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.
The Des Moines Register recently reported that 36 Iowa counties have joined in a law suit against opioid makers. (See link to Register article below.) Two law firms are enlisting counties across the country to go after drug manufacturers and others for the costs of the opioid crisis. There is no cost to the counties. If successful, the “Lawyers will be awarded a portion of the settlement, …” (Interesting that the word “settlement” is used instead of “judgment”.)
What is often missing in much of the opioid crisis discussion is how our government’s policy of prohibition has made a bad situation even worse. When a person becomes physically addicted to opioids, they will do almost anything to get the drugs they want. If the drugs are not available legally, or if legal drugs cost too much, addicts will find illegal alternatives. According to the CDC, 60% of opioid deaths do not involve prescription opioids. That is, in 60% of opioid deaths the person who died was using illegal opioids. (See CDC reference below.) A significant problem with illegal drugs is that is no way to assure the quality and potency of the drugs. In the case of opioids, that leads to inadvertent over-doses because the illegal drug was much more powerful than thought.
If opioid addicts were able to readily get prescription methadone or other FDA approved opioids at reasonable costs, many deaths would be prevented. That would also take the profit out of the illegal opioid drug trade. If opioid addicts were treated under a medical model rather than a criminal model, it is likely that more opioid addicts would seek help to solve their addiction problem. But as it is, under our drug war, prohibition policy, addicts have good reason to not seek help.
As The Des Moines Register reported on 10/13/2016, “Black Iowans are seven times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than white Iowans…” (See link below.) Drug possession. A crime without a victim. Arrests that create a criminal record that seriously negatively affects a person’s ability to get a job.
Even if blacks do possess illegal drugs at a rate seven times more than whites, which I very much doubt, treating possession of any drug as a crime is clearly unfair, if not racist. Why don’t people get arrested for “possession” if they are caught with a six pack of beer? Why aren’t people be arrested and charged with “intent to deliver” if they are caught with more than a case of beer? Why aren’t people charged with a more serious crime if they are caught with high alcohol content distilled spirits, which are surely more dangerous?
We need to end the immoral and impractical drug wars. The correct and reasonable thing to do is to legalize and regulate the manufacture, sale and use of all drugs, just like alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs. Just like with alcohol, fair regulations would include protecting our children, and prohibiting driving vehicles while intoxicated. In any case, we need to end prohibition.
Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2016/10/12/iowa-ranks-2nd-worst-racial-disparities-drug-arrests/91958452/
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 Register and Kathie Obradovich for the essay about the failure of our federal legislators to include reform of civil asset forfeiture laws in the Criminal Justice and Corrections Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. (10/8/2015 – “Will Justice reform leave out forfeiture abuse?”)
It really is terrible that we have laws that allow law enforcement officers to confiscate property without charging any person for any crime, and that allow law enforcement agencies to keep most of what they take. Once property is seized, the burden of proof shifts to the owner of the property to prove that the property was not used in any crime…. guilty until proven innocent.
As you reported, reforms were introduced in the Iowa Senate last spring, but missed a committee deadline. What you did not report was that the committee that failed to move forward with those reforms is chaired by Steve Sodders from State Center, who is a Deputy Sheriff in Marshall County. As the Register printed last spring, (4/16/15, “Panelists: Reform Iowa civil forfeiture law”) Sodders thinks the answer is to have the State of Iowa pay for an attorney to help owners try to get their property back. He did not express any interest making reforms that would bring back the presumption of innocent until proven guilty, or that would correct the conflict of interest problem that allows law enforcement agencies to keep much of what they seize, or that would provide for public reporting of all assets seized.
Bills that would right these wrongs will likely be introduced again next year. We all must put pressure on the Iowa Legislature to get these reforms passed.
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.