Pubdate: Wed, 30 Jun 2004
Source: Smoky Mountain News (NC)
Copyright: 2004 Smoky Mountain News
Author: Marshall Frank
Note: Marshall Frank is a retired Metro Dade homicide detective and a novelist.


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 

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 

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 

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: Marshall 
Frank is a retired Metro Dade homicide detective and a novelist.) 
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