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August 1, 2010

"Prosecutor looks back on 3 decades of battling drugs"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting local article from Pennsylvania.  Here are some excerpts:

Assistant U.S. Attorney John McCann has given half his life to prosecuting criminals, and for most of them he's focused on illegal drug crime. The veteran prosecutor has been assigned to the U.S. Middle District Court here since 1992, but as July came to an end, so did his career.

McCann's retirement leaves hundreds of drug dealers still behind bars, serving prison sentences and not out preying on society.  McCann didn't keep count over their numbers, but conservatively he estimates the number of his successful prosecutions at somewhere around 500 cases -- most of them ending with guilty pleas rather than jury verdicts....

Prosecuting drug cases is unpleasant work and the drug problem remains a big problem for society.  McCann believes that when he puts dealers out of business, even temporarily, it increases the odds someone out there who is tempted to try drugs for the first time won't able to make their first buy and may not destroy their life....

"Almost all (his cases have involved) multi-defendants (involved with) drug organizations," he said, admitting that no matter how many dealers get sent away, the drug trade goes on because of the public's appetite for illegal substances.

The drugs in vogue change with the times.  In the early 1980s, powder cocaine was popular, but by the late 1980s crack cocaine became the rage and brought with it first ultra-violent Jamaican gangs known as "posses" and then home-grown gangs such as the Bloods.

The one constant is that, no matter who is supplying them, drug dealers remain and bring with them violence and contempt for authority.  Hard core dealers hate the police and prosecutors.  "Once they go to jail, they hate (and blame) their lawyers ... even though the evidence against them is overwhelming," McCann said.

The most dangerous and deadly drug is heroin, according to McCann, especially now that it's available in purer form.  Current-day heroin is at times more dangerous than the heroin sold three decades ago, he said, and it's everywhere from cities to small towns and even rural areas.

The veteran prosecutor believes it is "the biggest threat" and its usage has been "epidemic" for more than a decade. McCann said he wishes the media and lawmakers would pick up on the dangers of heroin.  "Heroin is the most addictive drug out there," he said, and is even more addictive and deadly, the younger the individual is who uses it....

"The penalties for heroin need to be hyped up.  The guidelines are too low."  One packet of heroin which is about 200th of a gram can kill someone if they use it all and have never done the drug before, he said   However, prosecutors need to link at least 5,000 packets to a defendant under today's sentencing guidelines to get a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.  By comparison, 50 grams of crack cocaine can get a dealer a 10-year mandatory minimum.

When he began taking drug cases, McCann said he believed he and the law enforcement professionals he worked with could have an impact, but as time passed he had to accept the fact that their impact could be only one person at a time. All they can really do is put away as many dealers as possible, he said....

"Law enforcement has done its job in keeping the community from being overrun," he said. "Without them, drug use would be much more widespread."  "It will never be eliminated," he added, "until somebody comes up with a way to stop the insatiable desire this country has for illegal drugs."

August 1, 2010 at 09:46 PM | Permalink


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Well - lets try another way.

Posted by: beth | Aug 1, 2010 11:22:35 PM

So, how much of the tax payers money did Mr. McCann spend on this failed effort?

Posted by: Tom McGee | Aug 2, 2010 12:50:53 AM

I can't think of a more meritorious use of our tax dollars than making our communities safer!

Posted by: mjs | Aug 2, 2010 9:42:49 AM

"I can't think of a more meritorious use of our tax dollars than making our communities safer!"

Me either! Let's use some of it to setup concentration camps for the politicians!

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 2, 2010 12:50:54 PM

Is it possible to shoot down a moral panic before it gets off the ground and leads to 100:1 or 18:1 ratio?

Heroin On Prescription is good for a historical perspective.

Results show that North America’s first heroin therapy study keeps patients in treatment, improves their health and reduces illegal activity. (pdf)

Key findings at the 12-month point of the treatment-phase of the study showed that HAT and MMT achieved high retention rates: 88 per cent and 54 per cent respectively. Illicit heroin use fell by almost 70 per cent. The proportion of participants involved in illegal activity fell by almost half from just over 70 per cent to approximately 36 per cent. Similarly, the number of days of illegal activity and the amount spent on drugs both decreased by almost half. In fact, participants once spending on average $1,500 per month on drugs reported spending between $300-$500 per month by the end of the treatment phase.

Posted by: George | Aug 2, 2010 4:42:55 PM

The sad thing is that they guy appears to be serious. He really think the mass incarceration of the black undercaste is having an impact on levels of drug abuse. That's sad.

Posted by: Alan Bean | Aug 3, 2010 11:56:44 AM

Looks like he mostly chased his own tail for 30 years.

Posted by: John K | Aug 3, 2010 2:07:09 PM

McCann would have us believe that every person he convicted was a major drug trafficker and a "big shot" in the drug trafficking world. He would also have us believe that every defendant he prosecuted hated the police and wanted to kill their attorneys. The truth, however, is that the majority of his drug prosecutions were poor street dealers or couriers who make up the bottom rung of the drug hierarchy and who were addicts themselves. These people are poor as dirt and do not have the hatred in their heart nor the chip on their shoulder that McCann describes. How often do we hear about major drug lords being captured or prosecuted by the government? Maybe once or twice a year...if that. Therein lies the reason the war on drugs is failing. It is not, as McCann states, due solely to this country's insatiable appetite for drugs. Rather, it is also due in large part to the fact that the federal government uses its money and resources to ensure that low-level players are locked up for eternity, rather than focusing time and resources on penetrating the organizations' top-tier players. Certainly there will always be a demand for illicit substances in this country. However, there will also always be an unlimited supply of poor, addicted, out of work people who are willing to assume all of the risks associated with drug peddling in exchange for small amounts of money. The guys getting rich off of the illegal drug trade are the ones who are the most protected and the least prosecuted. It won't be easy, but if we want to make a difference in the war on drugs, the government will need to change the focus of the war. McCann's retirement may help change that focus.

Posted by: Spencer R | Aug 4, 2010 12:26:30 PM

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