Thursday, June 11, 2009


How to save money in a recession: call off the cops

by Larry Geller

Speaking generally, if cops are left to do their thing, they like busting folks for growing or using marijuana. One incentive has been the forfeiture laws. According to the jurisdiction, cops get to confiscate and sell or keep cars, homes, even iPods or iPhones or anything nifty they can carry away.

But at what cost? Filling the courts and the jails costs society a fortune. The pressures of bad economic times should cause us to re-think this scheme.

The clear beneficiaries have been the companies that form the “prison industrial complex” including operators of private prisons, but extending to those who are contracted to provide mental health programs (and fail to deliver), health care services (and fail to deliver) and even, but perhaps rarely, drug treatment services (which they also fail to deliver).

To change the laws takes time and runs up against powerful lobbying interests for the prison-industrial complex. Municipalities that benefit from the jobs brought by private prisons want their facilities filled to capacity. So how can these special interests be overcome?

It’s far easier to just call off the cops. That’s right, either formerly declare that hunting marijuana plants with helicopter flights zigzagging around Kauai or the Big Island is now the lowest priority, or (why not?) just cut the funds for those expensive helicopters out of the budget. Then sit back and reap the benefits of fewer court proceedings and fewer expensive prisoners to look after. That’s even easier than legalizing pot, which is a concept now on the table for the first time.

On Kauai, as Joan Conrow notes in her article which inspired this one,

Asset forfeiture laws have pushed cultivation from private to public lands.

This short sentence has big implications. It means that Kauai police are not enjoying the profits the forfeiture laws would otherwise bring to marijuana raids. So when they rev up those helicopters ($300-600 an hour?), it’s just the first installment on an expensive process that doesn’t reduce marijuana use anyway, and if it would, might be responsible for pushing people towards harder drugs.

So why not just call off the cops? It’s like putting money in the bank.


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