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Feature: Vested Interests of Prohibition I: The Police

Drug prohibition has been a fact of life in the United States for roughly a century now. While it was ostensibly designed to protect American citizens from the dangers of drug use, it now has a momentum of its own, independent of that original goal, at which it has failed spectacularly. As the prohibitionist response to drug use and sales deepened over the decades, then intensified even more with the bipartisan drug war of the Reagan era, prohibition and its enforcement have created a constellation of groups, industries, and professions that have grown wealthy and powerful feeding at the drug war trough.
By virtue of their dependence on the continuation of drug prohibition, such groups -- whether law enforcement, the prison-industrial complex, the drug treatment industry, the drug testing industry, the drug testing-evading industry, the legal profession, among others -- can be fairly said to have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. While the fact that such groups are, in one way or another, profiting from prohibition, does necessarily negate the sincerity of their positions, it does serve to call into question whether some among them continue to adhere to drug prohibition because they really believe in it, or merely because they gain from it.

In what will be an occasional series of reports on "The Vested Interests of Prohibition," we will be examining just who profits, how, by how much, and how much influence they have on the political decision-making process. This week we begin with a group so obvious it sometimes vanishes into the background, as if it were just part of the way things are in this world. That is the American law enforcement establishment.

That's right, the cops, the PO-lice. The Man makes a pretty penny off the drug war. How much? In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month, long-time drug war critic Orange County (California) Superior Court Judge James Gray put the figure at $69 billion a year worldwide for the past 40 years, for a total of $2.5 trillion spent on drug prohibition. In written testimony presented before a hearing of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee last month, University of Maryland drug policy analyst Peter Reuter, more conservatively put combined current state, federal, and local drug policy spending at $40 billion a year, with roughly 70-75% going for law enforcement.
In either case, it's a whole lot of taxpayer money. And for what? Despite years of harsher and harsher drug law enforcement, despite drug arrests per year approaching the two million mark, despite imprisoning half a million Americans who didn't do anything to anybody, despite all the billions of dollars spent ostensibly to stop drug use, the US continues to be the world's leading junkie. That point was hit home yet again earlier this month when researchers examining World Health Organization data found the US had the planet's highest cannabis use rates (more than twice those of cannabis-friendly Holland) and the world's highest cocaine use rates. (See related feature story this issue.)

By just about any measure, drug prohibition and drug law enforcement have failed at their stated goal: reducing drug use in America. Yet in general, American law enforcement has never met a drug law reform it liked, and never met a harsh new law it didn't. The current, almost hysterical, campaign around restoring the Justice Action Grants (JAG or Byrne grant) program cuts imposed by the Bush administration in a rare fit of fiscal responsibility is a case in point.

The Byrne grant program, which primarily funds those scandal-plagued multi-jurisdictional anti-drug law enforcement task forces, has been criticized by everyone from the ACLU to the GAO as wasteful, ineffective, and ridden with abuses, yet the law enforcement community has mobilized a powerful lobbying offensive to restore those funds. Now, after yet another year where congressional Democrats, fearful of being seen as "soft on crime," scurried to smooth law enforcement's ruffled feathers, the Byrne grant program is set to receive $550 million next year, a huge $350 million increase over this year's reduced -- but not zeroed out -- levels.

"The law enforcement lobby is enormously powerful," said Eric Sterling, former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, who now heads the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "Law enforcement unions are extremely important in endorsements for state and local elections, especially in primary elections."
When it comes to Washington, rank-and-file organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police are joined by a whole slew of national management organizations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriff's Association, the National District Attorneys Association, and the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition. On occasion, as is the case with the campaign to restore the Byrne grants, groups like the National Association of County Officials (which includes sheriffs) lead the charge for law enforcement.

"All of these groups are very powerful, and members of Congress are loath to be criticized by them or vote against them," said Sterling.

"Without a doubt, the war on drugs creates a lot of jobs for law enforcement and various aspects of the war on drugs create huge profits for law enforcement," said Bill Piper, national affairs director and Capitol Hill lobbyist for the Drug Policy Alliance. "With those revenues, they can employ more police and continue to expand their turf. The law enforcement lobby is very strong and effective," said Piper. "No one wants to deny them what they want. The Democrats are terrified of them, and most Republicans, too. Everyone just wants to go back to their district and say they're tough on drugs. The law enforcement drug war lobby is a train that is very, very difficult to stop."

Faced with those solemn line-ups of men in blue, American flags fluttering behind them, most politicians would rather comply with the demands of law enforcement than not, whether at the state, local, or federal level. And that's fine with police, who have become habituated to a steady infusion of drug war money.

"Law enforcement at all levels of government has become dependent on the drug war, which in turn is predicated on drug prohibition," said former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, who joined the anti-prohibitionist group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) shortly after his retirement. "They are addicted to the revenue streams that have become predictable and necessary for the day-to-day operations of departments all across the country," he continued.

"State and local governments get anti-crime funding from the federal government, and there are line-items dedicated to things like those regional narcotics task forces," Stamper said. "It wasn't a whole lot of money at first, but over the years we are now talking billions of dollars."

It isn't just departments that benefit from prosecuting the drug war, individual police officers can and do, too. "Both police departments and individual officers have a strong vested interest in maintaining prohibition," said Sterling as he related the story of his ride-along with Montgomery County, Maryland, police a few years ago. After cruising suburban malls and byways for a few hours one cold December night, Sterling and the officer he accompanied got a call that an officer needed back-up.

The officer needing back-up was accompanied by Sterling's then assistant, Tyler Smith, who, when Sterling's car arrived, told him that his (Smith's) cop had pulled over nine cars and convinced four of their drivers to consent to drug searches. In the present case, the officer had scored. The three young men in the car he had pulled over consented to a search, and he found a pipe in the car and a few specks of marijuana in one young man's pocket. By now four different police cars were on the scene.

"Now, all four officers are witnesses," Sterling noted. "That means every time there's a court proceeding, they go down to the courthouse and collect three hours overtime pay. They're almost always immediately excused, but they still get the pay. That's four cops getting paid for one cop's bust, so they have an enormous personal stake in backing up the one gung-ho cop who's out there trolling for busts. Collars for dollars is what they call it," Sterling related.

"I think we need to take into account the fact that individual officers at all levels are character challenged and profit personally from prohibition," said Stamper.

"It's also generally easy police work," Sterling noted. "You start in a position of strength and assertion, you're not arriving at a scene of conflict, you're not stopping a robbery or responding to a gun call; it's a relatively safe form of police activity. You get to notch an arrest, and that makes it look like you're being productive."

And despite repeated police protestations to the contrary, enforcing the drug laws is just not that dangerous. Every year, the National Police Officers Memorial puts out a list of the officers who died in the line of duty. Every year, out of the one or two or three hundred killed, barely a handful died enforcing the drug laws. And those dead officers are all too often used by their peers as poster-children for increased drug law enforcement.

But if law enforcement profits handsomely with taxpayer dollars at the state or federal level as it pursues the chimera of drug war success, it has another important prohibition-related revenue stream to tap into: asset forfeitures. Every Monday, the Wall Street Journal publishes official DEA legal notices of seizures as required by law. On the Monday of June 30, the legal notice consisted of 3 1/4 pages of tiny four-point type representing hundreds of seizures for that week alone.

According to the US Justice Department, federal law enforcement agencies alone seized $1.6 billion -- mainly in cash -- last year alone. That's up three-fold from the $567 million seized in 2003. But that figure doesn't include hundreds of millions of dollars more the feds got as their share of seizures by states, nor does it include the unknown hundreds of millions of dollars more seized by state and local agencies and handled under state asset forfeiture laws. Last year, Texas agencies alone seized more than $125 million.

"Revenue from forfeited assets represents a particularly unconscionable source of funds, particularly when police agencies set out to make busts to create additional funding for themselves," Stamper said. "Even if the money is going to agencies and not into the pockets of individual cops, you still develop that mentality that we're enforcing the law in order to make money. That's not how it's supposed to be," he said.

"Unfortunately, there are many departments that see this as a useful way to deter drug use, even though there is no evidence to support that," said Sterling. "Still, they can justify taking private property as serving an important law enforcement purpose, but there are many accounts of departments that are almost entirely self-funded by the proceeds," he said.

"If Byrne is cut back or zeroed out, and the police agency is fortunate enough to have an interstate highway to patrol, they are in a position to target vehicles and go fishing for dollars," he noted.

"These revenue streams, whether it's Byrne grants or seized cash, create dependency in the departments that rely on them," said Stamper, "and that makes it less and less likely that the police in your community are going to be critical and analytical in questioning their ways of doing business. Does prohibition work, does it produce positive results? The answer is no and no. We have a situation where we are actually doing harm in the name of law enforcement, and it's deep harm, this notion that prohibition is workable. Drug law enforcement is funded at obscene levels, and this is money that could be used for things that do work, like drug abuse prevention and treatment," the ex-chief continued. "It's safe to say that American law enforcement has developed an addiction to the monies it gets from drug prohibition."

LEAP on the Hill: Stories from the week of June 20, 2008

Thundering silence no more: On Thursday Senator Webb (D-VA) held his second hearing on the topic: Mass Incarceration. At What Cost? Senators and Congressmen heard more testimony from experts on the massive impact locking up 2.3 million people has on the country. Though media was scarce, our issue is finally receiving the attention it deserves. After the hearing I spoke to Senator Webb for a minute, providing an answer to a question which the panel was unable to ask (how does expenditure of time arresting 845,000 for cannabis impact the other aspects of public safety/police work?). Thanks to the suggestion of Ethel in Florida & Eric here in DC, the next day I submitted that answer in writing which was made part of the permanent record for the hearing. As I made office visits on Friday, it was simply wonderful to tell the aides that, ‘look to Senator Webb on this issue. He is lighting a candle & speaking out.’ Small steps. Below I am including the text of my statement given to Webb’s committee: Testimony for the Joint Economic Committee, June 19, 2008 Assessing U.S. drug policy and providing a base for future decision Howard J. Wooldridge Bath Township, MI Police Detective Howard J. Wooldridge, (retired) At the hearing of the Joint Economic Committee which Senator Webb chaired on June 19, 2008 two questions asked by the Members were not fully answered. Therefore, I would like the following information be included as part of the record for that hearing. Regarding Senator Webb’s question on how the expenditure of time to arrest some 845,000 persons per year on marijuana charges impacts other areas of law enforcement: During my fifteen (15) years of police service I learned that my profession often searches and does not find anything illegal. Thus, one can not simply extrapolate the number of arrests times X hours of time per arrest. An average of ten (10) vehicle searches must be conducted in order to find one containing marijuana. Conservatively, 7-8 million hours of patrol time are spent enforcing marijuana prohibition laws. This results in less time for effective DUI, reckless driving and other traffic enforcement priorities. Regarding Congressman Hinchey’s question of the percentage of prisoners whose crime touches in someway drug prohibition laws: My experience as a detective and in speaking with colleagues show 70-75% of felony crime touches drug prohibition policy. Whether crimes committed go up or down, drug prohibition continues to be the engine driving the vast majority of felony crime in America.
Washington, DC
United States

Feature: Amsterdam, Connecticut? Drug Reformer With Bold Vision Seeks State Office, Radical Change

Like the rest of inner city America, Bridgeport, Connecticut's 130th District has for decades been ground zero in the war on drugs. Mostly black and Latino, like other majority minority neighborhoods across the land, it has suffered the twin ravages of drug abuse and drug prohibition. Now, a former drug-fighting Navy officer turned drug reformer is seeking to change all that with a bold vision and an upstart bid for the state House of Representatives.
Sylvester Salcedo (2nd from right)
In late May, Bridgeport attorney Sylvester Salcedo announced he was seeking the Democratic Party nomination for November's House race in the 130th. Salcedo is best known in drug reform circles for being the first and only former military officer to protest the drug war by sending back his Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medal to then President Bill Clinton.

"Narcotics use and abuse is our problem here at home," he wrote at the time in a letter sent to Clinton. "The solutions should be applied here and not in Colombia or elsewhere. To spend this additional amount of money overseas is wasteful and counterproductive."

Fast forward eight years and little has changed. The war on drugs continues apace, drug arrests and drug war prisoners reach new highs every year. The violence associated with drug prohibition continues to plague cities like Bridgeport. And Salcedo has had enough.

"The war on drugs is one of our nation's longest wars, at home and abroad," he said as he announced his candidacy May 29. "It is senseless, wasteful and counterproductive. It is highly discriminatory on a racial and economic basis. I said so on the steps of the US Congress in Washington, DC flanked and supported by Minnesota Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad and California Republican Congressman Tom Campbell in the summer of 2000," he said.

"Eight years later, the conditions are the same, if not worse, especially for the isolated and abandoned residents of ethnic minority enclaves and neighborhoods like the 130th District," Salcedo continued. "I want to win this State Representative seat to be a leader of change. I want to lead the way to peace, understanding and cooperation, not through the politics of fear, and racial and ethnic discord and conflict. This senseless war on the poor and the voiceless must end."

Salcedo is not one for half-measures. He is proposing turning the 130th District into a sort of mini-Amsterdam, a zone of drug tolerance replete with safe injection sites, opiate maintenance facilities, and taxed and regulated marijuana sales. "I'm floating around this idea of the Covenant of the 130th District, which is to declare the district as a zone of tolerance," he said.

"I want to borrow from models like Amsterdam or Frankfort," he elaborated. "I'm not pushing legalization legislation, but acknowledging the fact that the 130th is a high drug trafficking and consumption area, from marijuana to heroin to cocaine. I want to try those approaches here. If you live in the district and are a heroin addict, we would work with you, whether it's a treatment and rehabilitation regime or a maintenance regime. If you select maintenance, you get the level of pharmaceutical grade heroin you need. In either case, you get medical, psychological, and social services, an intake exam, a social worker and a drug counselor to work with you. But this won't be a coercive or punitive program; instead it will be designed to develop the relationship with the addict."

Citing Bridgeport's chronically under-funded schools, libraries, and other services, Salcedo also called for regulated marijuana sales as a revenue raiser. "I want to open up a number of marijuana coffee shops in this district," he said. "They could be city sponsored, or they could be a joint private-public project. If people want to come here and imbibe, we will welcome them, let them pay the market price, and tax their purchases. The profits can go to the city general fund, or, if it's a joint venture, a share to the entrepreneurs," he said. "We will follow the experience of Amsterdam, with the police working collaboratively, so they're not arresting people coming from the coffee shops."

Salcedo's will undoubtedly be an uphill battle against the entrenched Bridgeport Democratic Party political establishment and to convince skeptical voters that more of the drug war same old same old is not the solution. But he has already passed the first hurdle by getting 290 district residents to sign his nominating petitions. Now he has to raise $5,000 by August to show he is a viable candidate and qualify for another $20,000 in primary funding from the state of Connecticut. At least 150 Bridgeport residents must donate to his campaign for him to qualify. (That doesn't mean people from outside Bridgeport or Connecticut cannot donate -- they can.)

He can do it, Salcedo said. "The primaries are eight weeks away, and nobody expected me to even get the required signatures, but I did. And I met every person who signed my nomination papers. I think I can meet this challenge, too."

He's going to need some help, from the drug reform community at large and from Connecticut activists in particular if he is to have a chance. One prominent Connecticut drug reformer, Efficacy founder and 2006 Green Party gubernatorial candidate Cliff Thornton is among the first to step up.

"I'll definitely be going down there and doing a few things for Sylvester," said Thornton. "I have to help the reformer."

One thing he will advise Salcedo to do is put his drug reform message in the background. "We'll try to sharpen his message," Thornton said. "He doesn't have to lead with drug policy. He's already known as the drug reformer, and he won't have to talk about it because people are going to ask him about it.

Another thing Salcedo can do is try to tie drug reform into other issues facing the community, Thornton said. "We're spending somewhere between $600 million and $800 million on prisons in Connecticut every year," he said. "If we took that and put it toward health care, we could take care of everyone in the state. That's the kind of connection we need to be drawing."

It would be a good thing if national drug reform organizations provided more than token support, Thornton said, looking back at his 2006 campaign. "When it came to actually supporting that run, everybody disappeared," he said. "The flagship organizations sent a few bucks here and there, but not enough to make a difference. And that's a shame. We are starting to elect good drug reform politicians, like Roger Goodman in Washington state and Chris Murphy here in Connecticut. Their opponents attack them as soft on drug policy, and they go up in the polls. We can elect people, if we support them," Thornton said.

Salcedo could use the help, he said. "Right now this is basically a one-man campaign, and I have a full-time job."

Still, he said, he may be able to pull off a surprise victory. "This is going to be a low turnout election, no other issues on the ballot here, and the only reason people are likely to go to the ballot box is to vote for me for change or because they're tied to one of the establishment candidates," he said. "In this district in this election, maybe 200 or 300 votes can win it. I'll be beating the bushes and talking face to face with people. I'll do everything I can, and then it's up to the voters.

(This blog post was published by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Press Release: House Committee to Renew Controversial Drug Enforcement Grant Program

[Courtesy of Drug Policy Alliance] For Immediate Release: June 17, 2008 Contact: Tony Newman, tel: (646) 335-5384 or Bill Piper, tel: (202) 669-6430 Wednesday, June 18th: House Judiciary Committee to Renew Controversial Drug Enforcement Grant Program Linked to Racial Disparities, Police Corruption and Civil Rights Abuses Twenty Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Reform Groups Urge Congress Not to Renew Byrne Grant Program without Reforming It Renewal of Program without Reform a Slap in the Face to Victims of Tulia and Hearne, TX Scandals—the Basis of Two Forthcoming Feature Films Last week the U.S. House Crime Subcommittee voted to renew the controversial but politically popular Byrne Justice Assistance grant program without debate or amendment. The House Judiciary Committee is set to take up the issue tomorrow, Wednesday June 18th. The Senate has already passed legislation renewing the program, which has been linked to racial disparities, police corruption and civil rights abuses. Twenty civil rights and criminal justice reform groups released a letter today urging the House Judiciary Committee not to renew the program without first reforming it. The groups include included the ACLU, the Brennan Center, National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, National Black Police Association, the National Council of La Raza and the Drug Policy Alliance. “There are clear steps Congress can take to reform this program, from providing better oversight to requiring law enforcement agencies receiving federal money to document their traffic stops, arrests and searches by race and ethnicity,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “If Judiciary Committee Members renew this program without fixing it, they will be responsible for the racial disparities and civil rights abuses it breeds.” In a deeply troubling example of the consequences of the Byrne grant program, a magistrate judge found that a regional narcotics task force in Hearne, Texas routinely targeted African Americans as part of an effort to drive blacks out of the majority white town. For the past 15 years, the Byrne-funded task force annually raided the homes of African Americans and arrested and prosecuted innocent citizens. The county governments involved in the Hearne task force scandal eventually settled a civil suit, agreeing to pay financial damages to some of the victims of discrimination. The most notorious Bryne-funded scandal occurred in 1999 in Tulia, Texas where dozens of African-American residents (representing 15% of the black population) were arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to decades in prison, even though the only evidence against them was the uncorroborated testimony of one white undercover officer with a history of lying and racism. The undercover officer worked alone, and had no audiotapes, video surveillance, or eyewitnesses to corroborate his allegations. Suspicions arose after two of the defendants accused were able to produce firm evidence showing they were out of state or at work at the time of the alleged drug buys. Texas Governor Rick Perry eventually pardoned the Tulia defendants (after four years of imprisonment), but these kinds of scandals continue to plague the Byrne grant program. The program has been linked to numerous scandals and civil rights abuses across the country. “Every dollar Congress spends on the Byrne grant program is a dollar used to perpetuate racial disparities, police corruption and civil rights abuses,” said Piper. “Unless this program is reformed this year, members of Congress should consider cutting funding to it.” What: Markup of H.R. 3546, a bill to reauthorize the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, and other bills. When: Wednesday 06/18/2008 - 10:15 a.m. Where: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building Key Points of Interest: - Oscar-nominated actors Alfre Woodard and Michael O'Keefe star in the recently completed feature film American Violet. Based loosely on the Hearne scandal, the film follows the harrowing journey of a young mother fighting the devastating consequences of America's drug task force programs. The film is scheduled to begin festival screenings worldwide early this fall. - Lionsgate films is currently producing a feature film based on the Tulia, Texas scandal starring Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry. - Twenty civil rights and criminal justice reform groups have released a letter today urging the House Judiciary Committee to not renew the program without first reforming it. The groups included the ACLU, the Brennan Center, National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, National Black Police Association, the National Council of La Raza and the Drug Policy Alliance. - Four leading conservative groups have urged Congress to completely eliminate the Byrne grant program, because the program “has proved to be an ineffective and inefficient use of resources.” (American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens against Government Waste and National Taxpayers Union). - A 2002 report by the ACLU of Texas identified 17 scandals involving Byrne-funded narcotics task forces in Texas, including cases of falsifying government records, witness tampering, fabricating evidence, false imprisonment, stealing drugs from evidence lockers, selling drugs to children, large-scale racial profiling, sexual harassment and other abuses of official capacity. Recent scandals in other states include the misuse of millions of dollars in federal grant money in Kentucky and Massachusetts, false convictions based on police perjury in Missouri, and making deals with drug offenders to drop or lower their charges in exchange for money or vehicles in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin. - A 2001 study by the General Accounting Office found that the federal government fails to adequately monitor the grant program or hold grantees accountable.
Washington, DC
United States

U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee Hearing -- U.S. Drug Policy: At What Cost?

Senator Jim Webb will be presiding over this hearing dedicated to an examination of the economics of U.S. drug policy. Witnesses include: - Dr. Peter Reuter, Professor, School of Public Policy and Department of Criminology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland - Ms. Anne Swern, First Assistant District Attorney, Kings County, Brooklyn, New York - Ms. Norma Fernandes, Community Coordinator, Kings County District Attorney’s Office, Brooklyn, New York - Mr. John Walsh, Senior Associate for Drug Policy, Washington Office on Latin America, Washington, DC Additional Witnesses may be announced. For more information, see
Thu, 06/19/2008 - 10:00am
Washington, DC
United States

5/28/08 Press Conf. with Cory Booker and others: New Report "Hidden Costs of Incarceration in NJ" Released

MEDIA ADVISORY: Tuesday May 27, 2008 Contact: Tony Newman, t: 646-335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti, t: 609-610-8243 Groundbreaking Report “Wasting Money, Wasting Lives: Calculating the Hidden Costs of Incarceration in New Jersey” to be Released Report Finds Incarceration Costs Far Exceed Previous Estimates, Increase State Budget Deficit and Waste Taxpayer Money Press Conference Scheduled at Statehouse on Wednesday, May 28, 11:30 AM with Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan Trenton- A groundbreaking report, “Wasting Money, Wasting Lives: Calculating the Hidden Costs of Incarceration in New Jersey” will be released today at a statehouse press conference featuring legislators, community members and advocates. The report was commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance and authored by Meredith Kleykamp, Jake Rosenfeld and Roseanne Scotti. What: A press conference to release a report on the hidden costs of incarceration in New Jersey Who: Newark Mayor Cory Booker Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D, Union) Roseanne Scotti, Esq., Director, Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey David Kerr, President, Integrity House of Newark (additional speakers to be announced) When: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 11:30 A.M. Where: New Jersey State House, Room 209 The economic cost of New Jersey’s explosive prison growth has been astronomical. Twenty years ago, the New Jersey corrections budget was $289 million. Today the budget is $1.33 billion. Corrections budget growth has outstripped all other parts of the state’s budget. From 1979 until 2006, the corrections budget grew by a factor of 13 while the overall state budget grew only by a factor of 6. New Jersey spends more than $46,000 annually to incarcerate each prisoner, and about $331 million dollars a year just on incarcerating all nonviolent drug law violators—more than what is spent by 16 other states for their entire corrections budgets. During the 1980s and 1990s, corrections spending in New Jersey rose at three times the rate of spending on higher education. But looking at the direct costs of incarceration tells only part of the story of the economic burden placed on New Jersey by the current system. In addition to the direct costs of prisons, New Jersey also incurs substantial indirect and hidden costs by incarcerating large numbers of nonviolent drug offenders. To get a complete understanding of the costs of incarceration for New Jersey, costs such as lost wages while incarcerated, lost lifetime wages after release from prison due to reduced employability, and lost taxable income must be calculated. This groundbreaking report analyzes the comprehensive and hidden costs of New Jersey’s overuse of incarceration and offers suggestions for saving taxpayers’ money and reinvesting savings into families and communities. # # #
Trenton, NJ
United States

Europe: Dutch Marijuana Tax Revenues at $600 Million a Year, Crop Is Country's Third Largest Export

Marijuana is big business in the Netherlands, if estimates from the Dutch TV program Reporter are to be believed -- and no one is challenging them. According to the news program, the Dutch government is raking in 400 million euros (a little more than $600 million) a year in taxes from the country's 730 marijuana-selling coffee shops.
downstairs of a coffee shop, Maastricht (courtesy Wikimedia)
Reporter estimated total sales at the coffee shops at 265,000 kilos of hashish and marijuana annually, with an annual gross revenue of about $3.2 billion.

In response, the Dutch Finance Ministry said it did not know how much tax revenue it collected from the coffee shops. According to department employees who asked for anonymity, "they do not want to know about it in The Hague, as it is all much too politically sensitive."

But the coffee shops account for at most 40% of the marijuana grown in Holland, with the rest being exported untaxed via the black market. Although Dutch police bust 15 marijuana grows a day, they have not been able to make a significant dent in domestic production. That means Dutch marijuana exports are also a significant economy activity.

"As export product, Dutch cannabis comes second or third after cucumbers and tomatoes. Germany and the United Kingdom are big customers," said police commissioner Max Daniel, head of the police unit responsible for tackling marijuana grows.

European Pressure: Turkey Must Fight Drug War, or Else

EDITOR'S NOTE: Kalif Mathieu is an intern at His bio is in our "staff" section.

I traveled to the city of Istanbul last week to stay for a few days with my school program of Peace and Conflict Resolution. Istanbul (and Turkey as a whole) is the perfect conduit for heroin being produced in the middle-east to reach Western European markets. Heroin and other drugs are commodities like anything else, and travel through the same general trade routes as other goods. Turkey is so strategically placed that according to Le Monde diplomatique in 1995 “An estimated 80% of the heroin on the European market is being processed in Turkish laboratories." (La Dépêche Internationale des Drogues 1995, Nr. 48)

So you might ask, “what’s so special about heroin traveling through Turkey? It’s just like any other trade between the middle-east and Europe.” The troublesome point is who controls the trafficking through the country and receives the profits of the trade. This happens to be the PKK, or Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a militant organization with a 30-year history of fighting the Turkish government to establish a separate Kurdish state. “According to Interpol […] the PKK was orchestrating 80 % of the European drug market” back in 1992, and “[o]ther sources similarly indicate that the PKK controlled between 60 % to 70 %” in 1994 reported the Turkish Daily News.

The state of Turkey has been increasing its process of Westernization recently in its desire to join the EU, and this has meant adopting a Western policy on drugs. Turkey has been very successful recently in increasing its police and border control effectiveness and eliminating corruption. The Turkish Daily News gave some convincing numbers: “According to the deputy customs undersecretary, there was a 400 percent increase in drug-operation success in the period between 2002 and 2006, when compared to the 1999-2002 period.”

However, even though Turkey has been, in recent years, dealing more and more forcefully with both the PKK militants and the drug trade, has this actually reduced the trafficking of drugs and the profits of the PKK? In the Turkish Daily News: “[t]he annual revenue made by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has increased to 400-500 million euros, a top Turkish general said late Tuesday.” If the PKK’s revenue has increased, then it is logical to assume Turkey’s military campaign against them may not be considered a huge success. Not only that, but “200-250 million euros of [the PKK’s] revenue comes from drugs […] Gen. Ergin Saygun, deputy chief of General Staff said.” That makes drug trafficking 50% of the organization’s income!

The Turkish state has had a history of valuing the effectiveness of force. It was born from war, and the constitution has a controversial but often-utilized article that allows the Turkish army to organize a coup to eliminate the possibility of having a religious party in power. What is the point of these so-called ‘hard-line’ approaches to dealing with the nation’s problems if they are rather ineffective? Very little of course. The trouble comes from what the state could say to its citizens, to the international community, if it negotiated with the violent PKK or began to take the drug trade into the light by moving it towards legalization and either private or state control? If Turkey tried to clean up its smuggling and black market in such a way the majority of Europe, if not the greater ‘global community,’ would probably condemn the entire nation of betraying humanity and literally becoming evil. The reaction of many Turkish citizens would be perhaps lighter, but of a similar nature if the state sat down to negotiations with the ‘terrorist’ PKK. These are strong influences on the Turkish state, and severely limit its options. Therefore it seems Turkey doesn’t have much of a choice but to pursue the same policy of force it has pursued for more than 30 years, whether it benefit the people or not.

United States

Law Enforcement: Senate Votes to Restore Byrne Drug Task Force Funding Program

The US Senate voted last Friday to restore funding to the federal grant program that pays for the multi-jurisdictional state and local anti-drug task forces that roam the land enforcing the drug laws. The Bush administration's Fiscal Year 2009 budget had zeroed out appropriations for the program, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program.

Funded at $520 million in Fiscal Year 2007, the two-decade old program that allows states to supplement their anti-drug spending with federal tax dollars was already down substantially from previous funding levels. For the past three years, as a cost-cutting move, the Bush administration has tried to zero it out completely, but that has proven extremely unpopular with Congress. In December, as it sought to pass the FY 2008 budget, the House voted to fund the block grant portion of the program at $600 million and the Senate at $660 million, but in last-minute budget negotiations, the White House insisted the funding be cut.

For FY 2009, the Bush administration again zeroed out appropriations for the JAG program, instead allocating $200 million for a combined federal grants program. But it is up against a powerful law enforcement lobby that has mobilized to restore funding. Democrat politicians eager to appear "tough on crime" have been especially vulnerable to such appeals.

It was two Democrats, Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Diane Feinstein of California, along with Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who cosponsored an amendment to the 2009 budget that would fund the Byrne JAG program at $906 million, far above the levels of recent years.

"Day in and day out, communities depend on our law enforcement professionals to keep them safe and be fully prepared to respond in emergencies," Feingold said. "The dedicated service they provide cannot happen without support from the federal government. We must provide adequate funding for successful programs like the COPS program and the Byrne program in order to provide the tools, technology, and training our law enforcement professionals need to protect our communities," he said.

"Unfortunately, the president's proposal to cut funding for these successful crime-fighting programs is nothing new," Feingold said. "Congress has rightly rejected the President's cuts to these programs in the past, and I'm working with my colleagues to include this critical funding in the 2009 budget."

Despite the demagoguery and the Senate vote, a reinvigorated Byrne JAG grant program is not yet a done deal. The House must also vote to approve funding, and if the White House follows the direction it has taken in recent years, it will once again oppose any expansive new funding -- as it successfully did in December.

Drug Czar Walters Testifying in Congress on 2008 Drug Control Strategy; DPA Statement

[Courtesy of Drug Policy Alliance] For Immediate Release: March 12, 2008 For More Info: Tony Newman (646) 335-5384 or Bill Piper (202) 669-6430 Drug Czar John Walters Testifying in Congress Today in Support of Bush’s 2008 National Drug Control Strategy Drug Policy Alliance: Walters is Covering Up a Record of Failure Fatal Overdoses on the Rise, Transmission of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C from Injection Drug Use Continues to Mount, 1 in 100 Americans Now Behind Bars Drug Czar John Walters will testify today at 2pm before the House Domestic Policy Subcommittee. He is expected to defend the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s 2008 Drug Strategy, which continues to fund failed supply-side strategies at the expense of more effective prevention and treatment. Below is a statement from Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. Every year the drug czar tries to put a good spin on the failure of the drug war, and this year is no exception. Americans should ask themselves, ‘Are drugs as available as ever?’ Answer: Yes. ‘Do our communities continue to be devastated by astronomical incarceration rates and death and disease related to drug abuse and drug prohibition?’ Again, yes. Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars and incarcerating millions of Americans, experts acknowledge that illicit drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available in every community. Meanwhile, the harms associated with drug abuse—addiction, overdose and the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis—continue to mount. Add to this record of failure the collateral damage of drug prohibition and the drug war—broken families, racial inequity, wasted tax dollars, and the erosion of civil liberties. The evidence is clear and it is foolish and irresponsible to claim success. What matters most is not whether drug use rates go up or down but whether we see any improvements in the death, disease, crime and suffering that are associated with both illegal drugs and drug prohibition. The current approach, with its “drug-free America” rhetoric, and over reliance on punitive, criminal justice policies costs taxpayers billions more each year, yet delivers less and less. It’s time for a new bottom line in drug policy, one that focuses on reducing the harms associated with both drug misuse and the collateral damage from the drug war.
Washington, DC
United States

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