Pubdate: Fri, 05 Sep 2014
Source: Tico Times, The (Costa Rica)
Copyright: 2014 Tico Times
Author: Zach Dyer


LEAP Executive Director Neill Franklin, a retired major with the
Maryland State Police, says that drug policy needs to focus on health
first, not criminal prosecutions, during a press conference on Friday,
Sept. 5, 2014. Lindsay Fendt/The Tico Times Costa Rica will become the
first country in Central America to host a branch of the drug policy
reform organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the group
announced at a press conference Friday morning. The announcement took
place after a week of debate on drug policies in the Americas at the
Fifth Latin American and First Central American Conference on Drug
Policy in San Jose.

LEAP, a 13-year-old nonprofit organization of current and former law
enforcement members, aims to legalize illicit drugs as a solution to
the violence and corruption that has snaked its way across the
Americas in the last five decades. LEAP Executive Director Neill
Franklin, a retired major with the Maryland State Police in the United
States, told The Tico Times that he is excited to finally have an
active branch of the group in Central America.

"History shows us that a drug-free society is impossible, so let's
make the drugs available to people as safe as possible for use for
those who decide to use. At least we know it's not laced with
something that's going to kill them. You cannot do that under policies
of prohibition," Franklin said.

Franklin stressed that LEAP, despite its support for a regulated drug
market, does not advocate drug use. Rather, the group supports an
abstinence policy, including for alcohol and tobacco, two legal
products he claimed are greater threats to public health than
controlled substances like marijuana. Franklin cheered Citizen Action
Party lawmaker Marvin Atencio's "courageous" bill to legalize the
production, distribution and sale of medical marijuana in Costa Rica.

"We the police should not be in a business of being someone's parent.
Adults should be able to decide whether they want to drink a glass of
wine or use cannabis. We should be preventing and investigating
violent crime as our primary goal," Franklin said.

"We law enforcement have been the tip of the spear for 50 years, and
we have failed in our mission to reduce crime, death, disease and drug
use. Now we need to make the health community the tip of the spear,"
said LEAP co-founder Howard Wooldridge.

Franklin said LEAP's efforts in Costa Rica would focus on educating
the public and providing a law enforcement perspective to drug

An initial series of meetings with police in Costa Rica in May
collected 100 members, half of which were police officers, according
to LEAP Costa Rica's Director Elizabeth Coto. A quarter of those
members will serve as LEAP speakers to educate the public and
lawmakers about alternatives to the current "iron fist" approach seen
across much of Central America.

LEAP volunteer speaker Ricardo Bonilla said that he wanted to work
with LEAP to change the taboo against marijuana. "I have friends who
have worked with the DEA and FBI, and I heard from them that something
was wrong."

Coto said that LEAP membership is open to anyone, but they prefer
their speakers to have at least one year of service in law
enforcement, including one year in narcotics. People interested in
learning more about LEAP in Costa Rica should contact Johnny Schmidt
at  or by calling (506) 8931-7991.

Franklin said that the reorientation of drug policies away from
criminal law enforcement toward a health-based approach would likely
have a positive effect on regions like Central America that the former
major said have been "devastated" by the drug war.

"You can turn on the TV any day, from Chicago to L.A. to Miami to
Baltimore, it does't matter. You're going to see innocent people
caught in the crossfire of these drug dealers' street wars. Travel
down through Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, you're going
to see families traumatized and children victimized by the cartels and
drug gangs by the thousands," he said.

"It's time to move in a new direction, a health-centered direction. We
know that education and treatment is effective in reducing drug abuse
but unfortunately our resources are so heavy in criminal justice and
prosecution and jails and prisons. We need to shift that to treatment
and education," Franklin said.

Paraphrasing his fellow co-founder Peter Christ, Franklin concluded,
"At the moment you may not agree with us, but you can't tell us we
don't know what we're talking about."
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MAP posted-by: Matt