More and more we hear people declaring that “the war on drugs has failed” and that we need to devise a new system or policy. One such voice is that of the organization LEAP, or Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. We contacted LEAP to further understand the mentality behind this viewpoint, and they were kind enough to put us in contact with speaker and Narcotics Detective Russ Jones.
Russ has been involved in the “War on Drugs” for thirty years working as a San Jose, California Narcotics Detective, a DEA intelligence agent, an academic who wrote on the psychological and physiological symptoms of narcotics use as well as develop rehabilitation programs. He is also a court-recognized expert in the field of narcotics enforcement.
AllTreatment: Russ, as well as being a former narcotics detective, former DEA agent, teacher, and court-recognized expert, you are also a member of LEAP. For those out there who know little or nothing about this organization, can you briefly explain LEAP, and your reasoning behind becoming a member.Russ Jones: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is a non-profit organization that gives voice to thousands of former members of law enforcement (judges, prosecutors, chiefs of police, police officers, narcotics detectives, parole officers, corrections officers, etc.) who believe that the War on Drugs is a failed policy. I became a speaker for LEAP because I have first hand knowledge that, since the beginning of the War on Drugs, drugs have become cheaper, stronger and more plentiful. There has been more violence, more corruption and more drug use. By all measurable standards, the War on Drugs is a failure.AT: What is your major concern regarding current drug policy?
RJ: My major concern is that drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, are dangerous. Too dangerous to leave in the hands of the drug cartels. We learned our lessons with alcohol prohibition, when violence, corruption, and use of adulterated booze spiked. Today, drugs are controlled by street gangs who decide what to sell, when to sell, where to sell, and to whom. In any major city today a 12 year old can go down the street and buy an illegal drug. He has a much more difficult time trying to buy alcohol or tobacco.
AT: What changes would you like to see in drug policy and why? Is there any specific issue that you think should be addressed first?
RJ: First and foremost, we need to remove the black market and eliminate the drug cartels just as we eliminated the Al Capones, Machine Gun Kelly’s, and Meyer
Lansky’s when we re-regulated alcohol. By regulating the sale and use of recreational drugs we will eliminate the street dealer and resultant violence. For example, there are no street gangs distilling alcohol in bathtubs and selling it in our school parking lots. There are no street gangs growing tobacco in our national forests. There are no drive-by shootings between Coors and Bud Lite, and Marlboro is not hiring kids to run tobacco from one street corner to another. Mexican drug cartels are not killing each other over the importation of Tequila into America.
Absent harm to someone else, recreational drug use should be legalized and drug users left alone. Then treat drug abuse and addiction as a health problem, not a law enforcement problem.
By arresting non-violent drug users we are destroying their lives. With a drug arrest record they can not become teachers, doctors, lawyers, or politicians. In many states they cannot even become real estate agents, beauticians, or florists. Yet today, under current policies, if you use recreational drugs and do not get caught, you can admit it and become a police officer, DEA agent, professor, or president. That policy is wrong.
AT: Obama recently said, “I am a strong believer that we have to think more about drugs as a public health problem…” Do you think this is a step toward actual, productive drug policy debate?
RJ: While the words may help in the debate, actions speak louder than words. Let’s see what his administrations actions are in this matter.
We know public opinion and rational education works. Look at what our nation has done with tobacco, the deadliest and most addicting of all drugs, legal and illegal. We have reduced the use of tobacco from nearly 50% down to 17%, without kicking in any doors, firing any shots, or throwing anyone in jail.
AT: Currently, we are experiencing an upswing in violence due to the drug war in Mexico. I found a stat which claims there have been 30,000 civilian deaths in Mexico since Calderon took office. I read another which claimed 30 tons of marijuana a year is grown by Mexican Cartels in US National Forests. Is current drug policy and DEA action properly confronting these issues? What effect do you think a policy change would have on these issues?
RJ: The principle of Supply, Demand, and Prices applies to illegal business just as well a legal one. The price of drugs has fallen every year since 1970, the beginning of the War on Drugs. If prices are down, then we know supply of drugs is up. The Department of Justice, from DEA to Customs to local law enforcement, is having no effect at all.
It is not so much that there is an upswing in violence. It is just that the violence has spread from Bolivia, to Columbia, and is now on our doorstep in Mexico.
Put the drug cartels out of business by regulating the use and sale of recreational drugs. Treat drug abuse as a health issue. Use rational education and public awareness programs to influence the public. Quit throwing people in jail and saddling them with an arrest record just for recreational drug use.