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 â€” 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 â€” 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) â€œBe 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. 90â€“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 â€œrepeatedly attempting to engage passersby in conversation[.]â€ Anyone who attempts to flag down taxicabs violates the Ordinance by â€œ[r]epeatedly stopping or attempting to stop motor vehicles[.]â€ If an individual stops people on the sidewalk to conduct a public survey, he is â€œrepeatedly interfering with the free passage of other persons[.]â€ Somebody who hands out fliers in public or collects donations is â€œrepeatedly passing to or receiving from passersby … money or objects[.]â€ A person who walks in the opposite direction of a police officer that he observes could be considered to be â€œtaking flight upon the approach or appearance of a police officer[.]â€ A person who is present in an area where drug arrests have occurred or drug-dealers have visited, can be arrested for â€œbeing at a location frequented by persons who use, possess or sell drugs.â€ 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…
â€œDid you really think that we want those laws to be observed? We want them broken. Youâ€™d better get it straight that itâ€™s not a bunch of boy scouts youâ€™re up against . . . Weâ€™re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and youâ€™d better get wise to it. Thereâ€™s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there arenâ€™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? Whatâ€™s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted â€“ and you create a nation of law-breakers â€“ and then you cash in on guilt. Now thatâ€™s the system, Mr. Rearden, and once you understand it, youâ€™ll be much easier to deal with.â€ â€” Floyd Ferris, Director of the State Science Institute