Most folks here know that our former police chief, Norm Stamper, has become an outspoken proponent of ending drug prohibition. The organization that he works with today (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – LEAP) currently has thousands of members across the country. Recently, the Union-Leader, a New Hampshire paper, profiled several police officers who enforce the drug laws during work hours, but speak out against them as members of LEAP in their spare time.
LEAP represents the most prominent deviation from the standard political orientation of police organizations in this country. For nearly every major drug policy reform initiative of the past few years – both here and in other states – the primary opposition have been police unions. And for years, police organizations have always been seen as a “special” special interest, easily trumping the arguments of civil libertarians, even when those “potheads” were exactly right about what the real consequences would be. And the politicians always stood by the police. But today, that dynamic has changed.
Back in November, I posted about a troubling incident involving a man from Jefferson County named Stephen Dixon. Border Patrol officials were stopping cars at a roadblock near the Hood Canal Bridge and arrested Dixon, a disabled veteran and medical marijuana patient, for having 3 grams of marijuana on him while a passenger in a car. Eventually, U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan dismissed his case and told the Border Patrol to stop referring minor drug cases to him. And Sullivan is no Norm Stamper either, he’s the guy who’s been trying to extradite Marc Emery from Canada.
But the Border Patrol out on the Olympic Peninsula has continued to take advantage of a law that gives them free reign to set up roadblocks and question people within 100 miles of any international border. Despite claims that they’re looking for terrorists, Border Patrol agents have been using this power primarily to chase after undocumented workers and drugs. The following video looks at this huge expansion of Border Patrol personnel on the peninsula along with the tactics being used, including boarding public buses and questioning people about their citizenship.
As you can see from the video, not all law enforcement officials are happy about what’s going on. Jefferson County Sheriff Michael Brasfield turned down requests for assistance with what the Border Patrol is calling “Operation Stonegarden,” primarily because it’s far too focused on detaining illegal immigrants and not enough on securing ports of entry. The Police Chief in Port Townsend has also spoken out against what the Border Patrol is doing.
Even politicians are starting to get involved in the protests as well. Congressman Norm Dicks sent a letter to the incoming head of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, referring to the tactics of Border Patrol as “rogue actions by agents with questionable jurisdiction.” As Norm Dicks also concedes in his letter, he was someone who had previously asked for an increased Border Patrol presence along the Canadian border. He has also voted to allow Federal law enforcement officials to use resources to override Washington State’s medical marijuana law. Now he’s found himself in a position to have to fight to scale some of this back.
That dynamic is starting to happen in a lot of places. Over the past few decades, many politicians didn’t feel it was politically smart to question law enforcement budgets for fear that they’d be labeled “soft on crime.” Today, we find ourselves in an economic situation that now longer allows politicians this luxury. Going after undocumented workers, much like going after petty drug use, is one of those areas where we’ll need to reassess our priorities.
The Obama Administration has gotten off to a fairly good start on some of these issues. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that the DEA raids in medical marijuana states would end was great news for those concerned with the ability for local and state governments to establish their own regulations on drug use. This opens the door to new avenues for fixing the gigantic budget messes that the states find themselves dealing with.
It’s clear that the people of the peninsula aren’t threatened in any way by the undocumented status of many of the workers among them. As was shown in the video above, the Border Patrol crackdown has even harmed the local farming economy by going after these individuals. Is that what we should be focusing our resources on? Is this a smart investment of our tax dollars at such a critical time?