Oh no, drug dealers!

One of my frustrations with our national stupidity on drug policy is how many people have some basic sympathy towards those struggling with addiction, but oh boy to they want to publish those awful “drug dealers.”  Little do the realize that the two are often one in the same.  Oh, sure there are plenty of high-level guys who never actually use the product and sow crime and discord throughout neighborhoods.  But many, many “drug dealers” are drug addicts just looking to sell enough drugs so they can afford to get their own fix.  Obviously, it is entirely non-sensical for law enforcement and our criminal justice system to be targeting this group.  Alas, the latest from New York City:

The 55-year-old crack addict counted his change outside a Harlem liquor store. He had just over a dollar, leaving him 35 cents short of the cheapest mini-bottle.

The 21-year-old heroin addict sat in a McDonald’s on the Lower East Side, wondering when his grandmother would next wire him money. He was homeless, had 84 cents in his pocket and was living out of two canvas bags.

Each was approached by someone who asked the addict for help buying drugs. Using the stranger’s money, each addict went to see a nearby dealer, returned with drugs, handed them over and was promptly arrested on felony drug-dealing charges. The people who had asked for drugs were undercover narcotics officers with the New York Police Department.

A review of the trials in those cases and two others illuminates what appears to be a tactic for small-scale drug prosecutions: An undercover officer, supplying the cash for the deal, asks an addict to go and buy $20 or $40 worth of crack or heroin. When the addict — perhaps hoping for a chance to smoke or inject a pinch — does so, he is arrested.

In the case of the 21-year-old at the McDonald’s, the undercover officer was an unkempt woman who gave the impression she was about to experience withdrawal, the 21-year-old testified. In one of the other cases, an officer allowed an addict to use his cellphone to call a dealer.

It is impossible to determine how widespread this law enforcement tactic is, but the four recent cases reviewed by The New York Times raise troubling questions about the fairness and effectiveness of the way the Police Department uses undercover officers. Officers neither arrested nor pursued the dealers who sold the drugs to the addicts. Instead, the undercover officers waited around the corner or down the block for the addict to return with the drugs before other officers swooped in.

Not only is this just plain wrong, as a matter of policy, it is criminally stupid.  Whomever thinks it is a good idea to spend police resources asking addicts to buy drugs and then arresting them for being a “drug dealer” should be fired.  Any anybody who thinks this is a good idea is ignorant and unserious about how we should actually deal with drugs in this country.

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