Two Seattle Police Chiefs: One a Drug Czar, the Other a “Legalizer”

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director March 18, 2009

    by Norm Stamper, NORML Advisory Board Member

    Anyone blind to the irony? Gil Kerlikowske, my successor, is on his way to the other Washington to assume the mantle of “drug czar.” I am, on the other hand, a proud and vocal member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Gil will have a national, indeed international platform from which to make his case for a continuation of the nation’s drug laws. I’ll use this space, at least for this initial post, to make the argument that our drug policies don’t work, and that the “War on Drugs” has caused far more harm than good.

    Since Richard Nixon pronounced drugs “Public Enemy Number One” and declared all-out war on them in 1971, we have spent over $1 trillion prosecuting that war. We’ve incarcerated tens of millions of our fellow citizens for nonviolent drug offenses, arresting wildly disproportionate numbers of young people, poor people, people of color–most for simple possession of marijuana. Wrenched from their families, these folks have lost jobs, forfeited school loans, been booted out of public housing. And to what end?

    Drugs are more readily available today, at lower prices and higher levels of potency than in the history of the drug war. Prices fluctuate, use levels ebb and flow but one thing remains constant: the unrepealable law of supply and demand. If people want mood or mind-altering drugs, suppliers will make sure they get them. And, as long as those drugs remain illegal, the illicit, untaxed profits associated with them will continue to grow. As will the violence associated with their commerce.

    Prohibition, as we learned during the 1920s, breeds lawlessness. In fact, it guarantees it. Yesterday’s bootleggers and today’s drug traffickers must arm themselves in order to protect or expand their markets. For years we’ve struggled with open-air drug markets, drive-by/drug-related killings, the police in one city or another occasionally shooting up the wrong house in a drug raid.

    Americans wised up to the folly of alcohol prohibition, repealing the Volstead Act in 1933 and putting a virtual end to that era’s drive-bys (picture Al Calpone’s minions firing Thompsons from the back seat of a ’29 Model A), drug overdose deaths (think bad bathtub gin), property values shot to hell, entire neighborhoods rundown if not abandoned altogether.

    Replacing alcohol prohibition with a regulatory model worked. Not perfectly, of course, but well enough that it drove the bootleggers out of business. And it produced a formidable barrier between kids and products they ought not to be taking. (When’s the last time you heard of a street drug dealer carding a 14-year-old?) Regulation and control of alcohol made our communities healthier, our children safer.

    Seattle and the state of Washington are poised to take a strong leadership position in the campaign for sane and sensible drug laws. We’ve passed a medical marijuana law, and Seattleites have made simple, adult marijuana possession cases the lowest law enforcement priority in the city. University of Washington researchers Katherine Beckett and Steve Herbert just last week issued a report that concluded that “penalizing doesn’t reduce use of marijuana and lessening or removing penalties doesn’t increase it.”

    Think of the money we’d save if we focused our law enforcement resources on people who drive under the influence of any drug, including alcohol. Or who furnish drugs to kids. Or who, under the influence of booze or other drugs, jealousy, insecurity or greed, steal a car, batter a spouse, abuse a child, rob a bank…

    And think of the lives we’d save if we invested not in a futile drug war but in prevention, education and treatment.

    I doubt our new drug czar will favor an end to prohibition. For one thing, it would put him out of a job. But perhaps, unlike former drug czar John Walters, he’ll be willing to listen to the argument. Or debate its merits.
    This article was originally published by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    23 responses to “Two Seattle Police Chiefs: One a Drug Czar, the Other a “Legalizer””

    1. Jordan says:

      Why cant we have someone like you as the drug czar?

    2. Lea says:

      And please tell me Norm Stamper this letter has been sent to Obama and anyone else that’s at least willing to listen and consider your sane words.

    3. Rick says:

      Well said, Norm. Thank you.

    4. Mark says:

      I agree with Jordan, because if you think the new drug czar won’t be for legalization, then we are in for at least another 4 years of prohibition, despite the current momentum for legalization. 4 years is much too long to wait for something no more harmful than coffee to become a legally obtained substance.

    5. David says:

      Norm, it’s my great hope that you’re somehow able to work closely with Gil if at all possible over the next few years or so. From what I’ve been reading these past couple of months online, it appears that the two of you have some sort of camaraderie? Is that right?

      If so, I hope that it carries over to today, even though he’s in D.C. now and you’re not. I hope hope hope hope HOPE so very much that you can be a positive and constructive influence on him and the DEA at large and that you continue to speak out against prohibition.

      Speaking of the DEA, do you know anything about who they’re going to appoint as the head of their department over there once Obama’s team gets around to it? Are you interested in the job?

      As far as I can tell, you’re our #1 connecting bridge to their world, as I think we all feel they’re very much out of touch as it is with ours, though leaning towards science based decisions is a great start. I feel like we still have a little ways to go yet. I guess I really don’t know, but it would certainly be nice to know for certain where the DEA stands on dealing with marijuana issues. I want to hear it from them.

      Thanks for your compassion, outreach and just being such a wonderful part of the movement for reform.

      Take care and thanks again.

    6. Price says:

      I don’t think it would put him out of a job at all. It would simply redirect his activities from focusing on punishment to focusing on education. And, if people could trust what the guy was saying they might listen. How many people would want to do heroin if they actually got to see people talk about it that it messed up? When it killed Jimmy Hendrix and Janice Joplin it woke people up. When it kills people today it should do the same thing but with the fried egg on drug thing it was just nonsense and people therefore believed that it was probably not harmful just because the govt said it was. If more people knew the real hazard of meth and heroin perhaps they would look elsewhere for their buzz and if not…perhaps we could help them through it instead of throwing them in jail to rot.

    7. L.H says:

      No wonder you are no longer working for the government, you make WAY too much sense.

    8. Alternative Girlfriend says:

      Thank You Mr. Stamper, I am so glad you so eloquently speak up for those of us who wish to see and end to Prohibition. The War on Drugs does far more damage to our society than the Drugs.

    9. Lea says:

      Wish I had the money to move to Amsterdam.

    10. Bob says:

      sorry to get off subject but president obama is going to appear on the jay leno show tonight he will be discussing the economic situaution lets see if we can’t get jay to bring up the legalization question. Everybody email the tonight show and let them know your thoughts.