Gore Vidal coined the term “The United States of Amnesia” to describe how our country doesn’t learn from our past mistakes. The history of alcohol prohibition provides prime examples of failure: syndicated crime rings, violence, government and police corruption, and the criminalization of otherwise law-abiding citizens. As a result of these unacceptable consequences, Congress repealed Prohibition in 1933.
And yet the country again suffers from all of these afflictions ever since Nixon declared “The War on Drugs”, and it just keeps getting worst. Funded over the years by taxpayers to the tune of well over a trillion dollars, the U.S. has locked up more of its citizens than any other country, and now lays claim to 25% of the world’s total prison population. So are Americans just inherently more criminal than people in other countries? Or is our problem an unjust system that treats drug addiction as a legal and moral problem rather than a health issue?
One group whose reform message is finally receiving a reception is LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). Composed of professionals who have enforced and adjudicated drug policies, they have seen the injustices from inside the system and have now chosen to speak out. Their mission is to eliminate the prohibition of drugs for adults, and to establish regulation and standards for their distribution and use.
The best model for regulation has been the reigning in of the tobacco industry. The social and human cost of nicotine addiction has been catastrophic. But the number of cigarette users in this country has plummeted due to education and government reform. This is a huge success story especially when compared to illegal drug usage which has stayed constant or actually increased over the years due to ineffective and irrational government policies.
The government’s criminalization of poor black and Latino communities has been particularly devastating to our society. Drug dealing is the only industry that’s hiring in many depressed urban areas where unemployment among youth is still staggeringly high. There’s always more desperate people to take over the lucrative positions of dealers who have been arrested. The result is a human conveyor belt that continually delivers young people of color to prisons that have an insatiable demand for a high occupancy rate. Some have called this cruel and unjust system “The New Jim Crow”.
There is little discussion about needed policy changes either in mainstream media or Congress. There’s just too much money being made from the current system by law enforcement, the private prison industry, police departments, prison guard unions, and district attorneys to risk a real public conversation that might derail the gravy train.
The recent legislation in Colorado and Washington that has legalized cannabis is trivialized or ignored in the media, and so most Virginians are woefully ignorant about this tidal wave of social change. Medical marijuana programs have now been created in twenty states in spite of federal laws against it. The feds and DEA are now having to scramble to come up with ways to highjack this social revolution.
Neill Franklin is the executive director of LEAP and is coming here to speak after the provocatively titled How To Make Money Selling Drugs. Neill worked his way up from an undercover narcotic agent to the commander of Maryland’s Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement. He has the experience and knowledge to answer all those tough questions posed by true believers who have been indoctrinated by government drug propaganda.
Neill has not been invited to address police officers by The City of Norfolk nor does he expect to. Law enforcement has an economic interest in this war and won’t allow a coherent argument to be made against current drug policies. But Neil is a vital whistleblower in our culture and he is sought out to meet privately with mayors and top government leaders who are willing to be informed.
But for the most part Neill and his legion of former drug warriors speak at Rotary Club meetings and civic groups and churches as Neill will do while visiting our area. LEAP takes on these speaking engagements as an opportunity to reach an audience of more conservative traditionalists. And recently there are more citizen groups booking LEAP speakers to hear their alternative message.
Many listeners are at first taken aback by Neill’s perceived radical view. It may be the first time that they’ve heard a rational, impassioned plea for just laws, and the health and wellbeing of our society. His story stands in stark contrast to the old narrative that’s been told over the years about the addict who has a conversion and advocates for strict drug laws. Neill has also had a personal conversion, and his story reveals the human cost of the futile and immoral war on drugs. And if we take heed, he offers a hopeful and realistic vision for reform.
HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS Mathew Cooke’s new documentary on the social and human cost of America’s “War on Drugs” is not the smug expose the title suggests. It’s told from the perspective of former drug dealers, addicts, and features interviews with such civil libertarians as Russell Simmons, Susan Sarandon, Woody Harrelson, and David Simon (creator of "The Wire"). The film gives you the lessons needed to start your own drug empire. But it also exposes the corruption and ruined lives resulting from the government’s flawed drug policies. (96 mins) Shows Wed, Aug 21.
Speaker: Neill Franklin is Executive Director of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) and is prominently featured in the film.