He Faces 10 Years to Life for Selling Pot, a Legal Business in Most States

“Jonathan Wall, a 26-year-old cannabis entrepreneur, has been confined at a federal supermax facility in Maryland for nearly 20 months, awaiting a May 2 trial that could send him to prison for life. Wall is accused of transporting more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana from California, where cannabis is legal for recreational use, to Maryland, which allows only medical use.

Wall’s case illustrates the draconian penalties that can still be imposed on people for selling pot at a time when most states have legalized marijuana businesses. As far as the federal government is concerned, all of those businesses are criminal enterprises. But depending on how federal prosecutors choose to exercise their discretion, selling pot can make you millions of dollars as a state-licensed supplier, or it can send you to prison for decades.”

‘This Is Crack 2.0’

“In 2018, the Trump administration issued an emergency order that would make it easier to prosecute people for selling so-called fentanyl analogues, drugs that share the same chemical structure of the powerful synthetic painkiller that has helped to fuel the nation’s opioid epidemic. Even as the Trump administration began embracing criminal justice reforms and opioid treatment elsewhere, the temporary order was part of a wider law-and-order crack down on new variations of the substance that had been flourishing in illegal drug markets.
The move was small, but significant. With little fanfare and debate, it gave federal prosecutors across the country sweeping new authority to charge people for federal drug crimes, triggering onerous mandatory minimums without the usual scientific process to determine whether the novel new drugs people peddled were even dangerous.

Yet, it wasn’t just a Trump phenomenon: On Thursday, Congress reauthorized the fentanyl copycat order for the sixth time — and the fifth time since Joe Biden’s inauguration — with broad bipartisan support, extending it to the end of this year. Instead of opposing the stricter enforcement, Biden favors making the order permanent — a move civil rights groups, public health researchers, criminal justice reform experts and other critics argue would further embolden federal law enforcement authorities and disproportionately affect low-income defendants of color. Opponents say it would usher in a remarkable change in drug law, one that criminalizes thousands of substances, some that haven’t even yet been developed, and set a precedent that could eventually extend to other drug categories.”

“Federal authorities usually go through a multistep checklist to classify, or schedule, an individual drug into a certain category, which then determines how easily it can be researched and whether it merits criminal penalties. Some fentanyl analogues have already been individually tested and scheduled. But the 2018 order puts fentanyl copycats, which can include thousands of substances, into the government’s strictest drug control category — Schedule I, which also includes heroin, marijuana, LSD and ecstasy — without that scientific review. This represents the first time an entire category of drugs has been scheduled based on chemical structure alone.

In some cases, those fentanyl analogues can be more powerful than fentanyl, which is in the slightly less restrictive Schedule II category. But in other cases, analogues can be harmless or even potentially therapeutic. The FDA has testified that at least one new, potential overdose-reversal agent has fallen victim to the class-wide scheduling order.

Prosecutions for fentanyl-related substances soared during the Trump administration as the substance became more ubiquitous. The number of people prosecuted for and convicted of fentanyl-analogue crimes was nearly non-existent in 2016, but grew to 233 in 2019, according to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Nearly 70 percent of those prosecutions targeted Black and Hispanic people, many of them street dealers rather than major drug kingpins, according to the government data.”

“some defense lawyers worry the impact might be bigger than the data show. Based on her conversations with defense lawyers and independent research, Patricia Richman — national sentencing resource counsel at the Federal Public and Community Defenders, which represents indigent clients in federal cases — argues that many more people are likely being charged under the emergency order. Federal authorities have yet to release updated data on how the law has been used since 2020.”

“Meanwhile, the opioid crisis has worsened: Drug overdose deaths have reached record levels, topping more than 100,000 in the 12 months ending in September 2021 with death rates among Black people catching up to rates among white people. By June of last year, synthetic opioids, which include fentanyl and related substances, accounted for 65 percent of all drug overdose deaths, representing a massive increase from just a few years earlier.”

The war on drugs puts a target on China

“The bulk of the illegal synthetic opioids that reach the U.S. are sourced in China by Mexico’s Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels. They buy from legitimate and illicit Chinese suppliers through “purchases made on the open market, smuggling chemicals hidden in legitimate commercial shipments,” the 2020 DEA National Drug Threat Assessment noted.

Successful bilateral cooperation in combating the fentanyl flow peaked in May 2019 when Xi responded to U.S. pressure by making all forms of fentanyl subject to production controls and anti-trafficking measures. That prompted a drastic reduction in direct shipments of fentanyl and related compounds from China.

But Mexican cartels and their Chinese suppliers quickly pivoted to the export and processing of unregulated chemicals that can be processed into synthetic opioids. The Chinese government moved to block that trade in June by adding six fentanyl precursor chemicals to the list of substances requiring government approval. Chinese suppliers responded by marketing the unregulated raw materials for precursors.

“Drug trafficking organizations adapted to the PRC’s [regulatory controls] of all fentanyl-related substances, and now appear to have increased the purchase of fentanyl precursors from the PRC to manufacture fentanyl in Mexico, indicating a pronounced shift in how fentanyl is trafficked into the United States,” a State Department spokesperson told POLITICO.

The response from Chinese chemical producers and exporters underscores the challenges of regulatory fixes that don’t keep up with the ability of the industry to skirt those laws.

“[Chinese suppliers] are acting like water, they’re just finding the gaps and cracks in the law,” said Bryce Pardo, drug policy researcher at RAND Corp. “They have gone on to [synthetic opioid component chemicals] that are used in all sorts of other medications and other commercial applications that can never be controlled because it would be way too burdensome for industry and genuine consumption purposes to control these other kinds of chemicals.”

On the Hill, China’s role as a drug chemical supplier for illicit synthetic opioids has become a political lightning rod, particularly for lawmakers from states such as Ohio that are suffering soaring increases in synthetic opioid-related overdose deaths.”

Cops Thought Sand From Her Stress Ball Was Cocaine. She Spent Nearly 6 Months in Jail.

“Add stress balls to the list of innocuous items that have landed innocent citizens in jail due to shoddy police work and unreliable drug field tests.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled last week that two Atlanta police officers are not entitled to qualified immunity from a civil lawsuit brought against them by Ju’zema Goldring for malicious prosecution. Goldring says the officers falsely accused her of jaywalking and cocaine trafficking, based on a field test of a powdery substance inside a stress ball she had in her purse.

Goldring spent nearly six months in the Fulton County jail because she couldn’t afford bail and told local news outlet NBC 46 that she was occasionally put in solitary confinement. What’s more, she was left in jail for four months after a crime lab concluded that the mysterious powder was sand, not cocaine.

According to the 11th Circuit’s opinion, Atlanta police officers Vladimir Henry and Juan Restrepo stopped Goldring on October 10, 2015, for allegedly jaywalking. Goldring claims she wasn’t jaywalking. In any case, the officers took Goldring to the police station and proceeded to cut open a stress ball they found in her purse and test the powdery substance inside using a Nark II field test for drugs.

As Reason reported earlier this year, such drug field test kits are manufactured by several different companies and are used by police departments and prison systems across the country. The test kits use instant color reactions to indicate the presence of certain compounds found in illegal drugs, but those same compounds are also found in dozens of known licit substances. And although the tests are fairly simple to use, they’re still prone to user error and misinterpretation.”

Opium Suppression in Afghanistan Was a US-led Failure

“one underappreciated mistake has been Washington’s long-running effort to suppress the cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan and, in turn, the production of heroin and other opioids. The campaign most likely had little effect on the amount of poppy grown. Instead it shifted cultivation to Taliban-controlled territories, bolstering the militia’s revenues.”

“American efforts to suppress poppy cultivation, either through direct eradication or through incentives to grow other crops, failed to account for the basics of supply and demand. Suppression policies focus on shrinking supply, which means a fixed quantity of opium will become more expensive to produce. These policies involve a mix of threats to destroy poppy fields and the provision of resources (such as fertilizers) to encourage farmers to cultivate other crops. But if demand is not very sensitive to price increases, the quantity demanded will change little in response to the reduction in supply.”

A Record Number of Drug-Related Deaths Illustrates the Lethal Consequences of Prohibition

“Between 2002 and 2019, according to the federal government’s survey data, the number of Americans who had a “substance use disorder” involving heroin roughly doubled. During that same period, according to the CDC’s data, the annual number of heroin-related deaths septupled, while the total number of opioid-related deaths quadrupled. The war on drugs helps account for that disparity, since it has made opioid use more dangerous”

“Nowadays fentanyl is showing up in black-market pills sold as hydrocodone or oxycodone and even in stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Its proliferation is a response to the very supply control measures that were supposed to reduce drug-related deaths. To the extent that the government succeeds in exerting pressure on the supply of illegal intoxicants, it encourages traffickers to distribute more-potent drugs, which are easier to conceal and smuggle.
Since fentanyl is far more potent than heroin, a package weighing less than an ounce can replace one that weighs a couple of pounds. Synthesizing opioids is also a less vulnerable and much cheaper process than production that relies on poppy crops. Researchers at the RAND Corporation estimate that heroin is at least 100 times as expensive to produce as fentanyl, adjusting for potency.

Black-market drugs were already iffy because of prohibition; the prohibition-driven rise of fentanyl has made them even more of a crap shoot. And these are the substitutes nonmedical opioid users resorted to after drug warriors succeeded in driving down prescriptions of analgesics such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. That shift replaced legally produced, reliably dosed pharmaceuticals with illegal drugs of unknown provenance and composition. The result was predictable (and was in fact predicted): As opioid prescriptions fell, opioid-related deaths rose.”

Charging Bit Players With Drug-Induced Homicide Is Unjust and Potentially Deadly

“Prosecutions for “drug-induced homicide,” which have risen dramatically in recent years, are ostensibly aimed at reducing opioid-related deaths. But as a new investigation by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review shows, there are good reasons to think they have the opposite effect. Consider the paper’s description of a typical case:
“In one 2019 case, a Westmoreland County man died from an overdose of drugs he’d gotten from a friend of a friend of a friend. Though the drugs ultimately came from a man called “Bee” in Penn Hills, the three individuals between the victim and Bee were all charged with drug delivery resulting in death [DDRD].

One pleaded guilty to drug delivery resulting in death and received a 5- to 10-year prison sentence. Another pleaded guilty to the same charge and was sentenced to a minimum of one year minus one day in jail and a maximum of two years minus one day. The third person is awaiting trial.”

It is hard to believe that such prosecutions of bit players have any impact on the supply of heroin and illicit fentanyl. Furthermore, charging people with homicide when their role in someone’s death was unintentional and incidental or highly attenuated is blatantly unjust. Under Pennsylvania law, Stormie Mauck notes in a 2019 Penn State Law Review article, “drug addicts may face imprisonment of up to 40 years for simply sharing drugs with a friend who overdoses.”

Worse, this strategy makes fatal overdoses more likely by deterring bystanders from seeking medical assistance when it could make a crucial difference.”

Biden Administration Endorses Legislation to End Crack Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

“The Anti-Drug Abuse Act was one of the most disastrous laws passed in the 1980s by lawmakers posturing as tough-on-crime. It imposed substantially heavier penalties against federal crack offenders, who were predominantly black, than powder cocaine offenders, despite there being little to no pharmacological difference between the two substances. The result was that someone with a small amount of crack cocaine would receive the same sentence as someone with 100 times as much powder cocaine. The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported that black people made up nearly 77 percent of all federal crack convictions in fiscal year 2020.”

Biden Says Drug Users Shouldn’t Be Jailed but Won’t Do Anything To Stop It

“if Biden really believes what he said and wants to do something about it, he has myriad options. Instead, he talks a good game on decriminalizing drugs while doing nothing of consequence.

For a first step, Biden could absolve prisoners serving time in federal facilities for using criminalized drugs. The president needn’t wait until his term is up to issue pardons and clemencies; why not start freeing victims of the U.S. war on drugs right now?

Biden could also encourage members of Congress and leaders in his party to introduce and support measures that could help end America’s failed, discriminatory, and disastrous drug war. These could include “moving marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a category supposedly reserved for exceptionally dangerous drugs with no accepted medical use, to Schedule II, which indicates that a drug has a high abuse potential but can be used as a medicine, might facilitate research” notes Reason’s Jacob Sullum. And if that change can’t make it past Congress, perhaps Biden could endorse “a less radical approach, embodied in a 2017 bill that attracted bipartisan support in the House, [that would] revise the CSA’s marijuana ban so that it does not apply to state-legal conduct.”

Biden could also bypass Congress on some aspects of ending the drug war. The American Civil Liberties Union urges the new president to “issue an executive order declaring an end to the war on drugs, directing federal prosecutors to no longer pursue drug cases, commuting the sentences of people serving time for drug-related cases, and pardoning people with past criminal convictions for drug-related offenses.””

The Mushroom Moment Manifesto

“Which brings me back to my trip.

I was in my living room when the drugs kicked in, wearing a sleep mask and listening to spacey, ethereal, electronic music. Suddenly, I was like Billy Pilgrim, the time-and-space-traveling G.I. hero of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five. Every trip is different, and for the next several hours I roamed the known and unknown universe and commingled with the living and the dead, with an emphasis on the latter.

I spent time with an old friend who committed suicide by gun years ago. (His apartment had been surrounded by the police due to overdue rent and antisocial behavior brought on by unchecked alcoholism.) I revisited dark, booze-sloppy periods during which I was distant and inattentive to my sons when they profoundly needed me. I shared a brief-but-welcome hug with my own long-dead father, who, like Vonnegut, served in Europe during World War II and participated in suffering and carnage that I thankfully will never personally know.

Never for a second did I lose touch with basic reality, but past sounds, sights, smells, and especially emotions were all around me. For the first time in more than a quarter-century, I experienced my father’s scent, an idiosyncratic blend of Brut deodorant, Barbasol shaving cream (the “beard buster”), Pall Mall Red cigarettes, and denture powder. I knew it wasn’t real, but it unlocked memories and moments I hadn’t thought about in forever. Later, my girlfriend and I lay down together and shared what we were seeing and what we were feeling, which produced a sense of closeness that was intense and even a little scary in its power. Even at their best, trips are always a workout, in the sense that a long hike up a mountain is a workout. You feel good and tired afterward.

I could go on, but let’s be honest: Descriptions of drug trips, even more than conventional travel stories, are boring as hell to read because they are so ultra-personalized, so filled with barely coherent symbolism, and so indeterminate in their meaning. (As with life itself, you may not know whether something really important happened for days, months, or even years.) The significance of any particular trip is far less than the sum of all of them. Fortunately, we will be taking more and more as support for the war on drugs declines and cities and states (and, eventually, the federal government) move toward legalization. If you’re interested in giving shrooms a try, read Mike Riggs’ “How to Take Shrooms,” first.”