Pubdate: Mon, 22 Jun 2009
Source: Ada Evening News, The (OK)
Copyright: 2009 The Ada Evening News
Author: Clint Sloan, Staff Writer
Cited: LEAP
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Ada -- A group of both current and former law enforcement officials
want to end the war on drugs.

"The issue has to be addressed," said Wes Johnson, a Tulsa defense
attorney and former Tulsa police officer.

Johnson is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP.
LEAP is an organization committed to ending drug prohibition because
of the financial toll the drug war takes on the state.

"Drug enforcement is bankrupting the state of Oklahoma," Johnson said.
"If you legalized it, you could tax it."

Johnson said this tax on drugs would provide a revenue stream to put
more money into drug prevention and treatment programs, similar to the
state's tax on tobacco.

The financial burden of the drug war in Oklahoma is evident in a May
2009 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at
Columbia University. The report stated that Oklahoma spent nearly 12
percent of its budget on costs relating to substance abuse and
addiction. But only .3 percent of that is used for substance abuse
prevention, treatment and research, a mere $24 million out of the
total $999 million spent.

Some local officials on the frontlines of the war on drugs, like drug
court case manager Brandy Melton, do not think legalizing drugs would
be beneficial to drug treatment programs like drug court.

"If you legalize drugs, you might lower your incarceration costs," she
said. "But your death rate is going to go up and your hospitalization
tolls are going to go up."

Melton said the answer is not to only have incarcerations or treatment
programs, but to couple those two concepts together.

"I think they should have more drug rehab programs in prison," she
said. "We've had people come out of prison and they've been put in
those programs, but they're not really getting drug treatment; I think
it's just something for them to say they've done while they're in
there, and it gets them two hours out of a cell."

LEAP member Wes Johnson said if drugs were legalized, the government
could control the production, price and quality of the drugs.

"There are going to be people constantly addicted to this stuff," he
said. "The government should be in the business of controlling it, not
the criminal cartels."

Judge Thomas Landrith, who presides over many drug cases, said he does
believe the government regulation of drugs would necessarily lead to a
greater control of who uses them.

"Our children get a hold of a lot of legal drugs that are obtained by
their parents legally," Landrith said. "They can get it out of their
medicine chest; It doesn't make any difference."

The prescription drug problem in the area is evidence that government
can never have complete control over drugs, and prescription drug
overdose is the second leading cause of unnatural death in the
Pontotoc County area, Pontotoc County District Attorney Chris Ross

According to the LEAP Web site, legalizing drugs would also "restore
the public's respect for police." Johnson said the actions of police
officers are sending negative perceptions to the public by separating
children from their parents.

"They're putting people in jails for these low-level drug charges and
you have these law enforcement types stepping up to save the
children," he said. "That's (bull)."

Assistant police chief Maj. Carl Allen said this allegation would be
true if drug offenders were in jail simply because they possessed drugs.

"Under the current laws that we have, drug abuse and buying and
selling of drugs accounts for a lot more crime than just the actual
possessions and the buying and sellings," Allen said. "People steal,
and they victimize other people in order to get their capital to buy
the drugs."

Allen echoed the concerns by most public officials serving Ada that
more problems would occur if drugs were legalized.

"If we didn't enforce the current drug laws that we have, people would
be dying," he said. "There would be some economic benefit probably to
some government agencies, but I think it would be more of a problem."

As one could see, LEAP is a minority in the law enforcement community,
as only 102 out of the 13,000 members nationwide are in Oklahoma. Only
11 of those actually have law enforcement experience, according to
LEAP media director Tom Angell.

Both sides of the legalization debate will continue to express their
opinions in the public policy sphere, but both sides agree that the
war on drugs will likely never end.

"As long as we have demand, they'll be supply," Johnson said. "They'll
always be demand."

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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr