Filling a Vacuum 

The "war on drugs" needs a change of tactics and goals.

When Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971, he called drug abuse "public enemy number one in the United States." Well, that "enemy" is still here and so is the war.

Readers of the Flyer's Web site saw a November 27th story, "Memphis Police Make Major Pot Arrest," and thought they were reading about another successful effort in fighting this war on illegal drugs.

But they weren't. They were reading about a drug-distribution system broken after months of investigation and the arrests of the individuals allegedly responsible. Readers were told illegal drugs were taken off our streets. And some were. But they will be back.

After 20 years as a law enforcement officer, I retired in 1989 with the rank of captain. I witnessed and aided in many such busts. And the successes, while momentarily gratifying, never ended the war. In fact, all the successes and hard work of dutiful officers across this nation haven't slowed drug trafficking one iota.

Yet we continue to hear the old refrain "just a few more years, just a few more million dollars here and several more million there, and we can win this. We must win this."

Hogwash. We cannot change human nature with legislation, and we can't stop a runaway freight train by yelling "STOP." As much as Prohibition in the early 20th century failed to stem the flow of and the appetite for alcohol, so too has the modern-day version of prohibition failed.

After 35 years, the war on drugs has only given us more and cheaper drugs and enriched criminals and their organizations by allowing them to manage production and distribution of some drugs in a system free of quality controls, taxation, and age restrictions.

This war endangers our law-abiding citizens and puts more officers in harm's way. We can't even keep drugs out of our prisons. How then do we keep them out of free society and away from our children?

How? By removing the drugs from the control of criminals, by regulating their production to meet precise industry standards for purity and dosage, and by making drug abuse a medical rather than criminal issue.

The answer, which is supported by a growing segment of the American population, is the legalization of all drugs. There are really but a few drugs that are illegal, and their status is under the auspices of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and its five schedules. Marijuana, for instance, carries a schedule 1 status. Schedule 1 drugs are supposed to be the most dangerous, with a high potential for abuse and no medical value. Yet, in 1988, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released a report prepared by its administrative law judge, Francis Young, in which he stated cannabis "is the safest therapeutic substance known to man." Judge Young's report was buried. As often happens with truth in government, it had no place in policy.

More states each year investigate medical cannabis programs because their citizens demand it. Despite federal intervention, despite fears of DEA raids and threats to doctors, more Americans see the effectiveness of cannabis as medicine. And so it goes with legalization. The government pressures one way, but the citizens' will is steadily pushing the other. There are dissenters in this war.

I am one of them. I am the founder of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP now has over 6,500 members. Judges, prosecutors, policemen, correction officers, and citizens are joining us to oppose this policy of drug prohibition that has not made us safer, that has not removed the menace of drugs from our streets, but has in fact done just the opposite -- literally turned our inner-cities into war zones.

Prohibition was a failure the first time around, and we ended it. It has failed again, and it is time to end it. Again.

Peter Christ retired as a police captain in 1989. LEAP is a drug-policy reform group of current and former members of law enforcement modeled on Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

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