We may have legal pot in two (and counting) states, as well as a majority of Americans in favor of nationwide legalization, but the drug war still marches on, in all of its punitive glory. First, an update to a story posted here last week. Unfortunately, Shona Banda has lost custody of her son, at least for the short term:
A medical marijuana advocate has lost custody of her 11-year-old son at least temporarily and could face possible charges following comments the boy made during a drug education program at school.
The case of Shona Banda, 37, was forwarded Monday to the district attorney’s office for a decision about charges, Police Capt. Randy Ralston said. Possible charges include possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia and child endangerment, the department said in a news release.
No arrests have been made.
The divorced mother said she did not get custody of her son back following a hearing Monday, after Kansas authorities had placed the boy into protective custody.
“That’s OK – I am not giving up,” Banda said. “I will, I will get him and I am not going to stop until I do.” . . .
A gag order has since been issued in the custody case, Banda said. Her attorney, Sarah Swain, did not respond to a phone message left at her office.
I guess that’s one way to stop the public backlash over this outrageous case–just use a gag order to forbid Banda from letting the public know what’s going on. (Remember, Kansas has some of the worst laws in the country when it comes to forcing transparency from law enforcement agencies.)
Next we turn to Mississippi, for the latest example of the drunk informant system run amok.
Each year, the tiny four-person Lafayette County Metro Narcotics Unit recruits on average 30 confidential informants, many of them college students. Around half of those arrested by Metro Narcotics in 2014 were first-time offenders, and the unit made three times as many arrests for marijuana as for any other drug. For two decades those arrests helped win nearly half the unit’s total budget from federal grants designed to help fight America’s War on Drugs. When the drug war began to cool down, and the federal funding dried up, local institutions stepped up to keep the unit alive. Thanks to money from the city and county governments and the University of Mississippi, Lafayette County Metro Narcotics continues busting college kids and turning them into informants by threatening them with hard time or the shame and lifelong burden of a drug record.
“Lafayette County Metro Narcotics Unit is a mill that functions exclusively through the recruitment of college student CIs to rat out other students,” said Tom Levidiotis, a former prosecutor who handled drug cases in the local district attorney’s office. “It’s such an enterprise here.”
It will probably take one or two of those kids getting killed before this nonsense is stopped.
Rachel Hoffman, 23, was killed in Florida in 2008 during a failed attempt to buy guns and drugs from two suspects. Her death led the state legislature to pass a law that prohibited officers from promising reduced charges in exchange for CI work. In January, Andrew Sadek, a 20-year-old college student in North Dakota, was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head. He had been working as a CI after getting arrested for selling $80 worth of weed. In October 2013, Eric Sinacori, a 20-year old student at UMass-Amherst, died of a heroin overdose. He had agreed to work as a CI for the campus police department the year before, after he sold $20 worth of LSD to an undercover campus police officer. Officers searched his apartment and found various drugs and a hypodermic needle. Neither his parents nor the school were notified about his suspected heroin use.
In January, after an internal review of the campus police CI program, UMass-Amherst ended it. The review found that college students were “particularly vulnerable to coercion.”
Meanwhile, even as lawmakers, the Justice Department, and editorial boards are turning on the practice of civil asset forfeiture, at the local level the practice doesn’t appear to be slowing down at all.
A handful of small Los Angeles County cities seize large amounts of cash and cars using a controversial federal law that allows them to confiscate property even when owners aren’t charged with a crime, according to a report published by an advocacy group that promotes decriminalization of drugs.
The seizures by police in South Gate, Beverly Hills, Baldwin Park and other relatively small cities dwarf those made by much larger police departments in California from 2006 through 2013, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Pomona reaped more than $14 million, exceeding assets collected in the considerably larger cities of Oakland, Long Beach, Fresno and Bakersfield combined, said the report, which is expected to be published Tuesday morning.
California law enforcement agencies received nearly $600 million from civil asset forfeitures under federal law from 2006 through 2013, according to the Drug Policy Alliance’s report. State forfeitures brought in about $140 million.
Even tiny cities took in sizable amounts of forfeiture revenue by working with the U.S. Department of Justice. Vernon, with 112 people, took in nearly $1 million; and Irwindale, with fewer than 1,500 residents, received more than $800,000, the report said. Beverly Hills collected more than $7.3 million; La Verne more than $3 million; and South Gate more than $7.6 million.
The report said police departments use forfeited assets to buy cars, computers, helicopters and air surveillance equipment, and to pay for overtime. Cities have increased asset forfeitures at a time when their budgets were being slashed and some appear to have improperly budgeted for future forfeiture revenue, said the report, which called for federal audits of cities as well as legal reform.
Don’t count on the institutions that benefit from the drug war to phase themselves down as public opinion begins to turn. In fact, the prospect of reform only seems to encourage them to intensify their efforts. If change is in the offing, you best reap what you can, while you still can.
Finally, count Marco Rubio among the GOP 2016 contenders who would reverse course in Washington and Colorado. These Republicans. All about federalism (“states’ rights”) and small government, except when a state votes to let people ingest a plant. Then, they’re ready to send in the federal troops.