Arizona Veteran Faces Prison Time for Treating Cluster Headaches with DMT

Damon Laetzsch (pronounced letch, like fetch) was arrested while making breakfast on August 11, 2021 at his home in Chandler, Arizona when police raided his house and found psilocybin mushrooms, DMT and a flask containing Naphtha, a chemical used to extract DMT. At the time of publication, he faces a potential prison sentence of 6 and a half years if he is convicted for possession and manufacturing of dangerous drugs.

Laetzsch, 44, says he uses tryptamines like psilocybin and DMT to treat cluster headaches, which are widely considered one of the most painful experiences a human being can undergo. DMT and psilocybin are extremely illegal in the state of Arizona, so Laetzsch is facing several years in prison for what he says is the only way to maintain his quality of life.

“It’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” Laetzsch said. “Nothing helps the headache as well as DMT when I’m actually having it. It will abort the headache immediately. A small hit will abort the headache for about an hour to an hour and a half. If I take a bigger hit it can last longer but some of the headaches last a few hours so I would have to take a few hits during that episode. But, I would be pain-free. It wasn’t even a psychoactive amount that I smoked to abort the headache.”

According to Laetzsch, a disgruntled ex-girlfriend tipped off the police that he had a mushroom grow in the house. Between that and his prior arrest record, that’s all it took to trigger a full-blown raid. The kicker here is that the ex-girlfriend who reported Laetzsch to the cops was apparently in his house weeks later at the time the cops came marching in.

“I had no idea man. Me and my ex-girlfriend split up because she was starting to get involved in fraud and shit. I found out so I kicked her out and she was pissed off I kicked her out. So, the next time she got in trouble, she was like ‘I got information on so and so,’” Laetzsch said. “I didn’t know that she had told on me so she would still come over from time to time.”

Cruel irony notwithstanding, Laetzsch represents a very real issue in the criminal justice system. He’s a veteran of the United States Army who came home from two deployments with very real medical issues for which he used cannabis. He faced felony charges almost immediately after coming home, years before the raid in question.

“That first case I [got] caught was in 2001, so I wasn’t even home from the military for a year when they fucking tried to send me to prison for a usable amount of marijuana,”  Laetzsch said, also indicating he had a firearm on him at the time. “I know it doesn’t matter for them but my doctor told me, they tried to give me a bunch of Xanax and painkillers for my chronic pain and anxiety and PTSD and I told them I’m not really big on pills and he told me ‘well you can just smoke marijuana but it’s illegal.’”

Laetzsch served two and a half years in prison for that, and if anyone’s wondering why such a harsh sentence was handed down to a military man who’s just come home, I need only remind you that this was Arizona in 2001, and as Laetzsch kindly reminded me, people were doing hard time for evidence as frivolous as cannabis seeds.

As a journalist, it is my job to give all necessary perspective and while I personally may be sympathetic to this case, Laetzsch is not the portrait of an innocent freedom fighter wrongfully accused of crimes he did not commit and I want to be clear about that. This man has led a lifetime of questionable decision-making. He served another four and a half years in prison later on for running a chop shop, not to mention he was arrested for DUI with his son in the car in 2013 and that would look awful to any jury in any state. It is also important to note here that I have been friends with their whole family for a long time so I’m more than a bit biased here. I’ve heard stories about the guy for years, all a bit stranger and more chaotic than the last. That said, I personally do not believe Laetzsch deserves to spend any more time in a cell than the seven years he already has just for using the means at his disposal to treat his symptoms according to research from documented, peer-reviewed scientific studies. 

A report from the National Library of Medicine found, with regard to cluster headaches: “These patients are in a desperate and vulnerable situation, and illicit psychoactive substances are often considered a last resort. There appeared to be little or no interest in psychoactive effects per se as these were rather tolerated or avoided by using sub-psychoactive doses. Primarily, psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide, and related psychedelic tryptamines were reportedly effective for both prophylactic and acute treatment of cluster headache and migraines.”

Several more studies have been published on the matter, all of which have come to the same general conclusion: people who suffer from cluster headaches, about 1 in 1,000 Americans according to one of the aforementioned studies, will do virtually anything to mitigate or avoid them and thusfar, psychedelics seem to be an effective way of doing that. Of course, because this is America and the vast majority of the country is still fighting Nixon’s drug war, people like Laetzsch face two equally unthinkable options: suffer through months of horrific pain year after year or take drugs and risk prison time.

Laetzsch is currently negotiating through plea deals and such but as it stands, due to his record, he could potentially face six and a half years in prison in a plea deal or go to trial later this Fall where the consequences could be far greater should the judge choose to convict him. Reasonable people can disagree on whether or not Damon Laetzsch is an upstanding member of the community. However, reasonable people cannot disagree that Laetzsch came home from the Army, got locked up for a personal amount of cannabis, and had his life derailed from that point on by the criminal justice system like so many others for something that 38 of 50 states have since legalized in some form or another. Cannabis aside, psychedelics like the ones Laetzsch was caught with are already being touted as miracle drugs by major pharmaceutical companies. Is it reasonable to say that maybe we should just cut the guy a break at this point in time? This humble journalist says fuck yes, please leave him alone and thank him for his service on your way out.

Those sympathetic to this case who wish to advocate on behalf of Laetzsch can send letters to:

Alcock & Associates PC Attn: Vernon Lorenz
2. N Central Ave
26th Floor
Pheonix, AZ 85004

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From the Archives: Mother’s Day (1994)

By Marsha Turner Brown

The cruiser was backed into a space beside the Kentucky Fried Chicken. Blissfully unaware, I sped by him at 20 miles above the limit. He pulled behind me at the first caution light; I was driving through the second signal when he put on his siren. Pulling to the curb I readied for the drill: name, number, state of sobriety and registration.

In the moment it took to review my license, the trooper smelled a rat, or as I would shortly discover, a “leafy vegetabletype contraband.”

When I unlocked the glove box to retrieve the registration a little pistol fell to the floor mat. Things got worse, real fast, from here on in. The officer, who had been leaning in my window, spoke. “Please open your door and step out and away from the car, ma’am.”

I stepped out and away and was escorted to the back seat of his car. Safely caged away, he called police central and reported the gun incident. Three more cars arrived, blaring and flashing, before a policelady reopened the cruiser door. That was the first time I saw the dog.

She was sniffing like an anteater, dancing around her trainer’s knees and yodeling. When the door of my car was cracked open, the big slobbering hound jumped in and over the front seat. Her nose came to rest under a pile of food trash my son had thrown in back. Just as we were clearing the gun-ownership/right-to-carry issue, an officer reached under the hamburger wrappers and produced my son’s shaving bag. Unzipping it, he reached inside and produced two baggies, each over half full. 86.2 grams, the warrant read.

The legitimacy of my status as an elected school board member, community activist, and Baptist became questionable. The A.M. teaser on our television station: “Ranking school official arrested on narcotics charge…details at six….” The morning papers were no less complimentary: “Indictment Pending: Drug Dog Gets Big Dog. ” It was a stupid headline, and I discovered, painfully, the repercussions of telling a city editor he had a stupid headline. The next morning it read, “Commissioners Want Resignation Immediately. ”

Let me clear up any misconceptions you may have about mothers. Not all mothers are capable of loving a child; some mothers—and others—are incapable of loving anything or anyone. The lack of a mother’s love is the greatest tragedy of childhood, the coldest injustice. Those who haven’t experienced this unboundaried love are poorer for the loss.

Those who have known a mother’s love will understand, if not embrace, the insanity and absurdity of genetics. What would Mama do for you? What indeed.

Look at the market, around your neighborhood, watch CNN, read a paper. Documentation is available if the reality is beyond believable. There are mothers whoring on streetcorners and conference tables to house and feed their kids; mothers waiting in unemployment and HUD offices to do the same. Mama will give her last dollar to feed you or keep you warm. She will give you a kidney if you need one, or her life, if required.

Mama will also be cavity searched, bailed from county holding, indicted, arraigned, and pronounced guilty to protect her child.

Marijuana ruins lives. Ask any moralist or Baptist and they’ll tell you about the ruin. “People smoke that stuff, think they can fly, and jump out windows.”

I have never consumed anything that made me think I could fly and felt slighted for the exclusion. Good enough to fly? That was good.

I split from the Protestants on points of cause and effect. Possession, not inhalation, is the destroyer of lives and families. Get caught in the deep South with two ounces and life as you know it ends. There are no laws, below the Eastern Continental Divide, to protect from the crimes of intolerance and injustice. My son is just starting on his career trek. Mine was growing tiresome long before the arrest. I saw no need to mention that my child had driven the car last, that the marijuana was his. Denial wouldn’t have changed the reality: the floorboard held proof. My career was the required, and judicially necessary, sacrifice to protect my child.

I seek amended laws as a citizen and nonuser. As a mother, I make a simple request to sons and daughters everywhere: Until the repeal of criminality, please do not leave your stash in the back of your mother’s car. She won’t be happy when the hound dog jumps on her seat cushions. Trust me.

High Times Magazine, May 1994

Read the full issue here.

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Riverside County Law Enforcement Seizes $1 Million in Illegal Cannabis, Mushroom Products

According to a press release from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, the raid occurred on May 4 around 5:30pm. The Jurupa Valley Sheriff’s Station Special Enforcement Team (SET) responded to a disturbance at the 1700 block of Production Circle, located within a business area that is home to other businesses off of Rubidoux Boulevard.

Multiple people attempted to flee the scene, but the sheriff’s department reports that many were detained. “Jurupa Valley SET deputies located evidence of an illegal/unlicensed marijuana dispensary and secured the location. Jurupa Valley SET deputies obtained a search warrant for the property and requested assistance from the Riverside Sheriff’s Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET),” the department stated.

On site, officers found a variety of illegal cannabis products. “During the service of the search warrant, deputies located approximately 115 pounds of processed marijuana, 10 pounds of psilocybin mushrooms, 100 pounds of marijuana concentrate, 2,400 marijuana vapes, and 1,200 edible marijuana items. The estimated value of the seized items was determined to be over $1,000,000,” the department reported.

As of May 9, the investigation is still ongoing and no further information has been shared at this time.

Last summer, the California Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) announced that between 2021-2022, law enforcement had seized more than $1 billion worth of illegal cannabis products. “This important milestone was reached through close collaboration with local, state, and federal partners and furthers California’s efforts to go after activities that harm communities and the environment, including water theft, threats of violence, elder abuse, and human trafficking to name a few,” the DCC stated. “These operations and the products they produce threaten consumer safety and the vitality of legal and compliant licensees.”

More recently in March, the DCC released its enforcement statistics for 2021 and 2022. During that time frame, search warrants increased from 62 in 2021 to 155 in 2022, with over 41,726 pounds of illegal product seized in 2021 and 144,254 pounds in 2022. 

Bill Jones, the DCC’s Chief in the Law Enforcement Division, explained the importance of continuing to target illegal operations. “Through each enforcement action our teams gain a better understanding of how these criminal operations work which helps us better focus our resources and amplify our results to protect the health and safety of all Californians,” said Jones. “I would like to thank the dedicated group of officers in our department who work closely with our law enforcement partners to make these operations successful. Together, we are cracking down on the illicit cannabis market and ensuring California maintains a well-regulated and legal marketplace that benefits Californians.” 

Additionally, the DCC reported that it destroyed 19,221 illegal cannabis plants in 2021, and 264,196 plants in 2022—a 1,274% increase.

The city of Riverside is one of many that are still working on establishing a regulatory framework in their respective areas. According to The Press Enterprise, the Riverside City Council recently approved an ordinance on Feb. 28 that would allow up to 14 cannabis retail permits. On March 1, a city press release shared statements from a few key individuals.

According to Councilmember Ronaldo Fierro, it’s high time Riverside kept up with the times. “Today’s long overdue decision to overturn the ban on cannabis retail was the result of a multi-year effort that included intensive community and stakeholder input,” said Fierro. “This is the first step in a pragmatic and sensible policy process that is centered around providing benefit and opportunity for all Riverside residents.”

Riverside Mayor Pro Tem Clarissa Cervantes also released a statement about cannabis finally moving forward in Riverside. “With a little over 18 months until the November 2024 ballot, we have the time we need to create a program that is socially equitable and ensures voters are informed about what the tax measure will do,” Cervantes said. “Riverside voters approved this measure years ago, and the Council voted to move forward with creating a pathway for safe access, and quality workforce opportunities.”

City staff will continue to develop a process for permit review and implementation, and plan to propose their plan to the Riverside City Council sometime this summer.

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Texas Police Ignore Local Decriminalization Ordinance in Spite of Voter Approval

Tension is building in a small Texas city between police, advocates, and elected officials. In Denton, Texas, police—sworn to protect and serve—are allegedly ignoring the will of the people, continuing citations and arrests despite a cannabis decriminalization measure that was approved last year.

NBC DFW reports that a “battle is brewing” in the city over who controls the way cannabis laws are enforced. 

According to a special presentation with a three-month report by Denton City Manager Sara Hensley at a City Council session on Tuesday, police in the city aren’t abiding by the voter-approved decriminalization measure passed last November, and are citing and arresting people for low-level cannabis possession anyways. She also provided an explanation.

During the Midterm elections on Nov. 5, 2022, voters in Denton approved Proposition B with over 70% of the vote to decriminalize possession of four ounces or less of cannabis, with some exceptions. It also bans police from using the smell test for probable cause and restricts city money from being used on THC drug testing. Proposition B became effective Nov. 22, once canvassing the election was completed. 

According to the City Manager, the City of Denton Police Department are acting as though the proposition never passed and are still arresting and citing people for low-level cannabis possession. Hensley explained that state and federal laws supersede city law, and that the police are sworn in by the state.

Denton City Councilmembers Vicki Byrd and Brandon Chase McGee asked why the law isn’t being observed. Councilmember Byrd asked, “Can you explain to the people at home how someone nobody elected such as yourself, is empowered to create public policy even after 32,000 voters provided a directive otherwise?” Mayor Pro Tem Brian Beck also chimed in, asking similar questions.

The City Manager responded by saying that the police are sworn in to the state and therefore the city law cannot override Texas law.

Considering the work that Decriminalize Denton put into getting Proposition B on the ballot and spreading awareness is like a slap in the face for cannabis advocates in the area.

“By continuing to cite and arrest for misdemeanor-quantity cannabis and paraphernalia possession after an overwhelming majority of Denton voters passed an ordinance banning the practice, Denton’s Police Department and City Management are staging an authoritarian insurrection against the voters and taxpayers who pay their salaries,” Deb Armintor, a representative of Decriminalize Denton told High Times in an statement.

“These publicly funded insurrectionists are joined by disgraced councilmembers Jesse Davis, Chris Watts, and Mayor Gerard Hudspeth, who have chosen to support these power-abusing bureaucrats instead of the people they’re elected to serve.

“It would mean the world to us here in Denton if our allies nationwide took a moment to email these councilors and bureaucrats to let them know the world is watching and they’re on the wrong side of History.”

The Denton Police Department provided a statement when Proposition B was implemented last November.

“As a forward-thinking agency, marijuana possession alone has not been a priority for the Denton Police Department for several years,” said Denton Police Chief Doug Shoemaker. “This will continue to be the case. With that said, officers must maintain discretion to be able to keep our community safe from harm. When marijuana possession pairs with other crimes that affect public safety, including offenses such as driving while intoxicated or firearms violations, such acts cannot and will not be ignored.”

But the Denton Police Department added this to the press release:

“The Police Department will continue to assess aspects of this ordinance, as passed by voters, to determine what may be implemented in accordance with both the current law as well as the voices of the population we serve.”

Between June 2021 and July 2022, of the 65 arrests that the Denton Police Department made for cannabis possession under four ounces. But keep in mind that 15 of these charges accompanied other charges unrelated to cannabis, and weapons were involved in 31.

Denton joined San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights in Texas, to overwhelmingly approve local ballot propositions to decriminalize low-level possession, after Austin decriminalized cannabis earlier. In other cities, there doesn’t appear to be a problem implementing those measures.

How police continue to enforce laws in the city remains up for debate.

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Irish Police Seize More Than 250 Pounds of Weed

Police in the Republic of Ireland announced this week that law enforcement officers seized more than 250 pounds of cannabis as part of an ongoing effort to target organized crime activity in the Dublin area. In a statement released on Tuesday, the garda (Irish national police force) said that the seizure resulted in the arrest of two men, who are being held pending further investigation.

The seizure was carried out as part of an ongoing investigation related to Operation Tara, a garda campaign to target serious organized crime activity in the Dublin Region. On Monday, officers intercepted two vehicles in Tallaght, a suburb of the capital city, leading to the search of a house in nearby Knocklyon. The action led to the seizure of about 120 kilograms (nearly 265 pounds) of cannabis, which the law enforcement agency said has an estimated street value of more than €2 million (more than $2.1 million).

“Personnel attached to the Garda National Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB) supported by the Special Crime Task Force (SCTF), intercepted two vehicles in the Tallaght area and searched a residential address in the Knocklyon area,” a garda spokesperson said in a statement to the media. “During the course of these searches, 120kg of cannabis herb with an estimated street sale value of €2.4m was seized.”

Police noted that two men in their 40s had been arrested in conjunction with the seizure of the illicit cannabis. The men are currently being held on suspicion of drug trafficking charges as the investigation continues. The weed seized in the operation has been sent to a laboratory for further analysis.

Courtesy of the Garda

Public Pushes Back On Prohibition

The garda publicized the seizure on social media, noting in a Twitter post that the agency is “#KeepingPeopleSafe.” But other users on the platform questioned the public safety value of the police operation.

“Safe from what?” asked one Twitter user. “There would [have] been a few lads heading to shops for munchies after a few joints, do we really need to be safe from that or do you think there is bigger and more serious crime we should be kept safe from first.”

People commenting on social media also pushed back on the estimated street value of the seized cannabis provided by law enforcement, suggesting that the figure given is ten times what the confiscated weed is actually worth.

“In Canada where Cannabis is legal, regulated and taxed, this 120kg would be worth about CAD$400k and 5% of that would have gone to the gov in tax,” a Twitter user commented. “It’s also packaged a whole lot better than that! CAD$400k is around €250k or 10% of that valuation.”

Weed Legalization Bill Under Consideration

This week’s seizure of illicit marijuana in Ireland comes amid a renewed debate over cannabis prohibition in the country. Late last year, Gino Kenny, a lawmaker known as a Teachta Dála (TD) and a member of Ireland’s People Before Profit political party, proposed legislation that would legalize the possession of up to seven grams of cannabis and 2.5 grams of cannabis concentrates for personal use.

“The Bill is quite moderate. It amends existing legislation that dates back 42 years,” Kenny said during a November debate in the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish Parliament. “Forty-two years is a very long time. I believe the existing legislation is out of date and out of time. We need a different narrative around drug reform.”

“I hope the Government can support this legislation,” he continued. “It is timely. Different parts of the world are looking at different models which do not criminalize people and which take a harm-reduction approach. I look forward to the debate.”

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Police are Getting People High as Part of ‘Stoned Driving’ Training

Driving while stoned.

It has become one of the more vexing challenges for law enforcement in the era of legalization, with cops across the country struggling to square their jurisdiction’s new cannabis laws with their mandate to keep the roads safe. 

The Washington Post detailed how a police department in Maryland, where voters approved a measure legalizing recreational pot last year, are preparing for a potential spike in impaired drivers on their roads.

According to the Washington Post, the Montgomery County, Maryland Police Department holds a gathering two to three times per year.

“Montgomery County brings in marijuana smokers — literally goes to pick them up in police cars — and walks them to the tent outside its training academy so they can get stoned. Bags of Cheetos, bottles of water and plenty of pizza are on the house,” the report said. “Participants are then used as test subjects for officers trying to determine whether someone is too high to drive. That’s not easy. Unlike people who drive drunk, and whose impairment can be quantified by breathalyzers and blood-alcohol tests, it’s more difficult to discern with pot.”

The exercise, according to the Post, is “increasingly being held at police agencies nationwide.”

As states and cities have lined up to reform their existing cannabis laws and end the prohibition on pot, law enforcement in those jurisdictions have often had to play catch-up. 

In Virginia, which became the first state in the southern United States to legalize recreational cannabis in 2021, officials began exploring options last year to crack down on stoned driving. 

“Virginia officials said the ‘oral fluid tests’ under consideration to detect marijuana intoxication are similar to a ‘preliminary breath test’ — a roadside test for alcohol. The test results, while not admissible in court, can help determine when the cannabis was consumed, and can be combined with other factors to get probable cause for extensive blood testing,” the Virginian-Pilot reported in December.

The newspaper also said that officials were considering “changing state law to allow roadside screening devices in which officers and deputies can have a driver swab his or her cheek in order to gather saliva to test for marijuana and other drugs.”

In New York, which legalized recreational cannabis for adults in 2021, officials were said to be “scrambling” last fall as they raced to develop a mechanism to determine whether or not someone is too stoned to drive.

“Identifying drivers impaired by cannabis use is of critical importance…..However, unlike alcohol, there are currently no evidence-based methods to detect cannabis-impaired driving,” read a memo from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office.

The stoned driving simulations in Montgomery County, Maryland might be the most novel effort yet. 

The Washington Post’s story provided an account of a “recent session, held on a Thursday night in January, [that] lasted nearly four hours.”

“Participants engaged in a 30-minute ‘consumption session,’ followed by impairment evaluations inside the building, and repeated the cycle. During the second consumption session, officers asked if any volunteers wanted to add alcohol to the mix.

‘Who wants a Bud Light?’ asked Lt. John O’Brien, leaning over a cooler. Then he grabbed a large bottle of booze: ‘Captain Morgan?’…None of the subjects drive home. They return via the cops who brought them. All hold medical-use cards and are reimbursed for the product they ingest.”

The Post said that “Montgomery has been a leader in the cannabis labs program, also called green labs, which experts say appears to be operating in nearly 10 states.”

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Mexico Seizes 630,000 Fentanyl Pills in Record Bust

Mexican authorities seized a massive cache of fentanyl pills this week in what they are describing as a record-setting bust. 

The country’s Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday that the “Mexican Army personnel seized a fentanyl pill manufacturing center and the laboratory with the largest methamphetamine production capacity in the municipality of Culiacán, Sinaloa,” which is located in the northwestern part of Mexico.

The raid, which was carried out on Tuesday, yielded “629,138 pills of probable fentanyl, weighing approximately 68,576 kilograms,” government officials said in the announcement. 

The Ministry of Defense listed the soldiers’ other findings in the raid: “Approximately 128.03 kg of possible granulated fentanyl; Approximately 100 kg of possible methamphetamine; Approximately 750 kg of probable tartaric acid; Approximately 275 kg of possible mannitol; Approximately 225 kg of probable caustic soda; [and] 28 organic synthesis reactors.”

“Due to the number of reactors, the laboratory is the one with the largest synthetic drug production capacity that has been recorded historically and during the present administration,” the authorities said in the announcement

The defense ministry said that while “carrying out intelligence work to strengthen the rule of law in the country and detect criminal organizations with a presence in said federal entity, military personnel obtained information about a property and an area on the land that was used as a laboratory for the production of drugs in the Municipality of Culiacán, Sin.”

“Derived from the above and from the operational planning, elements of the Mexican Army carried out ground reconnaissance in the vicinity of Pueblos Unidos, municipality of Culiacán, Sin., where they located a production center and a clandestine laboratory for the production of synthetic drugs, for which military personnel implemented a security device,” the ministry said.

The announcement continued: “What was insured was made available to the competent authorities, in order to carry out the corresponding investigations and expert actions to confirm the type and quantity of drugs, as well as chemical substances.

These actions were carried out in strict adherence to the rule of law and with full respect for human rights. In this way, the Mexican Army reaffirms the indeclinable decision of the federal government to continue acting against organized crime, meeting the needs that society demands; Likewise, it endorses its commitment to ensure and safeguard the well-being of citizens, guaranteeing the peace and security of the population.”

The historic bust comes at a time when the United States is also struggling to contain the fentanyl trade within its own borders.

As CBS News noted, Tuesday’s bust “came on the same day that the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the huge number of U.S. fentanyl overdoses that occur annually, currently around 70,000,” with the committee chairman, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, pressing Mexico to step up its efforts to combat the problem.

“This means asking Mexico to do more to disrupt the criminal organizations from producing and trafficking fentanyl, although a politicized judiciary and incidents of Mexican security forces colluding with drug cartels will make that difficult,” the senator said, as quoted by CBS News.

CBS also noted that “Mexican drug cartels produce the opioid from precursor chemicals shipped from China, and then press it into pills counterfeited to look like Xanax, Percocet or Oxycodone,” and that people often “take the pills without knowing they contain fentanyl and can suffer deadly overdoses.”

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than “150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.”

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Chinese Police Enlist Drug-Sniffing Squirrels

Forget the hounds. Police in China are releasing the squirrels. 

Law enforcement in the city of Chongqing reportedly announced that it is training a team of drug-sniffing squirrels to help locate illicit substances and contraband. 

Insider reports that the police dog brigade in the city, located in southwestern China, “now has a team of six red squirrels to help them sniff out drugs in the nooks and crannies of warehouses and storage units.”

According to Insider, “Chongqing police told the state-linked media outlet The Paper that these squirrels are small and agile, and able to search through tiny spaces in warehouses and storage units that dogs cannot reach,” and that the “squirrels have been trained to use their claws to scratch boxes in order to alert their handlers if they detect drugs, the police said.”

“Squirrels have a very good sense of smell. However, it’s less mature for us to train rodents for drug search in the past in terms of the technology,” said Yin Jin, a handler with the police dog brigade of the Hechuan Public Security Bureau in Chongqing, as quoted by the Chinese state-affiliated English newspaper Global Times.

“Our self-developed training system can be applied to the training of various animals,” Yin added.

The newspaper noted that in contrast to drug dogs, “squirrels are small and agile, which makes them good at searching high places for drugs.”

According to Insider, “China’s drug-sniffing squirrels may well be the first of their kind,” although “animals and insects other than dogs have also been used to detect dangerous substances like explosives.”

“In 2002, the Pentagon backed a project to use bees to detect bombs. Meanwhile, Cambodia has deployed trained rats to help bomb-disposal squads trawl minefields for buried explosives,” Insider reported. “It is unclear if the Chongqing police intends to expand its force of drug-sniffing squirrels. It is also unclear how often the squirrel squad will be deployed.”

China is known for its strict and punitive anti-drug laws. 

According to the publication Health and Human Rights Journal, “drug use [in China] is an administrative and not criminal offense; however, individuals detained by public security authorities are subject to coercive or compulsory ‘treatment.’”

The journal explains: “This approach has been subject to widespread condemnation, including repeated calls over the past decade by United Nations (UN) agencies, UN human rights experts, and human rights organizations for the country to close compulsory drug detention centers and increase voluntary, community-based alternatives. Nonetheless, between 2012 and 2018, the number of people in compulsory drug detention centers in China remained virtually unchanged, and the number enrolled in compulsory community-based treatment rose sharply.”

“In addition to these approaches, the government enters all people detained by public security authorities for drug use in China into a system called the Drug User Internet Dynamic Control and Early Warning System, or Dynamic Control System (DCS),” the journal continues. “This is a reporting and monitoring system launched by the Ministry of Public Security in 2006. Individuals are entered into the system regardless of whether they are dependent on drugs or subject to criminal or administrative detention; some individuals who may be stopped by public security but not formally detained may also be enrolled in the DCS”

The Dynamic Control System “acts as an extension of China’s drug control efforts by monitoring the movement of people in the system and alerting police when individuals, for example, use their identity documents when registering at a hotel, conducting business at a government office or bank, registering a mobile phone, applying for tertiary education, or traveling,” according to the journal.

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New Zealand Officials Seize Half a Billion Dollars Worth of Cocaine

Officials in New Zealand announced this week that they have completed a massive seizure of cocaine at sea, calling it a “major financial blow” to producers and traffickers of the drug. 

Authorities there said on Wednesday that the seizure was a part of “Operation Hyrdros,” with New Zealand Police working in partnership with both New Zealand Customs Service and the New Zealand Defence Force.

The announcement said that “no arrests have been made at this stage,” but that “enquiries will continue into the shipment including liaison with our international partners.”

Members of those units intercepted “3.2 tonnes of cocaine afloat” in the Pacific Ocean. NZ Customs Service Acting Comptroller Bill Perry said that the “sheer scale of this seizure is estimated to have taken more than half a billion dollars’ worth of cocaine out of circulation.”

(The news agency United Press International described the seizure as a “3.5 ton haul of cocaine with a street value of $317 million in a major anti-drugs operation carried out in the middle of the Pacific.”)

Courtesy of New Zealand Police

“Customs is pleased to have helped prevent such a large amount of cocaine causing harm in communities here in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere in the wider Pacific region,” Perry said. “It is a huge illustration of what lengths organised crime will go to with their global drug trafficking operations and shows that we are not exempt from major organised criminal drug smuggling efforts in this part of the world.” 

NZ Police Commissioner Andrew Coster called it “one of the single biggest seizures of illegal drugs by authorities in this country.”

“There is no doubt this discovery lands a major financial blow right from the South American producers through to the distributors of this product,” Coster said.

Coster added, “While this disrupts the syndicate’s operations, we remain vigilant given the lengths we know these groups will go to circumvent coming to law enforcement’s attention.”

The authorities said in the announcement on Wednesday that “eighty-one bales of the product have since made the six-day journey back to New Zealand aboard the Royal New Zealand Navy vessel HMNZS Manawanui, where they will now be destroyed.”

It is believed that “given the large size of the shipment it will have likely been destined for the Australian market,” according to the announcement. 

Coster said that Operation Hyrdos “was initiated in December 2022, as part of our ongoing close working relationship with international partner agencies to identify and monitor suspicious vessels’ movements.”

Some of the packets of drugs had four-leaf clover or Batman identifying stickers. Courtesy of New Zealand Police

“I am incredibly proud of what our National Organised Crime Group has achieved in working with other New Zealand agencies, including New Zealand Customs Service and the New Zealand Defence Force. The significance of this recovery and its impact cannot be underestimated,” Coster said.

“We know the distribution of any illicit drug causes a great amount of social harm as well as negative health and financial implications for communities, especially drug users and their families,” Coster added.

The announcement said that Coster noted that the “operation continues already successful work New Zealand authorities are achieving in working together and continues to lessen the impacts of transnational crime worldwide.”

New Zealand Defence Force Joint Forces commander Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour said that his unit “had the right people and the right capabilities to provide the support required and it was great to work alongside the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Customs Service.”

“We were very pleased with the result and are happy to be a part of this successful operation and proud to play our part in protecting New Zealand,” Gilmour said.

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British Police Find 6,000 Cannabis Plants in Abandoned Tire Factory

British police this week reportedly uncovered thousands of cannabis plants in an abandoned tire factory in what is being called one of the largest weed busts in the area. 

The British newspaper The Independent reported that law enforcement in the otherwise sleepy Lincolnshire village “busted one of their largest ever cannabis factories after discovering 6,000 plants inside an old tyre factory – believed to be worth around £6.5 million.”

“This is one of the largest cannabis grows we have located in Lincolnshire to date and follows the excellent development of intelligence,” said detective inspector Richard Nethercott, as quoted by the Lincolnshire World.

“Cannabis production is far from being harmless: it is often linked to wider, organised criminality which is why tackling the wider issue of drug supply is one of our key priorities. Lincolnshire Police remains determined to crack down on criminal enterprises and remove drugs from circulation.”

According to the BBC, three men “aged 28, 38, and 42, all of no fixed address, were taken into custody following the raid,” and the plants were “removed and destroyed.”

The raid “took place at the property situated behind a countryside village pub at around 8am on Tuesday,” according to The Independent, which said that the property was the location of “the Old Kings Head Tyre Factory in Hubberts Bridge, near Boston.”

While the raid may have been remarkable for Lincolnshire, it falls under a familiar story genre here at High Times, which has chronicled some of the more peculiar cannabis busts from across the pond. 

In 2019, we told you about the 120-year-old Victorian style theater in London that was the site of a $51 million marijuana grow operation. 

Authorities there surmised that the grow site had been operational for roughly a decade in the bowels of the old Broadway Theater, which was built in 1897.

A spokesperson for the London police said that “officers were called to an address following reports of a disturbance.” 

“They discovered a large number of cannabis plants along with equipment used in the cultivation of cannabis in an area beneath the residential properties. Three men, aged 28, 45, and 47, and a 36-year-old woman have been arrested on suspicion of the cultivation of cannabis. They have all been released under investigation,” the spokesperson said at the time.

A couple years later, the British were at it again, this time discovering an illicit grow operation at a 17th century castle in Somerset, located in southern England.

That same year, in 2021, a massive growhouse was discovered in London’s financial district, which had gone quiet amid the lockdown restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Police at the time responded to reports of a pungent cannabis odor in the area.

“This is the first cannabis factory in the City, no doubt being set up in response to fewer people being out and about during the pandemic who might have noticed any unusual activity,” Andy Spooner, the London detective overseeing the investigation, said at the time. “However, this demonstrates that City of London Police continues to actively police the Square Mile, bearing down on any crime committed here.” 

And last year, the English village of West Parley provided yet another example after locals there discovered a half-dozen suspicious plants growing in a community garden. 

The marijuana plants were tough to miss, with one local remarking at the time that they were “towering above the bedding plants.”

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