This week the state senate for a second time voted to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana. The bill included a few modifications, which the house inserted over the weekend in order to satisfy enough delegates. Among the modifications is a provision that escalates the fine from $100 to $250 and then to $500 for a second and third offense respectively. In addition anyone who is charged with a third or subsequent offense will be summoned to appear for court, and if convicted may be ordered to complete a drug evaluation and follow up treatment. Offenders under the age of 21 who are charged with civil pot possession will also be summoned to appear in court. Simple pot possession for anyone under 18 is still a criminal offense that would be handled in the juvenile system. There is also a new provision that states all the fines collected by the District Court for these citations will go directly to the state health department, and can only be used for drug education programs. Governor O'Malley has already said that he'll sign the bill into law when it crosses his desk, so decriminalization is certain to be law in Maryland within the next few months. However it's not so certain just how the law will be implemented, and how efficiently the court system will be able to handle these new civil marijuana citations.
Recently in Drug Arrests Category
In a recent press release the Office of the National Drug Control Policy announced the expansion of a program designed to promote collaboration between federal state and local law enforcement. The White House oversees the Office, whose mission is to combat drug trafficking and production in areas that have been identified as hot spots throughout the country. These hot spots have been labeled as high intensity drug trafficking areas or HIDTA, and have been areas of law enforcement focus since Congress created the program back in 1988. As of November 14th of this year the White House has officially added two Maryland counties to the HIDTA list. Frederick County and Cecil County will now receive the same support as the other 28 HIDTA areas in 46 states throughout the country. The support will allow Frederick and Cecil to receive federal resources including manpower, money, and intelligence. As much as $660,000 has already been earmarked for the newly designated areas, and local law enforcement in these counties should begin to see the influx of resources over the next few months.
Baltimore County Police and the State's Attorney recently reported that a Towson based lawyer has been indicted on two drug charges. The indictment, which was unsealed last week, charges the criminal defense lawyer with two controlled dangerous substance violations including possession with intent to distribute and simple possession. The type of drug at the root of these charges is the prescription painkiller Oxycodone. Oxycodone is a commonly abused narcotic that can be swallowed, snorted, or melted down to liquid form and injected. The indictment alleges that the defense attorney conspired with her 20-year old son, her legal assistant, and six other co-defendants to distribute drugs throughout the area, but county police did not release any specific details about the scale of the operation. Police did however release information hinting that more charges may be on the way.
The DEA and the United States Attorney's Office recently announced the infiltration of a large international drug trafficking ring. The announcement took place in upstate New York where 8 suspected drug dealers were arrested for their involvement in the illegal operation. Authorities described the operation as an international conspiracy to import and distribute significant amounts of synthetic MDMA, also known as molly or ecstasy, throughout the country. The drug was allegedly manufactured in laboratories in China and smuggled to the U.S. for distribution in as many as 20 different states, including Maryland. The investigation began back in June of 2012 when federal authorities were tipped off to the supplier of the chemical compounds used to make ecstasy pills. The supplier would take orders for the chemical compounds via internet, and mailed the drugs to the states. Upon learning about the scheme, federal agents sought and received a court order authorizing the interception of emails from the Chinese supplier to possible suspects in the U.S. Law enforcement generated as many as 450 leads during the 30-day interception period allowed under the court order. These leads produced over 50 arrests nationwide and here in Maryland. In addition to the arrests, feds also seized over 70 kilograms of Methylone, a substance with a highly similar chemical compound to MDMA. This substance is often used to make ecstasy pills or is sold in powder form as molly. DEA agents also seized several kilograms of cocaine, meth, and actual MDMA. Cash, firearms, and cars were also confiscated during the execution of arrest and search warrants.
A joint press release with the Baltimore police and State's Attorney was called to announce the indictments of 9 men and women in a West Baltimore drug conspiracy. The area, which includes several blocks of Ruxton Avenue is one of the most violent in the city, and the state for that matter, as over 60 incidents of violent crime have been reported there in the past 3 years. Police attribute much of the violence to an organized drug ring that according to the department has held the neighborhood hostage. In an effort to end this violence, cops and the state's attorney initiated a five-week investigation focused on bringing the alleged drug dealers to justice. All but four of the nine suspects have been arrested, and their names were announced at the press conference. The other four have yet to be arrested, and as a result their indictments are still under seal.
The 2013 NFL season is officially underway, and week one of America's most popular sport is now in the books. Over one million people attended an NFL game in week one, and tens of millions more watched on television. The sport has never been more popular, and with the concussion lawsuit being resolved, the sport has never been in a better financial position. But the stain of a tumultuous offseason remains; as over thirty active players were arrested from the end of the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl win until the start of this season. Players from 19 different teams were either booked on criminal charges or taken into custody on outstanding bench or arrest warrants. The charges ranged in severity from simple possession of drugs all the way up to murder. Despite the league's growth in popularity and prosperity, player arrests are an issue that the commissioner's office will continue to battle in the coming years.
A recent report released by the State Department of Health has brought disturbing news regarding drug use in Maryland. According to the department, drug overdoses increased a considerable 15 percent from 2011 to 2012. The likely culprit for the increase in drug fatalities is the popularity and resulting pervasiveness of heroin in all areas of the state, from downtown Baltimore to the suburbs. We have blogged and posted web pages about the comeback of heroin, and these statistics simply offer more proof that the drug is enjoying a second coming, albeit a deadly one. In 2011 the state reported 245 heroin related deaths, but last year this number ballooned to 378, while the total alcohol and drug related deaths rose from 663 to 761 from 2011 to 2012. Prince George's County and Baltimore City were responsible for the jump, as most other areas of the state reported a similar number of drug fatalities in the last two years.
Law enforcement has reported that six Pennsylvania residents were recently arrested for various drug crimes in Ocean City. To call the out of state residents tourists may be a bit generous, because it seems from the police reports that the six young men and women may have been on the Eastern Shore for business purposes, as in selling the products they were arrested with. The arrest began as most drug arrests do, with a traffic stop for a seemingly harmless infraction. Upon approaching the car, the Ocean City Police officers allegedly observed the occupants acting nervous and suspicious. Thereupon, the cops ordered the occupants out of the vehicle and conducted a search. It is unclear whether the officers obtained permission to search, whether they lied about obtaining permission to search, or whether their observations gave them probable cause to detain and search. What is clear is that the driver and five passengers were all arrested for possession of marijuana and possession of LSD. Three of the occupants were charged with felony possession with intent to deliver, and one was charged with possession of a concealed dangerous weapon, a butterfly knife found on her person. The driver was also issued traffic citations including failure to wear a seatbelt, which undoubtedly was the initial cause of the traffic citation. Four of the occupants were released at the police station, and the other two were taken the Worcester County jail and released after posting a $2,500 bail.
Police in Calvert County have announced an arrest in a three month long drug dealing investigation, which concluded last week. The suspect, a 28 year old man hailing from Scotland, Maryland, was arrested on three controlled substance violations including misdemeanor heroin possession, felony possession with intent to distribute, and CDS possession of a large amount. The man was released a few days after being taken into custody on a $75,000 bail. His case is now set for a preliminary hearing in Calvert County District Court on July 12th, but the case will undoubtedly be sent to Circuit Court for disposition.
County police began investigating the man back in March, and used a variety of sources during the course of the investigation. Perhaps the biggest break in the case came when state troopers arrested a different man on a drug violation, and then obtained a search warrant for his phone. Police found numerous text messages between the two men, which discussed potential sales and other drug information. Confidential informants were also used by police to gather information about the 28-year-old man, who was widely believed to have been one of Southern Maryland's largest heroin dealers. The informants also allegedly told police that the man is known for carrying a firearm to and from trips to his own supplier. This information led police to begin surveillance on the alleged dealer, which was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Unit of the Calvert Police. On the day of the arrest, the DEU followed the man has he allegedly made numerous stops at houses of suspected heroin buyers, and also observed the man engage in a hand to hand transaction with two individuals in an SUV. Calvert County Police and Sheriffs then conducted a traffic stop on the man where they located approximately 100 grams of heroin in the engine compartment of the vehicle, and numerous bundles of cash.
The Blog has posted numerous articles on the recent steps taken by the state legislature to lower the maximum punishments for possession of marijuana, and to partially legalize the drug for medical use. We have also posted about more progressive bills introduced by Baltimore area politicians, which received a great deal of support in Annapolis despite never crossing the governor's desk. Senator Zirkin and Representative Morhaim both proposed legislation designed to decriminalize the personal use of marijuana in this year's legislative session. The movement is gathering steam, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the actual data. The fact is that arrests and criminal prosecutions for pot possession are on the rise in Maryland despite the efforts of lawmakers to curb these docket clogging cases. And perhaps the most staggering data is not the rising arrest numbers, but the fact that our state has per capita the third most marijuana possession arrests in the entire country. Closer inspection of the 2010 data reveals that Worcester County has the highest pot arrest numbers in the country for a county with a population over 30,000. This number is no doubt influenced by the obscene amount of Ocean City marijuana arrest during the summer months when the city doubles its police force by hiring truckloads of 21-year-old part time cops. But the highest per capita rate in the country? For a state that is moving toward decriminalization this is indeed shocking.
Large scale drug smuggling operations are usually prosecuted in federal court, but when the feds decline to take over an investigation it gives the local police some time in the spotlight. The Harford County Sheriff has announced the details of a two year long drug trafficking investigation, that spanned from California to Maryland. The investigation began back in 2010, and police began making arrests in October of 2012. As many as 15 people have been arrested and charged with various crimes under the Maryland controlled dangerous substance laws. Some of the cases have already been resolved by way of guilty pleas, and others remain open with pending trial dates. Police first began their investigation after a 2010 tip from a citizen revealed that an Aberdeen man had been selling large amounts of marijuana throughout Harford County. Over one year later, cops received another tip that linked an Abingdon man with the alleged Aberdeen dealer. This second tip seemed to jumpstart county police into action, as cops began a lengthy undercover operation designed at building a case against all of those involved.
The FBI and the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland recently announced that a 36 year-old Baltimore Police officer has pleaded guilty to multiple drug and gun felonies. The investigation began in early 2012 when the feds received information from an anonymous source that the crooked cop was trafficking in stolen property. As a result of the tip and other corroborating information, feds secured a warrant to wiretap the officer's cellphone. Through the wiretap law enforcement learned that the officer was selling stolen iPhones, iPads, and other electronics, some of which were confiscated during arrests and never submitted into evidence. Federal investigators also became aware of a new development, that the officer was involved in a more sophisticated and organized criminal scheme with a street level drug dealer.
The drug dealer was actually a registered confidential informant with the Baltimore Police Department. A confidential informant is basically a civilian who has agreed to provide information to law enforcement and to participate in undercover investigations in exchange for avoiding criminal prosecution him or herself. On the street confidential informants have infamously been known as snitches, and this nickname has even appeared in television shows and movies. This particular confidential informant was a known drug dealer in the Northwest Baltimore area where the officer patrolled, and at some point the two entered into a business agreement. The officer would provide the drug dealer with information on a daily basis when and where it was safe to sell drugs without police interference. The officer was also accused of doctoring police reports by redacting the drug dealer's name and eliminating his involvement in crimes. In exchange for this protection, the drug dealer would provide the officer with information about other criminal activity, which the officer used to make arrests.
Federal law enforcement recently announced that a major drug ring in suburban Maryland has been busted up, and numerous arrests have been made. In total, 18 people were arrested in the bust, and as many as 15 have already been charged with conspiracy to distribute more than two thousand pounds of marijuana and various other drugs. The federal grand jury indictment included information, which led federal officers to believe that the Anne Arundel County drug ring distributed cocaine, prescription pills, steroids, as well as large amounts of pot. As many as 250 federal agents participated in multiple raids that reportedly resulted in the seizure of 30 cars, 60 pounds of marijuana, upwards of 300 thousand dollars cash, and multiple guns. The seizures are not even close to complete as the U.S. Justice Department is seeking the court's approval to confiscate over 10 million dollars in cash, multiple real estate properties, bank accounts, cars, and business assets.
The yearlong investigation that led to the recent bust began rather fortuitously for law enforcement. Last year around this time, a Glen Burnie man was involved in a serious car accident, and upon arriving on the scene police found over a pound of marijuana and a money counting machine. Cops also found papers detailing the operation, which ultimately spear headed the investigation. Over the next 12 months federal authorities learned about a highly complex interstate organization that was complete with stash houses to store the drugs, and shell corporations to launder the profits. Cops also learned that the drugs were shipped, driven, and even flown to Baltimore from California and New Jersey. Authorities reported that the alleged traffickers were bold enough to fly the drugs into BWI airport during the operation.
The entire state of Maryland has experienced an uptick in heroin use over the last couple years. But no city or county has seen such a dramatic rise as Ocean City. Law enforcement reported a 550 percent increase in heroin use in the city from 2011 to 2012. If the reports are accurate, more than 5 times as many people used the drug this year compared to last year. In response local cops, Worcester County Police, and Maryland State Police recently initiated a drug suppression operation entitled Operation Smackdown. A variety of drugs such as cocaine and marijuana were also targeted in the operation, but most of the arrests were for possession or sale of heroin.
The joint drug suppression operation yielded nearly 100 bags of heroin and indictments against more than 20 defendants on felony charges. One of the defendants that was arrested for possession with intent to distribute was found with over 60 bags that were packaged for sale. Many of these defendants are already in custody and facing bail as high as $300,000, while some of the suspects are still at large. Police have reported that most of the suspects are from Worcester County cities Berlin and Ocean City, but some also hail from Wicomico County and even neighboring Delaware. Cops used various tactics to carry out the large drug bust including search warrants, undercover buy operations, and surveillance. As is the norm for operations such as this, police undoubtedly employed at least one or even more defendants that were working for the state in exchange for leniency from the law. Typically a defendant that is arrested or under investigation for a drug offense will be given an opportunity to "work" with police in exchange for the cops agreeing not to submit the case to the State's Attorney, or to submit lesser charges. These agreements are never set in stone, and all defendants should be weary of giving up their constitutional rights and placing themselves in danger by working undercover.
The war on prescription drug abuse has been effective in decreasing the availability of commonly abused pills such as oxycodone and other narcotics. But as an unintended consequence, heroin use in Maryland has actually been on the rise. More people are using heroin, and state officials are reporting a significant jump in the number of deaths attributed to heroin overdoses in 2012. In fact, in the first half of 2012 heroin related overdoses increased 41 percent, with 205 deaths reported from January to July of this year compared to 145 in 2011 over the same time frame. There could be a wide variety of reasons for the jump in overdoses, which according to state officials signals a definite jump in use of the drug, but the leading factor is likely a recent crackdown on pill mills.
Pill mills have become a booming business over the past decade in dozens of states across the country. Most of the states affected lack actual legislation or strict medical board rules to control the amount of narcotics that are prescribed and purchased. Although there are thousands of legitimate pain clinics across the country with well trained and respected physicians, there are also some clinics who's sole purpose is to rake in huge amounts of money with absolutely no motivation to care for their patients. These clinics are often owned by businessmen with no medical training, and sometimes employ doctors by the month. These doctors are been paid as much as $100,000 per month to simply write prescriptions all day, many times after speaking with their patients for less than 5 minutes. The prescriptions allow the patients to buy powerful narcotic painkillers such as oxycodone by the hundreds. Many of the patients are addicts themselves, and others simply use the pain clinics to obtain a cheap supply of the drugs to sell for a profit. It is not unreasonable for one person to walk out of a pill mill with a prescription for 300 oxycodone pills that sell for ten times more on the street than what it costs to buy in the pharmacy.