Flash back a few years to the old Miller Lite commercials where they’d show two people asking to watch two different sports on TV, then a third guy says, “Let’s watch both” and then taps a bottle of beer on the TV which automagically tunes to a channel where the announcer says “Miller Lite presents…” followed by an improbable combination of two sports such as “Full Contact Golf.”
Well, that commercial played through my mind yesterday as I pondered whether I needed to write a long-overdue article about the failure of drug prohibition, or yet another article about an incredibly dumb police blunder. And then, I see a mention of this crazy story on my Twitter stream. Why not write about both, in one post?
The cops haul their prize load of over 300 plants into the station, and start testing them, only to get the biggest surprise of all: these were just ordinary weeds, not pot. (Specifically, horse mint.) Corpus Christi’s finest, indeed. It’s amazing how much yard work cops will do when they think they have pot plants.
Of course, were we to handle drugs as a social problem, not a legal problem, there would be nothing for the cops to do about these weeds, whether they were the weed (pot) or just garden variety. Indeed, there are many organizations specifically formed for the legalization of marijuana, and others not actually part of the organization that at least support the legalization of marijuana even if most other currently illicit drugs remain prohibited. Before I had to start paring down the accounts I was following on Twitter, I had been following the Twitter accounts of several such organizations (I don’t even have their sites bookmarked here, but I could probably find many of them again). Groups like Drug Policy Alliance are in a small minority, but it doesn’t make their arguments any less valid.
So you wonder why I’m in favor of ending drug prohibition. No, it’s not because I want to go down to my corner store and pick up a bag of cocaine or heroin the same way I get a 12-pack of beer. It’s because of the answers I get when I pose the simple question: what has drug prohibition actually done for us?
For one, it’s given many jurisdictions a convenient excuse to hire many, if not an excess of, police officers. These cops wind up doing things like writing traffic tickets during the inevitable lull in “real crime.” More often than not, the traffic stops are rarely about safety, but often an excuse to conduct warrantless searches of vehicles. Any contraband found during a consent search usually results in a conviction. For details, see the videos at flexyourrights.org; I’ll summarize here by saying usually it is a bad idea to consent to a search (this includes allowing police to enter your premises without a warrant).
Next, when the cops and prosecutors successfully do their new jobs, we, the taxpayers, wind up footing the bill for the prison stays of most of these drug users, space that could be better used housing real career criminals that actually do pose a real danger to society. (Some do get probation but even then the probation departments still wind up having to spend money on drug testing and programs like the SAFP (Substance Abuse Felony Penalty) program in Harris County, which could arguably be better utilized on reducing the caseloads of rank-and-file probation officers by hiring more of them.)
Another aspect of drug prohibition is that it artificially drives up the cost of the now-prohibited drugs. This means that for the junkies to keep getting their fix, they wind up committing other crimes such as theft and fraud. So yes, you’re reading this right: the drug prohibition laws actually cause more crime, not only from the prohibition of possession and manufacture, but also as a side effect from the inflated prices.
Finally, there’s one more effect that needs to be said, even though it’s probably the aspect I honestly feel least comfortable talking about. The measure of career success of most prosecuting attorneys is how many cases they have won, and such things as having lost few cases. This is usually accomplished by aggressively “trumping up” charges and getting clients to plea bargain down to a lesser offense, often more serious than one the evidence actually supports. The fewer cases that go to trial, the better the “batting average” for the prosecutor, as once charged, the only path to “not guilty” is through trial. The more cases get handled by plea bargain, the more cases the courts can handle; a prosecutor that lets too many cases go to trial is likely not to build favor with judges and have a short career as a prosecuting attorney.
I don’t disagree with plea bargains in principle. However, they make the enforcement of unjust laws even more unjust than they already are, and serve to skew the perception of the fairness of the court system to the average citizen when used to enforce unjust laws.
While I agree in principle with the idea of limiting recreational drug use to an acceptable level, I believe drug prohibition has failed to accomplish this and in many cases has made the problem worse. The Corpus Christi incident only serves to underscore this colossal failure. I’m sure there are others like it, that this is neither the first such case, nor will it likely be the last.
Drug prohibition: just say no.