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How Our Absurd Drug War Hurts Everyone

The war on drugs takes taxpayers' finite law-enforcement resources away from fighting real crimes on and off Wall Street, and instead concentrates it on punishing pot use.
 
 
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Something as massive and amorphous as America’s War on Drugs can be difficult to imagine in concrete terms. This web of failed policies is so huge, so persistent and so deeply woven into the fabric of our nation that it’s hard to envision an alternative — or even appreciate what the conflict is currently siphoning resources away from.

That’s why the past week has been so important for the cause of ending the drug war — because it has provided three tragic examples of how that war harms not only its dead and/or incarcerated victims, but also how it makes society as a whole more susceptible to horrific crimes.

In Boulder, Colo., for example, the  Daily Camera reports that “the University of Colorado announced a new plan to snuff out the Boulder campus’s 4/20 smoke-out, warning that police will ticket pot smokers at this month’s event.” In a state whose police forces have faced  serious budget cuts, this decision clearly reflects a hardcore War on Drugs ideology by removing finite police resources from safety and security operations and instead focusing them on punishing pot use.

That’s a key point: Focusing police resources on safety is distinctly different than focusing them on the drug war. As the Camera notes, the new policy is “a more aggressive enforcement tactic than in years past, when officers mostly monitored the crowd for safety reasons.” Underscoring that point, notice that one day after the CU announcement, the same newspaper reported that the area near the university campus is experiencing an  intense wave of burglaries. Rather than announce a serious crackdown on that crime wave, though, the university is choosing to spend taxpayers’ limited police resources on stopping pot smokers.

Back on the East Coast, there’s a similar trend. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi reports on new evidence that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not only used  CIA tactics to target ethnic communities, but also marshaled his massive police force to expand the so-called “Clean Halls program” in which police enter private apartment buildings to conduct preemptive surveillance. Coupled with Bloomberg’s expansion of racially charged “stop and frisks” aimed  almost exclusively at prosecuting  minorities who smoke weed, the “Clean Halls” program looks like yet another instrument of the War on Drugs.

As Taibbi says, this is not just a problem for the people being harassed by Bloomberg’s storm troopers, but for all Americans, because it takes finite law-enforcement resources away from fighting crime in other parts of New York — specifically, on Wall Street:

We have two definitely connected phenomena, often treated as separate and unconnected: a growing lawlessness in the financial sector, and an expanding, repressive, increasingly lunatic police apparatus trained at the poor, and especially the nonwhite poor. In recent years, as Wall Street firms turned into veritable felony factories, we had pundits and politicians who cranked out reams of excuses for one white-collar criminal after another and argued, in complete seriousness, that sending a rich banker to jail “wouldn’t solve anything” and in fact we should “tolerate the excesses” of the productive rich, who “channel opportunity” to the rest of us. On the other hand, we’ve had politicians and pundits in budget fights and other controversies railing against the parasitic poor, who are not only not “productive” enough to warrant a break, but assumed to be actively unproductive (they consume our tax money and public services) and therefore sort of guilty in advance.

Finally, there was Oakland, Calif. — one of the most blatant examples of how resources fueling the drug war could have been used to try to prevent a tragedy. Recounting two near-simultaneous events in the city last week, retired police officer  Neill Franklin relates how law enforcement officials were swarming to crush medical marijuana oulets at the very moment innocent civilians were gunned down on Oikos University’s campus only a few blocks away: