WYTHE CO., Va., July 20, 2012 — In response to my recent article “Marijuana and the reality of the war on drugs: It’s a cash crop for Appalachia,”I received a lot of interesting feedback, but none more compelling than the email sent from LEAP. (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.)
Not only do most Americans think marijuana should be legalized, a growing number of law enforcement officers on the front line in the war on drugs agree prohibition of marijuana is an exercise in futility and have banded together to get this message out.
Retired state police major and executive director of LEAP, Major Stanford “Neill” Franklin, agreed to an interview to share the principles of LEAP. He brings the knowledge of 34 years in law enforcement, including as commander for the Education and Training Division and the Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement for the state police of Maryland to this interview.
What was the primary motivation in creating LEAP?
The five police officers who came together to form LEAP in 2002 did so to provide a forum for the growing number of law enforcers who have seen with their own eyes the harm caused by the failed “war on drugs” and who want to make their voices heard in the emerging debate about this issue.
What kinds of people have joined LEAP? LEAP’s speakers come from all areas of the criminal justice system. We have cops, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens, DEA agents, border patrol folks, and so many others. We’re here to represent the voices of those who have waged the “war on drugs” and seen its harm up close and personal.
Have law enforcement efforts in Appalachia had any real result in stopping cultivation of marijuana in the region? Absolutely not. Just like in other parts of the country and the world, eradicating some number of marijuana plants only means that someone is going to grow more marijuana plants somewhere else. If the demand for marijuana is there — and it sure is — there are always going to be people willing to take risks for a chance to make a lot of money in the prohibition economy.
Considerable federal funds have been allotted to eradicating growth in Appalachia. Do you consider these funds well spent? No way. I can think of about a thousand things that the money would be better spent on. Schools, roads, healthcare, and public safety all come to mind. And if we’re going to spend the money specifically on drug policies, let’s spend it on things that actually work, such as treatment.
How would you describe the typical Appalachian grower? There is little to no difference between today’s Appalachian growers and the booze bootleggers of the 1920s. The lucrative illegal market provides opportunity for people to make money during a time when legal jobs for some are nowhere to be found. Of course, if we were to legalize and regulate marijuana and other drugs, there would be many new, legal jobs created.
What is the primary goal of LEAP? LEAP’s main goal is to help the vast majority of people who know the “war on drugs” is a failure to understand that only legalization, regulation and control can put a stop to the violence, crime and corruption that is created by prohibition. Merely lessening penalties and shifting resources, while a step in the right direction, will never end the violence and corruption caused by the illegal drug market. Only legalization can do that.
What are your long term goals? Our long term goal is to end global drug prohibition. We recognize that that’s ambitious and will take some time, which is why in the short term we focus on helping to enact incremental changes such as decriminalization, medical marijuana and harm reduction. But since an outright end to prohibition is the only thing that can put violent gangs and drug cartels out of business, we always keep our eyes on the prize and never shy away from addressing the real need for legalization.
Are lawmakers receptive and/or encouraging to your efforts? A lot of lawmakers recognize that the “war on drugs” is a failure. Some of these elected officials have been afraid to speak out, though, for fear of being tagged as in favor of drugs or drug use. When they are able to work and stand alongside the criminal justice professionals of LEAP, however, they are able to clearly make the case that changing drug policy isn’t something that only people who want to use drugs are in support of.
What have your efforts accomplished so far? The involvement of LEAP’s criminal justice professionals in this movement has transformed the debate about drug policy from what was once considered some kind of “Cheech and Chong” joke not fit for consideration by serious people into an important conversation about what kind of drug policies would best serve public safety and make the best use of limited criminal justice resources. Beyond that, we have played a crucial role in enacting many pieces of drug policy reform legislation across the country.
Have your efforts opened any new legislative doors? Our LEAP speakers have testified for numerous pieces of state legislation, some of which as been enacted into law. For example, earlier this year we testified at the committee level in favor of a marijuana decriminalization bill that was recently passed in Rhode Island. Our organization was even mentioned by name during the floor debate of the RI House of Representatives. (See Video below)
Do you think more law enforcement officials are coming around to the principal of legalizing marijuana? Most law enforcement officials who have direct experience enforcing the drug laws recognize that prohibition just doesn’t work. The thing that is changing is that now more and more are becoming comfortable saying so in public.
How close do you think we are to legalizing marijuana? Three states — Colorado, Oregon and Washington — will be voting on ballot initiatives this November that, if passed, will legalize and regulate marijuana. If one or more of these measures pass, I think we will see a huge escalation in the national dialogue about this issue. Legalization is going to happen. It’s only a question of when.
In your opinion what effect would legalizing marijuana have on society? Legalizing marijuana would deal a huge financial blow to the organized crime groups that currently make so much money from the illegal market. It will also save billions of dollars a year in enforcement costs while raising additional billions of dollars in new tax revenue. And, once police officers like me are no longer charged with chasing down marijuana users, we can focus on the job we signed up for, which is stopping and solving violent crimes like murders, rapes and robberies.
A thank you to Major Franklin and LEAP for confirming what the majority of Americans already believe; marijuana should be legalized for very real and practical reasons that will ultimately benefit all of society.
To get involved visit LEAP’s website, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, at http://www.leap.cc/.
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