Pubdate: Sat, 21 Feb 2009
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2009 Helena Independent Record
Author: Angela Brandt, Independent Record


A former career Colorado police officer says it's his decades of
service on the streets that has 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," Tony Ryan

Ryan is a speaker for the organization Law Enforcement Against
Prohibition, a group which is rallying to legalize all drugs in
America. Members of the organization, which includes former law
enforcement officers like Ryan plus judges and other public officials,
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 Friday to speak at a rally in support of Senate
Bill 326, which would increase the amount of medical marijuana that
can be possessed by patients from 1 to 3 ounces and expand the types
of diseases that can be legally treated with marijuana in the state.
He also met with the Independent Record editorial board to discuss the
idea of legalizing drugs.

Not all law enforcement subscribes to LEAP's theory, however. 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 under his group's advocacy drugs, if legalized, would be
distributed by licensed sellers, which would take the money and power
away from the street dealers and international drug lords.

"Who has control? That'd be the drug cartels," he said.

Ryan quickly added that LEAP does not push for producing more drugs,
and it certainly does not support more drug use, but rather preventing
abuse by controlling the substances.

Multi-agency drug task forces take law enforcement officers away from
investigating other incidents, he said. Their investigations are
generally time-consuming and as soon as one dealer is busted after a
year-long investigation, another dealer is waiting 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. If drugs were legalized, he said, the
users' addictions would still remain.

"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 no longer be vying 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 large-scale anti-tobacco campaigns
are gaining traction. The portrayal of drugs would similar, he said.

Private businesses would likely arise to manufacture and produce
marijuana, cocaine, heroin and others, and those drugs would be
regulated in a similar way as tobacco and alcohol products, Ryan said.
They would be taxed just like those products, too.

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