Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Drugs: Another Failed War

The thing about wars is that you need enemies in order to have them.  But what if you don’t have any enemies?  No worries; you can just make them up.  That’s what New York police did so they could wage their war on drugs.  Their first tactic was nothing new: they simply stole drugs from real drug busts and then planted those drugs on innocent people.  This helped them make their arrest quotas and kept their war on drugs going.  But their second tactic was a little more creative.

The police realized that they didn’t have to go through all the trouble of actually planting the evidence.  All they had to do was to approach people on the street and order them to empty their purses or pockets.  According to this article, a first offense for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana is not criminal in New York; therefore, many of the people that the police approached, not surprisingly, had small amounts of marijuana in their purses or pockets.  But when these people complied with the police order to take their marijuana out of their purses and pockets, they were displaying the drug in public, which, according to this article, is a crime.

This is a crafty variation on another police tactic that is commonly used to justify entering a person’s home without a warrant.  What the police do is create an exigent circumstance, and then use the exigency that they just created to enter the home under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement.  And this tactic is legal under many circumstances

But New York's war on drugs has turned out to be a costly one, for sure.  Not only are resources being dedicated to creating low-level crime, but real crime that already exists is necessarily being ignored.  And, because many of the police actions were flat-out illegal, the war on drugs is hitting New York right in the pocketbook, as the city has already paid people to settle their civil lawsuits.

It's time for New York to find a new war to wage.  

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