Islanders respond to drug threat

"The shock of seeing two major drug busts inside a two-week period was enough to fill a church basement Tuesday night with more than 50 concerned and angry Maxwelton-area residents.Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley was the speaker and drugs on the Southend was the topic.The news was not good. South Whidbey has more drugs and drug-related crime per capita than any other area in Island County, Sheriff Hawley told the throng gathered at the Free Methodist Church at Maxwelton. Southend residents should have no illusions about the situation. There are illegal drugs in the schools, drugs in homes, and they are often dealt in plain view on street corners or in the parking lot of a grocery store. The recent bust of a marijuana growing operation in Scatchet Head, the discovery of a methamphetamine lab on French Road, and the allegedly drug-related murder of Ed Ross simply brought into the open a problem that has been growing for years.That problem, Hawley said, will lead to more deaths.“I can look at 100 dopers and I can tell you that one of them is going to be dead before he is 21,” Hawley said.One woman who attended the meeting said she believes drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and heroin are more available and are being used by more people than even law enforcement knows.“And I’m telling you it’s worse on South Whidbey than in Seattle,” she said.No one in the room disagreed. Some volunteered stories illustrating how close illegal drugs and the crime associated with them are to neighborhoods, families and children. Maxwelton area resident Caroline Carty said she has had too many first-hand experiences with South Whidbey drug dealers and users for her own comfort. She said she had long known that murder victim Ed Ross was a drug dealer and that his apartment was a haven to local drug users. “Ed was a drug dealer,” Carty said.Carty said she eventually drove the drug users out of her neighborhood by renting out Ross’ apartment herself. While she said she was saddened to hear of Ross’ murder, she said she has no sympathy for drug dealers.“I wish I could publish your names and destroy your lives,” she said.A differentkind of dealer Sheriff Hawley said looking out for drug “pushers” is pretty much a useless exercise these days. South Whidbey is a sellers’ market for drug dealers -- there is no need to push their product if users are clamoring for it. Without that aggressive sales strategy to look for, dealers are hard to pick out of the crowd.“Open up your high school yearbook and that’s who your drug dealers are,” Hawley said.What gives the dealers and the users away is their behavior. Hawley said South Whidbey residents need to be willing to look for and report suspicious behavior, like a crowd of people gathered around a car in a public parking lot passing things in and out of the windows.Most robberies are connected with drugs. And, some of the best tips the sheriff’s office gets on illegal drug activity comes from the dealers’ friends or family.Carol Coble said hoping for “narcs” to give up their friends and dealers is a dangerous expectation, especially for juveniles.“Kids do not like rats,” Coble said.Punishmentdoesn’t fitAt least some of the blame for the local and national drug problem goes to the criminal and juvenile justice systems, Hawley said. As it stands now, his office has nowhere to put juvenile drug offenders after they are arrested. Often, they have to be turned over to the custody of parents or relatives while waiting the weeks or months it takes to get a trial date. With no immediate consequences for their actions, juvenile drug offenders learn no lessons.One man at the meeting said kids who get into drugs are not even learning any lessons at home.“I don’t think that we as parents get through to kids as well as we think we do,” he said.Even adults can get off nearly scot-free when caught possessing, manufacturing, or selling illegal narcotics. An adult arrested for any of these crimes who has a clean record can easily avoid jail time, Hawley said. However, a second serious offense generally brings five years of prison or more.“The criminal justice and juvenile justice systems are poorly set up to deal with drugs,” he said.During and after the meeting, Hawley showed off dozens of marijuana and crack pipes and bongs, a bag filled with $2,000 worth of marijuana, and photographs of the chemicals used to make methamphetamines. He encouraged anyone with any information about drug activity to call 911 so the sheriff’s office can make more and better drug-related arrests and, with luck, reduce the drug traffic on the Southend. This approach does work, he said, as evidenced by the disappearance of methamphetamines from the Southend during the past few weeks. Hawley attributed that to five recent meth lab busts his agency made in the Oak Harbor area, the meth lab bust on French Road, and Ed Ross’ death."

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