A Little Pot Propels a Big Federal Case

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Mar 1, 2001.

  1. Editorial
    Source: Northwest Florida Daily News

    Last week the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling that said it's OK for police to keep you out of your home if they reasonably believe you would destroy evidence of criminal wrongdoing that might be inside. You might ask, isn't a man's home his castle?
    Well, since the vote was 8-1, with Justice John Paul Stevens dissenting, the foremost constitutional lawyers in the country said the case boiled down to a "probable cause" issue.

    In this instance, an Illinois woman asked for a police escort to keep the peace while she was removing her possessions from the home she shared with her husband. As she was taking her things to her car, she mentioned to one of the two officers accompanying her that her husband had a small amount of marijuana in the home.

    The officer spoke with the homeowner, Charles McArthur, on the porch of the home and asked for permission to search. Mr. McArthur declined to allow the search without a warrant, at which point the officer told Mr. McArthur he would not be allowed back into the house without an escort while the other officer went for a search warrant.

    When the warrant arrived two hours later, the police found less than 2.5 grams of marijuana under a couch and arrested Mr. McArthur on a charge of possession, a misdemeanor in Illinois.

    Mr. McArthur was able to suppress the evidence at his trial and an appeals court upheld the suppression. The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which last week sent the case back to the state, ordering it to allow the marijuana to be introduced as evidence.

    The justices disagreed with the Illinois courts for several reasons. They noted that because the police had enough probable cause to obtain a search warrant, they likely would have been within constitutional boundaries if they'd searched the house without a warrant. The court also wrote that because the officers believed evidence would have been destroyed if Mr. McArthur had been allowed to return to the house, that belief constituted a "pressing or urgent law enforcement need."

    Justice Stevens dissented on that point. He didn't believe that the circumstances - a misdemeanor possession charge - rose to the level of urgency needed to detain Mr. McArthur.

    For our money, that could be said for much of America's war on drugs.

    The government went to a lot of trouble and expense - testing our civil rights along the way - in prosecuting a man for a tiny amount of pot. It's one of the biggest problems with the government's second-guessing of what is, for consenting adults, arguably a personal choice.

    Certainly a drug dealer who kills to protect his turf deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But what about those adults in Middle America who light up a joint after a tough day at the office?

    We tried banning alcohol once and got the same results; providers who broke the law became wealthy and demand skyrocketed.

    Increased crime is one of the unintended consequences of the war on drugs as some users turn to crime to support their costly habits; prohibition of anything pushes its price up. But drugs themselves aren't necessarily the cause.

    And prisons have filled with people who have run afoul of Draconian sentencing laws that are a result of government's get-tough-on-drugs stance.

    Granted, plenty of those people might well be in prison in any event - those who have no intention of earning an honest buck and who've simply found another lucrative, illegal activity in drugs. But if that is their penchant, let them serve their time for real crimes against other people.

    All of which brings us back to the inescapable conclusion that America needs to re-examine its treatment of what is really a social problem.

    Repeating history?

    The war on drugs could get the United States involved in a real war in which we have no stake. A mid-February news report out of Colombia took note of the rescue of a downed Colombian helicopter crew by U.S. anti-drug workers. The U.S. civilians are in Colombia as part of a drug-crop eradication program.

    A Colombian official reported that the workers flew into a firefight and plucked the downed crew to safety.

    We applaud their bravery but have to question America's expanding involvement in Colombia's civil war as part of our ill-advised drug war.

    It continues to remind us of another foreign civil war the United States got sucked into - one that still reverberates throughout this country.

    Source: Northwest Florida Daily News (FL)
    Published: February 28, 2000 page A1
    Copyright: 2001 Northwest Florida Daily News
    Contact: tomc@nwfdailynews.com
    Website http://www.nwfdailynews.com/

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