By Joe Klare
On its most basic level, the war on drugs is the constant confrontation between law enforcement and “illicit drug” users. While politicians make the policy, police and attorneys and judges must enforce laws that are often unenforceable at best, and get law enforcement officials killed at worst.
While it can be a career-killer for those currently in law enforcement to speak out on the policies they enforce, many have seen fit to make their opinions known after they leave the force/bench/district attorney’s office.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Many of those men and women have joined an organization known as LEAP – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – a group of former law enforcement officials who have joined together to end the drug prohibition they used to enforce.
LEAP’s Media Relations Director, Tom Angell, told me a little about the origins of the organization. “LEAP was founded in 2002 by five former cops who had been going to drug policy conferences and recognized that the movement lacked a coherent, organized forum where those who have fought on the front lines of the “war on drugs” could come together to speak out against it. Since then we have grown to nearly 50,000 supporters.”
Organizations like LEAP carry a lot of weight and credibility because they can’t be marginalized by the proponents of prohibition as a bunch of stoners and hippies who want legal pot or want to shoot up on the sidewalk. These are men and women who carry immense authority as former members of the “Establishment.” After all, if society gave them the power as judges and cops to enforce all of our laws, they can’t be dismissed as “fringe.”
“In general, LEAP’s biggest accomplishment has been to put drug legalization on the table for consideration by serious people,” Tom told me when I asked him about his organization’s proudest moments. “For example, in response to a question from LEAP speaker MacKenzie Allen, President Obama himself recently said during a YouTube forum that legalization is ‘an entirely legitimate topic for debate.’”
On the topic of California and cannabis legalization, Tom was optimistic, but warned it wouldn’t be easy “California came extremely close to legalizing marijuana in 2010 during a mid-term election. We have every reason to believe that in 2012, a presidential election year when more young people will turn out, we have a very good shot at passing a legalization initiative. That said, we’re not going to be able to do it without the help – financial and otherwise – of people who care about this issue. Everyone needs to become engaged and involved if we are to be successful.”
Judge Jim Gray
Another drug-warrior-turned-anti-prohibionist I had the honor to speak to is the esteemed Judge Jim Gray. A member of LEAP, Judge Gray ascended to the bench in 1983 and for 25 years saw what The War on Drugs did to society.
“I saw the heartbreaking results of drug prohibition too many times in my own courtroom,” the Judge said. “I saw children tempted by adults to become involved in drug trafficking for $50 in cash, a lot of money to a youngster in the inner city, or almost anywhere else. Once the child’s reliability has been established in his roles as a lookout or “gofer,” he is soon trusted to sell small amounts of drugs, which, of course, results in greater profits both for the adult dealer and his protégé. The children sell these drugs, not to adults, but to their peers, thus recruiting more children into a life of taking and selling drugs. I saw this repeated again and again. But like others in the court system, I didn’t talk about it.”
I asked Judge Gray about the process he went through in his mind that ultimately led to his change of philosophy. “It was a gradual process. But I actually remember the first time in which I decided I would have to step forward and go public about this issue. I was on the bench enforcing another judge’s sentence in a criminal case of a bad man who had raped, beaten up and stolen money from prostitutes, and he was receiving such a light sentence that he would be released, after being given credit for time served, after only another week or two. When we were finished, he gave out a war whoop of happiness when being taken back into lockup. And why not, because he had won. So I remember thinking at the time that the truth was that we were spending so many criminal justice resources on non-violent drug offenses that we didn’t have the money or other resources to concentrate on violent criminals like this fellow. Hence the realization that ‘The tougher we get on non-violent drug offenses, literally the softer we get on every other type of offense.’ This is untenable — and stupid!”
Judge Gray focuses on cannabis – substance he has never tried and does intend on trying – when discussing legalization. “You must understand that I am now 66 years old, so marijuana was basically unknown to me (or my parents) when I was growing up,” the Judge told me. “I don’t smoke cigarettes, am careful about high cholesterol foods, and don’t even take medicines without being convinced there is a definite need, which is to say that I try to be careful about what I put into my body. So even if marijuana were to be regulated and controlled for adults, I still cannot see myself using it, unless recommended by my medical doctor for some sort of ailment. I’m otherwise simply not interested.
“People are simply not ready even to discuss the regulation and control of other drugs, thus I focus upon marijuana. And besides, I certainly don’t have all the answers, so maybe I’m wrong. Therefore, let’s regulate and control marijuana first, and then analyze the results and learn from our experiences before we approach other drugs. I think that makes practical sense.”
California, Prop 19, And Legalization in 2012
“In my public discussions about our nation’s failed and hopeless policy of marijuana prohibition, I often say that Proposition 19 actually won the election last November, but we will simply be delaying implementation for two years,” the Judge says.
“I say that for two reasons. First, Proposition 19 was so successful in legitimizing the discussion about the failure of marijuana prohibition both statewide and nationwide, and even worldwide, that people for the first time have actually started to think seriously about the issue. And that is really all we need, because what we are doing today simply doesn’t make sense.
“Second, in some of my debates on Proposition 19, numbers of people, including several chiefs of police, stated publicly that they had no problem treating marijuana like alcohol, but they did not like some specific provisions of Proposition 19 and therefore opposed it. Many voters felt exactly the same way.”
So, Judge Gray told me, cannabis legalization should be realized next year. “I firmly believe that my home state of California will pass the ‘Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Initiative of 2012’ in November of 2012. Then it will work, and it will sweep the nation. So within 5 to 6 years the climate will have completely changed, and then I guarantee that virtually everyone in our country will look back and be astonished that we could have pursued such a failed policy for so long, just as we now look back on slavery, lack of women’s suffrage or the interning of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. So let’s get started.”
As goes California, so goes the rest of the country, eventually, as we had seen with medical marijuana. To most Americans, the success of decriminalization programs in Europe doesn’t really matter. Until they see it here, many won’t be convinced that legalization won’t lead to chaos and a complete breakdown of life as we know it.
The Emergence Of Law Enforcers As Anti-Drug Warriors
According to Judge Gray, many of his former colleagues feel the same way he does. “I never get into arguments with my colleagues because I don’t bring it up,” he said. “They know my positions, and I don’t try to proselytize them. But having said that, numbers of times in private they tell me that they fully agree that what we are doing now simply isn’t working, and that we probably should regulate and control all drugs – The same thing happens privately with a large number of chiefs of police.”
As time goes on, law enforcement officials will become the most effective anti-prohibition group in the United States. Their experience with the War on Drugs brings a credibility unmatched and unquestioned, and the fact that most are retired means they have no reason to speak other than the truth. Debating LEAP on the War on Drugs is like arguing with an Iraqi War veteran over the effectiveness of Kevlar vests: you are out matched at the starting gate.
And as decriminalization and legalization spread throughout the country, current law enforcement officials will be freed up to pursue other, more dangerous crimes – especially if police spend a lot of time on cannabis currently. “[It] depends on where the officer works,” former police officer and Executive Director of Lawmen Protecting Patients Nate Bradley told me. “Law enforcement in places like the Emerald Triangle will change drastically. Most of those agencies have numerous officers assigned to teams that are dedicated to uncovering marijuana grow ops. The officers in those teams will most likely just be assigned to a different unit or back to patrol.
“It won’t change the change the daily routine of most street cops, because most of what they do is respond to calls for service. Thanks to alcohol, there will always be plenty of calls for service.”
Since the Drug War puts law enforcement officers in incredible danger, they are the ones who will be listened to the most. They put their lives on the line bringing the most dangerous among us to justice. Should they risk death trying to raid warehouses and residences full of plants?
Everyday more and more officials from law enforcement join the ranks of those calling for an end to prohibition and The War on Drugs. People are dying on both sides in the name of a failed policy. Families and lives are destroyed in the name of enforcing someone’s moral code – the belief that you know what’s best for everyone else and will make sure they follow your lead – at gunpoint if necessary.
The police are the ones holding those guns – the lawyers do the prosecuting- and the Judges do the judging. Many of them are tired of enforcing your belief in your own superiority, and they are speaking out all the time.
So since november 2010, quite a few people involved in marijuana drug law reform have been working to craft a new initiative, the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Act of 2012, and its basic provisions are as follows:
All California laws that prohibit marijuana possession, use, sales, distribution, cultivation, etc. by people who are 21 and older would be repealed, except for those pertaining to driving a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana; using or being impaired by marijuana in public or in the workplace; the use, possession, sales, etc. of marijuana by people younger than 21; providing, transferring or selling marijuana to a person younger than 21; or any laws or regulations regarding medical marijuana as set forth by Proposition 215 and its related statutes. All of those laws and regulations would expressly remain in effect.
The proposal then breaks down what we now call marijuana into two classifications. The first is marijuana with a THC or “potency” level of 3% or higher, which would be governed by regulations, taxes and fees that use the wine industry as a model. But, importantly enough, the act would not permit state, county or city governments to use their taxing, zoning or licensing authority as a means to thwart the provisions of the initiative, unless those regulations would also be applicable to the wine industry.
Marijuana with a THC level of less than 3%. would be classified as hemp, and would be governed by the same regulations, taxes and fees that use the cotton industry as a model. Of course the hemp industry goes back thousands of years, such that in ancient Greek the word for “canvas” was the same word as “cannabis,” or marijuana. Similarly, the plantations owned by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and many other planters grew large crops of hemp, which were used for things like rope, gunny sacks and coarse cloth.
Since the colonial period the uses of hemp have been greatly expanded. For example, today manufacturers can get four times the amount of paper pulp from an acre of hemp as they can from an acre of trees. Furthermore, the hemp crop can be raised in one season of about eight months, while it takes about 20 years to grow the trees. This means that the paper pulp industry in the northwest United States could be reclaimed, along with all of the jobs, revenues and taxes that this would entail.
The proposal would also prohibit all commercial advertising of the sales, distribution and use of marijuana, except for medical marijuana and products made from industrial hemp. This would go a long way in taking the glamour out of marijuana, especially for children.