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Norm Stamper is a cop who saw it all during his 34 years on active duty. As police of Seattle from 1994 through 2000, he was in charge during violent World Trade Organization protests in the Emerald City.
Stamper, who holds a Ph.D. in leadership and human behavior from United States International University, has emerged as one of the most thoughtful and outspoken critics of the war on drugs, which he believes causes untold misery, undermines effective law enforcement, and doesn’t begin to pass any sort of cost-benefit analysis. As important, the libertarian Stamper believes that the drug war—and other wars on the behaviors on consenting adults—does great violence to the idea that we own our bodies.
Stamper is the author of the Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing (2005) and now works with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a nonprofit created by former cops to “reduce the multitude of unintended harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by ultimately ending drug prohibition.”
A partial transcript of the video:
Over 100 million people have smoked marijuana at least once… we’ve got an admission from (Obama), we had one from the previous President who, although he didn’t inhale, admitted to putting it to his mouth and breaking the law.
I think it’s just time that we recognize that we’re just being very very foolish and we’re spending huge sums of money on law enforcement in general but on marijuana in particular.
If we really want to take care of the drug problem, we will regulate the drug. We will legalize it so that we can regulate it and then we can control it. We can’t do that otherwise. We have spent one trillion dollars prosecuting the drug war since Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in 1971. Another 69 billion dollars a year down the rathole, and what do we have to show for it? Drugs are more readily available today, at lower prices and higher levels of potency than in the history of the drug war.
So the longest running war in the history of the United States, armed conflict, I dare say, has been an abysmal failure. I call it the most destructive and damning social policy since slavery.
… By the way, I’ve talked to an awful lot of police chiefs and other elected officials who whisper their support for the legalization approach but who are – for a variety of reasons, many of which are obvious – reluctant or fearful to speak out.
[Talking to another police chief,] How many people under the influence of marijuana turn violent on you… in your career as a cop?
I’ve asked that question over and over and over in the last 2 or 3 years… not one police officer, NOT ONE has said ‘I remember I had this pothead who swung on me…’ and so on.
Then I’ll ask, “How ’bout drunks, how ’bout people under the influence of alcohol?”
It’s laughable. You work almost any beat in almost any city in almost any country – you’re going to be dealing with belligerent drunks. Some of them become extremely violent, and some of them become extremely dangerous to the safety of not only the police officer but to the other folks around or themselves.
So one other thing that’s very clear is this dichotomy between a drug that demonstrably does not produce that behavior, in fact sort of the opposite behavior, and a drug that does… the drug that does produce that behavior, more belligerence, more violence, more health problems, more financial problems for our country, more family and community problems for our country than all other drugs combined… is legal.
There’s something wrong with that picture.
[A Seattle initiative I-75, in 2003] was a message from the community to the police department and the prosecutor’s office that we believe that simple adult possession of marijuana ought to be the lowest enforcement priority, lower indeed than jaywalking. And it is.
[There are many inspiring stories about what police have done to help people]… many many many years ago. But what we’ve been doing since the declaration of the war on drugs is pitting the police against young people, people of color, wildly disproportionate numbers of whom are going to prison behind simple possession cases. They are loosing their federal financing for their education. They’re losing subsidized housing in some cases. They are developing that permanent, lifelong record, possibly the result of the possession of a joint.
Commit the crime of rape, commit the crime of murder, be convicted, be sentenced, serve time, get back out… you can go right back into public housing, you can get that federal financing of your education. But you can’t if you’re caught with any amount of any illegal drug.
Who opposes the end to the drug war? Well, the drug warriors certainly do because we have seen huge sums of money come in to local jurisdictions in the form of grants and assistance, the creation of task forces, ceased and forfeited assets – is feeding this… this beast – this incredible economic system.
Speaking personally, I believe that this body is mine. That it is sovereign. I believe in taking care of it, but if I didn’t it would still be my right to inject, ingest or inhale anything into this body that I chose. and that would include a bullet. That’s my personal belief about individual liberty.