Friday, February 13, 2009

The Horror! The Terror! The Evil! Reefer Madness

An Older Article from the November 2008 Tufts Observer.

What’s the worst thing about the war on marijuana? It’s not that I can’t smoke because of it; I’m able to find weed pretty much everywhere I go without even looking too damn hard. The worst thing about the war on drugs, for me at least, is its creation of an unjust contempt for the legal system and the people who are a part of it.

I shouldn’t hate the police. I’m a white, upper-middle class student who obeys every law, except the occasional parking ticket… and the whole weed thing. Any decent society would probably embrace me as an example for the masses of how to abide by the rules.

Unfortunately, however, that’s obviously not the case. A lot of time and effort (and money, lots and lots of money) have been put in by law enforcement agencies to villify and eradicate my drug of choice. As a result, I’m scared of the police and have grown to feel nothing but disdain for them.

Of course my story is still a happy one (knock on wood for me). I have yet to have any serious confrontation with a police officer, aside from a minor brush in with a rather portly Somerville fuzz who told me that my disrespect was the reason he “was going to go home and choke [his] wife.”

I am the majority; the dope toker who has never been forced to grab his ankles by the system. But many have. The two cases I often point to are those of Cory Maye and Ryan Frederick.

On the surface, these men have little in common. Cory is a poor black single father from Mississippi who worked hard to get himself and his daughter out of the slum they were living in and into a better, safer neighborhood. Ryan is a white guy from Chesapeake, VA who was an avid gardener and worked for a soft drink merchandiser.

In early 2001, Cory Maye was at home with his infant daughter when a group of men burst through his front door. Maye rushed to his bedroom and loaded a legal, registered pistol he kept in the house for protection. He then ran into his daughter’s bedroom, were he hid with her in a corner. One of the men then kicked in the door to the room, and was shot by Maye.

The man who burst into the room was a police officer, and he died. He was serving a no-knock warrant on the wrong apartment in a duplex. Corey Maye was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. The death sentence was overturned, but he will rot for life in a Mississippi prison. His daughter was turned over to the state.

Ryan Fredrick was sleeping in the back of his house when a drug enforcement task force kicked in his door. A burglar broke into his house a few days ago; the criminal was later caught and made a deal with the police. He told them that Fredrick was growing marijuana plants in his home, and that he had seen them when he broke into the house.

As the SWAT team worked through the house, Fredrick shot one man through a door, killing the officer. The task force then found the grow-room. It was filled with Japanese ferns. Fredrick is being held without bail on first-degree murder charges. If guilty, he’ll clink in the stir for 25 to life, if they don’t course potassium chloride through his veins instead.

Anti-reefer advocates say that no-knock raids are necessary in order to prevent destruction of evidence. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a pound of marijuana (if you haven’t it’s beautiful and stinks up a room really nicely for hours), but it would be damn near impossible to get rid of a pound or even a couple ounces in a panicked rush. I can’t say the same thing of quantities of pills or powders which are small, scent-free and easily hidden or disposed, quite possibly a reason for their growing popularity with the youth these days.

I have a different hypothesis for the no-knock raid. Over 90% of cities with more than 50,000 people in them have a SWAT team, a SWAT team that requires training and funding that might all go to waste if it’s not used. Of course, these cops-with-slightly-better-guns would never go after dangerous gangs, but overblown raids on soft targets like pot-pushers seems like a nice way of justifying all that extra funding.

Of course, there’s never any punishment, at least not against the police who are on the raid and bust into the wrong houses, or the misinformed judges who sign off on warrants.

There are internal reviews, but they function as less of a check of power and more as a public relations stunt. A SWAT team raided the house of the mayor of Berwyn Heights, MD, Cheye Calvo, and shot his two black labs. Of course, the internal review concluded the officers had acted properly.

These incidents are normally reviewed internally and all too often all parties are found to have done their jobs properly despite some horrific outcomes. Even if someone was found to be at fault, there are comparative slaps on the wrist only reached after years of bureaucratic bullshit.

How is it that a judge who approves a warrant for a raid on an innocent man’s home is not held accountable? How can that judge be allowed to go back to work the next day to continue to make these decisions? Note that I only mentioned cop killers; there are dozens of 100% completely innocent people killed “accidentally” by police in their war (for the only story where justice has been even close to served, google Kathryn Johnston).

I bring these stories up to show the horrific incidences that happen to law-abiding citizens in the name of combating a weed in which the only argument ever given by any of the pathetic politicians, or district attornies or police officers is that it will send a bad message to children. Speaking of agents of the government benefiting from this worthless war, the group that donated the most money to oppose a California law that would have resulted in more rehabilitation programs instead of prison time for drug offenders was the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (i.e. prison guards).

All is not lost on the quiet front of the drug war. Hunkering down in the trenches with us is Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group with many thousands of current and former police officers who have seen and been on the front lines of the government’s war. They’ve got their heads on straight, but I’m off to get mine twisted.

A Zen quote courtesy of Jimmy Carter: “Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private for personal use.”

Love, or at least a pot-induced feeling of affection,

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