4 Shady Ways Police Bust People For Drugs
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On Wednesday, the city of Berkeley filed a claim against the federal government’s move to file asset forfeiture against the landlord of Berkeley’s largest medical marijuana dispensary. The tactic, which threatens landlords with the state’s ability to seize their property, has been used many times in the federal government’s war on state-sanctioned medical marijuana.
“It is time for the federal government to wake up and stop these asset forfeiture actions," Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates wrote in a press release. "Berkeley Patients Group has complied with the rules and caused no problems in the City. The federal government should not use its scarce resources to harass local law-abiding businesses."
Needless to say, the tactic has drawn criticism from activists and locals alike. Last month, the US Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution asking the federal government to butt out of local marijuana policy.
Drug policy reformers, including retired police officers with the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition ( LEAP), point to asset forfeiture as one of the more oppressive tactics in the drug war. Because it allows the state to claim ownership of property, and police departments receive federal grants for prioritizing drug arrests, it puts a big price tag on a drug bust.
The monetary value of a drug bust and the use of quotas create a by-any-means-necessary incentive for drug arrests.
"Civil asset forfeiture laws allow police to take property from anyone by merely alleging that the property was used in the commission of a drug violation. No one has to be charged with a crime—they often charge the property directly because property doesn't have constitutional protections. Then they will sell the property, and keep the proceeds within the department. This creates an incentive to government to perpetuate the drug war, despite undeniable evidence of its many failures,” retired police captain and LEAP speaker Peter Christ told AlterNet.
Here are four recent examples of the ridiculous lengths to which some cops will go to procure drug arrests.
1. Fake Checkpoints
The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that establishing traffic checkpoints to search for illegal drugs violates the 4th Amendment. Nonetheless, police in the Cleveland, Ohio suburb of Mayfield Heights erected big yellow signs on the Interstate, warning drivers that a drug checkpoint ahead would include drug-sniffing dogs.
As the AP reported, “There was no such checkpoint, just police officers waiting to see if any drivers would react suspiciously after seeing the signs.” They reportedly stopped four people, made some arrests and seized some drugs, but “declined to be more specific,” the AP said. It is unclear whether establishing a fake checkpoint violates the case law, which holds that traffic check points may exist only to look for drunk drivers and prevent undocumented immigrants and illegal contraband from entering the country. Dominic Vitantonio, a Mayfield Heights assistant prosecutor, said of the tricky maneuver, "We should be applauded for doing this," adding, "It's a good thing."
Others aren’t so sure. The Cleveland ACLU is reportedly investigating the situation. “I don't think it accomplishes any public safety goals," said Terry Gilbert, a prominent Cleveland civil rights attorney. "I don't think it's good to mislead the population for any reason if you're a government agency."
2. Teaching Cops Legal Loopholes
Meanwhile, in California, the CA Narcotics Officers’ Association (CNOA) recently hosted a class (closed to the public) teaching officers how to undermine California’s voter-approved, decade-old medical marijuana program. That’s because, despite research to the contrary and the will of the voters, “There is no justification for using marijuana as a medicine,” CNOA claims.