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Concentrate on the Big Dealers

Opinion Editorial
March 16, 2005

By Mike Krause

Colorado has long depended on federal assistance in carrying out the states drug control strategy, which is mostly a supply side, interdiction and incarceration model. A significant piece of that assistance may be coming to an end, and Colorado may need to re-think its drug war priorities and tactics.

In his 2006 federal drug control budget, President Bush is calling for more than a billion dollars in reductions to federal law-enforcement grants to the states.

According to an analysis by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the budget would completely eliminate the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance program, which in 2005 provided $634 million, mostly for counter-narcotics projects, to the states.

In 2003, $6.9 million in Byrne grant money, matched with $6.3 million in state and local funds, was spent in Colorado.

The biggest recipients were the numerous multi-jurisdictional narcotics task forces operating throughout Colorado; they divided up about $2.7 million in federal dollars, matched by $3.7 million in local funding.

Other drug control programs funded through Byrne in 2003 include the 12th Judicial District DRUG Crimes Prosecution Unit ($33,331), the 16th Judicial District Drug Task Force Attorney ($61,948) and the Colorado State Patrols Counter-Drug Federal Procurement Program ($75,000), which lets state and local agencies purchase equipment for counter-drug programs at a discount through the federal governments volume buying power.

Federal Drug Czar John Walters defended the reductions, saying it is time to eliminate anti-drug programs that don’t work, Otherwise, you are chasing primarily small people, putting them in jail, year after year, generation after generation.

Mr. Walters is right.

According to the 2003 report for Colorado, just one year of Byrne-funded task force operations produced 3,600 arrests for illegal drug trafficking, manufacturing and possession in Colorado. In 2004 alone, there were over 10,700 adult criminal drug case filings in Colorado courts; drug cases constituted a quarter of all criminal case filings. In the last twenty years, Colorado has quadrupled the number of drug offenders in state prison. They now account for 20% of the total prison population.

Yet, according to the Drug Enforcement Administrations 2005 state fact sheet for Colorado, illicit drugs remain readily available in Colorado.

Mexican black tar heroin is available in the major metropolitan areas of Colorado, and “various law enforcement and treatment indicators suggest that heroin use and availability may be on the rise in Colorado.

Concerning cocaine, Enforcement activities reflect a steady supply of cocaine coming into and through Colorado. DEA continues, Crack is available in the larger metropolitan areas of Colorado, generally in street level amounts.

And Marijuana, according to DEA, is available throughout Colorado.

The majority of task force resources in Colorado go towards methamphetamine production within the state. The 2003 Byrne report claims 500 methamphetamine labs seized for the year. Yet according to DEA, Most of the methamphetamine available in Colorado originates in Mexico or comes from large-scale laboratories in California. DEA continues, Clandestine laboratories are problematic to law enforcement in Colorado, due more to the public safety and environmental issues they present than the volume of methamphetamine they produce.

In short, decades of an ambitious interdiction and incarceration strategy has failed to significantly affect the availability of illicit drugs in Colorado.

Drug czar Walterss congressional testimony proposes a more focused, intelligence-based strategy of targeting the upper levels of the drug world, that will increasingly, with the information we have, and the way were doing targeting, allow us to break the businesses that are the drug trade.

Walters summarized: Break the business. Dont break generation after generation, is what we are going for.

Whether or not the new federal strategy works, it will have important implications for Colorado. If Colorado wants to continue to fight the drug war by locking up drug users and addicts (the latter are also often small-time dealers), Colorado is going to have to pay its own way. When a government spending program is such an obvious failure that even federal bureaucrats admit that its not working, does it make sense for Colorado to spend even more taxpayer money on the exact same program?