Monday, December 01, 2008

A Police Officer’s View on Drugs

by Tony Smith, Contributing Writer

November 29, 2008

For 28 years, I served as a member of the Vancouver Police Department, and spent most of that time at the street level, in and around Vancouver’s poorest area commonly known as “Skid Road.” This area is Canada’s poorest postal code zone. It is an area of cheap fleabag hotels, bars, and drugs. The only people who reside here are those whom society has cast aside because of disability, personality disorders, or sheer bad luck. It has been like this for at least 50 years. Only the faces and preferences of the addicts have changed.

Quite early in my career as a law enforcement officer, it became very obvious to me that the most dangerous drug was a legal drug. That drug is alcohol. Every riot, every disturbance, every assault, every serious late night motor vehicle accident, every homicide, and every sexual assault almost always involved alcohol.

Where were the horrific crimes caused by drug addicts? They were there, but generally speaking they were non-violent property crimes and prostitution. It has been estimated that somewhere between 75-80% of all property crimes are committed by addicts. This begets the question that most policemen in our major cities have asked themselves countless times: why not treat addicts for their addictions, not as criminals, and supply their drugs temporarily until they get help. Apparently, a significant reduction in property crime, reduced jail costs, and lower medical costs is not a sufficient answer.

The biggest question, which really changed my thinking toward the criminalization of drugs was, is why do we persist with laws that guarantee that serious criminals will become immensely rich, powerful, and violent toward any other criminals who stand in their way. If drugs were legally available, there would be no profits for the gangsters. U.S. history teaches us of a parallel situation that occurred during alcohol prohibition in the early twenty century, when gangsters became rich and powerful supplying bootleg alcohol. Al Capone’s South Side Gang and similar gangs murdered whoever stood in their way. The crime rate shot up 200%. Finally, when alcohol prohibition was canceled, most of the gangs disappeared as the profits were gone, the murder rate returned to what it was before prohibition, AND everyone didn’t become an alcoholic overnight!

Let’s ask ourselves a question. If heroin and cocaine were legal, would you use them? Virtually everyone says no, which is really no surprise if you think about it. We also know that up until the 1920s these substances were legal. Laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol was the drug of choice to the Victorians. Today the percentage of drug addicts, by which I mean those unable to function in society due to their addictions, remains the same as before there were any drug laws. Hardly a round of applause for the billions of dollars spent on enforcement over the past 80 years. Indeed if drug prohibition were a business that received payment for its results, it would not have lasted a year.

Everyone fears change, and one of the big fears of the general public is the fear of drugs becoming more readily available to our children. Today most of our children can in fact more easily obtain drugs than they can obtain liquor. The gangsters make sure this is the case by ensuring that dealers are present outside most of our schools. These dealers pay no heed to our children’s health, and they often have little knowledge of the substances cut with the drugs or even strength of their products. Drug prohibition causes this situation to persist.

If we look at the history of tobacco, we know education works. Tobacco eventually kills 50% of all regular smokers. Tobacco is legal. Yet through common sense and education, tobacco smoking is down by two thirds from thirty years ago. Education works, but only if honestly given. This spring I was approached by a grandmother whose granddaughter had phoned her in real distress. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had been running the D.A.R.E. program in her school, and she was convinced that her parents’ occasional use of Marijuana would cause their deaths. If any of the information given is flawed, kids will reject all information given to them about drugs from parents and other authority figures.

I am a member of LEAP, which is an organization of retired policemen, judges, prison guards, others involved in law enforcement ,and many others. It was founded by a former highly commended U.S. drug enforcement officer, Jack Cole. Today it is worldwide. We all believe that drugs are not good, but it is “the War on Drugs” that is causing most of our problems. This war costs 2.5 billion dollars a year in Canada and 10 times that amount in the United States. WHY?

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