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.

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