Pubdate: Thu, 01 Dec 2011
Source: Chicago Reader (IL)
Copyright: 2011 Chicago Reader
Author: Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky


Two decades later, James Gierach is still campaigning against pot prohibition

In 1992, James Gierach ran for Cook County state's attorney on a
platform of addressing drugs as a medical and economic issue instead
of a criminal problem--and ending the arrests of nonviolent users.

At a time when crime was rising and politicians were playing to
voters' fears, it was not a winning message. Despite Gierach's
background as a tough-on-crime prosecutor, he mustered just 14 percent
of the vote. In 1994, he ran for governor with a similar platform,
inspiring a Reader profile headlined, "Just Say OK." He was crushed

Almost 20 years later, Gierach is still at it, campaigning for drug
policy reforms as a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
While many of his ideas remain politically unfeasible, a growing
number of elected officials are seeking his counsel and sounding
similar themes. And instead of being exiled to the fringes,
politicians who are now willing to speak out, such as Cook County
board president Toni Preckwinkle, have been applauded for common sense
and fiscal discipline.

"My head is bruised--I've been hitting it into the brick wall for a
long time," Gierach says. "But there's no question that the issues
I've talked about will eventually come to be, because we can't pay the
price tags for the current policies.

"Why is the war on drugs still in place? Because the good guys and the
bad guys are on the same side of the line of scrimmage. The drug
cartels are in favor of prohibition because they're making money off
it. The cops, the teachers, the prison wardens--they're in favor of
saving society from drugs and the gravy train for their programs
continues. So the thing languishes on."

It's not quite accurate to say Gierach's views haven't changed. They
haven't mellowed, either. During his gubernatorial bid, Gierach was
opposed to legalizing drugs because he feared it would drive up usage.
Now he thinks legalization is the only way to keep it in check.

"When you prohibit something you give up the right to regulate it and
control it," he says. "It doesn't matter how many people we arrest or
how tough our speeches are. People are rewarded for doing something
that we've made illegal. We can have safe streets or drug
prohibitions, but not both."

In fact, he argues, the war on drugs "is at the heart of almost every
crisis in America--guns, prisons, AIDS, taxes, dropouts, the
destruction of moral values. We've got no money for economic
development or schools because of it."

Gierach says he's been encouraged to hear local officials discuss
decriminalizing marijuana possession, even if he doesn't think that
goes far enough.

"The politics of what's happening is that we're trying to find a less
expensive way to keep in place a failed policy," he says. "It doesn't
change the economics of the kid who's quitting school because he can
make a better life selling drugs." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.