Monday, June 19, 2006
Florida Judge Dissents from "War on Drugs"
The “War on Drugs” was, and still is, a farce. At a May 1999 forum at the Univeristy of Southern California, retired San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara said: “When Richard Nixon started the War on Drugs in 1972, the federal budget allocation for the war on drugs was $101 million. Today the federal budget allocation is $20 billion. And yet today there are more drugs in this country, they are less expensive, and they are of better quality than they were in 1972.”
Here are some facts:
- In 1997, the United Nations estimated that, as of 1996, the world drug trade accounted for $440 billion in annual revenues.
- Newer figures suggest the world drug trade generates $600 billion a year in revenue.
- According to Dr. Sidney Cohen, a drug expert at UCLA, U.S. cocaine consumption in 1979 was around 80 metric tons.
- In December 2001, the U.S. Department of Justice estimated annual U.S. cocaine consumption at around 500 metric tons.
In light of these and other facts, I would like to congratulate Florida 4th District Court of Appeal Judge Gary Farmer for having the courage of his convictions to stand up for the unpopular and “politically incorrect” view that the “War on Drugs” is an utter failure and a complete waste of taxpayer, government, law enforcement, prison, and judicial resources.
In State v. Colitto, 31 Fla. L. Weekly D1386 (Fla. 4th DCA May 17, 2006), Judge Farmer dissented from a majority opinion ruling that two “trash pulls” (i.e., police rummaging through garbage) which revealed cannabis residue provided sufficient probable cause to justify issuance of a warrant to search a private residence for evidence of cocaine trafficking and possession of cannabis with intent to sell.
Judge Farmer criticizes the majority for giving short shrift to the liberty and privacy issues at stake, and telegraphing their conclusion, by their characterization of the police conduct as a “trash pull,” which allows the majority to avoid discussion of the seriousness of police “making unfounded searches of a private citizen’s residential trash.”
Judge Farmer seems to view the majority’s nonchalance toward what he believes are important liberty and privacy issues as a regrettable and incremental slide down the slippery slope of relinquishing our freedom to an increasingly powerful police-state apparatus in the name of a propagandistic exercise in futility:
The power of the State to seize and search private trash without any legal
justification seem to me but one more manifestation of Government’s long
obsession with its residents’ pharmacological pursuits. In keeping with that
obsession, this case adds one more compromise with our essential liberty of
personal privacy, laying wager on a dream that Government might yet salvage
something of its War on Drugs. This mania of the last four decades
has been a costly failure. As Prohibition did, it founders on the reality
that many humans will crave and use forbidden substances, legal or not….Yet
we obstinately go on squandering even more weapons of mass deconstruction of
personal liberties, and all in the name of a metaphor! We might as well
expend law’s resources in a campaign to erase original sin.
In a footnote, Judge Farmer illustrates the propagandistic function of the government declaring wars on things and gives a subtle warning about how government propaganda encourages citizens to sacrifice freedom for security:
It should not take much reflection today to see that characterizing an endeavor
as a war on something is calculated to paint it with a nobility of purpose and a
tolerance of tactics that otherwise would be questioned or even condemned.
In my opinion, Judge Farmer speaks the truth. I congratulate him on his courage and willingness to do so, and I hope he will continue to speak out as much as he can on these and any other issues about which he may be concerned.