Pubdate: Mon, 7 Mar 2011
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2011 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Neill Franklin
Note: Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against 
Prohibition (, did narcotics enforcement 
with the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department 
over a 34-year career.


How Can You Ask an Officer to Be the Last Officer to Die for a

Several thousand miles, and a comparable cultural divide, separate
Elkins, W.Va., from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. But recently, they became
sister cities of a grim sort when law enforcement professionals lost
their lives fighting America's longest, most costly and least winnable
war: the so-called "war on drugs."

On Highway 57, halfway between Monterrey and Mexico City, U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata died
when cartel gunmen ambushed the car carrying him and a colleague, who
was wounded.

In West Virginia, 24-year-old U.S. Marshal Derek Hotsinpiller was shot
by Charles E. Smith, who was wanted on charges related to cocaine
possession with intent to distribute. Two deputy marshals were wounded
in the gunfight that cost both Mr. Hotsinpiller and Mr. Smith their

As a former narcotics cop in Baltimore who has lost several of my best
friends in the line of fire, I know what U.S. Attorney General Eric
Holder meant when he said, "These courageous deputies put their lives
on the line and put the safety of others before their own."

But the attorney general missed the mark badly when he put his faith
in business as usual in announcing the formation of a task force to
investigate the tragedy in Mexico.

We don't need another task force. We don't need to redouble the
efforts that have led to almost 35,000 deaths in Mexico since the end
of 2006 and countless others here in the U.S., where we don't even
attempt to tally those killed in illegal drug wars.

What we desperately need is to end this "war on drugs" which has done
so little to prevent people from using drugs but which has done so
much to enrich organized criminals who do not hesitate to use violence
to protect their black market profits.

What we need is pure honesty from Attorney General Holder and his
colleagues in Washington and in our state capitals. We need our
elected officials to summon the collective maturity and political
integrity to acknowledge what millions of Americans have known for a
long time: The war on drugs has failed, it has made our drug problems
much worse and it can never be won.

That's because the root cause of last month's violence in Mexico and
West Virginia is drug prohibition, not the molecules that people
ingest. There is no level of law enforcement commitment, skill or
courage that can ever eliminate obscenely profitable, tax-free drug
markets that deliver prized commodities to millions of people.

I didn't always understand this. During my 34-year career in law
enforcement, I tried in earnest to enforce the drug laws, thinking I
was helping to make a dent with each arrest or seizure. Along the way,
several of my colleagues were killed, including one of my best
friends, Ed Toatley, a Maryland state trooper who was shot in the head
at close range as he attempted an undercover buy in Washington, D.C.
in 2000.

After each tragic death, my police colleagues and I pushed ahead on to
the next case, and the one after that, thinking that our fallen
comrades had paid the tragic price for bringing the scourge of drug
abuse under control.

But that belief was wrong. Drug use didn't wane, and the market didn't
dissipate. Each arrest we scored was simply a job opening for someone
else to step up and take the risk for a chance at the lucrative
profits inherent in meeting the insatiable demand for illegal drugs.

We should have learned this lesson decades ago, when alcohol
Prohibition was a boon to organized crime and fueled disrespect for
the rule of law. Drinking remained rampant, and gang violence
flourished. But after we repealed Prohibition, Al Capone and his
competitors stopped selling liquor. Today, we don't see Budweiser or
Coors distributors killing cops in order to maximize profits.

That's because, since 1933, we have regulated the distribution and
sale of alcohol. We need to do the same with drugs that are illegal

Let's honor the ultimate sacrifices made by Derek Hotsinpiller, Jaime
Zapata, Ed Toatley and so many others in the right way. Let's put
their murderers and those who won't hesitate to murder in the future
out of business. Let's regulate drugs the way we regulate alcohol and
tobacco. It's the only way we can ever win America's seemingly endless
war on drugs.

How many more hardworking and brave law enforcers do we have to see
killed in the line of duty before our elected officials will change
this policy?
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake