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November 29, 2006 - The Herald (UK)

How Do We Win The War On Drugs?

By Jennifer Cunningham

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Jack Cole looks like a middle-aged tourist -- and last week he was visiting art galleries in Florence. Yesterday, however, he was on some of Glasgow's meaner streets with a Strathclyde police officer and a camera crew. When he takes off his jacket, his T-shirt reveals in eye-catchingly large letters the slogan: "Cops say legalise drugs. Ask me why."

Cole is a man on a mission.

He spent 12 years of his 26-year career in the New Jersey state police as an undercover narcotics officer, investigating international drug-trafficking organisations, local dealers and low-level users.

Now he is a spokesman for an organisation that campaigns for the legalisation of drugs.

His argument is that what politicians like to call the "war on drugs" has been an expensive failure over the past 30 years. He spent his final two years posing as a fugitive drug dealer wanted for murder, while tracking members of a terrorist organisation that robbed banks; planted bombs in corporate headquarters, courts, police stations and aircraft; and ultimately murdered a police officer. "These people would have killed me if they knew who I was," he says. "But many of the people I was instrumental in getting arrested were simply users. "In 36 years we have made more than 37 million arrests for non-violent drug offences, yet today, drugs are cheaper, more potent and far easier to get than they were in 1970 at the beginning of this war, when I went under cover.

Meanwhile, people continue dying on our streets while drug barons and terrorists continue to grow richer than ever before." He and his fellow former police officers, retired judges and prison officers who form Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), argue that most of the problems associated with drugs are the result of their illegality, in the same way that prohibition in the US caused more crime than legal alcohol.

"When prohibition ended in the US in 1933, Al Capone and all his smuggling buddies were out of business.

They were no longer killing each other to control the market.

They were no longer killing cops. They were no longer killing children caught in crossfire -- all the problems we have today.

If we legalise drugs, we will have the same benefits, plus many more. The US Centers for Disease Control says 50% of all new cases of hepatitis can be traced directly to sharing needles for drug use. If drugs were legal, people would not have to share needles. "Under alcohol prohibition, we had bathtub gin and people would go blind or die from drinking it. If you prohibit something, there is no way to control or regulate how it is produced.

"That is why people die of overdoses today.

Nobody dies of an overdose because they shoot more and more dope in some crazy attempt to get higher and higher.

The reason they die is they get what is called a hot shot, with more in the mix than they thought was there.

Instead of 10% or 15% of the mixture, it turns out to be 90% and they're dead," he says. Cole has brought his message to Scotland at the invitation of Inspector Jim Duffy, chairman of Strathclyde Police Federation. Earlier this year, some of his 7700 members caused controversy when they called for all Class A drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, to be legalised. Duffy points out that legalisation is not the policy of Strathclyde Police nor of the Scottish Police Federation, but says increasing numbers of his members are frustrated that the present drugs policies are not working and want serious consideration of alternatives. "My members are complaining that as soon as they take one drug dealer off the street, he is replaced by another, even before they get him to the police station.

"At the moment we have no control over drugs, whereas if they are legalised, we would have 75% or 80% control.

It would also allow us to take a lot of money that is spent enforcing the law and put it into education and rehabilitation."

Acknowledging that it will take "a sea change" to move from the present approach, he says that, at present, "there is not a street, town or village that is free of drugs".

That concern is well understood by Tom Wood, chair of the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams, and a former deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, but he does not support legalisation. "Policing drugs on a war footing was ill-conceived, but understandable given the context of the early 1970s. I believe we now have to take stock and consider the efficacy of the enforcement model. "I don't think the legalisation of drugs is practical within the foreseeable future in Scotland. Enforcement is important to send out a clear message to dealers and I think it should be continued at the level it is. "Yet enforcement has its limitations. We have expected too much of it and I think we have probably done as much as we can with it. We need a three-pronged strategy with enforcement, treatment and education.

We could be a lot better at rehabilitation, but the most important part is education because it deals with demand rather than supply.

In that regard, we have been very unsuccessful. We need cool-headed planning to set in place a long-term strategy to reduce demand before we can improve the situation overall.

"The big problem coming over the horizon is not simply the heroin user in the sink estates.

It is the recreational drug user who uses cocaine or other psycho-stimulants in conjunction with alcohol.

We have to win the argument with every young person in this country."

He argues that taking the crime out of drug use could be a simple solution to a complex question, but says: "I welcome debate because the lack of robust, balanced, public debate has bedevilled this whole issue. It shows a tremendous courage by the police federation to bring someone with such radical thoughts, because that is what you need to stimulate debate." His caveat is that Cole and his colleagues "muse about Utopia, but I have to live in the world as it is".

Cole -- and Jim Duffy's police officers -- respond that current policies are not working in the real world.

Says Cole: "When I give a talk in England or Scotland it is not to tell you how to run your lives, but to warn you not to follow the US down the path to destruction and disaster. "We have spent more than a trillion dollars on this war in 36 years and every year we continue, we dump another $69bn down that same avenue.

We have a saying that you can get over addiction, but you can never get over a conviction because it is on your record for ever."

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