Leader Blues

Monday, July 23, 2007

TOP STORY >>Ex-police officer says war on drugs not working

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

“The war on drugs is a failure, and we need a new way to fight it,” Tony Ryan, a former Denver law-enforcement officer, said Wednesday at the Jacksonville Lions Club meeting.

Ryan spoke to the club about an organization he’s involved with called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which believes an alternative policy is needed to combat drug use – legalize narcotics.

A nonprofit organization founded in 2002, LEAP is made up of current and former law-enforcement officials with the mission “to reduce many unintended harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime and addiction by ultimately ending drug prohibition,” Ryan says.

Ryan likened the drug fight to sweeping a beach – you’ll collect all kinds of stuff, but the beach is still there, he said.
“We need to remove the profit margin and end prohibition (on drugs),” Ryan said. “It’s a black market profit we created with the war on drugs by making it illegal.”

Ryan said that school children have reported that it is easier for them to buy drugs than to purchase alcohol or cigarettes because no one checks their IDs.

“When you buy alcohol you know what you’re getting – a certain percentage in this kind of alcohol, so on and so forth. It’s all regulated and controlled,” Ryan said. “On the street, the drug buyer (user) doesn’t know for sure what they are getting – what quality or grade it is, how potent it is and they don’t have to show ID. The dealer doesn’t care. All they want is the money. It’s actually on record that drugs have been sold to children as young as 4 years old.”

LEAP’s alternative policy calls for legalizing drugs and having the federal government produce them.
“The outcome of that is quality-control production for purity, standardized measure of potency and, we believe, the end of overdoses,” Ryan said.

The policy would also distribute free maintenance doses to all adults who request them to help them get on the road to recovery and away from drug-use problems.

“More reasons: No profit for drug use addiction, then no people on the street selling. No crimes are being committed to obtain the types of drugs people get addicted to. No criminal associations. No diseases passed by needles. No shootouts between dealers. No police killed. No one killed by police. No kids caught in the crossfire, and no one soliciting for another drug user,” Ryan said.

LEAP would redirect some of the money saved to programs that offer hope to addicts ­– rehabilitation services, programs to help people get back on their feet with housing, healthcare, livable wages – reducing the need to use drugs and thus fewer drug addicts.

Money would also be redirected to drug education, Ryan said.

“Education is the key. We’ve seen it work with things like tobacco. After all the publicity about the effects of using tobacco, it’s working — we’re down to 21 percent,” he said.

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) and other public support groups have spoken out on responsible drinking and the dangers of drunk driving. They have recommended using designated drivers.

“Education works,” Ryan said. “We need a better program that teaches kids better about making the right choices and how to resist peer pressure on something they know is not a good thing to do,” Ryan said after the meeting.

But local law-enforcement officials don’t think legalization is the way to go.

“I don’t think the legalization of narcotics is the answer to make things any better or to have any effect on it,” Lt. Martin Cass, public information officer with the Jacksonville Police Department, said.

“But as a department, we en-force the laws. If the legislature makes it legal, it’s out of our hands,” Cass added.
According to Cass, even if the federal government legalizes drugs and no one except the government can produce the drugs, there would still be mom and pop manufacturers, and law-enforcement agencies would have the same problems they face today.

“There will still be people using and reproducing drugs to make it weaker to sell to those that can’t afford it just to make a profit – like buying and then selling alcohol to kids,” Cass said.

“I don’t think you can regulate it anymore than it is now. There will still be those out there producing narcotics in South America and Taiwan and smuggling it in,” Cass insisted.

At the Cabot Police Department, it is argued that when guns are outlawed, they are still found on the black market. An underground economy would distribute contraband drugs.

“Why do they think if it’s legalized the social ills would go away?” Sgt. Brent Lucas, public information officer in Cabot, asked.
“Just because you legalize narcotics, something else will come up. We still have drinking and driving and underage drinking, even though alcohol is legal to buy,” he said.

Lucas said he understands the logic behind LEAP’s alternative policy, but he doesn’t think legalization would be practical. “I don’t think it would be the cure to anything or solve the problems,” Lucas said.