Legalizing marijuana in Illinois would likely cause some drug-sniffing dogs in the state to be killed. That is the claim asserted by Chad Larner, the training director of the K-9 Training Academy in Macon County, Illinois in an in-depth Pantagraph article this week by Ryan Voyles. In Voyles’ article, counterarguments are presented that there will be alternatives to euthanizing such dogs, including involving the dogs continuing to live with their handlers or going through new training. But, assuming such options do not work out for some of the dogs, here is another option that is much better than keeping marijuana legal so some dogs can be saved — send the drug-sniffing dogs to a retirement community for dogs.
Sending drug-sniffing dogs to a retirement community will carry expenses. But, so does the war on marijuana. War on marijuana expenses include the costs of paying police and using police resources — including drug-sniffing dogs — to track down and arrest people for alleged marijuana law violations. Once individuals are arrested, the costs continue to mount with jailing and prosecution expenses. When arrested individuals are found guilty, the costs continue for incarceration or alternative punishments imposed.
The costs are not just on the government’s side. Arrested individuals rack up costs including payments to lawyers, missed work, and even loss of their jobs and homes in the process of asserting their innocence or trying to work out a plea deal. They also suffer with the psychological and physical hardships that come along with being arrested and detained, as well as having the threat of future punishment hanging over them, or the actuality of imposed punishment. Their friends and families tend to suffer as well.
There are also the costs of loss of life and serious injury, both for police and people caught up in marijuana law enforcement, that come with the war on marijuana. Police raids of homes and businesses to enforce marijuana laws, for example, pose great risks to people, and their dogs, present in the raided locales. And the police conducting the raids can as well be at risk of death or injury from individuals startled by the raids and seeking to protect themselves from the surprise, unknown intruders.
Another cost of the war on marijuana is measured in restraint on liberty. Prohibited marijuana-related activities such as growing marijuana, selling marijuana, and consuming marijuana are nonviolent activities. There is no victim. Arguably, some people choosing to be involved in these activities are making bad choices. But, when you respect liberty you must respect the right of people to make nonviolent choices for themselves, whether or not you think those choices are correct. Criticize these choices, educate people about the harms of these choices, choose not to associate with people who make these choices, sure. But, if you use force against people in reaction to these choices, then you are opposing liberty.
It must also be acknowledged that in some cases the use of marijuana is both an exercise of liberty and a generator of positive affects for the individual users and others around him. Think for example of the many people who experience medical benefits from marijuana use. Many individuals could not obtain such benefits from other sources, including pharmaceuticals. People also opt for marijuana use because of its lower cost or lesser negative side-effects compared to other medical options.
Even the liberty of individuals who have no involvement with marijuana is harmed by the war on marijuana. These individuals can be subjected to police actions including searches of their vehicles, raids of their homes, and privacy-invading surveillance undertaken in an effort to enforce marijuana laws. Such violations of liberty in the enforcing of marijuana laws are made more likely by the victimless nature of marijuana law violations. With the absence of a victim, unlike in violent crimes such as murder and assault and in property crimes such as burglary, marijuana enforcement moves to tactics such as pretext car stops, freewheeling stop-and-frisk, home raids based on tips from informants, and surveillance to nab possible law violators.
Further, some people, including people with no involvement with marijuana, are targeted by police and prosecutors via asset seizures that can be undertaken based on just a suspicion of property having a connection to a drug law violation. The property is seized, and the owner is left to pursue attempting to disprove the connection or, likely due to lack of resources or will to put in the effort on what may be a hopeless cause, just walk away from the legalized theft. Showing how crooked the whole process is, sometimes the property owner will be able to make a deal to receive back a portion of seized money in exchange for a promise to take no further legal action in the matter. It is not about guilt or innocence. It is not about justice. It is about grabbing the car, the cash, et cetera.
The safety of individuals also suffers due to the war on marijuana, as well as the broader war on drugs, because prohibition pushes actions into the black market where force is often used to deal with matters that in legal markets are handled peacefully. An example of such violence is attacks by rival drug gangs upon each other related to control of territory. People who happen to be nearby can be hurt and killed in such violence. And such violence can turn a good neighborhood bad.
Drug users are at risk in the black market of receiving drugs of unpredictable content and effects. Overdoses related to the inclusion of fentanyl in drugs is a recent example of the risk. If drugs were legal, such risk would generally disappear as individuals could buy their drugs from stores just as they do with beer, wine, and liquor countrywide, with the products coming from known companies and having predictable potency. Similarly, the situation is developing where stores sell known, predictable medical and recreational marijuana in the states that have legalized such.
Also, states that have legalized medical and recreational marijuana have imposed taxes on the newly created market. Legalizing marijuana thus becomes not just a money-saver for governments. It also becomes a money-maker.
So, enough with the threats of “keep marijuana illegal or these dogs will die.” Without even taking into account the benefits to liberty and reduced costs to people generally that come with legalization. the vast amount of money saved by government by ending the war on marijuana, as well as the new money gained from taxes on legal marijuana, is many multiples more than the costs that could arguably come from sending some drug-sniffing dogs to a retirement community — even a luxury retirement community with superlative accommodations and medical care.
That drug-sniffing dogs must die in the absence of prohibition will not become a real problem unless government chooses to make it so. Legalization will free up money to pay for dogs’ care if necessary, and charitable organizations would probably be happy to take on helping such dogs at no cost to government, just as they do for wild, dangerous animals such as tigers.
Indeed, the killing of dogs threat is reminiscent of the claim a few years back from a police union leader in New York City that reducing marijuana arrests would be the “beginning of the breakdown of a civilized society.” In both cases, the best course is to not believe the hype. Civilization and the drug-sniffing dogs should be just fine without the war on marijuana.
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