More than three-quarters of all the paper money in Los Angeles has some amount of cocaine or other drug stuck to it, according to a federal appeals court decision that vividly reveals how extensively the drug trade touches mainstream commerce.
Of every four bills in circulation in Los Angeles, more than three have traces of cocaine or another illicit drug stuck to the paper, according to the 9th United States Circuit Court of Appeals which relied on that fact to dismiss a case against a man suspected of drug trafficking.
In powdered form, the court said, cocaine is so sticky that a bit remains when the drug dealer wraps it in a bill folded like an envelope or a user snorts it through a rolled dollar bill used as a straw as that bill is pressed against another in a wallet or counted in combination with others in a bank or cash register, those other bills get contaminated too. That means that virtually everyone in Los Angeles is conceivably at risk of being barked at by drug sniffing police dogs.
"The bottom line" said attorney Jerold Bloom, "is that anyone with tainted currency can be stopped and alleged to be a drug dealer".
The notion that most US currency is tainted with drugs has been well known in law enforcement and scientific circles for about 10 years. However, the decision issued last week by the San Francisco based 9th Circuit Court, shows how widespread the taint has become.
Because it's so widespread, the court ruled, the ability of police and prosecutors to rely in court on a "positive alert" from a drug sniffing dog will now be seriously diminished - a drawback in cases in which authorities have seized cash and the federal government is seeking to forfeit drug money.