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Solution to drug problem to be presented in Wichita

Illegal drug use and the accompanying war on drugs is a huge human problem in the United States. It’s time, according to some, for a radical rethinking of this situation. A group of current and former warriors from the frontlines of the war on drugs has such a perspective, and their solution is not what you might expect.

Jack A. Cole, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), makes a compelling case for the legalization of drugs as the way to end the war on drugs. It’s not because he favors drug use, but because he wants to end the tremendous human toll of the war and its many unintended, but harmful, consequences.

Cole has plenty of experience as a drug warrior, having spent 26 years with the New Jersey State Police, with 12 years working as an undercover narcotics officer. His investigations spanned the spectrum of cases from street-level dealers to billion-dollar drug trafficking rings.

Cole will be in Wichita to speak at two events. I spoke with him by telephone to get a preview of his message. I started by asking about a common problem that those who advocate legalization of drugs face: “I also favor the legalization of all drugs, and sometimes people accuse me of promoting drug use because of this position. Is that the case with you?”

Cole said that isn’t the case with him and his organization, as everyone at LEAP has spent their careers fighting drug abuse. “We don’t want to see one additional drug abuser in the world.”

How, then, would legalizing drugs lead to less abuse, I asked. The experience in other countries that have loosened their drug laws provides valuable lessons for the United States, he said.

“Every county that has done this has experienced success in alleviating their problems,” Cole said. In the Netherlands, where marijuana has been decriminalized for 33 years, 28% of tenth graders have tried that drug. In the United States, where marijuana is illegal, 41% of tenth graders have tried it. Per capita use in the Netherlands is just one-half of that in the U.S. So it’s not only lower numbers of people trying the drug, but also lower usage, too.

Per capita use of hard drugs — cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine — is just one-fourth of that in the U.S. Cole says that drug abuse in many countries such as the Netherlands is treated as a health problem, not a criminal problem.

The prohibition of drugs in the U.S. leads to economic incentives that create hard drug addicts. In countries where marijuana is legal, it’s simply sold, in a setting such as a coffeehouse, to those who want to use it. But here, to purchase marijuana, one must visit criminals who have incentives to get their customers addicted to hard drugs, so that they have steady and long-term customers.

“So they have an economic motive to produce addicts, not just casual users,” I asked. Exactly, replied Cole.

Experience in other countries shows that decriminalization of drugs leads to lower drug use. The effect is more pronounced in young people, which is the opposite of what people might expect.

The profits from selling illegal drugs plays a large role in understanding the problem with the war on drugs. The vast majority of revenue of street gangs comes from the fact that drugs are illegal and that profit margins are huge. So when drug dealers are arrested and taken off the street, Cole said that someone else steps up to take their place.

Decriminalization alone won’t end the violence associated with the illegal drug trade, Cole said, as that affects only the user. As long as drugs are illegal, there will still be huge profits to be earned.

I asked about a position that some people hold, that we should legalize “soft” drugs like marijuana, but “hard” drugs like heroin and methamphetamine should remain illegal. Would this be of any benefit? Cole said no: “Just figure out which drug you’d like to have 13-year old kids selling on the street corner, and that’s the one we will keep illegal.”

The illegality of drugs here prevents addicts from getting the help they might want. In countries where drug addiction is treated as a health problem, addicts are treated, and then can return to the community as productive citizens. In the U.S. drug addicts are likely to be arrested and convicted of crimes, and as a result, have difficulty getting jobs after cleaning up.

The cost of the war on drugs is huge, about $70 billion per year, Cole said, with about $1.5 trillion spent over the past 40 years. Everything is “far, far worse now” than at the beginning of the war on drugs, he added.

Cole will speak at the Wichita Pachyderm Club on Friday, December 4. All are welcome to attend. For more information on this event, see Jack Cole of LEAP to address Pachyderms. He will also speak at a meeting of the Libertarians of South Central Kansas (LSOCK) on Tuesday, December 1. More information about that event is here.

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10 Comments

  1. Anonymous November 27, 2009

    maybe it’s the combination of the lax drug laws and theit health care system that have led to these results?

  2. Susan Wolfe November 27, 2009

    Bob, great interview. Thanks for this article! Hope to see you next Friday at the Pach luncheon.

  3. Dismal Scientist November 28, 2009

    Lax drug laws? Are you serious Anonymous? We have draconion drug laws as far a “free” countries go!

  4. JK November 28, 2009

    Drug use is an individual’s lifestyle choice. The government has no right to intervene with individual rights of the American people. The only groups who benifit from the “war” on drugs are the drug dealers and the government agencies enforcing bogus laws that haven’t worked. Get rid of the black market and drug use will decrease more than any government program has seen, and if you like paying taxes, use the money being used in the “war” on drugs for education, clinics and rehab, this will help those in true need.

  5. Miss Anonymous November 29, 2009

    “In countries where drug addiction is treated as a health problem, addicts are treated…”

    You would be referring to those socialistic European countries, right Bob? How dare a nation of socialists decide to take care of its fellow citizens with, you know, actual health care!

  6. Anonymous November 29, 2009

    Miss Anonymous, that’s an example of crackhead logic if I’ve ever seen it. How is the issue of who pays for something related to whether drugs are legal or not?

  7. Miss Anonymous December 1, 2009

    My Dear Anonymous @ 7:01pm,

    I’m just being helpful by pointing out Mr. Week’s unfortunate slip into hypocrisy. He’s criticizing US drug laws, and offers as part of his argument for reform the fact that nations with liberal drug laws also have liberal plans to make sure their citizens, drug addicts or not, have access to health care. He’s correct in finding that correlation, of course, even though his ideologically driven views will never permit him to see it for what it is.

  8. Anonymous December 1, 2009

    Way to backpedal, Miss Anonymous. The two issues are simply not related, whether he’s a hypocrite or not. It would help also if you understood the meanings of some of the big words you use.

  9. Miss Anonymous December 1, 2009

    Backpedal, sweetcheeks? Not hardly. That was my point all along. I’m sorry it took two postings for you to understand it. I type more slowly next time.

    PS: If you think I’m misusing words, perhaps you should back up that criticism with something factual. Or do I ask too much?

  10. RECOVERED ADDICT December 13, 2009

    THIS IS A SILENT FILM FROM 1916 ABOUT COCAINE IT’S ALSO A COMEDY IF YOU CAN BELIEVE IT WE DARE YOU TO CHECK IT OUT

    Coke Enneday: The Mystery of the Leaping Fish 1916

    The Mystery of the Leaping Fish is a 1916 short film starring Douglas Fairbanks and Bessie Love. In this unusually broad comedy for Fairbanks, the acrobatic leading man plays “Coke Enneday,” a cocaine-shooting detective parody of Sherlock Holmes given to injecting himself with cocaine from a bandolier of syringes worn across his chest and liberally helping himself to the contents of a hatbox-sized round container of white powder labeled “COCAINE” on his desk. The movie, written by D.W. Griffith, Tod Browning, and Anita Loos, displays a surreally lighthearted attitude toward cocaine and opium. Fairbanks otherwise lampoons Sherlock Holmes with checkered detective hat, coat, and even car, along with the aforementioned propensity for injecting cocaine whenever he feels momentarily down, then laughing with delight. In addition to observing visitors at his door on what appears to be a closed-circuit television referred to in the title cards as his “scientific periscope,” a clocklike sign on the wall reminds him to choose between EATS, DRINKS, SLEEPS, and DOPE.

    http://www.2010homelesschampions.ca/video/leapingfish.html

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