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October 24, 2006 - Good 5 Cent Cigar (RI Edu)

Former Cop Says War On Drugs 'Failed,' Advocates Legalization

By Laura Graham

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

A member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Norm Stamper, came to the Memorial Union Friday night to discuss the legalization of drugs.

Students for a Sensible Drug Policy sponsored the discussion and following forum.

LEAP is composed of current and former judges, police officers and other law enforcement officials that feel current drug policies have failed.

Stamper has worked in law enforcement for 34 years and was the chief of police in Seattle. He said the drug war is a colossal failure and is the most dysfunctional policy since slavery.

"Drugs are as readily available at lower prices and higher potency than ever before," Stamper said. "By any definition this is a failed war."

Stamper's solution to the failed drug war is to legalize, tax, regulate and control all drugs. He said the United States should "replace prohibition with a sweeping radical new public policy."

Stamper said that the more sinister the drug, the more reason to regulate it. He said the government should distribute licenses and anyone who breaks the law and sells drugs to a minor should lose his or her license.

"We have to be absolutely realistic that youth can get their hands on them today," Stamper said. "If I believed for a second that what I'm advocating would hurt our youth, I wouldn't be standing here."

Stamper did, however, say that LEAP is unsure whether the legal age should be 18 or 21.

According to Stamper, since President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1970, the United States has spent $69 billion on prohibition each year. He said that the country spends seven times more on law enforcement than treatment and prevention.

Stamper also said that 2.2 million people are currently in jail on drug-related charges. According to Stamper, there is no jail that can block heroin from being smuggled in.

"Anyone addicted to drugs is sick, they do not belong in jail," Stamper said.

Stamper cited one defunct solution in Zurich, Switzerland, where heroin addicts were herded into a public park because they had been damaging the city.

"Cops were stumbling over dead bodies," Stamper said. "It was an unmitigated disaster."

Their second strategy is one being emulated around the world, where heroin addicts are ushered into a supervised medical facility and administered three doses of heroin a day.

"A heroin addict needs his heroin just like a diabetic needs his insulin," Stamper said.

He added that about 12 years later, 60 to 65 percent of the original group of addicts are no longer addicted to heroin.

"If we can alter the lifestyle of addicts, things happen," Stamper said.

In an open forum following the speech, Robert Lopes, a sophomore and resident of Pawtucket, said he disagrees with Stamper's views.

In his experience drugs can hold people back from going to college and pursuing other goals.

"Drugs being legal is not going to be beneficial," he said.

Stamper replied that if prohibition ended, these users would be in different circumstances.

"Theoretically any drug can be used responsibly," Stamper said.

The distinction between federal law and local law also came up during the forum.

Stamper said that federal law trumps local law when it comes to drugs and added "if smoking a joint makes a person with MS [multiple sclerosis] or AIDS feel better, who are we to take their medicine away?"

He said the best way to get involved in the fight against prohibition is to talk to local and federal legislators.

"In the end, the people are ahead of our elected officials," Stamper said.

Stamper said those in favor of ending prohibition should organize, mobilize, educate and publicize.

"It is grueling work, but it's fundamentally American work," Stamper said.

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