Upstream. A Mohawk Valley Blogzine.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

It's Time To Debate Legalizing Drugs.

Note: The following article which I wrote appeared in The Sunday Gazette on October 8.

Whatever happened to the War on Drugs? Apparently, it has been replaced by the War on Terrorism. However, two recent events brought the War on Drugs back into focus for me.

The first event was the raid by a Schenectady SWAT team, during which children were handcuffed and terrorized, a pet dog was killed and only a small amount of marijuana was found.

The second event was the arrest in late September of Joseph Flowers, 24, of Rotterdam for robbing several area banks. Flowers told the police that he committed the robberies in order to support his addiction to crack. Normally, when I read about someone who has been arrested for robbing banks or possessing drugs, I immediately forget about it. But this time it was different. I knew the bank robber.

I haven’t seen Joseph (we called him Joey) for quite a few years. When I knew him, he was a somewhat rambunctious, but very loveable kid. My son and Joey were in the same class in school, and they often hung out together. Joey would come to my son’s birthday parties and sometimes stayed overnight.

I can’t tell you why my son is attending college while Joey is sitting in the county lock-up. It’s certainly not because my son had better parents than Joey. Joey had good parents, did not come from a poor family, attended private school for at least part of his education and received moral and religious training. Joey is a warning sign to white, middle-class, suburban America that crack cocaine is not just an inner city, African-American problem.

Both events--the SWAT raid in Schenectady and the arrest of Joseph Flowers are two more pieces of anecdotal evidence to add to the mountain of facts, figures and stories that show that the War on Drugs has failed.

So what is the answer to crack cocaine and our forty year war on illegal drugs? Before I attempt to answer that, I must mention some disclaimers. First, I have never used any illegal drugs. I couldn’t tell a joint from a Virginia Slim. I have never inhaled. Furthermore, I have always supported conservative political candidates who were tough on drugs and have always believed that if we legalized drugs we would be sending the wrong message to our young people.

But my thinking has begun to change. What has changed my thinking is not the ideas of left-wing groups, or even libertarian groups, but the ideas of a small but dedicated group of cops and ex-cops called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

LEAP, which was founded only four years ago, already numbers 5,000 members. Those members include judges, sheriffs, prosecutors, parole officers, corrections officers and other law enforcement agents, along with people who are not law enforcement agents but who are concerned about the drug problem in America. Many of the cops and ex-cops involved are or were narcotics officers.
LEAP’s goal is to make drugs legal, but to then control and regulate them. According to LEAP’s website (,

“After nearly four decades of fueling the U.S. policy of a war on drugs with over a trillion tax dollars and increasingly punitive policies, our confined population has quadrupled over a 20-year period making building prisons this nation's fastest growing industry. More than 2.2 million of our citizens are currently incarcerated. In the last five years we have arrested 9 million people for nonviolent drug offenses--far more per capita than any country in the world. The United States has 4.6 percent of the population of the world but 22.5 percent of the world's prisoners. Every year we choose to continue this war will cost the United States another 69 billion dollars. Despite all the lives we have destroyed and all the money so ill spent, today illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent, and much easier to get than they were 36 years ago at the beginning of the war on drugs. Meanwhile, people continue dying in our streets while drug barons and terrorists continue to grow richer than ever before.”

LEAP claims that 80 % of the people who listen to one of their presentations are convinced that legalizing and regulating drugs is the right thing to do, while 14% are unsure. I would have to place myself among the 14%. I want to hear more. I want to hear from both sides. What LEAP has done for me is to make me realize that we should at least debate the issue.

What’s disappointing, however, is the disappearance of the drug problem from political debate. Neither Eliot Spitzer nor John Faso, the two major candidates for Governor of New York State, have had anything to say about illegal drugs and both of their web sites are silent on the subject. The only political candidate I have found who has raised the issue is Warren Redlich, the Republican candidate who is trying to unseat Michael McNulty.

With drugs legal and regulated, would Joey Flower still be on drugs? Would he have robbed four banks to fuel his habit? Would the Schenectady SWAT team have handcuffed children and shot their dog to arrest a young man with a few joints?

We will never know if we never talk about it.


  • Thanks for mentioning me. I'm pleased to report that Capital News Nine asked me about the drug war when they interviewed me, and I spoke about it at some length. For now at least, that interview can be seen at:

    Warren Redlich

    By Blogger Albany Lawyer, at 6:42 AM  

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