized cash are missing. Some drug evidence bags were torn open and emptied, while others had the drugs replaced with other substances. Two of the missing guns were found at the home of Officer Susan Zopatti, who was in charge of the evidence room. She killed herself in May after being interviewed as part of the audit. At least six drug cases have been dropped, and more are likely to follow.
In Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, the police chief shot and killed himself last Thursday after being relieved of duty during an investigation into the department's handling of asset forfeiture funds. Chief Mike De Nardo was being escorted by two deputies out of the police station when he shot himself in the chest.
In Eugene, Oregon, a former Deschutes County sheriff's captain was sentenced last Thursday to five years in federal prison for stealing more than $205,000 from drug buy funds and money seized in drug busts. Scott Beard repeatedly stole funds over a two-year period and laundered them using the bank account of his mistress, whom he treated to a lavish lifestyle. He copped to two counts of theft and two counts of money laundering in May, and was taken into custody upon sentencing.
In Columbus, Ohio, a former Reynoldsburg police officer was sentenced last Friday to 33 months in federal prison for falsifying search warrants in drug cases and stealing $150,000 in property and cash. Shane Mauger had worked with Reynoldsburg Detective Tye Downard, who hung himself in his jail cell after being arrested for using his connections to sell drugs, including drugs stolen from the evidence room. Both were members of the Franklin County Drug Task Force, and at least 15 felony drug cases have been dropped because they lied on search warrant applications. Mauger pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to deprive persons of the civil rights and theft.
President Obama continues commuting drug sentences, the 9th Circuit upholds a ban on gun ownership for medical marijuana patients, Albuquerque gets sued over its asset forfeiture scheme, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Medical Marijuana
Federal Appeals Court Upholds Ban on Gun Sales to Medical Marijuana Cardholders. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that the federal government's ban on gun sales to medical marijuana cardholders does not violate the 2nd Amendment. The decision came in the case of a Nevada woman turned away from a gun shop after obtaining a medical marijuana card. The ruling sets precedent for all nine states in the circuit, including California, Oregon, and Washington.
New York Expands Program, Will Allow Medical Marijuana Deliveries. The state Department of Health said Tuesday it will allow nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana for patients and allow dispensaries to make deliveries. The department also said it was considering whether to include chronic pain on the state's list of qualifying conditions.
Albuquerque Sued for Refusing to Shut Down Asset Forfeiture Program. An Albuquerque woman whose car was seized after he son was pulled over for drunk driving filed suit in state court Wednesday arguing that the city's asset forfeiture program violates recently passed state-level asset forfeiture reforms and "is driven by a pernicious -- and unconstitutional -- profit incentive" that deprives her of her due process rights. Although the state passed the reforms last year, the city has continued to seize vehicles like Harjo's, arguing the law does not apply to it. The city was already sued by two lawmakers, but that suit was dismissed, with the court ruling they lacked standing to sue. The city has seized more than 8,000 vehicles since 2010.
Pardons and Commutations
President Obama Commutes Sentences for 111 More Drug Offenders. The president continued his pardon push Wednesday, commuting sentences for 111 more drug offenders. That brings to 325 the number pardoned this month alone -- a record -- and to 673 the number whose sentences Obama has commuted throughout his term. That's more than the previous 10 presidents combined.
Mexico Federal Police Chief Fired Over Massacre of Cartel Suspects. President Enrique Pena Nieto Monday fired federal police chief Enrique Gallindo over the apparent massacre of 22 suspected cartel members in Michoacan last year. Earlier this month, the National Human Rights Commission released a report saying the victims had been "executed arbitrarily."
Lots of California news today, plus a Montana anti-marijuana initiative folds.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
California Legislature Passes Cottage Cannabis Production Bill. The measure, Assembly Bill 2516, would establish a new medical marijuana cultivator license category for what sponsor Assemblyman Jim Woods (D-North Coast) calls "microfarmers." The category would apply to farmers with 2,500 square feet or less for mixed-light cultivation, 500 square feet for indoor cultivation, or up to 25 mature marijuana plants for outdoor cultivation. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).
California's Legal Marijuana Industry Could Generate $6.5 Billion a Year, Report Says. A new report from Arcview Market Research estimates that legalizing marijuana in the state would create a $6.5 billion annual market by 2020. That would make California the "epicenter" of legal marijuana in the US.
Montana Anti-Marijuana Zealot Gives Up on Initiative to Repeal Medical Marijuana Law. Billings auto dealer Steve Zabawa has given up the ghost on his effort to get an anti-marijuana initiative on the state ballot. His measure would have repealed the state's already seriously gutted medical marijuana law (a measure that has made the ballot, I-182, seeks to reinstate the original law) and declare that any drug illegal under federal law is illegal under state law. He came up short on signatures, lost an initial court challenge, and now says he doesn't have time to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Zabawa said he will now concentrate on trying to defeat I-182.
California Legislature Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. A bill that would require a criminal conviction before seizing assets in cases involving less than $40,000 has passed the legislature and is now on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The measure, Senate Bill 443, sponsored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would also prohibit police from partnering with federal agencies in drug busts in order to get around state asset forfeiture laws.
California is moving to reform its civil asset forfeiture system, a federal court has told the Justice Department it can't spend funds to prosecute state-compliant medical marijuana businesses, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Medical Marijuana
Federal Appeals Court Blocks DOJ From Going After Medical Marijuana in States Where It Is Legal. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Justice Department can't spend money to prosecute federal marijuana cases if the defendants are in compliance with state laws permitting medical marijuana production and sales. The ruling upholds the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment, passed by Congress in 2014, which prohibits the spending of appropriated funds to interfere in medical marijuana states. That amendment "prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws," the court said.
Maryland Names Medical Marijuana Growers and Processors. The state Medical Cannabis Commission has awarded preliminary licenses to 20 companies to grow and process medical marijuana and has named the companies selected. The licenses were actually awarded on August 5, but the commission did not reveal the names of the licensees until Monday, so state officials could conduct background checks and review financial records.
Bipartisan Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes California Assembly. Civil asset forfeiture reform legislation authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and David Hadley (R-Torrance) passed the Assembly Floor by a 67-7 vote Tuesday. The bill has already passed the Senate, but must now go back for a concurrence vote. The The bill will require that in all cases where law enforcement seize cash under $40,000, that there be a conviction in the underlying criminal case, before that money flows to law enforcement coffers. The same protection would be afforded homes, land, and vehicles, regardless of value. Under current law, there is not such protection for cases sent into the federal system, and the current threshold for cash in state law is $25,000, established in 1994. The measure is Senate Bill 443.
Arizona legalizers fight a lawsuit aimed at knocking them off the ballot, Washington rakes in the tax revenue from legal pot, asset forfeiture is in the news in California and New York, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Arizona Legalization Campaign Wants Lawsuit Tossed. The group behind the state's legalization initiative has asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by foes seeking to keep the measure off the November ballot. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol argued that the effort is more about politics and ideology than ensuring state law is followed. Foes argued that the ballot measure's summary language does not describe everything the initiative would do. Both sides will be in court a week from today.
In Face of Uproar, Oregon US Attorney Drops Federal Marijuana Charge Against Teen for One Gram of Weed. Rather than prosecute Devontre Thomas, 19, for possession of a gram of marijuana, federal prosecutors have agreed to enter him into a pretrial diversion program. The move comes after Oregon elected officials said the prosecution was overkill.
Washington State Sees Legal Marijuana Sales Push Past Billion Dollar Mark. After a sharp jump in adult sales last month as medical dispensaries were shut down, the state has now seen pot sales edge past a billion dollars, if revenue from processors and producers is included. The state has collected $273 million in excise taxes on the sales since they began two years ago.
California Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Set to Move After Compromise. After discussions with law enforcement groups, state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) has amended her asset forfeiture reform bill, Senate Bill 443, so that only property seizures worth less than $40,000 would require a criminal conviction before permanent seizure. Seizures higher than that amount would not require that standard of proof. Mitchell said the compromise would allow police to preserve their ability to go after large criminal enterprises. The police groups have now dropped their opposition to the bill.
NYPD Sued for Failure to Release Asset Forfeiture Data. NYPD collected more than $6 million in asset forfeiture revenues in 2013, but is ignoring records requests for information on how it collects and distributes the cash it seizes, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by a legal aid group representing low-income people. The group, Bronx Defenders, had submitted a public records request nearly two years, but NYPD has been unresponsive, the lawsuit alleges.
Arkansas Welfare Drug Test Program Finds Hardly Any Drug Users. According to data released this week by the Department of Workforce Services, exactly one welfare applicant out of 800 has failed a drug test. Another four refused to take it, rendering them temporarily ineligible for benefits. All five taken together constitute 0.63% of welfare applicants. The one failed drug test means 0.125% of all applicants tested positive. Arkansas and other states that have enacted such laws have done so on the unspoken assumption that welfare applicants are using drugs at the taxpayers' expense, but, once again, that has proven not to be the case.