Pubdate: Sun, 22 Feb 2009
Source: Billings Gazette, The (MT)
Copyright: 2009 The Billings Gazette
Author: Angela Brandt
Bookmark: (Law Enforcement Against
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


HELENA - Tony Ryan, a former Colorado police officer, says his decades
of service on the streets have led him to the conclusion that the war
on drugs is not the answer.

"The point is we have no control. We need to take control," he

Ryan is a speaker for the organization Law Enforcement Against
Prohibition, a group which is rallying to legalize all drugs. Members
of the organization, which includes former law enforcement officers
like Ryan, believe the money spent on enforcing drug laws could be
better spent.

"The war on drugs has increased the problem," he said. Ryan was in
Helena on Friday to speak at a rally in support Senate Bill 326, which
would increase the amount of medical marijuana that can be possessed
by patients from one to three ounces and expand the types of diseases
that can be legally treated with marijuana in the state.

Craig Campbell, the executive director of the Montana Narcotic Officer
Association, speaks out across the state against the legalization of
drugs. He said he is worried what the outcome would be if civil
leaders say drug use is an acceptable practice.

"Good, regimented law enforcement will keep people from using," said
Campbell, a detective with the Helena Police Department.

One main concern of Campbell's would be if drugs were made more
available to the general public.

"We don't just stand up for law enforcement but for those who have had
their lives torn apart by drugs or victims of crimes committed by
someone in search of money for drugs," he said.

"Montanans don't want to legalize here," Campbell said, adding that
Monday's march to the Capitol by thousands of students from across the
state to ask for increase funding for the Montana Meth Project was

Ryan said the drugs would be distributed by licensed sellers, which
would take the money and power away from the street dealers.

"Who has control? That'll be the drug cartels," he

Ryan quickly added that the organization is not for producing more
drugs but preventing abuse by control.

Multi-agency drug task forces take law enforcement officers away from
investigating other incidents. Their investigations are generally time
consuming and as soon as one dealer is busted after a year-long
investigation, another dealer is waiting in to move in on the same
area, Ryan said.

Lewis and Clark County sheriff's deputy Sam Mahlum, who serves as a
detective for the Missouri River Drug Task Force, which covers the
county along with Helena and surrounding areas, said his day-to-day
job is to battle addiction and if drugs were legalized the users'
addictions would still be there .

"I think they're controlled substances for a reason. I don't see the
benefit to it," he said.

Mahlum said he was concerned with the ramifications if legal
punishment was no longer a deterrent against doing drugs.

His partner on the task force, Helena Police Officer Berkley Conrad,
said the crimes are spawned by abusers feeding their addiction. Conrad
said even if drugs were legalized, there would still be people robbing
and stealing to get more drugs.

Ryan said legalization would quell violence because organized crime
would not longer be vying for turf on which to sell their product.

Conrad said legalizing drugs like meth and cocaine is a scary
prospect. Both are known for inciting violent incidents, he added.

Ryan said education and treatment are key for legalization to work.
Tobacco use is dropping now that the adverse effects are written on
the sides of cigarette packs, and the presentation of drugs would be
done in a similar fashion, he said.

Drugs would also be regulated in a similar way as tobacco and alcohol
products, Ryan said.

"We're not saying 'Let's just legalize drugs and everyone have a
free-for-all,' " he said.
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