Cops and Presidents Come Out for Legalization

Today marks the 40th Anniversary of America's war on drugs. It's not a war that is generally considered a success, even by those who say it's important we continue to wage it. And today, an unlikely group is highlighting the drug war's failures and calling for legalization (of all drugs) as a solution to some "prohibition related" problems like black market violence, police murders, and overdose deaths: law enforcement.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is a nonprofit organization of current and former law enforcement professionals like police officers, judges, and prosecutors, who feel the war on drugs has failed and can't be won. In the video above, LEAP's executive director Neil Franklin sits down with the hardcore Libertarian rag Reason Magazine to explain why, after years of fighting the drug war as a police officer, he now supports an end to the drug war.

This week, LEAP members arrived at the Office of National Drug Control Policy headquarters in Washington, D.C. to present Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske with a report titled "Ending the Drug War: A Dream Deferred." The report focuses on LEAP's belief that the Obama Administration has misled Americans with promises to shift away from the drug war and treat drug abuse as a public health issue. It also provides support for legalization from a law enforcement perspective and as a way to curb the escalating violence in Mexico that has now claimed nearly 40,000 lives. However, the Drug Czar refused to meet with them.

Drug policy reformers were optimistic when President Obama took office (after all, he has called the war on drugs an "utter failure" and has said that his favorite show is the Wire) and even more so after then newly appointed Drug Czar Kerlikowske, who was formerly the police chief of Seattle, stated that we should not be at war with our own people. But as LEAP says, the rhetoric of this administration has brought little change. Oddly enough, Norm Stamper was also a former Seattle police chief and one of the LEAP members who hoped Kerlikowske would meet and openly discuss this issue as members of law enforcement.

"Since President Nixon declared 'war on drugs' four decades ago, this failed policy has led to millions of arrests, a trillion dollars spent and countless lives lost, yet drugs today are more available than ever," said Norm Stamper, former chief of police in Seattle and a speaker for legalization-advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

And LEAP's report isn't the only one to come out criticizing the drug war and promoting a system of regulation and legalization. Just two weeks ago, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, released a report that encourages countries to experiment with legalization and regulation. Members of the GCDP include some heavy hitting activists, political leaders and business moguls:

  • George Shultz, former Secretary of State (United States)
  • Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil
  • Kofi Annann, former Secretary General of the United Nations
  • Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group

Yesterday, in a New York Times Op-Ed titled "Call Off the Global Drug War,"  former U.S. president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter wrote about the report:

The report describes the total failure of the present global antidrug effort, and in particular America’s “war on drugs,” which was declared 40 years ago today. It notes that the global consumption of opiates has increased 34.5 percent, cocaine 27 percent and cannabis 8.5 percent from 1998 to 2008. Its primary recommendations are to substitute treatment for imprisonment for people who use drugs but do no harm to others, and to concentrate more coordinated international effort on combating violent criminal organizations rather than nonviolent, low-level offenders.

These recommendations are compatible with United States drug policy from three decades ago. In a message to Congress in 1977, I said the country should decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, with a full program of treatment for addicts. I also cautioned against filling our prisons with young people who were no threat to society, and summarized by saying: “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”

Still, the Office of National Drug Control Policy says that legalization of marijuana or any drug is not going to happen. Drug Czar Kerlikowske claims that he while in theory he supports treating drug use as a public health issue, he doesn't think legalization can be part of that effort and would simply increase drug use and abuse. From a statement to the Huffington Post:

Drug Legalization runs counter to a public health approach to policy because research shows that illegal drug use is associated with voluntary treatment admissions, fatal drugged driving accidents, and emergency room admissions.

So a former President, law enforcement officials, and some of the world's leading thought-leaders believe legalization is the only rational choice. But on this 40th anniversary of the War on Drugs, those in the best position to shape and execute policy are not yet convinced.