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One of the side effects of the drug war - making everything illegal

It has always amazed me the extent to which legislators (and the drug war industry) go way beyond criminalizing drug possession and sale, to the point of creatively finding ways to criminalize all sorts of other activities.

Part of this is the difficulty of “catching” people in victimless crimes, so they need extra ways to charge people, so they can pile on charges and possible turn arrestees into snitches.

Paraphernalia was the big one, of course. The notion of making a piece of glass illegal simply because it’s shaped in a way that could be used to smoke marijuana, is patently absurd. Or getting additional charges because you possess Baggies or a postal scale.

Then there’s the problem catching people actually selling drugs. No problem — don’t require a sale. Simply make a certain quantity “proof” of intent to sell (and then keep reducing that quantity).

Here’s a thought — who needs the drugs anyway? In some places you can arrest people for possession of look-alike drugs if the substance is packed in a manner to resemble a real drug.

Prosecutors have added money laundering charges to a simple drug sale (saying that merely receiving the money is enough to qualify), and even charged meth lab owners with manufacturing a nuclear or chemical weapon.

At one point, until the Supreme Court reversed, simply having cash hidden in your car, and driving toward Mexico, was evidence of money laundering.

Eugene Volokh, writing at The Volokh Conspiracy, writes about another drug war excess: making it illegal to (Among Other Things) “Be[] at a Location Frequented by Persons Who Use, Possess or Sell Drugs

Winston-Salem, N.C., had an ordinance that provided,

(b) It shall be unlawful for a person to remain or wander about in a public place under circumstances manifesting the purpose to engage in a violation of the North Carolina Controlled Substances Act, G.S. 90–89 et seq. Such circumstances are:
(1) Repeatedly beckoning to, stopping or attempting to stop passersby, or repeatedly attempting to engage passersby in conversation;

(2) Repeatedly stopping or attempting to stop motor vehicles;

(3) Repeatedly interfering with the free passage of other persons;

(4) Such person behaving in such a manner as to raise a reasonable suspicion that he is about to engage in or is engaged in an unlawful drug-related activity;

(5) Such person repeatedly passing to or receiving from passersby, whether on foot or in a vehicle, money or objects;

(6) Such person taking flight upon the approach or appearance of a police officer; or

(7) Such person being at a location frequented by persons who use, possess or sell drugs.

Fortunately, the North Carolina Court of Appeals struck this down last week.

The court noted the absurdity of the endless possibilities that could result from the law:

Thus, the Ordinance permits the police to arrest a person who socializes at a community event for “repeatedly attempting to engage passersby in conversation[.]” Anyone who attempts to flag down taxicabs violates the Ordinance by “[r]epeatedly stopping or attempting to stop motor vehicles[.]” If an individual stops people on the sidewalk to conduct a public survey, he is “repeatedly interfering with the free passage of other persons[.]” Somebody who hands out fliers in public or collects donations is “repeatedly passing to or receiving from passersby … money or objects[.]” A person who walks in the opposite direction of a police officer that he observes could be considered to be “taking flight upon the approach or appearance of a police officer[.]” A person who is present in an area where drug arrests have occurred or drug-dealers have visited, can be arrested for “being at a location frequented by persons who use, possess or sell drugs.” Accordingly, we hold the Ordinance to be unconstitutionally overbroad

This is just one more reminder of one of the most insidious tactics of the drug war: criminalize everything, so anyone can be subject to the threat of arrest.

Regardless of what you may think of Ayn Rand, or “Atlas Shrugged,” it’s hard not to think of the oft-used quote from that book…

“Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed? We want them broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against . . . We’re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.” — Floyd Ferris, Director of the State Science Institute

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9 comments to One of the side effects of the drug war – making everything illegal

  • InsanityRules

    Too bad they overturned this law. If nothing else, it sounds like it finally banned those egregious DUI checkpoints:

    (2) Repeatedly stopping or attempting to stop motor vehicles;

    (3) Repeatedly interfering with the free passage of other persons;

    Of course that would only occur if those enforcing the laws were compelled to abide by them. Yeah, right…

  • Nick

    Hi Pete.
    This post reminded me of something. I hope you don’t mind me spreading it here. It was found by one of Michigan’s MMMA bloggers.

    Don’t Talk to Police Part 1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8z7NC5sgik

    Don’t Talk to Police Part 2
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08fZQWjDVKE

    Spread the word people. They are not on your side.

  • kant

    The one that scares me the most is

    (4) Such person behaving in such a manner as to raise a reasonable suspicion that he is about to engage in or is engaged in an unlawful drug-related activity;

    This means (if i’m reading it right) that suspicion alone constitutes a crime.

    although 7 is a close second.

    (7) Such person being at a location frequented by persons who use, possess or sell drugs.

  • kant,

    It’s called “preventive detention.” It’s supposed to be prohibited by the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a speedy trial, but it’s been in use at Guantanamo Bay for quite awhile.

  • @kant: And why couldn’t the drug-related activity in (4) be (7). “Come with us. We have reasonable suspicion you were about to enter a rock concert.”

  • Stephen Young

    Winston Salem laws apparently inspired Woody Guthrie to write a song many years ago (see the second to last line). Seems things haven’t changed too much.

    Against Th’ Law

    It´s aginst th´ law to walk, It´s aginst th´ law to talk
    It´s against th´ law to loaf, It´s aginst th´ law to work
    It´s aginst th´ law to read, It´s aginst th´ law to write
    It´s aginst th´ law to be a black or brown or white.

    Ever´thing’s aginst th´ law
    I´m a low pay daddy singing th´ high price blues

    It´s aginst th´ law to eat, It´s aginst th´ law to drink
    It´s aginst th´ law to worry, It´s aginst th´ law to think
    It´s aginst th´ law to marry or to try to settle down
    It´s aginst th´ law to ramble like a bum from town to town

    Ever´thing’s aginst th´ law
    I´m a low pay daddy singing th´ high price blues

    It´s aginst th´ law to come, It´s against th´ law to go
    It´s against th´ law to ride, It´s against th´ law to roll
    It´s aginst th´ law to hug, It´s against th´ law to kiss
    It´s against th´ law to shoot, It´s against th´ law to miss

    Ever´thing’s aginst th´ law
    I´m a low pay daddy singing th´ high price blues

    It´s aginst th´ law to gamble, It´s aginst th´ law to roam
    It´s aginst th´ law to organize or try to build a home
    It´s aginst th´ law to sing, It´s aginst th´ law to dance
    It´s aginst th´ law to tell you th´ trouble on my hands

    Ever’thing in Winston Salem is aginst th’ law
    I’ma low pay daddy singin’ th’ high price blues.

  • R.O.E.

    Why dont they just make it illegal to be human that way they can stop anyone anytime for anything.

    Good God! What is happening to this country?!

  • Servetus

    There’s an inverse of Ayn Rand’s concept (the anti-Rand?): make one thing illegal that everyone has in common so that it’s possible to arrest anyone for anything.

    Example: A cop wants to arrest someone for having blue eyes, so the officer busts them for possessing pot. Brown-eyed people go free, unless they meet cops who don’t like brown eyes. Then the brown-eyes get busted for pot. Intended result: the green-eyed cops take over the world, even though the green-eyed cops smoke more pot than anybody else on the planet.

  • R.O.E.

    Nick:
    Thanks for posting that. Its official to me any way. You can be arrested at any time for anything for any reason. We have lawed our selves out of FREEDOM.