Weed Watch: DPS Says Drug Seizures Up

Troopers collect $160 million worth of cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana, department reports

The Texas Department of Public Safety reports that 2005 was another record-breaking year for drug seizures, with troopers collecting more than a ton of cocaine (2,285 pounds, to be exact), 153 pounds of methamphetamine, and nearly 23 tons of marijuana during routine traffic stops. In all, the seized booty is worth a cool $160 million, DPS reports. "Our troopers, who are trained to be on alert for criminal activity during traffic stops, have been rewriting the record books the last several years," DPS Director Col. Thomas Davis Jr., said in a press release.

The cocaine haul was the third largest in DPS history, and the meth score notched in as the second biggest. The $160 million – a "conservative" estimate, DPS says – ranks as the fourth largest amount ever seized by DPS. Trooper traffic-stop acumen notwithstanding, however, the department's banner year was aided in part by the decidedly less-than-genius smuggling skills of some traffickers – including the driver of a white SUV who stacked the rear parcel area of the vehicle with bricks of marijuana (in plain sight) and then got popped after getting into a one-vehicle accident. (For DPS drug trophy photos, check out www.txdps.state.tx.us/director_staff/public_information/pr060106.htm.) "Putting drug smugglers behind bars and taking thousands of pounds of drugs off the streets every year is a positive step in increasing safety," Davis said.

Speaking of lockin' 'em up, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University reports that federal prosecutions of drug-related crimes have actually dropped over the last five years. In January, prosecutors filed a total of 1,965 drug-related criminal cases in federal district courts, down 9% from December 2005, 8.1% from January 2005, and a whopping 28.8% since 2001, TRAC reports. Still, the decline doesn't appear to reflect any shift toward focusing on major drug crimes – indeed, 42% of the January cases were filed in magistrate court, which handles lower-level misdemeanor charges and "petty offenses." Of the total number of cases, charges related to manufacturing (read meth) increased 75% over last year; since 2001 the largest increase (61.5%) in prosecutions was for "providing or possessing contraband in prison," TRAC reports. Of the nearly 2,000 cases filed in federal district court in January, Texas' Western District (which includes Austin) ranked number two, with the second largest number of new drug cases (a drop from last year when the local court ranked numero uno); overall, however, the Western District has also seen the largest decline (46.8%) in total number of federal drug cases since 2001.

In other punitive drug-law news, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski on June 2 got his drug-warrior wish when he signed into law a bill re-criminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana – the afterglow may be fleeting, however, since the state's ACLU has vowed to fight the regressive measure, which clearly conflicts with rulings from the Alaska Supreme Court, which legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults in 1975, ruling that the right to privacy trumps worries that the drug would be harmful when used by adults at home. The court reaffirmed that position in 2003, striking down a 1990 ballot initiative that tried to recriminalize pot, ruling that it conflicted with the state's constitution, which guarantees that the "right of the people to privacy … shall not be infringed."

But Murkowski (picking up the potency parable so often floated by federal narcs) argues that the court's original ruling is moot since today's pot is more potent, and therefore more dangerous, than the 1970s variety, reports the Anchorage Daily News. He also said (seemingly without irony) that letting adults possess and use pot in the privacy of their own homes simply sends the wrong message to the kiddos. "We believe [the law] will allow the state to successfully defend the outlawing of today's stronger and more dangerous marijuana in the courts," he told the daily. Under the new law, possession of up to four ounces of pot, which was previously legal, will now be considered a criminal offense, punishable by up to a year in jail. The Alaska ACLU is striking back, filing a suit against the state on June 6 that claims the law is unconstitutional, as well as asking for an injunction to stop enforcement until the court has a chance to consider the case.

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond

    Weapon Against Cervical Cancer Approved

    Food and Drug Administration announces approval of vaccine that prevents cervical cancer and genital warts caused by human papilloma virus

    Fighting the Sex War

    Christina Page, author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex, visits Austin

    Maxey Helps Dems Rebuild

    Former state-representative- turned-political-consultant offers his grassroots organizer skills to help Texas Denocratic Party get it together

    Abbott Spanks Spammers

    AG secures more than $10 million settlement against former UT-student-turned-super-spammer Ryan Pitylak and partners
  • Anthony Graves Update

    Seeking to overturn a lower court's ruling that death row inmate Anthony Graves must be given a new trial by Sept. 12, AG's office files final appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

    As The Transportation Policy Turns, Latest Episode

    The great Central Texas toll roads drama continues to unfold

    Water Management: Swimming in Policy

    Governor-appointed committee outlines water policy issues it intends to prioritize

    Lobbying for Energy Efficiency

    Coalition aims to reduce state's electricity consumption and costs through expanded utility efficiency programs

    On the Water Front

    Austin Water Utility and EPA announce new labeling program for high-efficiency products

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle