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May. 19 2009 - 9:43 am | 410 views | 1 recommendation | 13 comments

Cops Say to Legalize Drugs

Drug Enforcement Administration special agents (usdoj.gov)

Drug Enforcement Administration special agents (usdoj.gov)

President Obama drew a slew of criticism recently when he derisively dismissed a drug reform question during a town hall meeting. Here was the “crazy” question that warranted such a disrespectful response:

“With over 1 out of 30 Americans controlled by the penal system, why not legalize, control, and tax marijuana to change the failed war on drugs into a money making, money saving boost to the economy? Do we really need that many victimless criminals?”

This was the top ranked question on Whitehouse.gov, and yet Obama treated the query as if it came from a pack of giggling stoners. The president chuckled, “I don’t know what that says about the online audience…The answer is no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy.” As is so often the case when discussing the War on Drugs, the president offered no proof of this claim. He doesn’t have to. The room applauded, while laughing at his little joke. Stupid stoners. Always thinking about their pot.

But what Americans may not know is that many former law enforcement officers have recently stepped forward to speak against the failed War on Drugs. I was recently contacted by members of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), including Jack Cole, a 26-year veteran of the New Jersey State Police, where he served 14 years undercover in the Narcotics Bureau. Cole is the executive director of LEAP. Cole explained to me his first epiphany when he realized something was wrong with the War on Drugs.

It occurred to me that I liked a lot of the people I was working on more than some of the people I was working for. I discovered nearly all of the 114 million people in the US above the age of twelve whom DEA says have used an illegal drug (46% of that population) were basically just like me. The only difference was they wanted to put something in their body that I don’t want to put in my body.

And Cole doesn’t seem impressed by drug czar Gil Kerlikowske’s new idea to rebrand the War on Drugs. Cole writes, “A rose by any other name. This is not a war on drugs, it is a war on people; a war on our children, our parents, ourselves. Rebranding won’t change things. A new policy is needed to change things; ending drug prohibition.”

The War on Drugs isn’t failing because of mismanagement. It’s failing because the war was hopeless at its creation. When the war began to escalate under Nixon in 1970, “people were less likely to die as a result of the drug culture than from falling down the stairs in their on homes or choking to death on food at their own dinner tables,” explains Cole. America was at war with a bogeyman – an expensive bogeyman.

We nor our bosses had any idea of how to fight a war on drugs. Our bosses did know one thing though; they knew how to keep that federal cash-cow being milked in their personal barnyard. To accomplish that they had to make the drug war appear to be an absolute necessity. So early on we were encouraged to lie about most of our statistics and lie we did.

When the evidence didn’t support their claims, the cops lied, Cole explains. “We exaggerated the amount of drugs we seized by adding the weight of any cutting agents we found (lactose, mannitol, starch, or sucrose) to the weight of the illegal drug. So we might seize one ounce of cocaine and four pounds of lactose.”

As Cole and associates continued to lie, the effects on their community worsened over time. The War on Drugs actually brought drugs to the attention of youth, who then saw drugs as a way to escape the realities of their lives. “Many poor young people in the centers of our larger cities looked to the drug dealer as a role model — and the only way out of the poverty and misery of the ghetto. The dealer was the one person in their communities with the hot cars, hotter women, ‘money to burn,’ and leisure time in which to burn it.”

Another consequence of the war was the destruction of the African-American community. Cole and his fellow officers began arresting drug users and charging them as drug dealers, and drug users tended to be poor African-Americans. In fact, 13.5% of all drug users in the United States are black. Many more black males have been incarcerated under drug prohibition in the United States than were jailed in South Africa during apartheid. “There are more black and brown men in prison in the United States today than the total number of male slaves populating this country in 1840,” Cole says, and adds that “blacks are now serving an average of six years for drug offenses, while whites are serving only four, and 81% of federal drug offenders are black.”

The War on Drugs has shattered any trust that existed between African American and Hispanic citizens and police officers. Racial profiling became a constant byproduct of drug-hunting. “Two niggers, two chinks, two greasers or I don’t stop the car. Why bother?” were the words of Howard Wooldridge’s colleague in the Bath Township Police Department. Wooldridge is another veteran of the War on Drugs. “I believe my profession is no more or less prejudice than others.  However, we have a badge, a gun and arrest powers. The War On Drugs gives the racists an easy hook to hurt people they don’t like. And they do.”

There’s one area where officers like Cole marked a fair degree of success: the vast amounts of arrests for marijuana possession. Though even that had unintended consequences. “[It] caused many marijuana dealers to switch to harder drugs that were less detectable and far more profitable, pound for pound.” Dealers switched to pushing heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, far deadlier drugs.

But the solution isn’t shifting the focus of the war from marijuana to heroin and meth. The War on Drugs was doomed to fail at its inception because drug crime doesn’t function like regular crime. Cole explains:

“[W]hen officers arrested a robber or rapist the number of rapes and robberies declines…But when I arrested a drug dealer the number of drug sales didn’t change at all. I was simply creating a job opening for a long line of people more than willing to risk arrest for those obscene profits. It was actually worse than that. I wasn’t just creating a job opening; I was creating a safe job opening because it they tried to get the job while the dealer was still on the corner he would probably shoot them. I would suggest to you that whole armies of police cannot stop drug trafficking when the profits are this immense.”

Cole’s solution to the mess left in the wake of the War on Drugs is simply to end drug prohibition. Legalize and regulate is his mantra. But won’t that cause everyone to use drugs? Cole dismisses that theory. “Drugs were not illegal in this country until 1914 and we seemed to get through the first 200 years without that occurring.”

An immediate result of ending drug prohibition would be an enormous relief on the U.S. prison system. “[W]e wouldn’t have to arrest 1.9 million [citizens] every year for nonviolent drug offenses,” says Cole.

In his plans, Cole goes one step further than some drug legalization advocates. “The U.S. government should import or produce the drugs and control them for quality, potency, and standardized measurement.” This policy, Cole claims, would virtually end drug overdoses. Just as individuals died during alcohol prohibition by attempting to concoct “bathtub gin,” so individuals now die by experimenting with the potency of drugs. If drugs were monitored by the FDA much as prescription pills are now monitored, overdoses would vastly decline. Once the drugs are made legal, Cole says, the government can tax their sales. That would be one way out of this economic depression.

The benefits of ending the War on Drugs are vast, but one of the most urgent is that no one would be killed by police during drug raids. Cole cites one example, Accelyne Williams, a 75-year-old retired black Methodist minister, who was sitting in his living room reading the Bible when a dozen police – dressed entirely in black – stormed in. The terrified minister ran for his bedroom, but the police tackled him. During the ensuing struggle, Williams experienced a heart attack. That’s when police realized they were in the wrong apartment. If police weren’t busy harassing innocent people, they could build trust, and start the healing process with the African American community.

Drug legalization isn’t just a domestic security issue, Cole emphasizes. It also has international implications.

In 1997 ten kilograms of Reactor-grade plutonium (enough to make an atomic bomb) was valued at $56,000. The “average terrorist” makes his living selling illegal drugs. Heroin, which at the beginning of the war on drugs in 1970 was valued at $400,000 per kilogram, is still worth $70,000 per kilogram today, despite the immense drop in price caused by the glut of supply created by 37 years of a failed war on drugs. That means the “average terrorist” would have to sell about eight kilograms of pure heroin for every ten kilograms of pure weapons-grade Plutonium he wishes to buy. That is not a major problem for the terrorist, as long as we continue the policy of drug prohibition.

But if drug prohibition ended tomorrow, and the government worked to regulate the drugs, terrorists couldn’t sell heroin at the inflated market price.

The benefits of legalizing drugs are now undeniable, and everyone from Obama’s most zealous supporters to former drug enforcement officials are demanding legalization be considered a valid option. It seems like everyone except the very people elected to shape U.S. policy have awoken to the reality that the War on Drugs is a total failure.

The LEAP promo can be seen here. Video testimony from cops against the War on Drugs is here and here.


Comments

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  1. collapse expand

    Obama is also the first president to say, “The whole point was to inhale,” but he is a pragmatist who chooses his battles carefully. There’s a lot he would like to do that he doesn’t do because the political blowback would prevent him from doing other things he needs to do. I think drug legalization has to come from across the aisle, from conservatives who finally say, “Hello, even though we want to create a police state in which everyone has a gun, this drug prohibition just doesn’t make sense any more.” It’s like Nixon going to China or Clinton ending welfare. Some of these bold strokes have to come from the other side. I think.

    • collapse expand

      If we’re waiting for Republicans to lead the charge on this one, we’ll be waiting for a very long time. Also, I don’t think any of us can say for sure what Obama is thinking. Right now, a lot of Obama supporters are saying things like, “He doesn’t really mean what he says,” “He’s just playing the Republicans,” “This is all part of Obama’s devious, cunning plot to legalize pot, gay marriage, etc.” We can’t speculate on what the man is thinking, so we can only judge him by his actions.

      And sadly, his actions are strikingly centrist, bordering on the conservative whether we’re talking about dismissing drug legalization as a serious issue, failing to prosecute officials responsible for ratifying torture techniques, or funding the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    But I can actually read his mind! Also, this phenomenon is part of the biography. When he took over the Harvard Law Review, people expected a radical shift, but he turned out to be a centrist. He is a centrist. Always was a centrist. Never claimed to be other than a centrist. This country only elects fascists or centrists, and it calls its centrists socialists. The fact that we have a centrist who pays attention to poor people and the environment has me downright gleeful, considering the leadership I’ve experienced for most of my life. I think you’re right that we’ll be waiting for a very long time for drug legalization… no matter who’s in charge. I would expect Obama to reduce the pressure, but not make any radical moves on drugs. We’ll see.

    • collapse expand

      Oh, I know. I’m one of the few people who predicted he would govern as a centrist because – as you pointed out – he’s never claimed to be anything BUT a centrist. No one can ever accuse the man of lying (about that characteristic, anyway.)

      I would love a president that pays attention to poor people and the environment, but I’m still waiting for that person to appear. Right now, I see a man who is leading the way with a widening rich-poor divide in his population, and a lukewarm environmental package that adheres to the bare minimum recommendation of environmental experts, but it will help IF it survives Congress. But we’ve seen what the likelihood of that is.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    No offense, Allison, but I think if you don’t acknowledge what he has accomplished you might as well be a Republican. He’s poured massive funding into alternative energy ($15 billion) and alternative transportation, launched high-speed rail, begun the work of declaring carbon dioxide a pollutant, sought a low-emissions zone for 200 miles surrounding our coasts. He’s preserved two million acres of wilderness and a thousand miles of rivers. He’s stopped the executive branch’s foot dragging on global warming and put its shoulder into stopping it. The climate bill, which isn’t his, may not be all we would like but it’s more than most greens dared hope for. His proposal was better but Congress removed it from the budget. Yesterday he proposed the strictest auto-efficiency standards in U.S. history….

    • collapse expand

      I don’t think criticizing Obama where I think he could stand to improve his stances qualifies me as a Republican. In fact, I think uncritical acceptance of the dear leader’s stances is the opposite of democracy. That’s the behavior of an individual living under a totalitarian regime.

      All of the above mentioned changes were suggested as a bare minimum approach by environmental experts. Are they good? Yes, but they were also vitally necessary. If Obama hadn’t sought immediate changes in the approach to CO2 emissions, we would have approached an irreversible trajectory of environmental damage. However, I do give Obama credit when it’s due. Por ejemplo: I feel like Obama’s administration listens to environmentalists. They may not follow all guidelines, but we would have never gotten this news during the Bush years:

      President Obama is scheduled today to issue new national emissions and mileage requirements for cars and light trucks. The rules aim to cut emissions by 30 percent and require passenger cars to average thirty-nine miles per gallon and light trucks thirty mpg by 2016…Daniel Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign praised Obama’s plan. He said, “This is the single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.”

      So there’s a snippet of optimism for ya’. :) Of course, this is the same administration that gave us this news:

      [Obama] tapped a top attorney at General Electric to be the nation’s top environmental litigator. If confirmed, Ignacia Moreno would lead the Justice Department’s efforts to enforce environmental laws and defend federal regulations in lawsuits. Her selection has concerned many environmental groups. Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch said, “It seems as if she has spent maybe more time defending polluters than prosecuting them.”

      And this:

      [The] Obama administration has given the green light for forty-two more mountaintop removal permits, dealing a victory for the coal industry. Mountaintop mining involves blowing off the tops of mountains to get at the coal underneath.

      So again, it’s important to keep perspective. Yes, good things have happened, but it’s important to remain alert and critical for when the administration strays from a progressive agenda.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      On a quick additional note: blogger Glenn Greenwald argues that by embracing several of the Bush era policies, Obama isn’t acting as a centrist. Greenwald writes:

      Obama has been at least as aggressive as Bush was in asserting radical secrecy doctrines in order to prevent courts from ruling on illegal torture and spying programs and to block victims from having a day in court. He has continued and even “ramped up” so-called “targeted killings” in Pakistan and Afghanistan which, as Goldsmith puts it, “have predictably caused more collateral damage to innocent civilians.” He has maintained not only Bush’s rendition policy but also the standard used to determine to which countries a suspect can be rendered, and has kept Bush’s domestic surveillance policies in place and unchanged. Most of all, he has emphatically endorsed the Bush/Cheney paradigm that we are engaged in a “war” against Terrorists — with all of the accompanying presidential “war powers” — rather than the law enforcement challenge that John Kerry, among others, advocated.

      Hardly centrist. We’ve entered Bush territory.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand
    deleted account

    Exactly. I think its cold comfort to point to environmental reform when Obama is so clearly uninterested in making progressive change in both domestic (for example, health care and the financial crisis) and foreign (for example, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo and Haiti) affairs.

    I also think there is an excellent case to be made that reforming automotive efficiency standards will simply lead to more cars being bought and more being driven. The solution is to move towards public transportation (something akin to suggestions made by George Monbiot in Heat) and a re-imagining of our zoning laws, and while high-speed rail is a start, it is not much of one.

    Interestingly, food production is probably the single greatest source of pollutants that the country has, and, so far, I have seen very little discussed about reforming agriculture (but, perhaps I am missing something). If Obama was serious about environmental reform, he would probably start by reforming the most clearly problematic sector, wouldnt he?

    • collapse expand

      Interestingly, food production is probably the single greatest source of pollutants that the country has, and, so far, I have seen very little discussed about reforming agriculture (but, perhaps I am missing something).

      This is a point that I really don’t think gets stressed enough. I’ve written about this in the past, and reported the startling statistics available for this issue. For example, The Environmental Defense Fund reports that if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted it with vegetarian foods, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than a half-million cars off U.S. roads.

      I was hoping Obama would appoint Michael Pollan, author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma to Secretary of Agriculture, but no such luck. I agree with you that this is an enormously important issue in the larger environment dialogue. I’ve heard from numerous environmental experts that the best way to make an immediate, big impact on cutting individual carbon footprints is to buy local and avoid meat.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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