Marijuana Busts: ‘Where The Money Is’ For Police

Marijuana is certainly not the most pressing crime problem in the United States — but local police departments, with chronic budget shortfalls, are concentrating more on pot busts than ever before, because “it’s where the money is,” according to one California sheriff.

In an era when law enforcement has been forced to lay off staff, reduce patrols and even release jail inmates, officers have found that going after marijuana growers and smokers makes them eligible for hefty federal anti-drug grants, reports Justin Scheck at The Wall Street Journal.

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said his department is eligible for roughly half a million dollars a year in federal anti-drug funding. The only problem is, most of the money has to be used to fight pot as part of the multi-agency, federally funded Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP).

The federal government has, for a long time, allocated money to help local communities fight crime, and influencing their law enforcement priorities in the process.

The budget squeezes in today’s weak economy has only enhanced this effect, which has become especially noticeable in California, where many or even most residents take a tolerant attitude towards marijuana, but federal dollars force local law enforcement to focus on it.

To make sure Shasta County gets the federal grants, Sheriff Bosenko has spent about $340,000 of his department’s shrinking budget — more than in past years — on a team whose sole duty is to traipse through the woods looking for pot plants.

Though the squad is mostly federally funded, the grants don’t cover some basic needs and equipment — so the Sheriff has to pay for those out of his regular budget, to make the department eligible for the big bucks.

Other crimes — like robbery and driving while drunk — may have a much larger impact on local communities than pot growing, the Sheriff admits. But those infractions don’t have fat federal grants attached to them. Marijuana does.

According to the sheriff, the anti-pot money is “$340,000 I could use somewhere else in my organization. That could fund three officers’ salaries and benefits, and we could have them out on our streets doing patrol,” Bosenko said.

“These so-called ‘eradication’ efforts have had zero effect on marijuana use, availability, or price, but once again, California law enforcement agencies are perfectly content to throw more tax money down the CAMP rabbit hole,” said Aaron Smith, California policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

In addition to the $3.6 billion being spent by the U.S. Justice Department this year, augmenting budgets of state and local law enforcement, the federal government set aside last year almost $4 billion in additional economic stimulus package funds.

The White House is also spending about $239 million in 2010 to fund local “drug trafficking task forces” — which, in the real world, usually means local cops dressing up like Rambo and tramping about in the woods in a wasteful, quixotic and doomed attempt to stop the burgeoning marijuana industry.

“It’s time to stop this insanity of repeating the futile exercise of CAMP and instead replace marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation,” Smith said. “Only then will we be able to eliminate the clandestine marijuana plantations — just as the repeal of alcohol prohibition did away with the bootleggers of that era.”

“It’s no coincidence that drug cartels don’t plant vineyards or hops fields in our national forests,” Smith added.

About the author: Steve Elliott, a working journalist since 1982, is editor of Toke of the Town, Village Voice Media’s site covering cannabis news, views, rumor and humor.

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9 Responses to Marijuana Busts: ‘Where The Money Is’ For Police

  1. +8 Vote -1 Vote +1D. L. Snead
    July 3, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Nicely written article by Mr Elliot. To us, it seems a taxpayer funded rat-hole of pot prohibition failure. But to police, prosecutors, prison guards, and other drug war camp followers, it is a gravy-train of perpetual pot busts and other make-work. To authoritarians, pot prohibition is an easily made sop to police – where police (and military, think: Praetorian Guard) return the favor to those politicians.

  2. +9 Vote -1 Vote +1Norman Lepoff, M.D.
    July 3, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Besides what may be stolen from the evidence room, does anyone really believe that when they say they got one ton of something, that they really got one ton? No. They probably stole 4 tons, as one makes it into evidence.

    Prohibition is the biggest cash cow the cops have ever had. They will fight to the death to keep the status quo.

    The Arrest and Prosecution Industry is determined to maintain the war on marijuana, at the expense of our citizens. Law enforcement officials are not motivated by maintaining public safety. They are motivated by one thing: job security. These people are not out to protect people; they are out to fight a literal war on marijuana, medical or otherwise. As they fight this war, they do their utmost to ensure that we remain awash in alcohol, cocaine, meth and heroin, the substances that contribute most to the crime, violence and corruption that keeps them busy and wealthy.

  3. +8 Vote -1 Vote +1Norman Lepoff, M.D.
    July 3, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Legalizing Cannabis will empty half of our prisons. and result in a substantial decrease in prosecutors, cops, parole officers, probation officers, and prison guards all of whom suck the life blood out of our economy with their exorbitant, overly inflated and undeserved salaries, benefits and pensions.

  4. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1RJ
    July 3, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    plants lots of poison ivy around the fields

    • +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Norman Lepoff, M.D.
      July 3, 2010 at 10:33 pm

      Very good idea!

  5. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1yes19
    July 4, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Stop the waste of law enforcement resources. Stop racially biased arrests. Support California Proposition 19 to regulate, control and tax cannabis. Visit http://yes19.org

  6. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Gonzobot
    July 4, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    I love how much sense that makes. Fund anti-crime based on how much crime they stop? Doesn’t that mean that when there is 1 crime left, that they can’t solve, they will never have the funds to solve it?

    And what the hell? They get half a million of federal funds to do ONE THING, except they can’t actually use the federal money for some of the expenses, so they have to spend their own budget on it? Wouldn’t it make sense to, I dunno, NOT waste $350,000 in the first place, and then save however much in overhead it would cost?

    Christ. Is the real solution to the burgeoning police state actually ACCOUNTING?

  7. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Bob Constantine
    July 5, 2010 at 4:51 am

    Self ownership is what happens in a free country. Does anybody remember that, the day after ahem “independence day”? When peaceful people are prohibited from owning themselves, at the point of a gun or threat of incarceration who is the real criminal?

    I thought government was supposed to PROTECT individuals rights of self ownership rather than submit arrest victims as trophies and collect the “bounty” to advance even more police aggression against people that harmed nobody.

    Bottom line, if we live in a country that can tell YOU what you can or cannot put into your OWN body, there is no independence, no self ownership.

    Without self ownership, there is slavery. The prohibited substance is irrelevant, if YOU don’t control YOUR body, somebody else does, THAT is slavery.

  8. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1johnny1
    July 6, 2010 at 8:32 am

    how many teachers get laid off?

    chasing a plant cost thousands, helicopters, personnel

    tax and regulate

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