Vested Interests.............

With the record number of cannabis arrests publicized last week, came the usual round of supporter and media inquiries about ‘who actually supports keeping America’s cannabis prohibition in place?’

Without sounding overly jaded, it will not surprise many that a principle root of the problem here is ‘money’. In fact, our tax money.

Washington DC’s Roll Call newspaper had an article last week (10/15/08, pg 9, under the very aptly entitled ‘Vested Interests‘ section) that highlights one of the major sources for cannabis arrests in the United States, and how it’s possible demise in future might have positive effects for cannabis consumers in the coming years. One can argue that a major source of the steady increase in cannabis arrests circa 1992 corresponds closely with the massive federal funding received by local, county and state law enforcement departments in a block grant funding program administered by the United States Department of Justice called the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program, known to policy wonks as ‘Byrne/JAG’. The over $500 million in annual funds funneled to state and local law enforcement agencies have largely help establish multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency ‘anti-drug’ task forces that 1) feast on civil forfeiture laws (which often allow law enforcement, not elected politicians, to divide up seized assets labeled ‘drug money’) and 2) run around claiming that America is ‘winning the war on drugs’ or that ‘legalizing cannabis sends the wrong message to children’.

However, over the years a curiously quite and bipartisan effort has been forged to strip down Byrne/JAG from an $520 million annual appropriation to $170 million. That is a real cut in funding, even by the Beltway’s standard voodoo math! President Bush’s budget office, with support from powerful Republicans in the House and Senate, along with the current Democratic leadership, appear poised to engage in one of the most fundamental changes in criminal justice policy in the last 20 years: A de-escalation–an actual reduction–in federal government spending that helps fuels the war on some drugs. And this from Bush 2.0 and the Democratic leadership (who usually don’t agree on much these days), and despite broad support in Congress for law enforcement getting what they want (218 House members, and 56 Senator have signed a letter insisting that Byrne/JAG receive full funding in the proposed federal budget) seem to be, behind the scenes in government, checking some of the excesses of modern federal drug warring.

We’ll see.

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