A knock-and-announce “dynamic entry” raid – one of more than 100 carried out in this country every day – ends with the police shooting one of the family dogs to death as a seven-year-old watches. The first shot fired at the dog, a bull mastiff, missed and hit a corgi, which is a reminder that gunshots tend to hit organisms other than the one they’re intended for. Did I mention the seven-year-old? Yes, dogs can be dangerous; and police ought to have less drastic means of dealing with them. They probably do, outside the adrenaline binge of a dynamic entry.
Payoff: a misdemeanor quantity of cannabis. (Admittedly, the homeowner had a prior for cocaine distribution. But since the police waited eight days between getting the warrant and serving it, it’s not clear what the hurry was. There’s no claim that they had reason to think anyone was armed, beyond the simple fact that it was a drug raid.)
But it’s a powerful reminder of the most important point left out of the new national drug strategy: that the drug enforcement effort is enormously expensive in money and in suffering: not only 500,000 people behind bars at any one time, but incidents such as this one. A serious strategy – i.e., one that didn’t have to pass agency review and White House vetting – would identify the costs of the drug-control effort as a social problem on the same level as illicit drug abuse itself. (Alcohol and tobacco abuse dwarf both halves of the illicit-drug problem, which is why I remain skeptical of most legalization schemes despite the demonstrated folly of much of the current policy.) We should be trying to minimize the costs of control as well as the costs of abuse. That means focusing enforcement and sentencing on the most violent drug dealers and those who create mass public disorder by selling in open markets, and abandoning the fantasy that enforcement – as opposed to the laws themselves – can substantially shrink the supply of illicit drugs in established mass markets.
Only in the drug-war atmosphere would this sort of behavior seem reasonable to the police, and to the elected officials who stand behind them. And Von is surely right that the demonstrated social and personal harms of cannabis are simply not adequate to justify this amount of violence in its suppression. I’m still against opening cannabis to commercial exploitation, but allowing growing for personal use or by genuine consumer co-ops has to be a less bad solution than the one we have now.
Even for the drugs we can’t reasonably think about legalizing, we need to de-militarize enforcement. This sort of raid shouldn’t be carried out for no better reason than to avoid destruction of evidence. If there’s reason to believe that there are weapons at the site of the raid , of course the cops have to go in heavy. But SWAT tactics have become routine in drug raids, based in this case on no specific suspicion about weapons.