Tag Archives: marijuana

Crime stats: Murder in Washington increased 27 percent in 2012

Graph by WASPC.
Graph by WASPC.

The yearly tabulation of crime stats, courtesy of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, is out. The Crime in Washington 2012 report is chock-full of trends, some good and some bad. Here’s some of those that caught my eye initially:

  • There is a murder every 2.5 days in Washington state. And the number of people murdered has gone up from 159 in 2011 to 203 in 2012 (That’s a 27 percent increase).
  • Crime occurred most frequently in the state in September; it occurred the least in February.
  • Property crimes: $205,931,711 in property was stolen in 2012; of that, law enforcement recovered $16,931,651.
  • Though it is now legal for an adult 21 and older in Washington state to possess up to an ounce of pot, police in Washington seized 762,809 grams of pot in 2012. By comparison, the two next highest drugs seized were meth (25,418 grams) and heroin (24,824).
  • Arrests: 155,916 people were arrested in Washington in 2012. Of those, 30,924 were between 20 and 24 years old, making it the age group with the greatest quantity of arrests.
  • Of all those arrests, almost a fifth — 18.5 percent — were for DUI.

To read the full report for yourself, click here. I’ll be dissecting our local numbers for a story at kitsapsun.com in the days ahead.

 

On eve of pot legalization, a warning from the feds

Pot, as you probably know, becomes legal to possess in Washington as of tomorrow. Initiative 502, passed by voters last month, allows adults 21 and older to have up to an ounce starting Dec. 6. (Don’t ask how one goes about getting marijuana, which is still illegal to sell, or distribute, or — unless you’re authorized under the state’s medical marijuana law — grow).

It’s the first state ever to do so — some are calling it “cannabiotic armistice day” — as Colorado’s legalization law, also passed this November, does not take effect until January. Later, the initiative calls for a system of growers, brokers and retail stores to sell pot.

But the looming cloud of uncertainty as to what the federal government, which still regards weed as a dangerous, unhealthy narcotic — will do in the wake of 502′s passage was lifted ever so slightly with a news release Wednesday. Here it is in its entirety. I’ll leave it to you to interpret it:

“The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington State.   The Department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.  Neither States nor the Executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress.  In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance.  Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.  Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses.”

Crime reporter’s notebook: Police data, fingerprint scanners, weed and a pair of handcuffs

 Here are a few recent odds and ends from my reporter’s notebook:

POLICE DATABASE EXPANDS: You may remember the Kitsap Sun story about the Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LinX), in which Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents were working to thread together a database of all reports gathered by local law enforcement agencies. (The effort began in a Levin Road basement.) Keep in mind that prior to 9/11, a lot of data collected by law enforcement, including field interviews, mug shots, and investigative narratives, could only be accessed only by the agency that created them.

I asked Keith Haines, LinX’s regional program manager, how it was going. He said LinX, which already encompasses most law enforcement agencies on both U.S. coasts, has begun integrating with the FBI’s “N-DEx” system, which will host a nationwide database that hopes to include all U.S. law enforcement reports.

FINGERPRINT SCANNERS: Did you know King County Sheriff’s Office is using pocket-sized fingerprint scanners to identify uncooperative and unscrupulous suspects? Regular readers of the Kitsap Sun will know these debuted in Kitsap County five years ago. The followup, by the Seattle Times, is that they’ve got more of the bugs in them worked out.

MARIJUANA ROUNDUP: As the election looms, a number of stories have appeared regarding Initiative 502 in recent weeks. Among the most interesting in my book: More than 241,000 people in Washington state were arrested for marijuana possession over the past 25 years; marijuana backers are getting some states-rights conservatives to support the measure; and a bunch of drug czars have come out against the measure, which they say violates constitutional law and could trigger a “constitutional showdown.”

HOMEOWNER CONFRONTATION: Imagine going outside your home to find someone holding your machete and chainsaw. Not only do you own them, but you wouldn’t want a stranger swinging them at you, either. Last week, a homeowner west of Long Lake had just that encounter — and he wrestled the machete away from the stranger, chased him down the road and told him to stay put until Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputies arrived, reports say. Deputies said the suspect remarked that he’d “only get a criminal trespass for this.” Prosecutors have charged him with burglary.

HANDCUFFED AND RUNNING: An Alaska man was arrested Friday for trying to pass counterfeit $20s at Walmart. Poulsbo police responded and the man let them look in his wallet, where officers found six $20s with the same serial numbers. Police had handcuffed the man, who’d also violated probation and had him sit on the push bars of a patrol car. That’s when reports say the man “jumped to his feet and took off running … still in handcuffs.” An officer gave chase and tried his Taser, but missed. The suspect was ultimately tackled and taken the Kitsap County jail.

Kitsap County’s sheriff not ready to support marijuana legalization initiative

In his former life as a Washington state trooper, Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer recalls watching a motorist one day drive around a Walmart parking lot, encircling it several times at about three miles an hour. 

Round and round the car went, until Boyer’s hit his overhead lights and brought the car from its crawl to a halt.

The driver was stoned, Boyer recalled.

The sheriff used the story to explain to me his mixed feelings about Initiative 502, which would legalize the possession of marijuana for adults 21 and over. The driver was certainly not the worst he’d ever seen, having responded to too many alcohol-fueled fatality crashes. But he looks at the issue from a public health standpoint: would Washingtonians be better off if they could purchase weed at a store?

“Do you really want to add it to the mix” of our currently legalized libations? he asked.

For the record, Boyer will not be following suit of King County Sheriff Steve Strachan, who has come out in favor of the initiative. Boyer will be voting no on it.

But the issue’s merits are a conversation he wants to have.

“I think it deserves a dialogue and discussion,” he said. “Not just rhetoric.”

He believes that medical marijuana, whose patients in this state have long operated in a legal gray area, can help people. And he does not view pot as a scourge on society in the same way as, say, meth or heroin have been.

“Marijuana being an evil weed causing all the problems in this country? I don’t buy that,” he said.

But here’s why he’s voting no:

  • The plant remains a so-called Schedule 1 narcotic — meaning it has a high potential for abuse and has no value medically — in the eyes of the federal government.
  • Use of any substance not prescribed for medical use — legal or illegal — “do not usually make a person’s life better,” he said.
  • He doubts the criminal justice system will save money by not having to prosecute simple marijuana possession. “There are very few people in jail for recreational marijuana,” he said.

Boyer reiterated his willingness to continue the discuss and that he could change his mind about possible future initiatives. For now, he’s still weighing the issues, but isn’t ready to vote to end marijuana prohibition.

 

Federal government supplies weed to a handful of people

This may come as a surprise for those of you following the great marijuana debate. Since 1976, the federal government — yes, that federal government that bans pot and lists it as a drug without medicinal value — has supplied a dwindling number of patients with medical marijuana.

The Associated Press recently published a piece documenting the history of this apparent cognitive dissonance, in which four Americans (including an Oregonian) still receive marijuana for various illnesses. In fact, since 2005, they’ve received 100 pounds of weed in the form of finely-rolled joints.

The story provides interesting history. Despite marijuana’s illegality since the 1930s, a federal judge in 1976 ruled that one man’s glaucoma could be relieved in no other way than pot. Since then, a small number of patients are given pot grown on a farm at the University of Mississippi.

Medical marijuana laws are now on the books in 16 states, including Washington. The controversy surrounding the drug will undoubtedly continue. This story shows that it’s not just the states that have trouble being consistent enforcing marijuana laws.

The latest drug trends across America

In June, I had the chance to attend a conference in Seattle of some of the smartest minds in America when it comes to monitoring drug abuse. While each gave a presentation about cities and areas across the nation, I found particularly interesting just one sheet of paper that they passed around.

Across the top of the page, various drugs — cocaine, heroin, other opiates, meth, marijuana and synthetics — were listed. In each column below, each expert from the cities and areas listed the current trends — up, down, or otherwise — for each drug.

Please take a look at the page. But I’ll also provide a short synopsis of my own interpretation of it, as discussed at the Community Epidemiology Work Group in Seattle June 8-10.

Cocaine: Clearly down across the country. Its high price, even during the recession, has made it rather cost prohibitive for users, various epidemiologists pointed out at the meeting. There were a few exceptions: New York City and “vacationland” Maine, two of the richest areas of the country.

Heroin: Results were mixed but some areas have experienced a surge, including our own, which is denoted with “young adult,” being part of the trend. Readers of our paper will no doubt already know that heroin has experienced a huge resurgence here.

Other opiates: Wow. The country is clearly grappling with prescription pill addiction.

Meth: This one may surprise you. Though so much attention is given to this particularly dirty drug, most areas reported its use is stable or decreasing. So-called “precursor” laws have obviously had an impact in keeping meth’s key ingredient, pseudoephedrine, out of the hands that would cook it themselves. But more complex drug enterprises appear to have made up for that lack of mom-and-pop meth shops.

Marijuana: The results from the group were pretty clear. Marijuana continues to grow in use and abuse, achieving the “high” label amongst many of the epidemiologists present. The growing number of people who believe it should be legalized, or at least recognized as having medical benefits, continues to push the upward trend.

Synthetics: The group either needed more time to investigate or found that synthetics, be it PCP or MDMA, were on the rise.

Notice alcohol, not an illicit drug is not on the list. Yet this drug, above all others, is more abused than any other.

Note: The circling of some notes in the heroin column are mine, as I attended the conference when it was the main topic of conversation. Otherwise, it is each expert’s notes.

Five Things You Might Not Know About WestNET

The West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team — WestNET for short — often emerges briefly from complex drug investigations with a story of arrests and prosecutions. But most of its work is done in the depths of the drug trade, following up tips, working with informants and going up the supply chain to bigger criminal enterprises.

But what do we know about our local drug task force? Here are five things about this cadre of detectives you might not know. Many of these questions are ones I often get from readers. The answers come directly from detectives on the task force.

How are they funded? Yes, they do get federal money. But local agencies also pay to send their personnel to work there. The Bremerton Police Department, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and others make up the seven detectives in the unit. Its sergeant is Carlos Rodriguez, who comes from the Washington State Patrol.

Is any medical marijuana user safe from them? WestNET’s busts of people who have medical marijuana cards from a doctor have made the news recently and frequently. But are there those with cards whom they ignore? Rodriguez says yes. They look to the state’s rule of a maximum of 15 plants and 24 ounces of pot for medical users. He said they leave those within that rule alone, unless there’s evidence of trafficking or selling. In cases where there are more than 15 plants or 24 ounces, he said they take the plants or product over limit, leave the rest and then forward a report to the appropriate prosecutor’s office for review.

How many of WestNET’s cases involve those who have medical marijuana recommendations? Rodriguez said that in 2009, 20 of their 57 marijuana grow investigations claimed to use pot for medical purposes. This year, five of 13 have said the same.

Does WestNET investigate anything besides marijuana? Yes. They have mobility to move up the ladder of sellers of drugs of any kind. Because they are a small unit, a big case can often skew their stats. For instance, one such investigation took the amount of club drugs they confiscated in 2008 to 2009 from 281 doses to 27,500.

What’s a breakdown of the amount of drugs the task force took in 2009? According to Rodriguez:

Marijuana: about 3,500 plants in 57 cases;

Cocaine: 37.6 grams in five cases;

Club drugs and doses: 27,500 in five cases;

OxyContin and other prescription drugs: 2,350 grams in 11 cases;

Meth: Almost 2,000 grams in 22 cases;

Heroin: About 310 grams in five cases.

Is the ‘War on Drugs’ Still Winnable?

Forty years. Hundreds of thousands of lives. Around $1 trillion dollars. The AP says those are the costs of the so-called “War on Drugs” in America and wonders: was it worth it?

I wonder subsequently: can such a “war” be won in the future?

Martha Mendoza’s critique examines not only the past but what the Obama Administration plans to do with a record $15 billion-plus budget to fight drugs. There’ll be more emphasis on prevention and treatment, says U.S. drug czar and former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske.

I’d suggest reading the piece for yourself. But here’s the thrust of the story, which presents the drug war as a frustrating stalemate:

“In 1970, proponents said beefed-up law enforcement could effectively seal the southern U.S. border and stop drugs from coming in. Since then, the U.S. used patrols, checkpoints, sniffer dogs, cameras, motion detectors, heat sensors, drone aircraft — and even put up more than 1,000 miles of steel beam, concrete walls and heavy mesh stretching from California to Texas.

None of that has stopped the drugs. The Office of National Drug Control Policy says about 330 tons of cocaine, 20 tons of heroin and 110 tons of methamphetamine are sold in the United States every year — almost all of it brought in across the borders. Even more marijuana is sold, but it’s hard to know how much of that is grown domestically, including vast fields run by Mexican drug cartels in U.S. national parks.”

It’s of course impossible to say what would have happened if our government hadn’t spent that money. But if nothing else, we know a lot more about drug trafficking and addiction than we did when President Nixon began the fight.

I’ll leave you with the same question: is the drug war still winnable? And if so, how?