By Steve Elliott
A Canadian man who was one of New York's biggest marijuana suppliers, and who was known as the "Pot Playboy," was sentenced on Wednesday to 27 years in prison for leading a $1 billion international drug trafficking enterprise, according to prosecutors.
Jimmy Cournoyer pleaded guilty in May 2013 to money laundering charges, along with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana and cocaine, reports the Associated Press. The 34-year-old native of Laval, Quebec was sentenced in Brooklyn federal court.
Gerald McMahon, Courtnoyer's lawyer, said prosecutors dropped a more serious charge of being a drug kingpin which carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole, reports Allan Woods at The Star.
His sentence will also involve him forfeiting $1 billion to the U.S. government along with $11 million in drug proceeds, prosecutors said in a statement which thanked 19 police departments including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Cournoyer's organization, based in Montreal, had ties to international drug cartels and organized crime, prosecutors claimed. His lifestyle of hanging out with celebrities like Leonard DiCaprio included a Brazilian supermodel girlfriend and a super-expensive Bugatti Venyon automobile.
By Steve Elliott
Four men have been beheaded by sword after being convicted of smuggling marijuana into Saudri Arabia, the interior ministry announced on Monday.
The government-run SPA news organization identified the Saudi men as two sets of brothers, Hadi and Awad al-Motleq, and Mufarraj and Ali al-Yami, reports Malta Today.
The four men were beheaded at Najran, a city in southwestern Saudi Arabia, after they were found guilty of smuggling "a large quantity of hashish" into the country. The government didn't say when the executions took place.
The four beheadings raised to 32 the number of executions announced so far this year in Saudi Arabia, according to the AFP news agency. Amnesty International denounced what it called a "disturbing surge" in executions there.
"The Saudi Arabian authorities must halt all executions," Amnesty said, adding that the executions of the two sets of brothers occurred "reportedly on the basis of forced confessions extracted through torture."
The latest executions "bring the number of state killings in Saudi Arabia in the past two weeks to 17 -- a rate of more than one execution per day," the organization said.
Similar proposals are also likely to appear on ballots in Lewiston and York
The South Portland City Council on Monday voted unanimously to place a measure on the November ballot that would make private marijuana possession legal for adults within city limits.
Citizens for a Safer Maine collected more than 1,500 signatures to get the measure in front of the council, which had the options of adopting it or placing it on the ballot. Just 959 valid signatures of registered city voters were required. A similar measure has qualified for the ballot in Lewiston, and Citizens for a Safer Maine is in the process of collecting the final signatures needed to place one on the ballot in York.
The South Portland initiative would make it legal for adults 21 years of age and older to privately possess up to one ounce of marijuana. It would remain illegal to consume or display marijuana in public. The measure also includes a statement in support of regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol at the state level.
“Voters will have the chance to take a bite out of marijuana prohibition in South Portland this November,” said Marijuana Policy Project Maine political director David Boyer. “This is a great opportunity to have an open and honest public dialogue about this important issue. In particular, we hope to continue the conversation about the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol.
First Time in New Mexico History People will Vote on Marijuana Reform
The Santa Fe City Clerk on Monday announced the Reducing Marijuana Penalties Campaign submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the city's citizen initiative process setting the stage to give voters in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a vote on reducing marijuana penalties.
The Reducing Marijuana Penalties Campaign, headed by Drug Policy Action and ProgressNow NM, submitted close to 11,000 signatures in 52 days, more than twice the number needed to qualify for the ballot. The initiative now goes before the City Council where the governing body has two options, vote for the ordinance change outright or send the initiative to the people for a vote.
Not only will this be the first time in history that New Mexico's voters will cast their ballots on reforming marijuana laws, it is the first time that the people of Santa Fe brought forth an issue via the City’s citizen initiative process. The Santa Fe city charter permits voters to petition their government for changes to city ordinances, including those relating to marijuana.
By Steve Elliott
With thousands of incarcerated nonviolent drug offenders symbolizing the futility of the "War On Drugs," even some of the most ardent supporters of the punitive approach are starting to view the issue of marijuana use through a public health perspective, rather than from a criminal justice point of view.
That shift is evident at the infamous White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the dreaded ONDCP, which for decades has been the command center of the federal War On Drugs, reports Christopher Ingraham at The Washington Post. The ONDCP now uses words like "balance" as key components of federal drug control strategy.
"Drug addiction is not a moral failing but rather a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated," the ONDCP website reads. "Drug policy is a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue."
But unfortunately, law enforcement agencies haven't gotten the message. While the number of arrests for all offenses has declined nationwide since 1991, the share of those arrests related to simple cannabis possession has more than tripled over the same period.
By Steve Elliott
A top federal official on Tuesday said that 105 banks and credit unions are now doing business with legal marijuana merchants, and suggested that revised federal rules giving financial institutions the green light to provide services to cannabis businesses are starting to work.
The financial institutions in question cover about one-third of the United States, and have reported relationships with marijuana-related businesses, the top U.S. anti-money laundering official said, reports Jeffrey Sparshott at The Wall Street Journal.
The Obama Administration in February gave the go-ahead to the banking industry to offer financing and accounts to marijuana distributors who are legally conducting their business according to state laws, reports Danielle Douglas of The Washington Post.
"From our perspective the guidance is having the intended effect," said Jennifer Shasky Calvery, director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. "It is facilitating access to financial services, while ensuring that this activity is transparent and the funds are going into regulated financial institutions."
By Steve Elliott
Despite falling 47 signatures short of getting a marijuana decriminalization petition on the ballot in Wichita, Kansas, supporters aren't giving up.
Interim City Attorney Sharon Dickgrafe on Tuesday told the Wichita City Council that it could not legally put the issue on the ballot as a ballot petition, but the council then voted for city staff to work with the marijuana petitioners to address the language of a ballot petition that could be carried for a signature election, probably for a vote next spring when city elections are held, reports Kelsey Ryan at The Wichita Eagle.
But supporters also plan to fight the Wichita elections office on the signature count done last week during the primaries, and still hold the goal to meet the county deadline later this month to get the issue on the November ballot.
Initiative leader Esau Freeman said there have been concerns over two missing pages of signatures that were turned over to the county, with 2,928 valid voter signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot.
At least one of the missing pages contained the signature of his wife, Freeman said. He said petition gatherers weren't allowed to observe the counting, which was done by the Sedgwick County elections office.
"[Kansas Secretary of State] Kris Kobach says we have open and fair elections, but I think the first case of voter fraud has been perpetrated by the Sedgwick County election office," Freeman said.
Hickenlooper’s Marijuana Prevention Campaign Eerily Reminiscent of Failed “This is Your Brain” Effort
Approach Emphasizes Scare Tactics over More Effective Reality-Based Education
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has introduced his administration’s marijuana prevention campaign to deter underage consumption -- and unfortunately, it uses scare tactics rather than a reality-based approach. The campaign is slated to waste $2 million of taxpayer money.
The theme of the campaign is marijuana’s potential impact on the developing adolescent brain, using the slogan “don’t be a lab rat.” The administration plans to place human sized rat cages throughout the city of Denver, particularly at high-traffic bus stops.
While flashy and memorable, the campaign has raised concerns among advocates who question the credibility of this approach. Drug policy reformers and prevention experts invoke the cynicism generated by 1980s-era scare tactic efforts such as the notorious “This is your brain on drugs” ad, widely recognized today as far more attention grabbing than drug deterring.
Advocates recommend instead an approach that focuses on credible drug education delivered through programs and initiatives that focus on overall youth health and development. Reality-based efforts engage students and prevent the cynicism resulting from simplistic scare tactics. Furthermore, to be successful, parents and/or guardians should be directly involved in drug education and prevention efforts.
By Steve Elliott
The Miami-Dade Police Department on Friday morning invited news media to an event so secret, only two members of the media were actually allowed to watch. The event was the burning of 225 55-gallon barrels of marijuana at a secret location.
The department organizes such top-secret burns of cannabis and illegal drugs several times a year, reports Emma Court at the Miami Herald. How many times? Well, we don't know, since that's a secret, too.
Multiple police stood guard at the secret Broward County location with machine guns while the marijuana was burned. Clearly, this was Serious Business.
Two or three pallets of boxed narcotics were destroyed along with the 225 barrels of marijuana, said police spokeswoman Elena Hernandez, who said the drugs were no longer needed as evidence.
It wasn't possible to calculate how much marijuana was burned, since the weight of each barrel differed, according to Lt. Alberto Somoano, who works in the evidence section of the Miami-Dade Police Department's forensics bureau.
That, of course, makes it mighty convenient for pot to be pilfered by partying police. If they don't know how much they're destroying, it would be mighty easy for some uniformed oinker to stuff his pockets full, don't you think?
By Steve Elliott
Marc Emery, the self-styled Prince of Pot who got a five-year federal prison sentence in the United States for selling seeds, will get to return home to Canada on Tuesday.
Emery is scheduled to be flown from a Louisiana jail to Detroit on Tuesday, escorted in shackles by U.S. marshals, then turned over to Canadian officials, his wife Jodie Emery said on Friday, reports Gordon McIntyre at The Province.
He had been sentenced after pleading guilty to selling cannabis seeds through the mail to U.S. customers through his Vancouver-based company.
"It's very exciting," said Jodie. "It's been a long road."
Jodie said supporters will be waiting in Windsor, although it's not known exactly what time the Prince will be crossing the border. The Emerys are planning a press conference at Windsor City Hall as soon as Marc is released, "likely sometime after 12 Noon ET," according to Cannabis Culture.
She said their lives will then pick up where they left off when Marc went to Seattle to plead guilty before serving his "hard nickel" (under federal sentencing rules, prisoners must serve 85 percent of their time).
"Our life is about our activism," Jodie said. "We'll be getting right back into it."
By Steve Elliott
I guess it makes sense that bees don't like buzzkills. Russian police suddenly found themselves in a "sting operation" on Tuesday when they were attacked by hundreds of angry bees as they attempted to destroy a marijuana plot close to Kostroma, northwest of Moscow. The officers fled in disorder from the scene.
It turns out that a number of bee hives were cleverly located in the middle of a plot of cannabis, reports RT.com. Many of the officers were stung repeatedly, but none reportedly suffered allergic reactions.
"As part of an operation, the police arrived at the scene to see whether rumors that a large amount of cannabis was growing were true," said Valery Vekhov, one of the officers involved the the raid. "When we got to where the cannabis was growing, there were a number of beehives.
"When we tried to remove the cannabis plants, the bees started to attack us aggressively," Vekhov said. "We had to leave in order to get protective gear from the owner."
The owner of the beehives, who helpfully provided the protective gear so that the cops could go back and destroy the rest of the plants, claimed he didn't know anything about the cannabis, saying it must have grown wild there. Then again, he would say that, since growing cannabis in Russia can get you eight years in prison.
Drug Policy Alliance Kicks Off “Legalization Ends Discrimination” Campaign
Campaign Sets Stage for Washington DC to be First Jurisdiction to Legalize Marijuana in Racial Justice Context
The Washington, DC Board of Elections on Wednesday ruled that Initiative 71, an measure reforming DC’s marijuana laws, has enough valid signatures in order to qualify for the November ballot. One month ago, the DC Cannabis Campaign submitted 57,000 signatures, more than twice the number needed to qualify for the ballot.
According to an ACLU report released last year, Washington, DC has the highest arrest rate for marijuana possession in the country, with blacks more than 8 times as likely as white to be arrested, despite similar rates of use.
“It is clear from the number of signatures the campaign was able to submit that citizens want a major change in DC’s marijuana laws,” said Dr. Malik Burnett, DC policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “The policies of prohibition in the District have been borne on the backs of people of color for decades; District residents can put an end to this discrimination.”
Broad Coalition Comprised of Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Immigration, Racial Justice, Human Rights Organizations
A diverse coalition of more than 80 civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, racial justice, human rights, libertarian and religious organizations are joined by notable figures such as Michelle Alexander in calling for an end to the War On Drugs in the name of protecting children both in Latin America and here in the United States.
The supporters of the letter -– which include the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Center for Constitutional Rights, Institute of the Black World, Presente.org, Students for Liberty, United We Dream, William C. Velasquez Institute, and the Working Families Organization -– are notable for their diversity in cause and focus, yet this issue unites them all.
In their letter of support for new policies, the coalition states:
"In recent weeks, the plight of the 52,000 unaccompanied children apprehended at the U.S. border since last October, many of whom are fleeing drug war violence in Central America, has permeated our national consciousness. The devastating consequences of the drug war have not only been felt in Latin America, they are also having ravaging effects here at home. All too often, children are on the frontlines of this misguided war that knows no borders or color lines."
By Steve Elliott
Eighty percent of the marijuana citations issued by the Seattle Police Department during the first half of this year were written by just one pot-hating cop -- and now that officer has been reassigned.
Staff reviewing data to prepare the department's first biannual report on marijuana enforcement found that 66 of 83 citations for public cannabis use were given out by just one officer, according to Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole, reports Eric M. Johnson at Reuters.
"In some instances, the officer added notes to the tickets," Chief O'Toole said.
In one case, she said, "the officer indicated he flipped a coin when contemplating which subject to cite." In another, he referred to the voter-approved legalization of marijuana as "silly." Washington voters in 2012 approved Initiative 502, a limited legalization measure, but public pot use still isn't allowed.
Some of the notes written on tickets by the officer in question requested the attention of City Attorney Pete Holmes -- a vocal supporter of legalization -- and were addressed to "Petey Holmes."
The officer's conduct was reported to the police's Office of Professional Accountability, according to O'Toole, who added that he won't be performing patrol duties during the investigation.
By Steve Elliott
Most of us would appreciate such a warning, but an Australian airline on Wednesday is apologizing for a flight attendant's tip to passengers that there were drug-detecting dogs waiting for them at a Sydney airport.
Many of the 210 passengers on a Sunday night Jetstar Australia flight from Canberra were coming home from the "Splendour in the Grass" weekend music festival at Byron Bay, reports Jonathan Pearlman at the Daily Telegraph.
"We have been told there are sniffer dogs and quarantine officers waiting in the domestic terminal," the flight attendant reportedly told passengers via the Airbus A320's public address system. "If you need to dispose of anything you shouldn't have, we suggest you flush it now."
The advice reportedly prompted a rush on the airliner's bathrooms -- one passenger said several others aboard "suddenly made for the toilets with things clenched in their hands" -- and later resulted in expressions of gratitude on social media from some who had been passengers on the flight.
"I was shocked. Why would you tip off people about this?" the ill-tempered passenger complained. "If they have got something illegal, let them get caught."
But the response on Jetstar's Facebook page was overwhelmingly positive.
"What a good Samaritan, Jetstar Australia this guy deserves a promotion," posted Rohit Dwivedi.