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Christ: Time to end failed war on drugs

The Shinnecock Indian Nation recently was the target of a multi-agency raid in which drugs, weapons and cash resulted in the arrest of 13 people on the eastern Long Island reservation and in other local communities. Since Richard Nixon's declaration of a war on drugs more than three decades ago, our nation is still awash in drugs which are more abundant and cheaper now then they were then. We have tried to arrest our way out of our drug abuse problems and we have only netted more abuse, more violence and more corruption ... in other words, we have failed.

I am a retired police officer, with a 20-year career that saw me reach the rank of captain. In my years of policing, there was a common theme that kept appearing. In spite of all our arrests, in spite of our detailed investigations and locking up plenty of drug dealers, we never really won. Each arrest only created a job opening which was soon filled. This is a story constantly played out across our nation.

The drug war - or to be more clear, Prohibition II - is a failure of policy that has wreaked havoc upon our communities, whether it be the Shinnecock Nation or any American town or city. This prohibition exhibits all the failures of our earlier 20th century prohibition of alcohol. We have corruption running rampant in law enforcement, from the smallest community police forces to the former commander of our military forces in Colombia.

Rather than stymie the production or distribution of illegal drugs, prohibition actually places control of illegal drugs directly into the hands of criminal organizations. Criminals have no codes or regulations that stop them from selling to children or from marketing drugs cut with often toxic impurities.

It must be understood that in denouncing prohibition and calling for its end, we do not advocate for drug use - just the opposite. Drug abuse is not something punishment will ever end. People are human beings with all the failures, all the moles and warts that come with being human. So we must find another way. And it is my belief and a belief held by many other criminal justice professionals that we need to legalize and thus regulate and control all drugs.

Being a police officer carries a great responsibility. We are entrusted with the duty of ensuring community safety and of being examples to

our communities. Prohibition however, damages the implied integrity of wearing the badge because the cash, the power, the drugs themselves too often prove too large a temptation to ignore. Good cops are in the overwhelming majority of our police forces but there are enough that fall prey to the lure of easy bucks to tarnish every officer's badge.

So do we continue down the same path? Should we continue locking up more of our young people, watching more families devastated by the problems of rampant drugs and the subsequent drug abuse? Or should we change directions? Should we do what was done when the failures of alcohol prohibition finally forced us into ending that disaster?

I believe we must change direction. We must find a different path. That is why we are so enthused about Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP is an organization only five years old but now consisting of more than 8,000 members, many of whom are former criminal justice professionals, representing the spectrum of law enforcement. Judges, cops, prosecutors, Customs and Border Protection, corrections and others are joining us because their professional experience, often as frontline warriors in the drug war, has led them to the same conclusions.

Only by ending prohibition will we ever remove criminals from the equation. By ending the drug war we can redistribute the $70 billion or so the federal government wastes each year in its failed war on drugs. We know that programs utilizing truthful education are more effective than policies using half-truths and hubris as their cornerstones. For example, education has been very effective in reducing tobacco consumption.

Drug abuse is bad. But the war on drugs fails to curb abuse. It is time for a change. Prohibition failed once and we ended it. It has failed again and it is time to end it again.

Peter Christ is a retired police captain and a member of the Police Conference of New York, the Western New York Association of Retired Police Officers and the Police Captains and Lieutenants Association of Erie County. He is a founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.