Numbers Show Marijuana Raids More Lethal Than Marijuana

A study shows that drug raids targeting marijuana have caused more fatalities than the drug itself.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has not yet documented one overdose fatality stemming from the drug itself, though The New York Times has documented at least 20 marijuana-related drug raids since 2010 that have ended in at least one death.

Such raids are not limited to marijuana possession, as they sometimes involve people suspected of an intent to deal or traffic the substance, or people who were wanted for unrelated reasons and were found to possess marijuana after their apprehension.

Suspects have been killed during these raids for as little as 0.2 grams of marijuana, according to the Washington Post.

The Post's research found that 85 SWAT team raids have instigated lethal violence since 2010, with upwards of 60 percent of those actions motivated by suspected drug possession.

Many of these SWAT team missions involve "dynamic entry" tactics, wherein law enforcement officers may use forcible entry methods to surprise suspects. The use of such tactics has increased over time.

Much of the rise in forced entry tactics, special weapons and militarized policing has been fueled by a growing epidemic of opioid abuse, though the seizure of narcotics is relatively infrequent.

"These are dangerous people we're dealing with," said an Arkansas SWAT commander, defending the use forcible tactics against suspects of drug-related crimes. "If you have a dope house next door there's probably nothing the police can do that would be overreacting."

Though some fault the severity of drug crimes and rationalize the severity of the measures taken against them, many such raids yield drug caches only large enough to warrant a misdemeanor charge or less.

"There's a real misinterpretation by the public that aggressive police actions are only used against hardened criminals," said Baltimore lawyer Cary J. Hansel.

"But there are dozens and dozens of cases where a no-knock warrant is used against somebody who's totally innocent."

A 2011 raid in Marine City, Michigan, made use of dynamic entry tactics to execute a search warrant targeting "any and all evidence pertaining to graffiti including but not limited to, spray paint containers, markers, notebooks, and photographs." The mission yielded no relevant paraphernalia, according to depositions given by residents.

Several cases in which police used such invasive methods have been settled in court for over $1 million. Many cases involve the deaths of one or more of the residents occupying the domicile being raided by law enforcement.