'Pot' Busts Mushroom in Crackdown on Drugs

'Pot' Busts Mushroom in Crackdown on Drugs
Posted by FoM on November 21, 1999 at 07:50:12 PT
By Matthew Waite, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Source: Arkansas Online
Busting drug pushers and users is like fishing, explains Monroe County Sheriff Billy Ray Morris.  "You may go fishing one day and not get anything," he says. "But if you keep after it, you'll catch something."
The numbers make it appear that lots of police have been fishing this decade. And the catch has been good.  Drug arrests statewide in 1998 nearly doubled the total for 1992, the year crack cocaine started appearing in large amounts in the Natural State. More people were arrested for drugs in 1998 than for murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, car theft and arson combined.  While crack cocaine and now methamphetamine have received the most attention during the 1990s, marijuana arrests have almost tripled.  But the explosion of marijuana arrests may be a somewhat unintended consequence of a war on more serious drugs, police say.  Police and sheriff's deputies across the state say that much of their focus has been on crack houses and methamphetamine laboratories. But every time law officers go after crack dealers and methamphetamine makers or increase street crime patrols, they also find marijuana, for which criminal penalties were reduced when laws were changed in the early 1970s as part of a nationwide trend.  Jeff Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said the number of "pot" busts jumped because politicians called for crackdowns on drugs like crack in the early 1990s and methamphetamine in the late 1990s. Since marijuana is the most popular drug, Walker said, when police go looking for drugs -- any drugs -- they find marijuana most often.  "You certainly have to separate the political arena from the enforcement arena," he said. "What police chiefs and sheriffs say doesn't necessarily transfer to the street."  To a street cop, Walker said, "a drug arrest is a drug arrest is a drug arrest."  But the political rhetoric, as well as unprecedented increases in police manpower, has led to the creation of drug task forces, substantially larger drug investigation units and other enforcement efforts dedicated exclusively to going after drugs.  "When you do that, drug arrests go up, and since marijuana is the most popular drug, you'll see more marijuana," he said.  Many law enforcement officers and commanders said that adding officers has played a major role in increasing drug arrests. In urban departments some of the new officers went to drug enforcement units. For instance, the Little Rock Police Department had a half-dozen drug investigators in the late 1980s. Today there are more than 30.  Since 1992, law enforcement agencies in Arkansas have grown 39 percent, adding 1,476 sworn police officers in seven years, Arkansas Crime Information Center statistics show.  From 1992 to 1998, marijuana possession arrests have gone up 173 percent when all drug arrests have gone up 97 percent. And at the same time, marijuana possession arrests make up a larger share of the drug arrest total.  More than half of all drug arrests were for marijuana possession in 1998, compared with just more than one-third in 1992. In 1998, marijuana possession made up 52 percent of all drug busts -- 7,423 of 14,236 arrests. In 1992, 38 percent of all drug arrests were for marijuana possession, or 2,722 of 7,230 arrests.  Nationally, marijuana arrests are down slightly from 1997 and make up 44 percent of all drug arrests, according to the FBI.  But while drug arrests in Arkansas have been going up, crime rates have been going down.  In the seven years since 1992, state statistics show a 5.1 percent decrease in what are known as the index crimes: murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts and car thefts.  Statewide, individual police officers are handling an average of 9.47 fewer index crimes in 1998 than in 1992, a 32 percent decline. In 1998, officers in Arkansas dealt with 20.48 index crimes each, compared with 29.95 in 1992.  That, police say, means more officers have more time to go after problems, like drugs in a neighborhood, before the problems grow and cause other crimes.  Capt. John Morrow, assistant division commander in the criminal investigation division at the Arkansas State Police troop in Little Rock, has investigated drugs for the better part of 15 years.  For good reason, he said, the emphasis in many rural departments falls on methamphetamine cases. Morrow said that dealers are increasing, and the methamphetamine lab itself is a public health hazard. Where a marijuana field is basically a field of weeds, a methamphetamine lab can be a mobile hazardous waste site because of the toxic chemicals used to create the drug.  And, Morrow said, the drug affects users more severely by causing them to neglect children and commit crimes to get more methamphetamine.  "Look at what it does to [abusers] physically," he said. "It leads them down the road to destruction. There's no question."  Benton County sheriff's spokesman Tom Brewster said methamphetamine has been the chief drug his office has encountered.  "Meth is the scourge of the middle part of this country now," he said.  Brewster said one key piece of the anti-drug efforts in Benton County has been educating neighbors about methamphetamine, like what a lab smells like or looks like.  Along with more reports of meth, he said, have come reports of marijuana.  Police in the state's two largest departments -- Little Rock and North Little Rock -- admit that marijuana is not public enemy No. 1 when it comes to drugs and crime. The officers are quick to say that if they have information about marijuana dealing, they'll pursue it. But their current and past investigations focus on crack and methamphetamine.  The reason for that, they say, is that drugs often bring other crimes with them. And, police say, crack and methamphetamine, because of their addictiveness, are nearly guarantees of increased burglaries, robberies and thefts.  "Obviously we concentrate on drugs that are having a bigger impact on a community," Little Rock police Capt. Sam Williams said. "If we get information about someone dealing marijuana ... we are going to investigate it.  "If we had to do one or the other -- which we do not -- we would go after the crack houses and the people dealing the methamphetamine."  Williams, the drug investigations supervisor, said that many users of "hard" drugs -- such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and LSD -- use marijuana as a mild sedative to come off the other drug.  "You just don't find a crack abuser or methamphetamine abuser who doesn't smoke marijuana," Williams said. "Any time we increase emphasis on narcotics arrests, marijuana arrests have got to go up."  Sgt. Jim Scott, a North Little Rock police spokesman, said some explanation for the increase of marijuana-related arrests rests on police officers' noses. Scott said his department, like many others in the state, has started and increased foot and bike patrols through neighborhoods, increasing the chance that an officer will smell the drug.  Scott said those foot and bike patrols also increase the chances that a neighborhood resident will tell the police about drugs in the area. And increased training for patrol officers in drug recognition and street awareness has helped.  But Scott said that most marijuana arrests in North Little Rock stem from whatever activity attracted the officer's attention in the first place. He said the pot arrest may follow a traffic stop or a warrant check or other drug activity.  "You always find them in combinations," he said. "I've never been to a crack house ... where there wasn't marijuana in some quantity."  In more rural parts of the state, like Monroe County, drug investigations often mean state police investigators work with a local department that lacks the manpower for such investigations, Morrow said. State police will go in undercover where local officers couldn't, help with surveillance and provide money for drug purchases, he said.  Morrow said that the statewide addition of officers has helped the campaign against drugs.  But no matter what drug commanders want to go after, Morrow said, much of what gets taken off the street hinges on who is talking to police.  "In a sense, it comes back to their informants and what they can deliver to you," Morrow said.  Sheriff Morris said his office is going after all drugs, but the thrust of its drug investigations in the last few years has been methamphetamine.  The increase in drug arrests is a point of pride for the lawman. Monroe County now arrests more people for marijuana per 1,000 residents -- 11.3 -- than any other county in the state.  Morris said some of that stems from the presence of Interstate 40, where deputies lie in wait for drug traffickers to speed through their county. But some drug traffic is local, and the area drug dealers who were dealing mostly in marijuana years ago have also moved to methamphetamine, Morris said.  Now they sell what the buyer wants, he said.  "If you make a drug bust, you're going to find marijuana," Morris said. "As long as they have the money, they'll sell it to them."  Besides putting more emphasis on drug investigations, Morris, who has been sheriff since January, said he goes to area schools and tells students what happens when police arrest someone for drugs. He tells them about jail and what drugs do to people, but he also tells them things teen-agers fear more -- police can confiscate cars under drug forfeiture laws.  "I just know what these drugs do to these youngsters," he said. "There's no hope for them if we find them with drugs.  "I just pray for the youngsters that they listen to me and take my advice and don't fool with this stuff."  Published on Sunday, November 21, 1999Copyright  1999, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. 
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Comment #4 posted by Ally on November 21, 1999 at 11:55:34 PT
And follow the powder trail..all the way to the 
White huse...And to think we were all fooled for so long...Love, Ally
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Comment #3 posted by Ally on November 21, 1999 at 11:52:21 PT
It is the CIA's fault
Didn't we come from fish???Oh well, I know the author is right about one thing, "While crack cocaine and now methamphetamine have received the most attention during the 1990s, marijuana arrests havealmost tripled."
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Comment #2 posted by kaptinemo on November 21, 1999 at 09:24:29 PT
Such compassion for the 'the children' 
"There's no hope for them if we find them with drugs." As opposd to there *was* hope for them if you *didn't* find them with drugs? Given what happens in this country to 'drug offenders', I'd say the latter is more indicative of the usefulnes of 'helping' these kids as defined by this wannabe Nazi.Being ground up and spit out of the (self-proclaimed) "justice system", having your children torn from you, your home and car stolen by smiling thieves with badges, your career ruined, your job snatched from you, reduced to penury, your dignity in tatters, and your faith in democracy and law trampled, has a tendency to sour a person on the idea of 'liberty and justice for all'. If anything demonstrates the topsy-turvy sophistry that fuels the reasoning behind the WoSD, this is it. The problem is, (to use the metaphor) the WoSD is like a fish; when it rots, it starts from the head down. Those whose job it is to justify it can no longer face any real criticism of their corrupted, unworkable policy, so they scream their lies even louder, and threaten people like Gov. Johnson with political murder, and people like Peter McWilliams with the real thing. And to make sure everybody gets the hint that they are not just 'talk', they *commit* murder (Esequiel Hernandez, Mario Paz, et al) and pardon the muderers.Lovely country we have here. Such 'compassion' bestowed upon our children (Hernandez was 16 when the Marine snipers killed him). If we don't wise up and get active, we, too can expect to have such 'compassion' showered upon us.
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Comment #1 posted by Scott on November 21, 1999 at 08:01:05 PT:
It is like fishing...
>Busting drug pushers and users is like fishing, explains >Monroe County Sheriff Billy Ray Morris.>>"You may go fishing one day and not get anything," he says. >"But if you keep after it, you'll catch something." It is like fishing actually...Sometimes you might catch something small that needs to be thrown back in the water. Sometimes you find something large that needs to be delt with. After the police have caught their big "fish" they can then proceed to demoralize it, let it suffer, then cut it up and gut it, then throw whats left back into the water. Hopefully the fish can then rebuild its fragmented life and start over, but, if it gets caught again, the process will happen again five times as worse. Gotta love our law enforcment policies....
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