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Speaker: Lt. Jack Cole (ret.), Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Prepared for UUA.org by: Jenni Gaffney and Mike McNaughton, Reporters; Margy Levine Young, Editor
Lt. Jack Cole, now retired from the New Jersey Police, spent 12 years in undercover narcotics. He and other concerned law enforcement officers got together to brainstorm how to decrease death, disease, crime, and drug addiction. They all agreed the way to drastically reduce all four of these problems was to end the "War on Drugs". Thus Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) was born.
In the same way that legalizing alcohol put Al Capone out of business, legalizing drugs would end the crime and murder connected with drug smuggling, said Cole. With legalization and regulation no children would be hit by stray bullets in drive-by shootings between drug dealers. With legalization and regulation there would be no overdose deaths from unregulated street drugs. During alcohol prohibition there were numerous inhalation deaths due to people using the wrong type of alcohol to produce "bathtub gin". Now there are none.
In 1968, U.S. President Nixon coined the term "War on Drugs" in order to get elected in his second attempt at the presidency. The "War on Drugs" was launched in 1970. Suddenly a massive amount of money was available for officers hired to fight this "war." Overnight Lt. Jack Cole's headquarters went from 7 to 76 officers. Police officers are judged by the number of arrests they make, so eleven times the number of police meant eleven times as many arrests to justify this employee and budget increase.
The trouble was that there were not enough smugglers and dealers to fill this quota. At the time you were more likely to die falling down the stairs than from drugs. Cole, along with many others, went undercover posing as college students. They asked their friends to get them marijuana. The one friend who had a car would kindly volunteer to go to the city to find some. Upon returning and delivering the soft drugs, the unsuspecting friend would be arrested as a "drug dealer."
Sometimes undercover agents would sit with friends smoking marijuana. The social culture when smoking marijuana is to take a hit, and pass it on to the friend next to you. If you choose not to smoke, you simply pass it on to the next person. The undercover cop would keep track because each person who handed it on was a "distributor" and could become another jailed "drug dealer" to add to their numbers. For just passing the joint they could spend seven years in prison for a class-A felony. LEAP has a saying, "You can get over an addiction, but you can't get over a conviction". A criminal record follows a person forever, making it difficult if not impossible to get certain jobs and higher education, destroying a life.
Fighting the "War on Drugs" has not only made far more crime, but also more users, younger users, more overdose deaths, and larger incidences of AIDS and hepatitis. In 1965 there were 4 million drug users in the USA; in 2001 there were 110 million. In 1970 you could buy a bag of heroin for $6 (adjusted for inflation) which was 1.5 % pure. Today, a bag of the same size will cost you less than 80 cents, and averages 68% pure.
Before the drug war, you would hear of one death due to heroin overdose every month, somewhere in the United States, this month New York City, next month LA. Today, in Chicago alone there are over a hundred heroin deaths in one year. A heroin user doesn't have any way to know how pure this street heroin is until they are dead due to a "hot shot" that is purer than they are used to. During the "War on Drugs," the number of users has gone way up, the drugs have gotten stronger as well as less expensive, and the overdose deaths have risen to incredible amounts.
Because we imprison so many non-violent drug offenders, the U.S. has more prisoners per capita than any country in the world. During the last 35 years, prison building became the fastest growing industry in the United States. In 1960 there were only about 20,000 prisoners behind bars. After the drug war started, the police were encouraged to go after the individual users so that "the dealers will have no one left to sell to," and that number jumped to 415,000. By 2004, 1.74 million people were incarcerated. Fully half of these were imprisoned on marijuana charges alone, and 88% of these marijuana charges were for possession only.
After reading the results of the "Monitoring the Future" surveys in our schools between 1991 and 2002, U.S. Drug Czar John Walters said that the survey showed that "drug prevention is working in our schools". Yet the survey actually shows during those years the use of marijuana increased in every single grade. The number of 12th graders increased by 30%, 10 th graders by 65%, while 8 th grade use increased by a whopping 88%.
What can we do? We need to educate our congregations and our communities about the truth involving the "War on Drugs" and the massive harm it has caused our country and our children. People need to understand that legalizing drugs will enable them to be regulated and controlled. The more dangerous the drug, the more important regulation is.
If we treat use and abuse as a health problem instead of a criminal problem, perhaps like Switzerland, we may have the same amazing decreases in drug use by youth, death by overdose and even in addiction. Switzerland now has zero deaths yearly from heroin overdose as they regulate and control the purity and amount they administer in their free heroin-for-addicts program. Crime has dropped by 60%. 22% of addicts in the free heroin program eventually stop using heroin altogether. It is believed that this is because the addicts have been able to stabilize their lives. They can stop mugging and hassling people for money and drugs, they can keep a job, and they can finally treat their addiction.
Another thing we can do: join the friends of LEAP through the LEAP website. There is no membership fee, and anyone can join. LEAP needs to show elected officials the large number of people who agree that we should end the drug war.
Lt. Jack Cole suggests that we leave the burden of educating the public to speakers of LEAP. Hearing all this information from someone who was fighting the drug war as their career lends a lot of validity and personal experience to the message. They need us to get them speaking opportunities by contacting LEAP at (781) 393-6985, or speakers @ leap.cc, or finding the speaker nearest to your location on their website. Only 22 of their 128 speakers have yet had a chance to speak. Let's hear what they all have to say.
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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.
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