Here is a letter to the editor of The Des Moines Register that they published today, 7/14/2022:
It appears clear that most of the recent opioid deaths are the result of people buying drugs on the street and not knowing either the strength or even the actual drug that is in what they think they are buying. If we really want to end opioid deaths, we need to end drug prohibition and make drugs of known strength and purity available through legal channels.
It should still be a crime to drive a vehicle while intoxicated or to sell drugs to children. But it should not be a crime for people to put drugs into their own bodies. People who are addicted should be treated under a medical model, not a criminal model.
By the definition of the word, the event that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was an insurrection. The participants are properly being treated as criminals under federal law. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine that any participant really thought they would actually overthrow our government. It appeared to be more like a political demonstration that turned into a riot and ended with a lot of people following a herd mentality and things got out of control. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to take steps to see that it never happens again and to punish those who were involved.
It has been widely reported that more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses during the 12 months ended April 30, 2021, a record high. A large and increasing portion of overdose deaths is attributable to illicitly obtained drugs, especially fentanyl. Many addicts have no choice but to buy their drugs on the black market, so they can’t be assured of the strength or purity of the drug, or what other drugs might have been added to what they think they are buying. As a result, many overdose deaths are accidental.
Imagine if we treated drug addiction using a medical model rather than a criminal model? If addictive drugs could be purchased legally and were regulated as to strength and purity, many overdose deaths would be avoided. Additionally, people who become addicted might be more likely to ask for help to kick the habit if they weren’t afraid of getting arrested and put in jail. Finally, much of the crime and violence associated with the illegal drug trade would go away if our policy of prohibition were ended.
As I’ve written before, if a new pharmacy opens in your neighborhood, the existing pharmacies don’t start a shooting war to protect their turf. And if someone breaks into or otherwise trys to rob a pharmacy, the pharmacy calls the police. It is the prohibition that causes most of the violence.
Under a legal drug regime, it would still be illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants, and children would be prohibited from buying drugs. But a person who minds their own business would not be a criminal for using drugs in a peaceful manner.
Under our current regime of drug prohibition in the U.S., it is true that American drug users support the violent drug cartels in Mexico. If we ended the drug wars, and instead legalized and regulated peaceful drug use, and treated addiction under a medical model, the violence associated with the illicit drug trade would mostly go away. When CVS opens a drug store across the street from Walgreens, they don’t get into a gun battle. When a drug store is robbed, they call the police instead of sending out a gang to get revenge. It is the government policy of prohibition that causes the violence associated with the illicit drug trade. Our drug wars will be endless until prohibition is ended.
Thanks to Lee Rood for her expose’ in The Des Moines Register about the financial devastation of an Iowa citizen that was caused by Iowa’s drug tax. As Rood reported, Stephanie Hilgenberg was arrested in 2016 after police found about $5,000 worth of meth in her purse. She was convicted and served time in prison. She is now free and working to support heself and her two kids. But she still owes the Iowa Department of Revenue about $150,000 in tax, penalty and interest! She had failed to pay the “drug stamp tax” required in order to avoid the penalties and interest.
Iowa’s Constitution prohibits excessive fines, but this is technically a tax, not a fine. Again as Rood reported, part of the strategy of the tax was to use as a negotiating lever to get small time dealers to give up their suppliers. In our failed drug wars, the little guy is often sacrificed as a means to what drug warriors consider more important ends.
Drug addiction is a terrible thing. But we will be better served as a society by treating addiction under a medical model rather than a criminal model. Education works better than punishment. One step in the right direction would be to repeal the punitive stamp tax that is added to the injury caused by drug prohibition. State legislatiors should take that up next session.
It may be good for the City of Des Moines to have a policy that, “…requires all city employees to perform their duties without regard to race, ethnicity, gender or other characteristics…”, but that does not replace the need for a anti-racial-profiling policy specifically for the Des Moines Police Department.
For better or for worse, conscious and unconscious bias exist in most human beings. It is in our nature to look for norms, patterns, averages, etc., and to apply what we think we know to our everyday situations. But police officers are rightfully placed in a very special position: we allow them the legal use of force. So, police officers especially need to make sure they treat each person as an individual, presumed innocent, following due process procedures.
In this case, the City of Des Moines should give the Des Moines Police Department clear policy regarding what police officers can and cannot do as it relates of acting on their “feelings” or “hunches” in any given situation. Profiling or pretextual stops based on race should be prohibited. Suggestions by Iowa CCI, the ACLU of Iowa, and the NAACP should be given serious consideration as part of developing the policy.
Link to related articles in The Des Moines Register:
The Des Moines Register recently ran an editorial about how the Iowa State Patrol appears to be targeting out-of-state cars travelling through Iowa to try to find assets to seize using our current civil asset forfeiture laws. (See link below.)
One obvious possible reason why out-of-state cars might be targeted is that it would help keep seized property flowing to law enforcement agencies, while keeping political heat off of this problem. Out-of-state drivers don’t vote in Iowa, and they don’t have an elected Iowa representative to call to complain.
It is clearly unjust that we allow our government to take property from people who are not charged with a crime, and then put the burden of proof on them to prove their innocence in order to get their property back. It is hard to believe that this does not violate both our Iowa and U.S. Constitutional right to due process. Also, in many cases, law enforcement agencies get to keep the property that they confiscate! This clear conflict of interest should not be tolerated.
Last year in the Iowa Legislature, a bill was introduced in the Iowa Senate that would have put a stop to this injustice, but it never got out of committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Steven Sodders of State Center, never acted on the bill, so it died in committee. He is a deputy sheriff in Marshall County. If you would like to see end to civil asset forfeiture in Iowa, contact Senator Sodders and let him know we need and expect his help this year.
Thanks to the Sunday Register (3/29/2015) for its exposé of the abuses occurring in Iowa under civil asset forfeiture laws. (Sunday Register 3/29/2015) Taking people’s money and other property without charging them with a crime violates the principles of due process of law and innocent until proven guilty.
Allowing law enforcement officers and prosecutors to keep the money that they confiscate creates a clear conflict of interest and is a corrupting influence. The examples given in the Register report show law enforcement officers have become more interested in collecting money than stopping crime. We need to stop this corruption and abuse.
SF467 has been introduced in the Iowa Senate. It would allow forfeiture only as part of a criminal charge against the owner, and it would require any forfeited property to be turned over the general fund of the county or state. If passed, this law would go a long way toward curbing these abuses. Contact your Iowa Senator and urge them to move this bill forward to passage.
Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/investigations/2015/03/28/iowa-forfeiture-system-legal-thievery/70600856/
I was disappointed to learn that, according to the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, 67% of Iowa adults think is is best to continue to criminalize the personal use of marijuana. People continue to be imprisoned, fined, and given permanent criminal records because they engaged in a voluntary peaceful activity. Whether or not to legalize the recreational use of marijuana is not the correct question. The correct question is whether or not to continue to make criminals out of adults who have done no harm to anyone else. Many people have been greatly harmed because of our unjust marijuana prohibition laws. We now have a situation where the remedy is worse than the disease. The situation clearly conflicts with our state motto: Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.
Thanks to The Des Moines Register for exposing the unconstitutional and abusive use of civil asset forfeiture laws against U.S. citizens by the Iowa State Patrol, county attorneys, and the Iowa Attorney General. Civil asset forfeiture laws allow law enforcement agencies to take people’s cash (and other property) without charging them with a crime! Then, citizens must prove they are innocent in order to get their money back.
Most amazing is the fact that the three law enforcement agencies that are involved get to split the money! Whatever they can keep becomes a slush fund they can use to expand their budgets without legislative approval. The conflict of interest is clear. As a result, rather than arresting people and charging them with a crimes, our law enforcement officials make getting cash and other assets an end unto itself.
This is another example of how the failed drug wars have gotten out of control. Our police have become militarized trying to fight the drug wars. People who have never been violent or used any force against anyone have been made into criminals. Then, because of their “criminal record”, they can’t get jobs and are prohibited from participating in benefits of our society.
We need to put a complete halt to civil asset forfeiture and we need to stop making criminals out of people who do no harm to others. Ask candidates if they will help put an end to this travesty of justice.
Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2014/09/30/iowa-state-patrol-cash-seizure-illegal-gamblers-say/16511135/