Pubdate: Wed, 09 Dec 2015
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


It's been pretty well documented that the War on Drugs is in large 
part a war on black people (read Michelle Alexander's The New Jim 
Crow). New allegations from Dothan, Alabama, could be revealing one 
of the most insidious cases ever to come to light.

The Henry County Report (HCR), a police watchdog blog, recently ran a 
piece that had some of the most salacious allegations one can find: 
crooked cops in a secret club, cover-ups, evidence planting, and 
young African-American men systematically victimized by the police.

The report alleges that police in Dothan planted marijuana, cocaine, 
and guns on more than 1,000 African-American men over a 10-year 
period in the 1990s and early 2000s. All of the officers involved 
were members of a neo-Confederate organization. A photo of the 
officers holding up a Confederate battle flag at a secret meeting 
appears in a local newspaper. Three of the men pictured currently 
hold key positions in the Alabama law enforcement hierarchy: Carleton 
"Bubba" Ott is commander of the department's Criminal Investigation 
Division; Steve Parrish is chief of the department; and Andy Hughes 
is assistant director of Homeland Security for the state.

While these men enjoy power, responsibility, secure jobs, and good 
wages, hundreds of the wrongly accused and convicted are still in 
jail. Many others have had their lives destroyed due to felony 
convictions. How'd this come to light?

In 1998, white officers who were not a part of the conspiracy 
complained about the felonious practices. Those complaints led to an 
internal investigation that the HCR says was covered up by District 
Attorney Doug Valeska. Also, federal law enforcement was not notified 
as required by the police department and Alabama policies. The group 
of officers who made the original complaint against the conspirators, 
some of whom had their lives threatened, continued to try to alert 
various authorities.

The documents supporting the HCR story aren't conclusive, but writer 
Jon B. Carroll claims that he will be releasing more documents slowly 
over time in an effort to get the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.

This is an example of law enforcement taking you down even when there 
is no reason to. That brings us to Michigan, where the Michigan 
Medical Marijuana Act has been unsettling for anti-drug enthusiasts 
these past seven years. It has recently been revealed that 
prosecutors have been pressuring state crime labs to characterize THC 
concentrates in a manner that criminalizes patients. A few weeks 
back, Southfield attorney Michael Komorn released a series of 
communications between state police and state crime lab officials in 
which scientists were told not to classify concentrates as being 
derived from marijuana but as THC of unknown origin.

Here's the trick: Medical marijuana is legal in Michigan but THC is 
not. State police claim that if no plant material can be found in the 
concentrate (which is typical) then the THC is of unknown origin. 
Scientists at the state crime labs were told to classify the 
substance as THC and to give no opinion as to its origin - that way 
possible misdemeanor offenses could be turned into felonies.

This revelation came out because Komorn obtained the communications 
in the course of defending his client Max Lorincz, a medical 
marijuana patient in Spring Lake. A little over a year ago, when 
Lorincz called medical emergency for his wife at their home a police 
officer responded. The officer spotted a smudge of hash oil there. 
Lorincz was first charged with a misdemeanor for possession of hash 
oil. That charge was eventually dropped and replaced with a felony 
THC possession charge.

The reason for the change was detailed in the communications that 
Komorn forced the state to turn over under the Freedom of Information 
Act. Many of the lab workers expressed concern that marijuana-derived 
THC would be considered to be of synthetic origin. They were told 
this was not their concern; their job is to determine if THC is 
present, not where it came from.

Ken Stecker of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan 
wrote in one email, "That is my opinion, THC is a schedule 1 drug 
regardless of where it comes from."

There is a lot of back and forth in these communications as the 
pressure from prosecutors mounts for scientists to adapt their view. 
You can find more of this here.

The Michigan and Alabama issues are related because they are both 
instances of police twisting evidence in order to create their 
desired outcome. In Alabama, police planted evidence on young 
African-American males in order to advance their racist agenda. In 
Michigan, prosecutors are doing the equivalent of planting evidence 
by declaring marijuana-derived THC to be of unknown origin, in order 
to continue fighting the War on Drugs in an arena where marijuana has 
been made legal. Either way they use their position and authority to 
pursue an illegal and unjust cause.

That brings me to my next point, which is that the coming year is 
going to be a big one in the fight to stop using marijuana as a 
pretext to oppress people - which prohibition of marijuana has been 
from the very start.

Here in Detroit the hysteria and fear of marijuana has been expressed 
in a proposed ordinance to curb the "explosion of illegal marijuana 
stores." This is basically an attempt to zone them out of sight. In 
the long run, this is a bump in the road. The bigger question is what 
will these prohibitionists do when buds are legalized for 
recreational use - which could be as soon as next fall?

Next year is going to be a turning point year in the legalization 
movement. It's a presidential election year and it's already being 
discussed in nomination debates. It will be especially big when 
candidates go to states where it's already legal or where pending 
initiatives or legislation are on the ballot. Candidate Hillary 
Clinton has already cracked a marijuana joke while in Colorado, and 
has come out in favor of the Drug Enforcement Agency rescheduling it 
as a less dangerous substance.

There are probably going to be a lot of places where that discussion 
will be in play next year. In Nevada an initiative has already 
qualified for the 2016 ballot. In Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and 
Michigan there are petition drives that are moving along pretty 
efficiently that look like they will probably make the ballot. 
California looks to be in the "go" column, although there are some 18 
different initiatives battling it out right now. And there is a good 
legalization initiative in Missouri. Some of the folks who backed the 
recently failed issue in Ohio say they will come back next year with 
another legalization initiative. In Rhode Island and Vermont the 
state legislatures are looking at possible legalization. In Florida 
there is an initiative to create a medical marijuana system. There is 
some movement in other states but these are the most advanced initiatives.

If you look at a map of medical and recreational marijuana 
legalization it's pretty clear that the states that said yes to 
marijuana are clustered out West and in the Northeast. Michigan, 
Illinois, and Minnesota are beachheads in the Midwest. Although there 
are a few Southern states with very restrictive CBD-only laws, not 
one of the Old South cluster states has even an enlightened medical 
system. Florida could change that. In 2012 a Florida medical 
marijuana initiative got 58 percent of the vote. The problem is the 
initiative was a state constitutional amendment and it needed 60 
percent to pass. The new initiative stays away from the constitution 
- - which is where Ohio went bad. Maybe folks should stay away from 
mucking around in their constitutions and just pass laws.

Out West, successful initiatives in California and Arizona would 
create an awesome geography of legality when hooked up with Oregon 
and Washington. If even half of the states with proposed recreational 
legalization have successful ballots then the number of legal states 
will double in one fell swoop. If they all are successful that would 
mean dancing and tossing buds into the air across the nation.

The investors smell money and the marketing people are preparing 
their campaigns. That's why I know this is going forward. However, 
the bottom line is that injustices like those discussed in Alabama 
and Michigan at the beginning of this column will be put away. 
Justice is at the root of prohibition repeal. And taking away the 
stick that police have illegally used to bludgeon us with for so many 
years will be liberating.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom