What the stories didn't say is that the operation wasn't just another example of America's fruitless (tomatoes not withstanding) War on Drugs. It was also an example of Your Stimulus Dollars at Work.
Take, for example, the incident at the Montessori Santa Cruz middle school Camino de Paz: Four agents in bulletproof vests, and one in camouflage preceded portentously by a low-flying, army-green helicopter, descended upon the school to check out its (tomato-filled) greenhouse. That action was performed by the Region III Multijurisdictional Drug Task Force, which covers Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Taos counties. It is one of seven such enforcement groups operating in New Mexico under the auspices of the US Department of Justice.
The task forces are funded primarily through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants Program, which funnels federal funding into local and state-level law enforcement. New Mexico's Byrne funding has hovered between $3.5 million and $4 million since 1995, according to the Statewide Drug Strategy released this May by the governor's Drug Enforcement Advisory Council.
This year, however,
as part of the 2009 stimulus package, New Mexico received an additional $11 million
in Byrne funding, designated for the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. DPS, according to its program plan, aims to spend most of the money on the state’s seven drug task forces, the New Mexico Gang Task Force and upgrading information technology.
Priority one, according to the plan, is to "Preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery."
(DPS spokesman Eric Garcia did not respond to SFR's questions about the task forces' makeup and funding by press time.)
"Those federal grant programs are jobs programs," Keith Stroup, the founder and legal counsel for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, tells SFR. "They're driven by the [goal] that law enforcement create and maintain jobs."
"That's a stupid policy, turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals just to fund a jobs program," Stroup says. "It's a hopeless task," he adds. "You're going to continue to have new growers show up [after a bust] because it's such a profitable business."
NORML and the Drug Policy Alliance, which has also voiced opposition to the Byrne program, aren't the only ones objecting.
In New Mexico, according to stimulus reports, the recent increase in Byrne funding has created 52.35 full-time jobs%uFFFDapproximately 40 of those in law enforcement and 9.84 in administrative or human resources positions.
Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano has two full-time narcotics officers on the Region III Task Force, which also includes officers from the City of Santa Fe Police Department and the New Mexico State Police. The US Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation and New Mexico National Guard assist the task force, Solano says, "from time to time, depending on the case."
New Mexico National Guard press contact LTC Jamison Herrera did not return multiple phone calls.
The task force's results are spotty.
According to the most recent numbers, from this June, Region III Task Force's marijuana seizures are up%uFFFDthough Solano says investigations in Madrid have yielded less than usual.
According to calls from concerned residents in Madrid, flyovers and drug busts have intensified in the areas around Santa Fe in recent months. Solano says that's part of an annual marijuana eradication initiative that does most of its work between June and September.
"We get complaints from Madrid every year, but [among] the highest number of plantations are found in the Madrid area every year," Solano notes. Taos, La Cienega and "anywhere along the Rio Grande corridor" are other task force focal points, he says.
But headlines that describe the Santa Cruz incident as a "Military-Style Marijuana Raid" are counterproductive, Solano says.
Patricia Pantano, the education director at Camino de Paz Montessori School and Farm in Santa Cruz, shares a similar opinion.
Pantano, who has told the story countless times to countless media outlets, describes the "raid" in terms similar to Solano's.
Santa Fe Reporter