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Calling in the Guard: State Dems Get in Touch With Their Inner Drug-Warrior

Opinion Editorial
February 12, 2009

Author: Mike Krause

A slavish devotion to drug prohibition in the United States has spawned predatory and hugely flawed practices at nearly every level of government. Colorado lawmakers have actually cranked up that devotion by turning the Colorado National Guard into really well armed drug police working on commission for the federal government.

So anyone hoping the Democrat takeover of Colorado state government will lead to legislative marijuana law reforms (or any other drug law law reforms for that matter) of any significance may want to lower their expectations a bit.

In 2007, the Democrat controlled legislature (with plenty of Republican support) approved HB 1275 which designates the Colorado National Guard as a law enforcement agency for the purpose of “sharing in the federal asset forfeiture program” as part of the Guard’s counter drug operation in Colorado. And last November, the Guard got its first taste of seizure bounty, collecting over $93,000 for its part in a marijuana cultivation bust in Mesa County.

According to the Guard’s Joint Counter Drug Task Force web page, “Our primary function is to provide military unique skills and equipment as a force multiplier for law enforcement agencies involved in narcotics enforcement.”

In Colorado, the “war on drugs” has gone from metaphor to actual military action.

The website of the Colorado House Democrats proudly notes that “for the first time ever, the Guard is able to receive a portion of the criminal assets seized in anti-drug operations. With these funds, the Guard can afford both to provide support to law enforcement, and to keep drugs out of the hands of teens.”

In other words, they’re doing it for the children. But the idea that we have to militarize law enforcement, criminalize consensual behavior and mutually agreeable economic transactions, and seize property to divvy up among government agencies in order to frighten adolescents into abstinence is nonsense.

Among the conclusion of the book, An Analytical Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy, published by the American Enterprise Institute is that government anti-drug efforts might be more believable to adolescents following marijuana de-criminalization for adults, “These programs could make a clearer distinction between marijuana and other drugs in terms of their dangers and thus increase the credibility of their messages about more dangerous drugs.”

So the real message to our youth is that if after becoming an adult, should you make lifestyle choices that certain politicians disapprove of, then men with guns (and now soldiers with helicopters) will arrest you and take away your stuff.

Moreover, the House Democrats seem fine with the idea of the National Guard directly benefiting from seized assets in contradiction to Colorado law. In 2002, the Colorado legislature removed some of the direct financial incentive to seize property from the state’s asset forfeiture laws, declaring that proceeds from seized assets “shall not be considered a source of revenue to meet normal operating needs” for the seizing agency.

The much more generous federal asset forfeiture laws allow proceeds to go directly to state and local law enforcement agencies. Agencies participating in the federal asset seizure program can get hefty commission checks from the federal government. This in turn gives the federal drug war bureaucracy tremendous influence over the practices and and priorities of state and local agencies. According to the Guard’s own Counterdrug Asset Seizure Program, its share of the federal bounty will be used primarily to “support Colorado law enforcement agencies” that are part of Colorado’s Joint Counter Drug Task Force.

So the drug war as fought by the federal government is partly a war against the rights of people to control their own state and local governments.

Whether for the children or for the federal bounty, the participation of the Colorado National Guard in drug enforcement and asset forfeiture is a bad idea. It blurs what should be a clear line between soldier and cop, sets a hugely dangerous precedent of military involvement in civilian law enforcement and increases the federal government’s influence into the practices and priorities of state and local agencies and takes the disastrous war on drugs to a new level in Colorado.

Most disturbing is that the Democrats who run the legislature seem fine with this.

This article originally appeared in the Denver Daily News, February 10th, 2009.