HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Legalize It
Pubdate: Sun, 23 Aug 2009
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2009 The Washington Post Company
Authors: Peter Moskos and Stanford "Neill" Franklin
Note: Peter Moskos is a professor at John Jay College of Criminal 
Justice." Neill Franklin is a 32-year law enforcement veteran. Both 
served as Baltimore City police officers and are members of Law 
Enforcement Against Prohibition.


Undercover Baltimore police officer Dante Arthur was doing what he
does well, arresting drug dealers, when he approached a group in
January. What he didn't know was that one of suspects knew from a
previous arrest that Arthur was police. Arthur was shot twice in the
face. In the gunfight that ensued, Arthur's partner returned fire and
shot one of the suspects, three of whom were later arrested.

In many ways, Dante Arthur was lucky. He lived. Nationwide, a police
officer dies on duty nearly every other day. Too often a flag-draped
casket is followed by miles of flashing red and blue lights. Even more
officers are shot and wounded, too many fighting the war on drugs. The
prohibition on drugs leads to unregulated, and often violent, public
drug dealing. Perhaps counter intuitively, better police training and
bigger guns are not the answer.

When it makes sense to deal drugs in public, a neighborhood becomes
home to drug violence. For a low-level drug dealer, working the street
means more money and fewer economic risks. If police come, and they
will, some young kid will be left holding the bag while the dealer
walks around the block. But if the dealer sells inside, one raid, by
either police or robbers, can put him out of business for good. Only
those virtually immune from arrests (much less imprisonment) - college
students, the wealthy and those who never buy or sell from strangers -
can deal indoors.

Drug users generally aren't violent. It's the corner slinger who
terrifies neighbors and invites rivals to attack. Public drug dealing
creates an environment where disputes about money or respect are
settled with guns.

In high-crime areas, police spend much of their time answering
drug-related calls for service, clearing dealers off corners,
responding to shootings and homicides, and making lots of drug-related

Policymakers tell us to fight this unwinnable war.

Only after years of witnessing the ineffectiveness of drug policies -
and the disproportionate impact the drug war has on young black men -
have we and other police officers begun to question the system.

Cities and states license beer and tobacco sellers to control where,
when and to whom drugs are sold. Ending Prohibition saved lives
because it took gangsters out of the game. Regulated alcohol doesn't
work perfectly, but it works well enough. Prescription drugs are
regulated, and while there is a huge problem with abuse, at least a
system of distribution involving doctors and pharmacists works without
violence and high-volume incarceration. Regulating drugs would work
similarly: not a cure-all, but a vast improvement on the status quo.

Legalization would not create a drug free-for-all. In fact, regulation
reins in the mess we already have. If prohibition decreased drug use
and drug arrests acted as a deterrent, America would not lead the
world in illegal drug use and incarceration for drug crimes.

Drug distribution needs to be the combined responsibility of doctors,
the government, and a legal and regulated free market. This simple
step would quickly eliminate the greatest threat of violence:
street-corner drug dealing.

We simply urge the federal government to retreat. Let cities and
states decide their own drug policies. Many would continue
prohibition, but some would try something new. California and its
medical marijuana dispensaries provide a good working example, warts
and all, that legalized drug distribution does not cause the sky to

Having fought the war on drugs, we know that ending the drug war is
the right thing to do - for all of us, especially taxpayers. Harvard
economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that ending the drug war would save
$44 billion annually, with taxes bringing in an additional $33 billion.

Without the drug war, America's most decimated neighborhoods would
have a chance to recover. Working people could sit on stoops,
misguided youths wouldn't look up to criminals as role models, our
overflowing prisons could hold real criminals, and - most important to
us - more police officers wouldn't have to die.
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