Rising voices against prohibition

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 January, 2007, 12:00am


Related topics

Barry Cooper's DVD, Never Get Busted Again, which went on sale over the internet last month, will probably not sell very well outside the US. That's because in many countries, the possession of marijuana for personal use is treated as a misdemeanour, or simply ignored by the police.

But it will sell hugely in the US, where many thousands of casual marijuana users are hit with savage jail terms every year. This is a nationwide game of Russian roulette, where most people indulge their habit unharmed but a few unfortunates have their lives ruined. Mr Cooper is a former Texas policeman who made more than 800 drug arrests as an anti-narcotics officer, but has now repented.

'When I was raiding homes and destroying families, my conscience was telling me it was wrong, but my need for power, fame and peer acceptance overshadowed my good conscience,' he said.

Of course, the DVD, which teaches people how to avoid arrest for marijuana possession, will also bring him fame and a lot of money, but at least it won't hurt people.

However, Mr Cooper lacks the courage of his own convictions. He argues that the war on drugs is futile and counterproductive so far as marijuana is concerned, but nervously insists that he is offering no tips that would help dealers of cocaine or methamphetamines to escape justice.

It is as if reformers fighting against America's alcohol prohibition laws in the 1920s had advocated legalising beer again, but wanted to continue locking up drinkers of wine or spirits.

But there are bolder policemen than Mr Cooper around, who are willing to say flatly and publicly that all drug prohibition is wrong. One is Jack Cole, who has been with the New Jersey police for 26 years. His organisation, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (Leap), is supported by growing numbers of serving officers who have lost faith in the drug war and want to make peace.

'Leap wants to end drug prohibition just as we ended alcohol prohibition in 1933,' said Mr Cole. He argues that neither kind of prohibition ever succeeded in curbing consum- ption of the banned substances, but each has fuelled the growth of vast criminal empires.

Howard Roberts, the deputy chief constable of Nottinghamshire police in Britain, is the latest senior officer to make the case for ending the war, pointing out last November that heroin addicts in Britain each commit, on average, 432 robberies, assaults and burglaries a year to raise the money for their illegal habit.

Each addict steals about GBP46,500 (HK$700,000) of property a year, whereas the cost of providing them with heroin on prescription from the National Health Service in closely supervised treatment programmes would be only GBP12,400 a year. So the NHS should provide heroin on prescription to addicts, said Mr Roberts, like it used to in the 1950s and 1960s. That was before Britain was pressured into adopting the war on drugs model by the US.

It has emerged that the NHS is experimenting with a return to that policy at three places in Britain - and Switzerland has been prescribing heroin to addicts for some years, with encouraging results. The crime rate is lower and the addict death rate is sharply down.

If every country adopted such a policy, legalising all drugs and making the 'hard' ones available free to addicts, but only on prescription, the result would not just be improved health for drug-users and a lower rate of petty crime, but the collapse of the criminal empires.

This is probably yet another false dawn, for even the politicians who know what needs to be done are too afraid of the gutter media to act on their convictions. But some time in the next 50 years, after only a few more tens of millions of needless deaths, drug prohibition will end.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries