That the War on Drugs has been a colossal failure is, by now, beyond dispute. Forty years and $1.5 trillion dollars after Nixon declared War on Drugs in 1971, the drug addiction rate in the U.S. is about the same as it was in 1970, according to the Atlantic (it hovers between one and two percent). Meanwhile, drugs are no less readily available now than they were in 1970. Available drugs are if anything more potent than they were in 1970, and an admitted former pot smoker is President of the United States.
Still, good news is emerging. At least a few politicians — and a few state governments — have at least had the courage to admit that some aspects of the War on Drugs are less than desirable, or haven’t had the outcomes Prohibitionists were expecting, and have shot a couple of arrows into the heart of the Drug War. The bad news is, to quote the old saying: Three steps forward, two steps back. Every time a move is made to end, or at least scale back, the Drug War, fanatical Prohibitionists step in to keep it alive.
The Good News: A Georgia Lawmaker Is Trying To Get Rid Of “No-Knock Raids”
If you want to see the poster boy, so to speak, of the hubris, the fanaticism, the unchecked zeal of the police carrying out the War on Drugs, look no further than the Georgia toddler named Bounkham “Baby Bou Bou” Phonesavanh.
At about 2 a.m. on May 28, 2014, the 18-month-old was asleep in his crib when deputies from the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office threw a flash-bang grenade into his crib while conducting a “No-Knock Raid” in their search for a suspected drug dealer. The grenade exploded in the crib, blowing a hole in his chest and permanently disfiguring him. His family has since run up over a million dollars in medical bills; bills that Habersham County, to this day, refuses to pay.
What were the Habersham County cops looking for, you ask? Terrorists? A school shooter? They were looking for a suspected meth dealer, who, according to a confidential informant, had sold $50 worth of meth.
Georgia State Senator Vincent Fort has suggested that maybe, just maybe, maiming toddlers in the quest to rid the streets of low-level meth dealers may not be the best way to spend taxpayer money. He has introduced a bill that would severely limit when Georgia police can conduct no-knock raids, and his bill has bi-partisan support in the Georgia legislature.
The Bad News: Georgia Police Don’t Want “No-Knock Raids” To Go Away
Not surprisingly, the police — who, after drug cartels, stand to lose the most should the Drug War be repealed or even scaled back just a bit — aren’t going to let go of no-knock raids without a fight.
Carrie Mills, former police officer and now union rep for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, has warned Georgia lawmakers that Georgia’s rules on no-knock raids are just fine the way they are, and her union will fight planned changes the whole way. Further, she warns, getting rid of no-knock warrants will make communities somehow less safe.
“You have to draw the line between your right as a citizen to privacy and a community’s right to live in a crime-free environment. You can’t have them both.”
The Good News: Colorado (And Several Other States) Have Legalized Recreational Marijuana
In 2012, Colorado (and Washington) voters passed amendments to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana in their states. Spurned on by their successes, legalization advocates then got similar measures passed in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. in 2014, and are eyeing Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada for 2016. Even socially conservative Missouri may be getting on board the Legalization train.
To the surprise of no one — except maybe the police unions, Republican politicians, and crabby church ladies — Colorado’s retail marijuana experiment has been what Slate calls a “sweeping success.”
The sky hasn’t fallen; psychotic teenagers who caught the Reefer Madness aren’t filling Colorado’s emergency rooms; catatonic drivers aren’t turning Colorado’s roads into death traps; addiction treatment centers aren’t swelling beyond capacity.
So what’s the problem?
The Bad News: Oklahoma And Nebraska Are Having None Of That
The “problem” (and here, “problem” means “not a problem at all”), as far as neighboring states Oklahoma and Nebraska are concerned, is that Sooners and Huskers are driving into Colorado for legal weed, and bringing it back home.
Not content to enforce their own draconian pot laws, the Attorneys General of Oklahoma and Nebraska have sued to have the Supreme Court overturn Colorado’s pot legalization in order to keep Rocky Mountain Highs from being enjoyed in their states. And the Washington Post believes that they may have a shot.
To say the move is hypocritical is an understatement. Both states are reliably Red, and politicians in both states come down consistently in favor of states’ rights, at least on issues not regarding pot. Both states have enthusiastically fought to prevent Obamacare and federal firearms legislation from being implemented in their states, but yet on pot legalization, their Attorneys General seem more than happy to bow down to the Supremacy Clause.
Their efforts are so silly and so hypocritical that even fellow Republicans in Oklahoma have called out their Attorney General on it, according to the Washington Post.
“We [do not feel] that attempting to undermine the sovereignty of a neighboring state using the federal courts, even if inadvertently, is a wise use of Oklahoma’s limited state resources.”
The Good News: The Justice Department Partially Took Away One Of The Drug War’s Biggest Weapons: Civil Forfeiture
Imagine this: You’re driving along the road, and for some reason, you’re carrying a big wad of cash. Say, for example, you’re on your way home from a poker tournament, or you’re moving to a new state and need some pocket money to get by for a bit while you get settled. A cop pulls you over, notices that wad of cash, and declares that it’s drug money. Guess what: It now belongs to the police department, even if you’re never convicted of a crime, and there is not a thing you can do to get it back.
Welcome to the world of civil forfeiture, the practice that allows police to seize cash, vehicles, even homes of those suspected of drug crimes (and the key word here is “suspected” — you don’t have to be convicted of a crime to have your assets seized). The practice became widespread during the Reagan Era, and was meant to throw drug dealers’ dirty deeds back in their faces by seizing their money and putting it into the hands of the police, to keep fighting drug dealers. In practice, however, so many innocent people have been caught up in the practice that it would be laughable were it not so horrifying. Consider: Under civil forfeiture, a Pennsylvania family lost their home because their son sold $40 worth of heroin out of the house.
Earlier this month, Eric Holder’s Justice Department issued an order that at least partially limits the practice — or at least, it limits how much the Justice Department will be involved in it. Civil Forfeiture is still here to stay for the foreseeable future, but the Justice Department’s move – even if it’s tiny one – is a step in the right direction.
The Bad News: The Police Are Looking Through Your Walls And Sifting Through Your Poop To Find Drugs
If you think the Fourth Amendment protects you from having the police look through your windows and into your home without a warrant, you’re right: it does. The Supreme Court ruled, in 2013, that at the heart of the Fourth Amendment is your right to “retreat into [your] own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.”
To get around that pesky Fourth Amendment, at least 50 police departments, according to USA Today, have been using a sophisticated form of radar that can literally see through walls and allow police to see what you’re doing inside. They’ve been doing it for two years, and they’ve been doing it with little to no government oversight.
But at least what you flush down the toilet is yours, and yours alone? Not so fast: Natural News reports that a new tool, called “sewage epidemiology,” is available to the police to flush out drug hot-spots in certain areas.
“The war on drugs could get a boost with a new method that analyzes sewage to track levels of illicit drug use in local communities in real time. The new study, a first-of-its-kind in the U.S., was published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology and could help law enforcement identify new drug hot spots and monitor whether anti-drug measures are working.”
When Will This Madness Finally End?
Prohibitionists are a varied group. They’re also passionate, vocal, and politically active. Whether they’re police advocates who realize, rightly, that the end of the Drug War means there will be far less policing to be done — and thus, far fewer police needed; or (mostly conservative) politicians who simply do not want to live in a country that tolerates drug use; or grouchy church ladies who learned all they need to know about drug use from watching Reefer Madness. Prohibitionists have one thing in common: The Drug War well end when it is pried from their cold, dead hands.
The fact that Drug Warriors and their Prohibitionist allies are vehemently supporting SWAT raids that maim children, prodding States Rights’ activists to sue other states, and applauding technology that enables cops to sift through your poop to find evidence of drug use, shows just how far is left to go before the Drug War finally, and mercifully, comes to its bitter end.