While some states are making headlines by liberalizing marijuana laws, others are acquiring new weapons to fight the war on drugs.
By taking advantage of the Pentagon’s controversial 1033 program, which allows them to acquire surplus weapons and armored vehicles from the military, police departments across the country are prepped to annihilate drugs and drug offenders.
Under the 1033 program, an estimated $4.3 to $5.6 billion in surplus weapons from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has been delivered to police departments across the country over the last several years. Though local cops have been quietly amassing arsenals for some time, the program only came under real scrutiny last year, as the world watched the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, protest the police killing of an unarmed teenager. Protestors endured tear gas and rubber bullets while police in riot gear leveled assault weapons at them from atop armored vehicles.
New concerns about 1033 and the militarization of police has not stopped law enforcement officials from submitting requests for the military’s leftovers. Mother Jones Magazine published 465 applications for the highly sought-after Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP). The stated rationales for requiring such a vehicle ranged from the legitimate to the bizarre. One theme that was apparent from the diversity of requests, however, was law enforcement’s need for the vehicles to successfully combat drugs and drug offenders.
The frequent citing of drugs in the requests should not be surprising considering that the 1033 program has its origins in the early days of the so-called war on drugs. Though the program was greatly expanded following the Al Qaida attack on New York on September 11, 2001, terrorism concerns ranked near the bottom of the list of reasons police officials offered as evidence that they needed the giant armored truck. In fact, of the 465 applications, 25 percent claimed the MRAP was necessary to fight drugs. That number was greater than the combined total of requests citing violent crimes including barricaded shooters, hostage situations and active shooters. Responding to terrorism and rescuing downed officers barely registered among the reasons police gave.
Most alarming for cannabis users and growers is the fact that marijuana tied with methamphetamine for mention of specific drugs to be combated with the MRAP. In one case, the sheriff of Clearwater County, Idaho, justified his request by saying that the 14-ton armored truck was needed for
“drug and marijuana eradication.”
Though it is unclear how often—or if ever—marijuana cultivators use land mines to protect their crops, Clearwater’s sheriff apparently believes that the threat is great enough that waiting for the nearest MRAP, located 6 hours away, is not consistent with maintaining law and order in this rural county of 10,000 residents.
Though it may be tempting to see the case of Clearwater as absurd, eradication of marijuana grows was in fact cited in six other requests for MRAPs made by sheriffs across the country. Such efforts against marijuana should serve to remind citizens of states such as Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Alaska that the war on drugs in America may not be over.