Thursday, September 05, 2013

124.5 - DOJ will not sue to to block Colorado, Washington laws legalizing pot; some cops freak out

DOJ will not sue to to block Colorado, Washington laws legalizing pot; some cops freak out

As I expect you know, a tiny beam of light recently penetrated the dark recesses of our "War on Drugs." On August 29, Attorney General Eric Holder declared that the feds would not challenge new state laws in Colorado and Washington that legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but a department memo to federal prosecutors tightened federal standards for prosecutions relating to marijuana, standards which essentially leave small-scale recreational users alone.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia now allow some legal use of marijuana; mostly that's for medical marijuana.

The fact is, the War on Drugs has been a colossal and budget-busting failure that has accomplished nothing except to triple the prison population. That is in large part because there has been a near-total disconnect between the attention and effort directed toward various drugs and the actual harm those same drugs represent. Both the public and government officials are increasingly admitting to the facts, including the fact that one of the drugs that has gotten the most attention is also one of the ones with the lowest potential for harm; that being, of course, marijuana. The result has been that, according to a recent Pew Research poll, a majority of Americans now say marijuana should be legal.

But some people just don't want to give it up. In response to Holder's announcement, a coalition of organizations of law enforcement officers wrote to Holder, slamming the decision in terms reminiscent of Reefer Madness. Marijuana, they declare, "can be directly tied to violent crime." It causes depression, suicidal thoughts, attention deficit issues; it's a "gateway drug" leading to "communities crippled by drug abuse and addiction," increasing crime, and more mayhem on the highways.

This makes law enforcement, they solemnly intone, "infinitely harder."

Actually, what it will make "infinitely harder" and I suspect the real reason for their spittle-flecked outrage, is padding their budgets by keeping a large portion of the assets they seize during drug raids, even if charges are never brought. It's called civil asset forfeiture and I've talked about it before. What's more, federal grants for drug war operations make up a sizable portion of local law enforcement funding, funding that has turned even small-city police forces into something more like militarized combat units complete with heavy body armor and sometimes, armored vehicles.

The shift from neighborhood police to paramilitary occupation force is another outgrowth of the war on drugs - and I strongly suspect that the cops and the others who were so outraged by Holder's announcement were more concerned about being kicked off the gravy train than about being faced with mythical hordes of violent, suicidal, hopheads.

Still, they are right about one thing: Holder's decision opens the door to other states to take steps toward legalization, looking to the same treatment as Washington and Colorado have gotten. Ten states are considered the most likely to make such moves. They make up an interesting collection of red and blue states. They are, alphabetically: Alaska, Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

The war on drugs: another one that desperately calls for an exit strategy.


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