Pubdate: Thu, 10 Sep 2015
Source: Newsweek (US)
Copyright: 2015 Newsweek, Inc.
Author: Victoria Bekiempis


Major Neill Franklin was one of Maryland's top cops when he retired in 
2010 after 34 years in law enforcement. Over the course of those 
three-plus decades, he went from being an active supporter of the war on 
drugs to a staunch opponent.

Franklin spent most of his career working for the Maryland State Police 
and Baltimore Police Department, starting with road patrol for the state 
police and later working in narcotics. With the state police, he rose to 
the position of commander of the Education and Training Division and of 
the Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement, creating and supervising 
the "very first" Domestic Violence Investigative Units. He joined the 
Baltimore Police Department in 2000 to overhaul and command its 
Education and Training Section. After the BPD, he worked for the 
Maryland Transit Administration Police Force from 2004 to 2010.

Though Franklin had extensive experience in stopping the narcotics 
trade, one politician's bold statements against the war on drugs in the 
1980s prompted him to think more deeply about whether it was worth 
fighting. Baltimore's mayor at the time, Kurt Schmoke, publicly stated 
that the war on drugs had failed-and that in addition to causing 
violence, it was disproportionately targeting minorities.

Along with that, the major turning point in Franklin's view of the war 
on drugs-from proponent to opponent-was a personal tragedy. In 2000, 
Corporal Ed Toatley, Franklin's close friend, was killed during an 
undercover drug deal.

"Ed's death personally connected me to the violence of the drug war," 
Franklin, 57, tells Newsweek. "I was no longer on the sidelines of 
violence-I was now in the game."

During his last two years with the Maryland transit division, Franklin 
became officially affiliated with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition 
(LEAP). He spoke with the nonprofit organization, which pushes for drug 
legalization, for two years and then served on its board for one year. 
He resigned from the Maryland Transit Administration Police Force in 
July 2010 and was appointed LEAP's executive director.

Newsweek chatted with Franklin, who is based in Maryland, about why he 
has become an advocate for drug legalization. This interview has been 
edited for length and clarity.

So what is your position on drugs?

Let me say this, and I think it's important-I hate drugs, whether it's 
cocaine, heroin, meth, prescription drugs, tobacco products, alcohol. 
But these are two separate issues, and what I'm trying to change is the 
policy in which we manage drugs. I wish that we could keep our kids away 
from drugs, because I do believe that they can potentially harm. The 
policy with which we manage drugs is a separate issue, and that's where 
I live.  The more problematic a drug can be, the more need we have for 
regulating it. In a nutshell, that's kind of my whole perspective on 
this whole thing, is how we manage something-drugs-that's here to stay? 
How do we manage it to where we use it as responsibly and safely as 

How do you use drugs like heroin and coke safely and responsibly?

I think there are two key points here: First and foremost is education. 
Because we prohibit these certain drugs, we don't do a very good job 
educating people. We think that because we prohibit the use, there 
should not be a need to educate. The bottom line is for the last four 
decades, we have not been living in a place of reality. Drugs have 
always been here, drugs are here, and drugs will be here for as long as 
we are. So the notion of a drug free society is just that-it is a 
notion, it is a dream.

The second thing is, because we prohibit drugs and drive the 
manufacturing of drugs underground and into the shadows, into a place of 
criminality, the drugs that are produced are very dangerous. Their 
properties are unknown. The potency is unknown. Therefore, when used by 
someone, they are potentially extremely dangerous.

A quick comparison is when you go buy alcohol, which is a very, very 
problematic drug, but when you go buy it, you know how potent it is, you 
know how much a percentage is in your beer, in your wine, you know 
whether it's 80 proof, 100 proof. You know exactly what the ingredients 
are and through that education, you can use it responsibly and safely.

How do we figure out safe volumes?

I think the first thing...we say to our kids is: "You're not an adult, 
so this is not legal for you to use," just like we do with alcohol. Then 
we say to them, "So it is our very, very strong advice that you do not 
use them." But that's not all we say to them. The third thing is, "If 
you find yourself in a predicament and you do use, here's what you need 
to know," and then it is teaching about the qualities, the properties, 
and the harms.

So it's almost like harm-reduction in the rave community?

I've had conversations [with] a couple people I know who dwell within 
the rave community. One young man in particular, he runs a group and 
what this group does is they go to rave parties and they provide 
education and kind of like, harm reduction packets for people. They can 
test what they have bought to make sure that it is MDMA, to make sure 
that it's not something else. And the interesting thing is that whenever 
the management of the clubs realizes or finds out that he and his group 
are on site, they kick them out, because they try to present the image 
that no one is using MDMA in a club. Dig hole, stick head in hole in the 
sand-that's what we do.... In some places, the local government has 
prohibited these test kits. It's actually considered drug paraphernalia. 
There you go-just leave people in a dangerous place.

What would regulation look like?

The first thing is to get people to realize-to admit to, to accept-the 
failure of our past policies and prohibitions. Once you get to that 
point to accept it, realize it, then we want to get you to the point of 
ending prohibition and designing a policy that works for your community. 
Now, the one thing we recognize is that there are literally hundreds of 
options for regulatory models.

..So what's the best policy for marijuana? What's the best policy for 
cocaine and heroin in your community? I think what we're beginning to 
see with marijuana is that a reasonable policy is privately owned retail 
outlets. Maybe a best policy, depending upon your community, for cocaine 
may be a pharmaceutical model, where you have to get it from the 
pharmacist from behind the counter, but you have to identify yourself. 
Maybe the best policy for heroin is a supervised injection facility. So 
the uniqueness about that is it's medically supervised-the heroin that 
is distributed on site is of pharmaceutical grade and none of the heroin 
leaves the facility. However, if you have an addiction and you need a 
dose three times a day, you can go and acquire your dose under medical 

What about addiction? Are you worried that by making it potentially 
easier for people to use hard drugs that more people will get addicted 
and maybe die?

[Laughs] I've talked to so many people who are addicted to different 
types of drugs.  Whether we're talking heroin, or cocaine, or meth, I've 
never heard one of them say, "You know what, I just can't find my drug 
of choice today." Not only is it so readily accessible to them, those 
who are addicted. In the same manner, in the same reason, it is very, 
very accessible to our young people, to our children. Our points of 
distribution have no regulatory system. They have no policies preventing 
them from selling to certain people, whether it's someone who's 
addicted, or a 14-year-old child. Furthermore, these tens of thousands 
of marketplaces in our country, they hire children-many of them hire 

There's not one marijuana retail outlet-legal retail outlet-in Colorado 
that hires children. [Recreational use was legalized in the state in 
November 2012.] And I think of all the sting operations that they're 
running in Colorado, they're not selling to children either, so that's 
what happens when you have a regulated market. Drugs currently are 
accessible to any and everybody that wants them. So as long as you have 
the money, you buy them. They're yours. Really, the thing is, what we're 
talking about is consensual adult behavior. And in a free society, when 
you prohibit consensual adult behavior, you're going to end up with a 
very violent, flourishing criminal marketplace for that behavior, and 
with that criminal marketplace will come all of the harms that we see 
today with the war on drugs.

Public opinion has shifted dramatically on marijuana legalization, but 
what do you think is the general view of legalizing all drugs, including 
those described as scourges on society, such as heroin, cocaine and 
meth, etc.?

I think the temperature of the public opinion is still, for those harder 
drugs, resistant because they have not yet been educated on the facts. 
They had been fed, like I had been, like many others had been over the 
past four, five decades, propaganda. We have learned what we know about 
these hard drugs from a very aggressive media campaign over the past 
four to five decades. I guess we need to understand: The harms that we 
see related to drug abuse are primarily there because of the policies of 

So what's next for your activism?

The next step is to continue connecting the dots, connecting the dots of 
the problems within our criminal justice system to the war on drugs.... 
To effectively reduce violent crimes, to deal appropriately with rapes 
and murders and all these criminal justice problems that we're seeing, 
we're going to make sure that people understand that there is a very 
strong tether connecting all of these criminal justice issues-that is, 
the war on drugs. That's the common thread.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt