Pubdate: Wed, 13 Jan 2010
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2010 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Danny Westneat, Seattle Times staff columnist


The caller is as sure of himself as he is provoking: "I know a way to
reduce gun crime. Guaranteed."


"It worked before, the one time we had the sense to try it. You could
look it up."

I'm all ears at this point. The caller was responding to a couple
columns I wrote about guns and what might be done to reduce the number
of shootings.

"You don't have to change any gun laws to do it," he continued. "Just
repeal drug prohibition. Gun crime - almost all types of violent
crime - will plummet overnight."

That's Matthew McCally, by day an administrator at City University of
Seattle. The rest of the time he's an ex-probation officer from Renton
who runs a local chapter of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
(LEAP), a group of police, prison and court officers who go around the
country arguing for the legalization of drugs.

Today, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, also of LEAP, will
ask state legislators to legalize marijuana. Doing so would cut down
on violent crime, as well as save millions of dollars, he'll argue.
He'll be joined by a former Border Patrol agent.

One proposed bill, House Bill 1177, would reduce adult possession of
pot from a crime to a civil infraction with a $100 fine (it would stay
a crime for juveniles.) That would save an estimated $12 million a
year in jail and court costs.

The other bill, House Bill 2401, would legalize pot completely (for
adults.) Then regulate the sale - with government control of type,
price and potency - much as we do with alcohol.

The hearing is 1:30 p.m. today in the John L. O'Brien Building in

McCally, 51, is no stoner - he says he hasn't tried pot since he was
an Army corporal in the '80s when his troops got him high. He came to
his views working as a probation officer. He spent his time not
protecting the public from violent felons but re-incarcerating
low-level drug users who failed the pee test.

"I was a kind of glorified hall monitor, turning in the bad boys and
girls caught smoking in the bathroom," he says.

He's also no Pollyanna. At the end of our interview he predicted all
of these bills, as well as a proposed citizens' initiative to legalize
pot, will fail.

But if they don't - if by some miracle of politics, a change is
coming in the disastrous war on drugs - he says it would be a start
toward what happened after alcohol prohibition ended.

Which is: The murder rate plunged from 10 murders per 100,000 U.S.
residents in 1933 to about half that five years later - among the
fastest drops in violent crime ever recorded in America. So say
Department of Justice statistics. The high murder rates of the early
'30s were not seen again for 50 years.

"You don't see beer distributors shooting each other in drive-bys,"
McCally says. "You don't see tobacco salesmen organizing into street
gangs. We've created all that with the war on drugs."

The rhetoric on drug issues can be wildly overstated, on both sides.
Stamper, in a video at the LEAP Web site, calls the war on drugs "the
single most devastating, dysfunctional, harmful social policy since

As hyperbole that probably won't be topped at today's hearing. But you
can be sure there will be counterclaims that legalizing pot will turn
all our children into glaze-eyed slackers.

As a parent of two young kids, I admit I'm a bit freaked out about
legalizing all drugs.

But I'm also with McCally: You can't control entire categories of stuff
people want by an outright ban. It didn't work with alcohol. It wouldn't
work with guns. It isn't working with drugs.

So why not let people have what they want, but then regulate it -
heavily, if need be - and tax it to boot?

It's not going to end drug problems. Or stop all crime or fill the
state's budget gap. But right now gangs and dope dealers are in
command of the drug trade. Wouldn't it be better if we were?
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake