The Financial Burdens on Law Enforcement

leap-badgeMy local chief of police just sent out a missive on the town list serv warning of underage drinking in connection with the pending graduation parties. Fine, probably not a bad idea. But then this jumped out at me:

Some consider underage drinking a “Rite Of Passage”.  In Vermont, we consider it against the law.  With the continued emphasis on our budget to conserve every dollar, it is more important then ever to reduce the financial burden that underage drinking places on our stretched-thin budget.

I’m not sure I can follow his logic. Is he saying that parents should do the right thing because he doesn’t have the money to deal with arresting their drunk kids? Does he really think that’s the incentive that’ll make parents act any differently?

Given his reasoning, I’m curious to know if Chief Robinson has a similar problem with the financial burden placed on his budget thru his required involvement in the pointless yet exhorbitantly expensive war on drugs? Imagine if he could stop spending time and effort (as he must, since in Vermont “it’s against the law”) chasing responsible adults who grow, trade, and use marijuana? I wonder if that wouldn’t have an even greater impact on his budget than parents telling their kids to put down the beer ’cause the police chief is running low on cash?

Of course, relieving him of the need to allocate resources to fighting the war on drugs would require a change in policy — either federally (yeah, good luck with that, given Obama’s dismissive & derisive laughter at the notion of changing anything about his War on Drugs — it’s going almost as well as his War on Afghanistan and his War on the Environment), or on a state level. The latter might be possible — particularly if local law enforcement chiefs like, say, Chief Robinson, went to their state reps and asked for them to take the futile and counterproductive task of enforcing pointless laws off their hands and budget.

A crazy, far-fetched idea? Hardly. From the Marijuana Policy Project:

If this year’s town meeting day ballot in Vermont’s capital of Montpelier is any indication, voters in the Green Mountain State are ready for a change in marijuana policy. In partnership with the Vermont Alliance for Intelligent Drug Laws, MPP sponsored a town meeting day ballot resolution aimed at building support for decriminalizing marijuana possession. By a margin of nearly 3-1 voters implored state legislators to pass legislation that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Nonetheless, Vermont’s elected officials were apparently too busy looking for ways to close the state’s gaping budget holes to be bothered with such a sensible and fiscally responsible proposal.

Indeed. While legalization could help save significantly on local law enforcement budgets (not to mention the judicial and prison system budgets), and while “the people” are clearly in favor of legalization, a majority of politicians, even in Vermont, don’t seem to want to take off their blinders and make the right choice. The argument that legalization will give us more trouble with kids getting into drugs is bunk, and has been debunked repeatedly. “The notion that we have to keep something completely banned for adults to keep it away from kids doesn’t hold up,” said Bruce Mirken, communications director of the MPP, quoted in an article in the Seattle Times, which specifically discussed the notion of suffering state budgets and the untenable perpetuation of the war on drugs.

Chief Robinson (and others like him) might find the courage from retired Vermont cop Tim Datig, former chief of police from Weathersfield, Bristol, and St. Albans, who now works with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and has visited Vermont repeatedly to lobby in Montpelier and educate acoss the state on the issue. According to this set of statistics, Vermont is second only to Alaska in marijuana usage, so decriminalizing it would like have a significant impact on law enforcement budgets.