The “War on Drugs” is a term that having worked as a Texas peace officer but also being much more liberal and open-minded than most officers has really troubled me. And, after seeing the astounding report that almost 1% of the entire United States population is currently in jail or prison caused this me to really want to speak out and voice his opinion on this. By no means do I expect that my point of view is novel or that I am really offering any information than that published before me; however, I am hopeful that as more people read and get informed, they will push their legislators for change, or at a minimum develop a greater sense of tolerance and understanding and stop spending billions of dollars on this unwinnable “war” and that they will start remembering their rights when encountering the police and using those rights to protect themselves by just saying “No” to police requests to search!
The War on Drugs refers to governmental programs intended to suppress the consumption of certain recreational drugs. First used by US President, Richard Nixon, in 1972 to describe US’s programs, equivalent terms are now used in many countries and are prevalent throughout law enforcement communities and court houses.
The War on Drugs utilizes several techniques to achieve its goal of eliminating recreational drug use:
1) Specialized law enforcement agencies–officers and techniques;
2) Information campaigns to educate the public on the dangers of drug use;
3) Sometimes questionable searches and seizures that may violate the 4th Amendment to the United State Constitution;
4) Incarceration of thousands.
A review of multiple articles has demonstrated that the federal government spends several billion dollars on this “war” annually. A number that I have seen multiple times is $17,000,000,000.00. That is about the same amount of money poured into the Food Stamps Program which is used to provide food to poor Americans. This is also about the same amount of money spent on the US’ General Sciences, Space, and Technology budget.
However, this number is not the actual financial cost, when things like salaries for local law enforcement officers, prosecutors, correctional officers, and other staff members are factored in. Or, if one factors in the costs of jailing persons convicted of drug offense and transporting the drugs that are seized to be destroyed, no to mention the fee for destroying them (must be done in an environmentally approved way-EPA). Some numbers have run as high as $60 billion dollars when everything is factored in.
These statistics are almost ten years old, but some federal government figures show that 24-34% of the prison population is locked-away for drug offenses. Now, I have not sorted through that statistics to determine what percent of prisoners are there for possession versus committing a separate crime, but I would be willing to wager that the numbers would be astounding.
In short, I am interested in these sorts of issues not only because I am an attorney, but because as a law enforcement officer, I daily encountered the opportunity to stop and search people that may possess drugs. Overall, my approach was far more forgiving than many of my fellow officers who made it their personal goal to arrest persons that may be in possession of narcotics, and believe me, I have seen this taken to an extreme interpretation. For example, one pill for Xanex that was in the bottom of a ladies purse was used to file “possession” charges on her, a felony. In the end, the charge was dismissed because the bottle was found and it was her husband’s prescription that she had taken to have filled and it had spilled in her purse. But, this was not without the toll on her family and finances in defending against this case. No, I did not make that arrest, but I heard about it and just shook my head.
If I stopped someone, it was very rare for me to attempt to search their vehicle by consent or otherwise. My view on the matter was that if they were going about their daily life in a way that their actions did not intrude on the public or create a direct hazard, I was not going to pry. And, possession of a very minor amount led me to believe that the person was just a casual user. Yes, it is possible that this person could lead to their dealer which could lead to a bigger dealer, but realistically, it was just not a fight that I ever found value in. Of course, arguments can be made on both sides of the law and will continue to be made. It really troubles me that the United States, which was founded on so many principles of freedom and self-liberty has succumb to an almost over-whelming attitude of “big brother protectionism”.
My overall goal in writing this article is just to point out that there is so much discretion involved at the law enforcement level that I would like to see more of a balance and equal enforcement implemented, but figuring out how to do that is next to impossible. Notice, this article never focused on issues like “racial profiling” and such which is unfortunately still very prevalent in this country and an abhorrent practice used by many officers. To some, anything that is used in the “war on drugs” is acceptable because it is a “war”… I’ve actually heard that statement made.
But, as an attorney, I just want to reiterate one very important right that we have as a society: SAY NO – to officers asking to search your vehicle. If they do not have probable cause to be in the car or in your house, the only way they may legally access it is by developing the probable cause and obtaining a search warrant or with your PERMISSION/CONSENT… so just say NO… do not fall victim to the “Well, if you don’t let me search, I am just going to call a K-9″….
Bottom line, if an officer finds something with a K-9, the punishment is no more severe than if you give permission to rummage through your belongings. So remember, start using your rights and say “NO” to requests by police to search.
I graduated from Texas Tech University School of Law in May, 2002, and was licensed to practice law in Texas that November, following the July, 2002, Texas Bar Exam. Prior to that, I obtained my Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Texas at Tyler and my first years of undergraduate work were spent at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, where I learned the true passion of humanity-recognizing we are all part of one great society.
I worked in the Travis County Attorney’s Office from August, 2002, until October, 2003, when I entered into private practice with a mid-size Austin civil litigation firm, where I enhanced my skills for legal research, writing, motion practice, and working with insurance companies from the defense perspective.