ST. GEORGE – According to a report released by the FBI in September, 1.6 million individuals were arrested on drug-related offenses in 2009. That is an arrest every 19 seconds.
The same report indicated that 82 percent of the drug arrests were for drug possession – not distribution or violent crime, but possession alone.
Police time and taxpayer money is spent ushering the alleged offenders through the criminal justice system. Jails are filled to capacity and court calendars fill up with dates for initial appearances and eventual trials. If convicted, the offenders then serve prison sentences that could be multiple months to multiple years.
The U.S. Department of Justice recorded that the average annual cost of incarceration for a federal inmate in 2009 was $25,251. The average cost for the inmate of a community correctional center was $24,758.
If each of the 1.6 million individuals arrested for drug related offenses in 2009 served one year in a community correctional center, the estimated cost to taxpayers would be $39.6 billion for that year.
Members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – LEAP – find these statistics to be unacceptable, and say the 40-year-long War on Drugs is a failure. The legalization and regulation of drugs, LEAP members claim, would solve many of the problems supported by what they see as a failed policy.
One Man’s Story
“There’s got to be a better way,” said David Doddridge, a retired detective of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Now working as a private investigator in St. George, Doddridge served on the LAPD from 1973 to 1994. He worked patrol for six years and then became a detective. In the latter years of his police service he worked in narcotics. Due to his experiences as a warrior in the so-called War on Drugs, Doddridge has joined the ranks of LEAP. He currently serves as one of their representatives in southern Utah.
Once a believer in drug prohibition, Doddridge said he “woke up on the job” one day.
He said there were times when he and other officers would raid homes and arrest suspected drug-users in front of their families. The sight of crying and frightened children and other family members caused by the raids was one of the things that would lead to his eventual awakening.
Many times he said the arrests seemed to be for possession and little more. No violent crimes or other outrageous criminal activity, just possession. Doddridge said a possession charge could change a person’s life for the worst, especially if they were younger.
“There goes their [chances] for student loans,” he said.
Doddridge added that he felt like he was a member of an occupying army while busting suspects for narcotics. He also expressed frustration over what he believed to be a futile effort in the long run. He would arrest drug dealers and get them behind bars; yet another dealer would quickly appear to take the arrested dealer’s place.
While a series of murders stop once the serial murder is caught, that wasn’t the case with drugs. It is a multi-billion dollar a year business where the principle of supply and demand is king. Despite the risks, a gap in local drug distribution is a job opening that is considered too good to pass up.
The Prohibition on alcohol in the 1920’s didn’t work, Doddridge said, and neither is the prohibition on drugs.
In Utah, a person caught with an ounce of marijuana can face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Selling any amount of marijuana is a felony-charge with a five year prison term and a $5,000 fine.
Lt. David Moss of the Washington County Task Force said a quarter-ounce of high-grade marijuana can cost $100.
A gram of heroine currently costs $80 a gram, while meth goes for $100 a gram.
In July and August, approximately 70 different law enforcement agencies descended upon two marijuana patches were found near Veyo. (See previous story here)
Moss said an approximate 14,000 plants – between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds – of high-grade marijuana were discovered between the two patches. The combined value of the patches was estimated to be between $30 and $35 million.
The drug trade is very lucrative, Moss said.
In contrast, how much income could have been generated if the marijuana patches were legal operations?
According to a report published by the CATO Institute, the legalization and regulation of prohibited drugs would generate $88 billion annually in tax revenue and savings on law enforcement costs.
Is Legalization the Solution?
Doddridge said the biggest losers in the war on drugs were families – children in particular – and the U.S. Constitution. He said the drug war tramples on an individual’s right to choose, even if that choice is to smoke marijuana in the privacy of his or her home.
As for a possible solution to the problem, Doddridge said people needed to be more educated about drugs. Too many people believe what the government tells them about the drug war, he said.
“We can educate people,” Doddridge said.
Making drugs illegal to begin with made it a mysterious taboo that young people would want to investigate, he said. Demystify the drugs, and people may not be curious enough to experiment.
“Countries that legalize drugs have witnessed a dramatic drop in drug use,” Doddridge added.
In response to deaths related to illegal drugs, Portugal decriminalized personal drug use in 2001. It was reported by Scientific American in 2009 that drug-related deaths in Portugal had dropped from 400 a year to 290. Cases of HIV caused by dirty needles also dropped from 1,400 in 2000 to 400 in 2006. Portugal also focused more on the prevention and treatment of drug abuse rather than imprisonment as a consequence for it.
Whether or not LEAP’s goal of regulated legalization ever comes to fruition remains to be seen. While President Obama said the legalization of drugs was worthy of debate, he is not in favor of the idea. Thus far, the only two Republican presidential candidates in favor of drug legalization are Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.
However, with an Oct. 17 Gallop Poll reporting that 50 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, attitudes in Washington DC may gradually shift in favor of legalization as well.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – Website
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