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Guest opinion
(Originally published in the Hannibal, Missouri Courier-Post, Monday, February 22, 1999)

We need to stop the War on Drugs

By Willie Richmond, Marion County Commissioner

Government's failure to act on drug reform is causing tyranny in this country. To say the War on Drugs is not working is an understatement. Our criminal justice system is being swept into a drug war that causes more harm than substance abuse itself.

Civil forfeiture allows the government to profit from black market assets through criminal windfall. Billions of dollars in forfeitures are distributed to help create drug enforcement agencies that become special interest groups, dependent on the very black market they are designed to stop.

The right of due process is being consumed by government's appetite for forfeiture. Americans who have done no wrong, are losing money and property without even an arrest. Missouri law requires that state forfeitures go to our educational system to prevent "forfeiture for profit" by law enforcement. However, criminal justice agencies circumvent this requirement by implementing federal law.

Drug offenses tried in federal court rose from more than 12,000 in 1992 to more than 16,000 in 1998. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist warned Congress "The trend to federalize crimes that have traditionally been handled in state courts ... threaten to change entirely the nature of our federal system."

The good zeal of law enforcement is turning into over-zealous corruption. Government cannot handle forfeiture but won't admit it and has an economic interest not to stop it.

Donald Scott would not sell the government his 250-acre ranch, which adjoined federal parklands. The 62-year-old was shot to death during an invasion of his home by a narcotics task force looking for pot. No pot was found and the coroner ruled his death a homicide. An inquiry indicated that forfeiture of his property was a major motivating factor in the raid.

The drug war has allowed murder charges against four individuals be dismissed in Baltimore's Circuit Court, due to back log in the legal system. (January/99) Michael N. Ganbrill, district public defender for Baltimore, reported that over 80 percent of the cases in District Court are drug cases. The dismissed murder defendants had been waiting more than three years for trial.

Chad MacDonald was pressured by the Brea Police to become an informant after being arrested for drug possession. Believing he would be protected, the 17-year-old high school student was brutally murdered and his girlfriend raped and left for dead.

Right here in our own hometown a teen was allowed a reduced sentence for a traffic violation if he would act as an informant. He helped set up and bust one of your children on drug charges. Another local case involved the arrest of six people for "attempt to possess." No illegal drugs were even present in the sting except in the minds of those arrested. In an interview by the Hannibal Courier-Post Feb. 6, 1998, a law enforcement official indicated that the intent of a "reverse" sting is to "... instill enough paranoia."

1 am outraged that citizens are subjected to these kinds of police tactics. Why are we allowing the Government to play such a role in our lives?

Political idealism is replacing family values with government rules and regulations. Government's futile attempt to eradicate substance abuse has turned into a War on Americans.

Our prison population continues toward the two million mark while over 60 percent of those incarcerated are for victimless crimes.

Are strict drug laws working or being used as a whipping post for everything we think is wrong in America? It's obvious that the grand design of the War on Drugs has become a tragedy.

It is the responsibility of government to salvage our Constitution by bringing about drug reform and the abolishment of civil forfeiture before our whole criminal justice system evolves into perpetual tyranny.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR; Willie Richmond is Eastern District Marion County Commissioner and holds a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman University.

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