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August 2003



*Labor Day Reading…*

Labor Day Reading… I will be leaving for far northern Wisconsin this weekend, away from WiFi and cell phone reception, to visit my sister at her new log home, so I won’t be posting. However, I leave you with reading assignments. Check out Jacob Sullum’s article in Reason: Altered Minds: Former drug warriors turn against […]

*Meth / Speed / Crystal…

Meth / Speed / Crystal / Glass / Crank /Tweak / Yaba / Ice Peoria Pundit notes that two bills were signed by the Governor of Illinois this week to combat methamphetamine production (As Bill says “Yeah, well, that ought to solve the problem.”) These actually join other bills which were passed earlier this summer. […]

*Who is the United States…

Who is the United States Drug Czar? In looking through my referral logs today, I realized that an unusual number of people today were googling the phrase “Who is the United States Drug Czar?” And they’re coming to my site looking for this information. Perhaps it’s an assignment for a class? Well, I thought I’d […]

*Law Enforcement’s Drug of Choice*

Law Enforcement’s Drug of Choice

Civil asset forfeiture is the most infamous game in law enforcement. In its pure form, seizing the luxury cars, boats, homes and cash of drug dealers can be a useful tool in taking profit out of crime. But in the real world, far too many police and sheriff’s offices use it to finance and enrich their operations, leading to startling abuses.

This is the beginning of “Law Enforcement’s Drug of Choice” – an article by Robyn Blumner which appeared in yesterday’s Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (originally published in the St. Petersburg Times on Aug. 17 as “Police too addicted to lure of easy money”).

Civil Forfeiture is one of the many abuses that have been linked to the government’s war on (some) drugs. Criminal Forfeiture requires that a defendent be convicted of a crime, and then their assets under certain situations may be seized. Civil Forfeiture, on the other hand, is a delightfully imaginative perversion of the Constitution which essentially states that:

You have $1,000 cash in your car.
Nobody has $1,000 cash unless they’re dealing drugs.
The money obviously must be guilty of being involved in a drug transaction
Money is not a person, and therefore is not entitled to constitutional rights or the same proof of guilt. You would have to prove that the money is not guilty.
We’re not going to charge you with a crime, because we have no evidence. However, we’ve determined your money is guilty, so we’re taking it.
Now we can buy that new radio for the police car we’ve wanted.

Obviously, civil forfeiture had to be very creative, and, once again, the government got through the objections of the courts by claiming that it’s a necessary tool for law enforcement to rid the country of the evil of drugs. And, once again, the Supreme Court grudgingly bought it, somehow deciding that the government’s assertions were more important than a couple of paragraphs written a long time ago…

Amendment IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment V: …nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

As this civil forfeiture became popular, law enforcement realized that this was a potential goldmine to cover budget shortages or to increase staffing, or buy equipment (since the seized assets went to the law enforcement units). Soon, many units were dependent on a certain amount of seizures each year to meet the expanded budgets. This blatant conflict of interest has made it profitable to target arrests based on potential seizures (see the case of Donald P. Scott on my Drug War Victims page for a horrible example of this).
The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, made possible by an amazingly diverse group of Senators, Representatives and organizations, reformed some of the problems, by shifting some of the burden of proof to the government and making it easier to reclaim improperly seized assets. However, the profit motive still exists.
Blumner continues by noting that, in order to try to curb the profit motive and stop abuse,

“Numerous states have enacted laws diverting some or all of asset-seizure profits into a state general fund or other specialized fund… But for nearly 20 years, the federal government has colluded with local law enforcement to skirt state law and put the money back into the pockets of the seizing agency.
Under the process known as adoption, the Justice Department actively encourages local policing agencies to turn over their seized assets. The department will then do the forfeiture and return 80 percent of seizure proceeds to the local agency. So for a mere 20 percent off the top, any pesky state laws can be circumvented.

Yes, the federal government flagrantly bypasses state law for profit!
There’s an organization leading the fight against civil forfeiture, called Forfeiture Endangers American Rights Foundation (F.E.A.R.). They’ve got a ton of resources on their site, including case law and background. Check out the Legal Information Institute’s article LII Backgrounder on Forfeiture for a good overview of the subject. Also of interest is “The Next Stage of Forfeiture Reform” by Eric D. Blumenson and Eva Nilsen, which gives some concrete suggestions for overturning forfeiture provisions, through legal defense strategies, and legislative efforts.
Oh, by the way… you might think that the reform act of 2000 had us headed toward reform… but that was before Patriot Act 1 and 2, Victory Act…

*Bolivia: Drug War Casualties*

Bolivia: Drug War Casualties

Graham Gori’s AP report in yesterday’s New York Newsday on life in Bolivia during the drug war…

Ibuelo Alto, Bolivia – One morning in April, Hilaria Perez Prado began her day as always: hoping soldiers wouldn’t burst from the jungle and tear her farm to pieces.
They did come, though. They trampled her fields. And then one shot her in the chest as they left.

He goes on to relate how Washington has spent $470 million on “Plan Dignity.”

They yanked out more than a billion plants. Bolivia went from supplying half of the United States’ cocaine demand – the crop brought an estimated $500 million into this country of 8 million people each year – to supplying very little. American diplomats called Plan Dignity their most successful anti-narcotics mission ever in South America.
But bananas, manioc root and other crops urged on peasant growers haven’t proved profitable because few buyers come to these isolated regions, and farmers have begun drifting back to coca. Coca production in Bolivia is up 23 percent since 2001, the White House Drug Policy Office says.
So anti-drug efforts have been intensified, bringing an escalation in tensions and conflict between soldiers and peasants.
Farmers plant homemade land mines in coca fields and put rat poison in low-hanging fruit in hopes soldiers will eat them. Troops sometimes resort to gunfire.

The farmers are hungry.

Stanley Schrager, former director of the narcotics section at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, isn’t sympathetic to the argument that farmers must grow coca to survive.
“There is an idea out there – I call it the myth of the innocent coca farmer – that he is simply trying to put food on the table to feed his kids,” Schrager said. “But in reality he is at the beginning of a chain of events that ultimately leads to the drug trade and drug addiction in the United States, and thus bears some responsibility for the ruined lives which are the result.”

Thus the drug warriors exhibit, at the expense of the farmers, their lack of understanding of the failure of supply reduction. If you want to see what supply reduction looks like graphically, click here.

*New Links and Blogging Milestones…*

New Links and Blogging Milestones… It’s been an interesting day, coming out of a delightful weekend in my blog world. First, I met Jeff Trigg of RandomActOfKindness, a very bright and articulate defender of civil liberties who has a category on Decriminalization. Well, I met him in the blogosphere, but it was still great, and […]

*Tulia – 35 Pardoned!*

Tulia – 35 Pardoned! On Friday, Texas Governor Rick Perry pardoned 35 people who had been convicted due to an atrocious abuse of drug war tactics, a corrupt undercover deputy, and prosecutorial misconduct, which resulted in the 1999 arrest of 10% of this small town’s black population on drug charges without evidence. Within hours of […]

*Odds and Ends around the…

Odds and Ends around the Drug Reform Community Visit the Drug Policy Alliance Action Center. This is a great way to get involved easily. The site gives you specific action items regarding current legislative bills or issues, and one-click ways to send pre-written (or your own) letters, faxes, or emails to your Congresssional representatives or […]

*”Patriot Act, Victory Act, Despot…

“Patriot Act, Victory Act, Despot Act” “The cause we have chosen is just.” With these words, John Ashcroft kicks off his tour to defend the destruction of American freedom. Attorney General John Ashcroft is giving more than a dozen speeches around the country at taxpayer expense to promote the Patriot Act; and a new even […]

*Reactions to story on Canadian…

Reactions to story on Canadian MPs The Globe and Mail had some followups today on the story of MPs asking John Walter’s office to help defeat a Canadian marijuana bill. The editorial staff, while avoiding full condemnation, observed that “They look like sneaks, and deserve to be criticized.” A delightful letter to the editor gave […]