Dope Fiends

I’m personally ambivalent about medical marijuana. I am reasonably certain that most people who would like to have medical marijuana really don’t have a medical need for it, but we’ll leave that aside. What’s more clear is that the people who are really hooked on drugs are those who are enforcing the drug laws for fun and profit:

In her push to legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota, Rep. Carly Melin expected there would be tough negotiations and, inevitably, some compromise on the fine points of the proposal. That seemed a reasonable assumption, given the hard line opposition from many of the state’s law enforcement leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton’s insistence that lawmakers need to get those top cops on board before he signs on.The negotiations haven’t been tough, she said, they have been virtually non-existent:  “It’s like negotiating with a brick wall. All along I have said that I am willing to amend the bill. But they won’t move at all.”

Why is that? As always, follow the money:

“They wouldn’t discuss any specific provisions and said they had a blanket opposition to medical marijuana,” Melin recalled. She took note of one objection voiced at the meeting but not mentioned in the coalition’s 10-page, bullet-point laden white paper: concern about the impact the measure might have on police budgets.According to Melin, Dennis Flaherty, the executive director of the MPPOA, explicitly told her that he was worried that legalization — in any form — could lead to harmful reductions in the federal grants that are an important funding source for many police agencies.

After all, you need some serious jack for stuff like this:

St. Cloud Shock and Awe

And there’s a lot of money riding on asset forfeiture as well:

For those police who see medicinal marijuana as gateway legislation, the financial implications of change are real. In Washington, where recreational marijuana is legal, police are already complaining they’ve been forced to slash budgets because they can no longer rely on any revenue from marijuana-related asset seizures. A drug task force in one county cut its budget by 15 percent to compensate for the lost revenue.In 2012, police in Minnesota seized approximately $8.3 million of cash and property under the state’s forfeiture law, according to a report from the Office of the State Auditor. About 47 percent of those forfeitures were related to controlled substance violations, with most of the rest associated with drunk driving.

Well, surely they are taking the money away from the drug kingpins, right? It’s the Mexican cartels that are really feeling the pinch on this, of course. Guess again:

According to Lee McGrath, an attorney with the libertarian Institute for Justice, Minnesota law enforcement agencies netted nearly $30 million between 2003 and 2010 through the use of forfeiture.“What is most offensive in Minnesota is that you can be acquitted in criminal court and still lose your car or your cash in civil court,” McGrath said. “The only people defending the current law are in law enforcement. Everybody else is offended by the idea.”While forfeiture was sold to the public as a good way to hit drug kingpins and gang leaders in the wallet, McGrath said, Minnesota law enforcement mostly use forfeiture to target small game. “No Colombian drug lords are being busted under this law. The average seizure in Minnesota is worth $1,253,” he said.McGrath, as well as some liberal and libertarian-minded lawmakers, want to prohibit the use of forfeiture in the absence of a criminal conviction or admission of guilt. Rep. Susan Allen and Sen. Dave Thompson have proposed such legislation.

People, and organizations, respond to incentives. If you make asset acquisition a key metric in law enforcement, you get stories like this one, from the local paper:

A driver slurred his order at the fast-food drive-thru in the 1100 block of Silver Lake Road the night of Jan. 31, so the passenger gave it a try. “He was incoherent,” the employee said after she called police.  The driver, a 33-year-old Fridley man, failed FSTs and blew a .21 percent BAC on the Data Master. His vehicle was impounded for forfeiture, his license plates were destroyed and he was booked at the Ramsey County Jail on a gross-misdemeanor third-degree DWI charge.

Happens all the time. Should it? I have no problem with booking the guy on a DWI charge. Taking his car away? Yeah, that’s a problem. And if you’re some dude with a roach in your vehicle and you get pulled over for a tail light, the cops could impound your car, too. We need to ask if this is a proper role for law enforcement.