Pubdate: Thu, 03 Oct 2013
Source: Hartford Courant (CT)
Copyright: 2013 The Hartford Courant
Author: Tom Condon


A few weeks ago my wife and I were in Boston for a Saturday wedding. 
We went for a walk on Sunday morning down to the Common - wherein we 
found the Boston Freedom Rally, billed as the largest hempfest on the 
East Coast.

Whoa, '60s flashback, groovy, man, far-out. The event was part state 
fair and part protest, with music, booths and speakers. It's put on 
every year, usually without tremendous enthusiasm from city hall, by 
the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, toward the goal of "a 
more moral and rational public policy regarding all uses of the 
cannabis plant."

One of the booths promoting legalization of drugs was manned by 
current and former cops, one of whom I recognized.

"How ya doing," I said.

"Great," said Jack Cole. "We've now got more than 100,000 members."

Lt. Jack Cole was an undercover narcotics cop for much of his career 
with the New Jersey state police. He concluded at the end of this 
sometimes harrowing career that his anti-drug work was mostly for 
naught, indeed, that the War on Drugs was a massive policy failure.

So in 2002 he co-founded an organization called Law Enforcement 
Against Prohibition, or LEAP, gathering ex-cops, state and federal 
judges, prosecutors, sheriffs, border agents, federal agents and even 
prison wardens to educate the public - via a speakers bureau - about 
the failure of drug policy.

Cole came to Hartford two years ago for a program The Courant 
co-sponsored about drugs. The gist of his message was that the 
40-year War on Drugs, like the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, 
created a worse problem than the one it was trying to solve.

The effort resulted in 40 million arrests for nonviolent drug 
offenses, the world's largest per capita prison population, an 
expenditure of $80 billion a year, urban neighborhoods plagued with 
lethal violence and countless lives ruined. Today, after all that, 
illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent and much easier to get than 
they were when President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs in 
1971. Ask any high school kid.

"It's worse than you think," he said when I called him this week. He 
said minorities are arrested at a much higher rate and sentenced to 
longer prison terms than whites for drug crime. In many state, 
corporations can hire prison labor for pennies. "This is the new slavery."

Cole's answer is to do what was done with alcohol - end prohibition, 
regulate the products and tax them, and treat drug abuse as a public 
health problem. He believes it will end drug-related violence - "When 
Prohibition ended, Al Capone was out of business the next day." - 
reduce crime and disease, reduce addiction, end deaths from 
overdoses, use tax dollars more efficiently and restore trust in law 

He's not saying drugs are a good thing. He's say the approach we took 
to deal with drugs has been a colossal failure.

Cole's position is inching forward. Some states including Connecticut 
have enacted laws decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and 
allowing medical marijuana. Two states have legalized marijuana for 
recreational use, and, now that the Justice Department has said it 
won't interfere, more will follow.

There are even bills before Congress to allow the production of 
industrial hemp in this country. Hemp has been cultivated for 
centuries and has thousands of uses, from food and paper to body oil 
and biomass energy. It's legal to sell hemp products in the U.S. - 
the market for them is estimated at $500 million - but it's illegal 
to grow it because it is a variety of cannabis, albeit one that has 
almost no THC, the psychoactive constituent that makes marijuana 
popular. This is nuts. Members of Congress from farming states such 
as Kentucky are leading the charge to change the law. Kentucky 
farmers need a substitute for tobacco.

That's because the one successful anti-drug program in this country 
over the past 50 years has been the anti-smoking campaign, which has 
lowered adult smoking from more than 40 percent to 18 percent in 
three decades. We didn't do it by putting people in jail, we did it 
through education, regulation and taxation.

Cole thinks that would work with other drugs. It makes more sense 
than what we've been doing.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom