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June 30, 2004 - The Smoky Mountain News (NC)

Time To Wake Up And Decriminalize Drugs

By Marshall Frank, retired Metro Dade homicide detective and novelist

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

No one likes to admit being a loser. But we better face up to one grim fact: the war on drugs is lost. And it's not going to get better, unless we alter our way of thinking.

Millions of people in this nation still subscribe to the notion that anyone who engages in immoral and/or distasteful acts, even if there are no victims, should be locked in cages for long chunks of time, punished, castigated and disenfranchised from society. Archaic mentality such as that has become our own worst enemy. Rather than solving problems, we exacerbate them.

Peter Lubbock worked hard as a lawn maintenance man in Western North Carolina. He had a wife who stayed at home to care for two small kids. He liked to smoke a little pot now and then, but he didn't like buying it from sleazy dealers downtown, nor could he grow any plants in the trailer park they lived in. So, he found a little spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway where the sunlight was just right, and cultivated a few plants, camouflaged by surrounding foliage.

Give Pete an "F" for smarts. But is he a bad guy? A danger to society?

Pete got caught and pulled a five-year sentence in federal prison. Not only has he lost 260 weeks of earned, tax-paying income in the prime of his life, for hurting no one, but the domino effect resulted in his wife having to go out a find a job, and apply for welfare, while the two kids lost out on a stay-at-home mom, relegated to day are centers and baby sitters. Who's the real bad guy here?

The story can be told ten-thousand fold.

We are a jailing nation. Of the 2.2 million inmates that clog our jails and prisons, one-third of them are "directly" related to drug violations, mostly possession. Another half million have committed other thefts or violent crimes "indirectly" related to the illicit drug trade.

Just as the fist-pumpers have demanded over the last three decades, laws got stricter, judges got tougher and sentences got longer and more rigid. Yet, more illicit drugs are crossing our borders and reaching the streets than ever before. Those inclined are still using, while an ineffective criminal justice system drains the taxpayer of over $50 billion a year, (that's with a "B") in "direct" costs of enforcement, court processing, prisons and probation. The indirect costs are incalculable in terms of wasting human resources, individual suffering, welfare expenditures and social services.

I am a 30-year police veteran who had no compunction about putting bad people in jail. But it is abominable that we take people who basically hurt no one (but perhaps, themselves) and brand them as criminals for life.

The mere mention of decriminalizing drugs brings shivers to those who cannot think outside the box. The law must set an example, they say, and not condone such behavior. I've got news for the box dwellers. Respect for the law has plummeted over the last 30 years because of illegal drugs, much the same as it did during the years of prohibition. Ask any kid in high school and they'll tell you it's easier to buy a marijuana joint than a Marlboro. For every arrest made for drug law violations, there are a thousand that go undeterred. And yes, that's out of my head, but I'd bet it's close.

Here are eight reasons why drugs should be legalized:

1. Pull the rug out from under the black market and eliminate drug cultivation in foreign countries, crush cartels, stop smuggling, put dealers out of business and reduce street crime by huge numbers. Give a junkie free heroin and he won't be robbing, burglarizing or shooting Joe Citizen.

2. Save lives. More than 17,000 users die every year from the use of illicit drugs: overdoses, HIV, murder, etc. Legalization would result in the FDA regulating and purifying drugs and its ancillary supplies, making it safer for incorrigible users.

3. Savings of up to $50 billion a year in recurrent enforcement activity that taxpayers are funding. It would also unclog America's courts and prisons from an untenable bottleneck of criminal cases. Additional savings from those indirect and incalculable costs could reach another $50 billion.

4. By using funds saved from enforcement and incarceration activities, huge amounts of monies can be redirected toward indoctrinating youngsters about the danger of drugs, starting in the first grade. Meaningful and effective treatment programs can be initiated and made available everywhere to help addicts help themselves. At present, such programs are few and far between.

5. Significant tax revenues can be gleaned from drugs such as marijuana that are now sold in the black market and drain on the economy. Sales and controls can be regulated much the same as alcohol.

6. Fight terrorism. Poppy fields in Afghanistan provide the largest source of illicit heroin around the world. The U.S. government knows this and allows warlords and traffickers to operate freely in exchange for fighting Al Qaeda. It's the ultimate Catch 22, because Al Qaeda - and international terrorism - benefit from huge profits gleaned from illegal heroin sales around the world. Legal heroin produced in the U.S. (and other countries) - regulated by the FDA - would cause the illicit poppy industry to collapse.

7. Just as it did when Prohibition ended in 1933, legalization of drugs would pull the reigns on public corruption. I've known scores of cops, judges and other officials who could not resist the enormous temptations offered through protection and payoffs. The problem is not limited to South Florida.

8. Legal hypocrisy. Nicotine is an addictive legal drug responsible for millions of disease-related deaths per year, not to mention the health care costs of smoking. Add to that another legal drug: alcohol. History has proven that alcohol is better legal and regulated than when made illegal.

If anyone out there thinks I'm just another liberal druggie who wants to use drugs legally, think again. I've seen, first hand, the horrible scourge of drug abuse, not only in my profession but in my own family. I recently asked my 43-year-old son, a now-recovering long time addict, "Did the laws against drugs ever deter you from using?"

"Never," he said. "It's just too easy to get drugs."

The former governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, said everything from marijuana to heroin ought to be legalized. "Control it. Regulate it. Tax it," Johnson said. "If you legalize it, we'll have a healthier society."

It's very difficult for politicians or police officials to sanction decriminalization while still in their positions. But many are coming out after retirement, when the muzzle is off, in support of decriminalization. It's amazing how many thousands of ex-cops, judges, prosecutors and politicians decry the current state of laws and drug policies.

One such organization, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), began with five retired police officers in 2002 who served many years in their careers fighting the illegal drug trade. Today, their support has mushroomed to over 1,200, and growing. Membership is comprised of former judges, attorneys, police officers and politicians who believe that the legalization of drugs is not only inevitable but essential. The word is getting out as LEAP members are becoming more in demand every day, appearing before legislative committees and speaking to citizens at various civic organizations.

When addressing the drug problem, criminal justice professionals are among the most credible (and conservative) in America, yet these people - and thousands more - are convinced we're doing it all wrong. Illegal drugs are a hundred times more harmful to Americans than legal drugs. I can't think of anyone else who knows better.

As for me, I do believe my son, I believe those kids who buy marijuana in their schoolyards, and I believe all those bodies I've seen on morgue trays. The law is not a deterrent. So, why are we blowing 100 billion tax dollars a year, jeopardizing the health of users, cramming jails and prisons, fighting cartels and incessant waves of street crime, and supporting international terrorism when the answer is right in front of our noses. All we have to do is think out of the box.

Well, I guess that's not politically correct.

(Information about LEAP is available on line at:

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