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A recent KWPD SWAT team incident is the inspiration for today’s musing on man’s proclivity for destructive silliness in pursuit of noble ends.

The most heavily armed of Key West’s Finest recently had the job of “taking down” victims of a KWPD “reverse sting.” The operation took place in the usual neighborhood for that curious “law enforcement” activity, Bahama Village.  I know this, not because it was reported anywhere, but because I know an unlucky victim of the operation.

In case you are not familiar with the “reverse sting,” here’s how it goes: A young officer dressed in civilian clothes hangs around on a street corner, almost always in a poor neighborhood. When an unsuspecting citizen approaches the undercover officer, the officer will offer a friendly greeting and ask if the mark needs anything. Should the mark show an interest in buying contraband the officer takes the mark’s money and gives him something that looks like what he wanted but is really more than he bargained for.

As the mark leaves, the SWAT team swings into action. (Why a SWAT team is necessary for this job is a mystery, but the KWPD uses one. Perhaps dressing up as a Ninja Warrior relieves the tedium of waiting in the bushes to arrest people.) They arrest the mark for possession of the fake illegal drugs. In this case, in the now nationally famous KWPD style, dragging the harmless, unarmed mark off his bicycle and throwing him to the ground like he was Hulk Hogan on PCP.

Although he has no illegal drugs, he goes to jail. He enters the maw of the court and counseling system. His crime is intent to posses a banned substance, an Orwellian thought crime if ever there was one. He pleads guilty.

His real intent was to buy $100 worth of fun. Instead he joins the shuffling herd of drug sheep. He buys and pleads his way out of jail, but to stay out he must agree to a regular shearing by lawyers, probation officers, counselors and shrinks. He must register as a felon.

The participants in this shabby fraud divide the loot. The police department keeps the money taken from the sucker. They can also sometimes get a car or a scooter, or other valuables through confiscation. Bicycles generally go unconfiscated.  The police have some standards, after all.

It costs the luckless victim over a thousand to get out of jail. He spends a few thousand for an attorney and a few hundred a month for probation and pee tests. To determine if he needs counseling, he must see counselors, who, not surprisingly, recommend counseling. They are paid to counsel, after all. He pays his counselors $50 per hour.

On the bright side, the compulsory AA meetings are cheap at a dollar a throw and the drunks nonjudgmental. Never mind that this particular sheep has a steady job, is not addicted to drugs and only rarely uses them. Confession of his thought crimes, a properly humble attitude, and quiet submission to continued shearing will greatly shorten his servitude. If he pretends to be an addict instead of a resentful mule pulling the gravy train, he won’t spend as long in the harness.

Though each mule eventually gets out of harness and each sheep out of the corral, the system is dependent on a constant fresh supply of sheep and mules. The SWAT team stays busy rounding them up. Law enforcement for fun and profit.

The War on Drugs has developed a successful business model, creating criminals like a business produces customers. The drug offenders can be produced without drugs. Newly made “criminals” pay for their own “rehabilitation” like Blockbuster customers paying for video rentals. The main difference is that Blockbuster won’t rip you off, then hold you at gunpoint and make you pay to watch Dr. Phil call you a video junkie.

The moral implications of holding people at gunpoint for their own good, at their own expense, and for the benefit of the gunmen are troubling.  The primary beneficiaries of the Drug War are those working in the Drug War industry. They have an interest in justifying their actions. Those of us who are the supposed beneficiaries, taxpayers, citizens and potential sheep, should examine the system closely to determine who the real winners and losers are in the war.

The political dangers of a self-sustaining, morally questionable campaign against otherwise law-abiding citizens are worth a little thought as well. How did we get from regulating patent medicines to “reverse stings?”  How did originally sensible laws get cut loose from the anchor of common sense? How could something as harmless as protecting rural housewives from snake oil salesmen have gotten a whole, otherwise reasonably sane nation addicted to prohibition?

Answers to these questions will provide insight into our present problems. To find those answers, however, we must grab hold of our noses and plunge anew into the murky swamp of history. Unfortunately, the swamp is too deep and wide to do anything but test it with our bare toes in this space. My 1000 words are about up.

I can promise you, however, that my next article will sweep you, dear reader, from the discovery of the opiates, to patent medicine addictions, to the crusade against Chinese opium smokers in San Francisco.

We will explore the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the Harrison Act of 1914, Mormon pot heads in 1915, the Narcotic Import and Export and Heroin Acts of the 1920’s.

We’ll probe the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and the creation of the FDA. We’ll surf the frenzied wave of drug prohibition laws that washed over the forties, fifties and sixties. We will encounter jazz musicians, coked up Negroes, pot crazed Mexicans and murderers who got off by pleading insanity by reason of being stoned.  And finally we will wash ashore on the desolate beach of mass incarceration that has risen out of the last three decades of the Drug War.

We will explore how the desire to control the behavior of THEM has come back to haunt US. We will examine how drug prohibition has turned the land of the free into the land of the snitches. We will look at how we can turn it back to the land of the free. We’ll look into how we can get the Ninja Warriors to go home and leave us alone.