An Ex-Smuggler's Perspective on Solving Drug Violence

I was one of the "masterminds" behind the importation and sale of approximately 75 tons of pot from Southeast Asia to the U.S. in 1986 and 1987. It was the culmination of a 20-year career as a drug smuggler, a deal that netted in excess of $180 million wholesale. And the only thing the government got out of those drug hauls was the sales tax from the cash my gang spent. There were, of course, some financial forfeitures once my gang was finally rounded up some years later. However, had rational minds prevailed over the past 70-plus years, the U.S. government would have reaped huge benefits from organizations like ours.

But no. Rather than accept the fact that some 30 million Americans cannot possibly be criminals, our society has squandered almost a trillion dollars in a futile effort to stop drug use.

We're hearing a lot about drug-related violence in Mexico these days. But listening to the news recently, I heard of a police sweep in Toronto--where I live some months out of the year. The operation involved more than 1,000 police officers and netted, among other things, a vast quantity of firearms, including loaded AK-47s, sawed-off shotguns and 34 handguns, none of which were obtained legally. These weapons came from the United States and were smuggled north. Here is how it works (I know firsthand): Canadian gangs grow pot in apartment buildings, putting everyone who lives there in danger. Once harvested, the pot is traded to U.S. gangs for cocaine and guns. America's arcane drug laws provide the currency for these gangs to exist.

South of the border, it's even worse. Some analysts say Mexico is on the slipperiest of slopes toward becoming a failed state, and illegal drugs are playing a huge part. Drug traffickers are able to operate only because they have currency. Take away the currency, you take away the drug traffickers.

In my days in that business, guns were nowhere to be found. Now, however, I cannot imagine anyone being in the trade without a gun. It has to stop, but how?

Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist, recently wrote, "I'm sitting in Costa Mesa with a silver-haired gent who once ran for Congress as a Republican and used to lock up drug dealers as a federal prosecutor, a man who served as an Orange County [California] judge for 25 years. And what are we talking about? He's begging me to tell you we need to legalize drugs in America."

A judge is saying this. Say it ain't true, baby, but it is. And he's not the only one saying it. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper (in whose jurisdiction I was sentenced to 10 years in prison) says the same thing. That's why he is involved with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of former and current police officers, government agents and other law-enforcement agents who oppose the war on drugs.

According to LEAP, "After nearly four decades of fueling the U.S. policy of a war on drugs with over a trillion tax dollars and 37 million arrests for non-violent drug offenses, our confined population has quadrupled, making building prisons the fastest growing industry in the United States." More than 2.3 million U.S. citizens are in jail, and every year we arrest 1.9 million more, guaranteeing prisons will be busting at their seams. Every year, the war on drugs will cost U.S. taxpayers another $69 billion.

While the U.S. has only 5 percent of the world's population, it has 25 percent of the world's known prison population. This startling number is due to one major factor: our arcane drug laws. It is time we stopped treating a medical condition with law enforcement.

Ultimately, does the fact that people smoke pot make them criminals? Is the struggling heroin addict a criminal? If he is, it is only because we are not treating the root of the problem.

It is time to legalize marijuana. The tax revenue generated could then be used to help addicts. I work with these folks every day, in one way or another, and not one of them wants to live the way they do, but they don't know how to stop. They need help, not punishment.

Back in the 1920s, America saw one of the most violent organized criminal elements in history. Who can forget the tommy guns, the blood on the street and names like Luciano and Capone? Well, they exist today, it's just that the names have been changed to Escobar and Huerta Rios. As LEAP so succinctly puts it: Alcohol prohibition, drug prohibition, same problem, same solution.

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