Smoke and Mirrors

A Weed by any other name might still wish to decriminalize the possession and use of marijuana in New Hampshire. It’s merely a coincidence that the primary sponsor of a bill for that purpose in the state House of Representatives early this year happens to be named Weed — Rep. Douglas Weed, a Democrat from Keene and a professor at Keene State College. The bill received, quite predictably, overwhelming opposition from law enforcement officials and may well have been defeated by the time you read this.

Opponents of decriminalization often employ the slippery slope argument: today marijuana, tomorrow cocaine, heroin, etc. But is the “slippery slope” really more dangerous than the present course? Has all of the money and manpower expended by the state of New Hampshire and the United States in the war on drugs made us more or less safe?

To my knowledge, no drug user or dealer has ever trespassed upon my humble dwelling in Manchester. But the police came through one day several years ago, enroute to executing a search warrant on the apartment behind mine. I was not home at the time and, of course, no idea the police would be paying a visit. Had I known, I might have tidied up the place a bit. Might even have had some coffee on for the boys in blue.

But had I been there, I might have been startled by the sudden and unexpected entrance of heavily armed police into my apartment. I might have jumped and then, well, who knows? Unarmed men have been shot in drug raids and police do sometimes arrive at the wrong apartment. Mistakes are made. Stuff happens.
All I know is I have been living in that same apartment since Mr. Reagan was president and my safety, security and right to privacy have been violated only once — by police on a misdirected drug raid.

Let experience be our guide. Prior to World War I, there were no laws restricting the sale of cocaine, heroin or other drugs, and drug-related crime was not nearly the problem that it is today. Other countries in the civilized world have less stringent drug laws than we do and appear to have less crime. Indeed, the United States has the world’s highest per capita incarceration rate, several times that of most European nations. Is that because Americans are by nature a more lawless people? Or is it because we have created a criminal class out of marijuana smokers and other recreational drug users?

One result, intended or otherwise, is that the war on drugs has become a full employment program for police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, bailiffs, jailers and others. Prison construction and maintenance is one of the fastest growing industries in America. Prisons are now seen as an economic development tool, as the citizens of Berlin, N.H., and other communities know well.

Law enforcement has enough to do to keep us safe without knocking down doors trying to apprehend marijuana smokers. It has ample opportunity to seek adequate funding through the normal legislative process without seizing houses, cars and other property through drug forfeiture actions. I believe the lives and safety of the people and the police officers of New Hampshire are further threatened, not made safer, by Rambocops on drug raids.

The voice of law enforcement should always be heard and respected, but let us not naively attach thereto an assumption that these professionals, whose budgets, staffs and careers have been enhanced by the quixotic war on drugs, are in this matter disinterested defenders of the public safety. NH

Jack Kenny, a well-known conservative commentator and the state’s official curmudgeon, lives in Manchester. Opinions presented in Capitol Offenses are not intended to reflect those of the publisher.