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December 3, 2007 - Central Florida Future (FL Edu)

Judge Argues For Softer Drug Laws

By Max Behrman

Don Jones, a former municipal judge from Miami, spoke to members of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws at UCF on Wednesday regarding the necessity to change drug prohibition laws.

He was introduced by Justin Martineau, the president of NORML at UCF, as "the first man to serve in an integrated, post-Brown v. Board of Education court in the South," along with several other accomplishments.

Jones spoke on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and said it is an international nonprofit organization that gives voice to law enforcement.

"This is not a group that is somewhere that might be thought of as being outside the establishment," Jones said.

He said that LEAP is there to represent law enforcement ranging from FBI agents, corrections and parole officers, prosecutors, prison wardens, and the Drug Enforcement Agency, as well as others involved in the enforcement of various drug laws, who believe revision is necessary.

They want the laws they are working to revise, including marijuana laws, to be similar to those in European countries, he said.

"About 75 to 80 percent of the people we've talked to agree that the drug war has failed," said Jodi James, the speaker and bureau coordinator for LEAP.

The topics discussed ranged from the origin of marijuana laws, to who suffers because of the laws and why the laws need immediate reform.

"Majority groups in this country consume 72 percent of all the drugs that are imported into this country -72 percent," Jones said, quoting statistics from the LEAP Web site. "[Blacks] constitute 13 percent of all drug users in the country."

Jones said that, despite the low percentage of blacks who are drug users, 37 percent of those arrested for drugs are black, and over 42 percent of those in federal prison for drug violation are black.

"[Blacks] comprise almost 60 percent of those in prison for drug felonies," Jones said.

He said that there is a "general prejudice and fear about young, [black] males and particularly inner-city dwellers and poor people in general."

He said that judges are more likely to quickly sentence blacks to time in a federal prison for longer periods of time than any other race.

"We can't begin to deal with the problem unless we face it squarely," Jones said. "There is rampant, unbridled discrimination and drug prosecution in this country to discriminatorily put scores of [black] young men in jail and keep them there for long periods of time."

He went on to say that the prison population has doubled in the past 15 years and has done so "on the backs of young, [black] males."

After discussing civil rights on the topic, Jones touched on some reasons why the government needs to start changing its policies on prohibition laws.

"If you regulate and control drugs, you'll remove the profit motive," he said.

He said that by removing drugs from the black market, there is no longer an incentive to traffic them illegally.

Jones went on to say that the biggest problem for a drug user is laundering the money because of the drug dealers participating in money laundering.

Jones said another benefit to softer drug laws is that fewer citizens will want to start using drugs because the enticement factor will be lacking. Another benefit he mentioned is the avoidance of diseases by reducing needle-sharing in the use of drugs such as heroin.

Jones said that in Europe, especially in Holland, drug users tend to begin using at a later age. The reason for this, he and others believe, is the age-old belief that someone who is forbidden to do something will only want to do it more, while someone who's allowed to commit that act freely finds no excitement or risk in the behavior and is less likely to engage in it.

Jones said that harsh laws on drugs like marijuana seem nonsensical when "alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the country."

According to the national surveys of alcohol consumption, over a period of 30 days, 5 percent of the total population drank heavily, and 15 percent of the population engaged in binge drinking.

If prohibition were stopped, there would then be much less crime revolving around drugs and fewer police calls made to stop illegal drug trafficking. Fewer calls means fewer shootings and less violence, Jones said.

"In Washington, D.C., they found that the drug dealers had better weaponry than the police," he said. "We are wasting good men's lives."

Jones said that most police officers view the war on drugs as "wasteful."

He said: "It's foolish because it's not going to stop it. It's not going to stop the drugs from coming in. We haven't made a dent in the drugs coming into this country."

Jones talked about the money that's being poured into what he called the failing drug war.

About $69 billion has been spent on the war on drugs., he said. Jones asked the audience to consider what could be done with this money if it were not spent on the drug war.

At the end of the speech, Jones opened the floor to questions.

Austin Smith, a member of Students for a Democratic Society at UCF, asked Jones what he thought about those who would lose their jobs if the drug war ended.

"We could shift and re-train people to take care of the millions of people in this country with a drug problem," Jones said. "We could build the kinds of centers, like Europe, to treat these people, to counsel them, to bring them in, to provide a supervised, therapeutic setting for them."

Ben Fenton, a 20-year-old economics major and officer of NORML at UCF, asked: "What would be a good model for the distribution of drugs if [marijuana] was legalized?"

Jones said that the answer lies in Europe, once again.

"Probably the European model," Jones said. "Probably Holland, probably Germany."

Jones said that policies there make it possible for drug addicted people to receive drugs at a center, rather than going to the streets for them.

Another question was about what changes would be made if an ID was required to buy regulated marijuana.

Jones said it would be much harder to purchase marijuana if people needed an ID. As it stands right now, he said, "there's no age limit; there's no regulation; there's no control."

He said regulation and control "would make it far less attractive to young people."

Jones went on to say that he believes pharmaceutical companies, racism and preserving the liquor industry are what's keeping the drug war going.

James explained one instance in which she spoke on the topic of law enforcement against prohibition to a rotary club of 15 members and one main speaker, who all had a conservative standpoint.

"At the end of the day, 13 people joined LEAP," she said. "They didn't join because they support medical marijuana; they didn't join because they think it's a civil liberties issue. They joined because prohibition doesn't work."

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