Police officers have been on the front lines of the "War on Drugs" in this country for more than 30 years.
Now some of them are saying the war is not working and are calling for an end to the drug war through the legalization and regulation of all drugs.
A group of former police officers who decided they did not believe the drug war was the best way to control drugs in 2002 founded Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).
They began delivering their message and gathering members across the country. Representatives will address Rotary and Lions clubs in Connecticut over the next two months.
Peter Christ, the idea man behind LEAP, spoke at the Sept. 15 meeting of the Woodbridge Rotary Club.
A former police captain in upstate New York and vice-director of the organization, Christ admitted that LEAP was not an easy group to accept on face value. "We're controversial," he said,
He chatted about Sinclair Lewis and Ezra Pound over lunch but was so eager to begin his presentation that he left his calamari to get cold.
Christ gave a brief history of the group. It began with his premise that a group of law enforcement professionals who advocated legalizing drugs could not be dismissed as uninformed or "not getting it."
The inspiration was the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which protested the Vietnam War after returning from it, he said.
After explaining LEAP's origins, Christ moved on to the heart of the matter. He promised to discuss policy, not enforcement.
"We don't talk about policy[in this country]," he said, "we make it then move on."
The current drug policy, he said, is called by the wrong name. It is called the "War on Drugs," but he believes it should be called prohibition.
"War should be a short-term thing," he said. "Can we win this war? Does anyone think we can make the drugs go away forever?"
"Who thinks Al Capone was created by alcohol?" Christ asked. "Or by alcohol prohibition?"
The room universally chose the second option.
Christ said news headlines that say "drug-related shooting" are misleading because they draw the inference that the shooter or victim was high on drugs.
In reality, Christ said, most of the drug-related violence is not associated with drug use but with fighting over drug-dealing territory.
"It should be called a prohibition-related shooting," he said.
Christ said that LEAP is calling for a federal policy change. He said major policy changes have been made before, citing the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage and desegregation as examples.
"We are capable of changing," he said.
He said the Constitution had to be amended to institute alcohol prohibition because it was in violation of the commerce clause.
Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution states, "The Congress shall have power...to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states and with the Indian tribes."
Christ and LEAP believe that by prohibiting all drugs, they cannot be regulated by Congress although they should be, as an interstate commercial business.
"[Drug use] has to be legal in some form," Christ said. "Everyone agrees with me if they agree that all these drugs have so much potential to do harm that they must be regulated."
"Right now, the thugs and gangster make the rules about drugs," Christ said, "not the government."
The crux of Christ's argument is in his 20 years of police experience.
He said he went into police work believing that drug legalization was the way to go. He said he saw so much violence because of the prohibition of dugs that he became even more convinced of the necessity of ending the drug war.
"Drugs are bad," he said. "The drug war is worse."
He said that drugs are cheaper, more available and purer than they have ever been, even after more than 30 years fighting the drug war.
"We need a discussion on this," Christ said. "No one is discussing this. Until we end prohibition, regulation is impossible. We are doomed on this path."
As the members of the Woodbridge Rotary filed out after the presentation, some joined LEAP and others were still skeptical, but everyone thanked Christ for presenting a different point of view.
John Stewart, president-elect of the Rotary, said, "I have never done drugs of any kind, even though I grew up in the '60s, but he's right."
"You ban them, and you turn them over to a criminal element," Stewart said. "Instead of being prescribed by a doctor, it is being prescribed by someone on the corner."
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal declined to comment for this article. Connecticut Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane and the State Police did not return calls seeking their comments.
For more information on LEAP and drug legalization, visit http://www.leap.cc.
The organization has sent speakers to the Ansonia and Seymour-Oxford Rotary clubs.
Upcoming dates for additional presentations in the region are as follows: Oxford Lions Club, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m.; Bridgeport Sunrise Rotary, Oct. 11 at 7:30 a.m.; Bridgeport Host Lions Club, Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m.
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.