The High Cost of the “Freedom Cage”

The High Cost of the “Freedom Cage”

The U.S. National Park Service spent over $21,000 to police a peaceful monthly marijuana protest at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. And that was just in June.

PHILADELPHIA, PA — If you’re an advocate for marijuana legalization, you probably have heard by now about the numerous monthly “Smokedown Prohibition” events that have been happening in Philadelphia. Hosted by Philly NORML and comedy group “The Panic Hour”, they have evolved into an ongoing regular act of mass marijuana civil disobedience only steps away from the Liberty Bell.

Starting in early 2013, the first four occurred without incident. No arrests were made or citations handed out by park police, and everybody went home a little motivated and a little buzzed. However on May 18th, the National Park Service decided to start kicking up enforcement actions. Attendees were herded into a “free speech” area caged off with temporary fences, and multiple arrests were made. One of those arrests even culminated in N.A. Poe of “The Panic Hour” spending 5 days in federal detention.

US Park Rangers in riot gear at Independence National Park in Philadelphia for Smoke Down Prohibition VI in June, 2013. (Ed Roper)

US Park Rangers in riot gear at Independence National Park in Philadelphia for Smoke Down Prohibition VI in June, 2013. (Ed Roper)

Of course, with increased enforcement, comes increased cost. The fines for marijuana possession on federal park property is only $175. However in new documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act Request, the cost of enforcement is orders of magnitude higher than any citation fees collected.

In April 2013, the last “Smokedown” event held without police interaction, the cost of overtime for National Park Service Police totaled $1,522.43. The very next month, when NPS Police decided to start making arrests, costs increased to $5,350.62 worth of overtime. Keep in mind these events last generally from 2 to 3 hours at most.

On June 30th, 2013 the Park Service decided for reasons unknown to dramatically up their presence and brought in even more police, some dressed in full riot gear. On this date, the cost of overtime combined with travel expenses shot up to an astounding $21,563.64. Over twenty-thousand dollars were wasted to police a group of peaceful pot smokers, expressing their right to petition the government and engage in free speech.

However, the costs are barely even scratching the surface. On June 30th, multiple police agencies were present in sizeable numbers. Among the NPS Park Police were the Department of Homeland Security Police, Philadelphia Police Department, SEPTA Police, and the US Fish & Wildlife Services. Also present in June, and at every event held since, was Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Goldberg. It would be interesting to know how much a U.S. Attorney gets paid to stand around and watch potheads get ticketed on a weekend.

These are the costs for just one of the agencies present. Future FOIA requests are forthcoming to determine exactly how much was spent in total across all the agencies involved. However we do know how much the NPS earned for their $20k+ investment in June, roughly $1700. Only 10 citations were made at that event, some of which have since been thrown out.

Police from Department of Homeland Security, the US Park Rangers, Fish and Wildlife Police, Philadelphia Police, and SEPTA Police were on hand for Smoke Down Prohibition VI in June.  The US National Park Service spent over $20,000 to police the 2 hour event, and that figure does not include costs from other police agencies. (Ed Roper)

Police from Department of Homeland Security, the US Park Rangers, Fish and Wildlife Police, Philadelphia Police, and SEPTA Police were on hand for Smoke Down Prohibition VI in June. The US National Park Service spent over $20,000 to police the 2 hour event, and that figure does not include costs from other police agencies. (Ed Roper)

US Fish & Wildlife Services

If one thing is apparent from this colossal waste of resources, it’s that the government has no problems spending our hard earned tax dollars to continue to prop up their failed drug war. With states considering, and some implementing outright legalization it’s obvious that the tide is shifting dramatically on marijuana policy.

Unfortunately, the ones spending the most money to keep it illegal are the same ones taking the largest chunk out of our pockets. Not only should every taxpayer of this country be filled with a sense of moral outrage over the idea of locking somebody up for possession of a harmless plant, they should be filled with anger over having their money wasted in such a blatant manner.

The drug war has failed politically, socially, and now economically. And it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the population wakes up and realizes how much money is wasted on it, while many among us continue to hunt for work or struggle to put food on the table.