Former Cops Agree: Legalization Is the Path to Controlling Drugs

US News and World Report
By Neill Franklin | July 9, 2012

Is it time to scale back the failed and harmful war on drugs? No, it’s time to end it once and for all.

As a 34-year veteran law enforcement officer who has done undercover narcotics work, I fully understand the harm that drug abuse can cause. I’ve seen it on the streets of Baltimore far too many times to count. But making drugs illegal and harshly punishing those who use or sell them hasn’t solved the problem. We make more than 1.6 million drug arrests a year in the United States, but it hasn’t made drugs appreciably harder to get, especially for our kids. We’ve spent over $1 trillion waging the drug war since President Richard Nixon first declared it in 1971, yet 47 percent of Americans admit to using illegal drugs.

But the drug war isn’t just ineffective; it’s much worse than that. Banning drugs has created an enormous black market in which those who control the illegal trade never hesitate to use violence to protect their tax-free profits. Drug cartels in Mexico have killed nearly 60,000 people over the past six years. If drugs were legal and regulated, instead of completely prohibited, none of these criminal organizations would have any interest in the drug trade. Think about it: When is the last time you heard about gangsters shooting each other to control the alcohol market? Probably sometime prior to 1933, which is when we ended the failed experiment of alcohol prohibition.

I seriously doubt that drug use will rise significantly under legalization; everyone who wants to use these substances already has easy access to them under our ineffective war on drugs. But once we stop wasting so much money arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people for drugs, we can better fund treatment and prevention programs that actually work. And, once the drug trade is regulated, we’ll be able to make sure users know the exact potency and purity of the substances they are ingesting, giving them a form of quality control that is simply impossible under prohibition and which will reduce overdose deaths significantly.

Ending the war on drugs doesn’t mean that our drug problem will disappear overnight; it just means that it will make our drug problem much easier to manage once we start using a true medical approach instead of sending cops like me to arrest people who are struggling with the health problem of substance abuse.

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