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February 14, 2007 - Winnipeg Sun (CN MB)

Column: The Folly Of Prohibition

By Robert Marshall

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

How's Nixon's war going? Not Vietnam. The other one. The so-called war on drugs declared by the former U.S. president almost 40 years ago.

If you talk to the cops, who earn a good, but dangerous living enforcing Canada's drug laws, many admit they're on the losing side. They can make some dents, but that's about it.

Putting their resources to work, the police spend a bundle playing cat and mouse with dealers. They'll often win and then invite the press to view a pile of seized cash, drugs and firearms. If all goes according to plan, the dealer goes off to jail.

But that's not the end of it. With obscene profits available, others line up to take over the jailed dealer's turf. They'll fight, even kill, over it. Innocent people become victims. Good people are sucked in. And the drugs keep on flowing leading to other crimes that cost us all.

In the '60s and '70s a half baggie of marijuana was a good bust. Today multi-kilo seizures of cocaine are not uncommon. Crystal meth and crack are everywhere and easy to get.

There is a group of cop-types, who call themselves Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), more than 500 hundred strong, who recognize the reality and the folly.

Norm Stamper, retired chief of the Seattle Police Service, says the drug war is nonsense, morally harmful and financially wrong.

Peter Christ, a retired captain from New York state, sees the war more as a policy of prohibition that doesn't work and draws parallels to the booze ban of the '20s and early '30s when gangsters made huge bucks dealing liquor.

Retired Lt. Jack Cole of the New Jersey State Police, a former undercover officer, says prohibition has given criminals the opportunity to supply drugs and to decide which ones. It's then left to the criminal to say how they'll be produced, how potent they'll be, what age levels they'll sell to and where they're going to sell. "If they decide to sell to 10-year-olds on our playgrounds then that's where they'll be sold."

LEAP says the only way to solve the drug problem is to remove the criminals' profit, estimated annually to be $400 billion worldwide. And that can only be done by legalizing drugs. By making it a governmental responsibility to regulate, control and most importantly to keep them out of the hands of children.

LEAP claims if the need to cheat the law is eliminated, then a whole criminal culture goes up in smoke. Such thinking has the support of Edward Ellison, former head of Scotland Yard's anti-drug squad, some judges, other chiefs and officers from around the world, including Canada.

In Winnipeg, if an addict needing a fix could turn to Health Canada instead of the Hells Angels, violence and crime would plummet. And with a helping agency in charge of the drugs there would at least be hope for curing the addiction. Hardly an easy task, Christ notes, but doable as he points out that 50% of the people who smoked 10 years ago have quit, solely as a result of education.

Today's enforcement-driven approach has yielded violence, heartbreak and a situation where a child has an easier time finding drugs than alcohol. With that, should LEAP's philosophy not form at least part of the discussion as we carry on with Nixon's war?

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