The recent drug bust of Russian journalist Ivan Golunov reminds us of another aspect of drug laws — the ability of tyrannical regimes to use such laws to target innocent people. In fact, consider any tyrannical regime in the world — North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Egypt, Myanmar (Burma), Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others. I will guarantee you that every one of them has viciously enforced drug laws. That’s not a coincidence. Tyranny and drug laws go together like bread and butter.
Golunov specializes in investigating and uncovering official corruption. According to the Washington Post, his investigations have uncovered corruption in the office of the Moscow mayor, the funeral business, and elsewhere.
The police said claimed they found 3 grams of mephedrone 5 grams cocaine in Golunov’s backpack and apartment. They charged him with drug possession with intent to sell, which carried a potential jail sentence of 10 years. Golunov denied the charges and claimed that the police had planted the drugs.
Immediately, the pushback began, with journalists and others coming to Golunov’s defense, arguing that he was being framed by the police in an attempt to silence him.
But one can readily see the problem. When the case comes to trial, the prosecutor will ask, “Who are you going to believe — this drug defendant or the police who keep you safe? Why, police would never lie because they have no motive to lie. But this drug defendant clearly would lie in order to save his own skin.”
That’s precisely how the issue is framed in drug prosecutions here in the United States in which the defendant is claiming that the police are framing him. The police or the DEA would never do such a thing, prosecutors argue. This is just a fanciful conspiracy theory to enable the defendant to walk free and continue to destroy society with his drug sales, they tell jurors.
Ever since the drug war got started, planting drugs and framing innocent people has been a modus of law-enforcement agents. When I was in high school in the 1960s, my father was serving as U.S. Magistrate in my hometown of Laredo, Texas, which was a major hub for the importation of drugs into the United States. He told me that one day the federal judge called him into his office to discuss a growing problem of “dropsie” cases. The immigration and customs officials at the international bridge were stopping and searching automobiles of long-haired hippies, who undoubtedly opposed the Vietnam War and, therefore, were considered enemies or traitors to America. Unable to find any drugs, the officials were dropping drugs into the vehicles and exclaiming, “Look what I found!” and then charging innocent people with drug possession. At the trial, the prosecutor would ridicule the notion that clean-cut federal law enforcement agents would drop drugs into people’s cars in order to frame them. Guess who the jurors would believe. The dropsie problem got so big that the federal judge, who himself was fierce drug warrior, got concerned about it.
Using drug laws to frame African-Americans has long been a favorite tactic of bigoted law-enforcement agents. With an all-white jury and clean-cut law enforcement agents, there was no way that jurors were going to believe that a poor African-American was being framed on drug charges. A perfect example of this phenomenon occurred in Tulia, Texas, where a highly decorated and acclaimed white law-enforcement officer charged several African-Americans with drug offenses. Most of them were convicted and some of them were sentenced to extremely long terms in the state penitentiary. It was later discovered that the agent had lied. The drug offenses were all made up. The defendants were all innocent. He had framed every one of them.
It’s just another reason — on top of the failure, death, destruction, corruption, and ruination of lives — why drug laws do not belong in America or any other nation that values freedom. It’s just too easy to convict innocent people who government officials want to remove from society and lock up in a cage.
Ivan Golunov is a lucky man. Yesterday, as a result of the public outcry and media criticism of his arrest, the case against him was dismissed. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said that the case had been dismissed “in view of the failure to prove his participation in the crime.” According to CNBC, “the officers that apprehended Golunov have been suspended and an investigation has been launched.”
So, is the lesson here to be learned that we need to get “better people in law enforcement”? No. The lesson here is that we need to rid our society of the drug war so that public officials will by deprived of a tyrannical tool they use to target innocent people.