Pubdate: Fri, 4 Apr 2008
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2008 Bellingham Herald
Author: Caleb Heeringa
Cited: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Bookmark: (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition)


Former Seattle Police Chief Calls for Legalization

BELLINGHAM -- Despite more than a trillion dollars spent, drugs are 
more available today at lower prices and higher potency than at the 
beginning of America's "war on drugs," the former chief of the 
Seattle Police Department argued Thursday.

Norm Stamper, chief of the department from 1994 to 2000, spoke at 
Western Washington University in an event organized by the school's 
Drug Information Center.

Speaking for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Stamper called the 
drug war an "abject failure" that has led to the unjust incarceration 
of millions and created a system that promotes a violent drug trade 
that has ravaged Mexico and the rest of Latin America.

"The incineration of human beings ... decapitation ... this is the 
kind of violence that a multibillion-dollar drug trafficking industry 
creates," Stamper told a crowd of approximately 150 students and 
community members.

Stamper said the prohibition of drugs is partially responsible for 
that violence, since it creates a market that dealers exploit.

"The demand has always been greater than the supply, which is why the 
suppliers make so much on these drugs," he said.

Stamper outlined some of the "collateral damage" of the drug war, including:

Students who have lost out on financial aid because of misdemeanor 
drug convictions.

Individuals living in poverty who have been denied federal public 
housing because of drug convictions. Stamper noted that neither rape 
nor murder convictions prevent someone from receiving public housing.

Nearly 2.3 million Americans jailed on drug charges, with nearly 90 
percent of those convictions being simple possession. Stamper also 
argued that the drug war has disproportionately affected African 
Americans, leading to between seven and 10 times more black people 
being charged with drug crimes than white people.

As a solution, Stamper proposed legalizing all drugs and having the 
government regulate them -- similar to the current system for alcohol 
and tobacco. Stamper argued that since decades of government 
intervention has done little to stem the flow of drugs into the 
country, the government may as well try to cut down on the violence 
inherent in the drug trade.

Several audience members questioned the morality and practicality of 
having the government sell drugs that could kill people and lead to addiction.

Stamper was not completely sure of the logistics, but countered by 
saying that drug addiction would be a reality whether users were 
getting their substance from the government or a drug dealer on the street.

Why not ensure that people were getting clean needles for intravenous 
drugs and using proper strength drugs that would limit overdoses, 
Stamper argued, pointing to the success of rehabilitation programs 
for addicts in Europe.

Either way, Stamper said America has erred in treating drugs as a 
criminal-justice issue instead of a public health issue.

"We spend seven times more on enforcement than we do on prevention 
and treatment," he said. "Think about all the good that would be 
caused if we reversed that number." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake