Success Is Relative And The Recipe Needs To Be Adjusted – An Interview w/ James Gierach of LEAP

*written by A’Damaged Pro for Electronica Life

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There are systems in place all around us. Some govern how we grow crops and some dictate the rules of operating a vehicle. Regardless of the subject, systems are, at least theoretically, implemented to safeguard the public and contribute to a state of balance. What is the proper course of action when a system in place appears to be flawed?

America. To most of the civilized world the word “America” used to embody sentiments of freedom and the unequivocal pursuit of happiness. Now, through a perplexing hodgepodge of policies, we are home to an alarming number of stark contrasts that threaten those very ideals. What follows below is not intended to be an analysis or overview of America’s international and domestic policies, as a whole, but intended specifically to illuminate the shortcomings and the need for change in one very specific policy, America’s drug policy. In addition to the drug policy reform issues to be addressed, a mission of this article is to inform the masses that a problem, indeed, lies with how drug use is viewed in our society.

Drug use pervades all geographical and demographical cross-sections of the American people. It’s not your neighbor’s issue. It’s not something that only happened to a person you once knew. It is a health issue. Supply is the overwhelming focus when demand is what moves this economy. There are entire industries, legal mind you, that profit from policies being as they are. Something must be done to educate the people and awaken their sleepy minds. Apathy is just as dangerous as ignorance. In a cut-and-dry argument, there are two sides to every issue, those for it and those against it. The voice of this article comes from a collective that were once for it and are now against a failing doctrine and the resultant persecution and incarceration of those penalized for violating an outdated, archaic system. I spoke with James Gierach, a former prosecutor and a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), about: their organization, their policies (existing and proposed), and the futility of the War on Drugs (WOD).

A’Damaged Pro – How was Law Enforcement Against Prohibition formed?

James Gierach – In 2002, five police officers from the U.S. and Canada who shared dissatisfaction with the futility of fighting a health problem with law enforcement tools and resources got the idea of creating a non-profit educational organization. The organization would be comprised of active and retired police officers who opposed drug use but opposed drug prohibition even more. The idea was that an organization composed of law officers who fought in the front lines of the drug war would immediately be recognized as a knowledgeable and credible group, whose members opposed the drug war for reasons other than favoring drug use. The idea was to put experienced police officers and agents in front of the public, speaking to business, service, religious, community, college and other groups to change drug policy from the grassroots up.

By 2002, much of the public already knew that this prohibition was a colossal failure, but it was still a big second step to convince people that it is better to control and regulate dangerous, mind-altering substances than to ban them, which delegates their control to street gangs and drug cartels. From five people, LEAP has grown into an international organization with over 100,000 supporters in more than 80 countries, including judges, prosecutors, corrections officials and others who believe it is better to legalize and control all dangerous substances rather than prohibit them.

A’Damaged Pro – What is your role within the organization and what are some of your responsibilities?

James Gierach – I have served LEAP as a speaker since 2004, and as a member of the Board of Directors since 2010. I have presented before TV, radio and in-person live audiences. I have debated or paneled with others to discuss drug policy issues, including with a senior advisor to several US presidents; the former head of the Drug Enforcement Agency; the Chief of the Criminal Courts of Cook County, Illinois; the Chicago police superintendent  and a representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. I also represented LEAP at the last two annual meetings of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria.

A’Damaged Pro – What is LEAP’s mission statement?

James Gierach – The Mission Statement of LEAP is found on its website at http://www.leap.cc/about/vision-mission/ and it provides as follows:

“The mission of LEAP is to reduce the multitude of harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by ending drug prohibition.

LEAP’s goals are: (1) To educate the public, the media and policy makers about the failure of current drug policy by presenting a true picture of the history, causes and effects of drug use and the elevated crime rates more properly related to drug prohibition than to drug pharmacology and (2) To restore the public’s respect for police, which has been greatly diminished by law enforcements involvement in imposing drug prohibition.

LEAP’s main strategy for accomplishing these goals is to create a constantly growing speakers bureau staffed with knowledgeable and articulate current and former drug-warriors who describe the impact of current drug policies on: police/community relations; the safety of law enforcement officers and suspects; police corruption and misconduct; and the excessive financial and human costs associated with current drug policies.”

A’Damaged Pro – What are some of the central issues that LEAP members try to address governing illicit drug prohibition?

James Gierach – The drug war is the Al Capone era of prohibition all over again. Instead of liquid, mind-altering liquor and beer by the barrel and flask, we have powdered, mind-altering substances by the line, gram, kilo and ton. Instead of Tommy guns and mobsters, we have assault weapons, gangs and cartels. Instead of millions of dollars at stake, it’s billions. Drug abuse is a health issue for physicians and treatment providers, rather than law enforcement, to combat.  Mind-altering substances have been here forever and will remain forever. So the issue is not whether drugs are good or bad, but how best to control and regulate dangerous substances consonant with freedom, liberty and the right to choose what to eat, drink and consume. Ironically, the “good guys” (police, parents, pols, preachers and public) have historically aligned themselves with the “bad guys” (street gangs and drug cartels), both sides favoring drug prohibition.  Extract the money from the drug-war equation and the parties will again be rightly aligned in opposition to each other.

A’Damaged Pro – What are the primary reasons that have been given in order to perpetuate the War on Drugs?

James Gierach – The spoken reasons for perpetuating the WOD: To save our kids from drugs, to prevent drugged driving, to provide a drug-free work place, so we don’t send kids the “wrong message” by legalizing or tolerating drugs, so we don’t surrender in time of war… Because drugs are evil, drug use is bad, drugs destroy families, drugs are addicting, drugs cause crime, etc. The unspoken reasons for perpetuating the WOD: Because the drug war has put billions into the pockets of law enforcement in the U.S. The drug war brings money into municipalities and police departments and agencies through a warped system of federal grants and civil asset forfeiture where the burden of proof is shifted from the accuser to the accused to prove seized assets did not come from drug profits. That money pays police salaries and overtime, builds police stations, and buys un-budgeted police vehicles, equipment and supplies. Police officers, lawyers, prison, probation and parole personnel, as well as drug-testing sample collectors, testing labs, counselors, treating facilities and personnel, prison builders and subcontractors, media companies broadcasting anti-drug public service announcements, etc. all benefit from the war on drugs. In substantial measure, the U.S. is a drug-war economy that must continue if it is to feed many of its beneficiaries.

A’Damaged Pro – Are there any obvious drawbacks to the War on Drugs?

James Gierach – The War on Drugs has two serious failings.

First, it doesn’t work. The prohibition of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, MDMA (commonly known as Ecstasy), LSD, meth and an ever-growing list of drugs not uncommonly used for medical, scientific and/or recreational purposes was intended to prevent drug use.  But drugs are cheaper, more potent and more available now than they were when the drug war was declared in 1971. Second, prohibition funds criminal gangs, contributes to the corruption of police, results in overcrowded prisons, adds to the spread of AIDS and HIV, overburdens health care, prioritizes the prosecution of consensual adult behavior rather than fighting and solving violent crime, and does so with a distinct racial bias. The war on drugs strips offenders of self-respect as they inform on co-defendants and lose their voting rights as well as opportunities for employment, housing and education. It has caused many to lose respect for law enforcement. The U.S., as the granddaddy drug user of all countries, has dollars flowing out and foreign drugs pouring in, aggravating trade imbalances and funding terrorists who use drug profits to fund terrorist activities and objectives. The truth is this: people in America can have safe streets or drug prohibition, but not both. We can reduce violence, but not so long as we outlaw drugs and give competitors a reason to shoot each other over a piece of the $500 billion a year illicit drug business. Drugs are seized by the ton and prosecuted by the gram on a regular basis, but in America, the prison capital of the world with 2.2 million people behind bars, we cannot adequately fund healthcare, education and economic development. Pick the crisis – the war on drugs makes it worse.

A’Damaged Pro – What drawbacks to legalization have been presented by those that oppose the legalization of substances, that are currently deemed illicit and dangerous?

James Gierach – It is argued and assumed that drug use would escalate dramatically if dangerous illicit drugs were legalized.  The unsupported, fear-mongering assumption is that non-users would suddenly start consuming heroin, cocaine, meth, marijuana and other substances. Yet when asked, “Well, if drugs were legalized would you start using drugs?”  Invariably, the answer is “No.”However, those same sober naysayers are willing to assume their neighbors, those inner city people, those other people would start to use drugs.  Nonsense. That stamp on a package of drugs would not be a stamp of governmental approval of drug use, any more than that stamp is on a package of tobacco. The government stamp will be a tax stamp on a legal product in a legal market, the legal market undercutting astronomic profits made possible by prohibition – an economic attack on drugs. More likely, if a person doesn’t already use drugs, there is not much chance legalization, control and regulation, combined with an education campaign that educates them on the dangers of various substances will convince them to start.

A’Damaged Pro – Although it might be labeled as speculation, can you please comment on the utilization of incarceration over rehabilitation and education programs?

James Gierach – The U.S. had 300,000 prisoners at the outbreak of the drug war in 1971, compared with 2.2 million today, yet legal and illegal drugs are flourishing. The intoxicated person passed out on the floor needs an ambulance and doctor, not a paddy wagon and cop. Incarceration should generally be confined to the punishment of violent offenders, not consenting adults. The harms of smoking have been significantly reduced through educational and taxation programs rather than incarceration of smokers. Alcohol users climb onto the wagon with 12-step programs with some success. Why then should successful educational and rehabilitation efforts not work with other mind-altering substances? We should try a new approach.

A’Damaged Pro – How does LEAP plan to implement changes in current drug policies?

James Gierach – LEAP will continue to provide experienced, expert speakers to media outlets, testify before legislative and administrative forums, and pen articles and letters to newspapers and other publications. We will continue to bring the drug policy reform message to local groups and organizations that are fed up with failed and futile drug-war policies, will continue to support voter initiatives and legislation and continue its fight to amend or repeal the three United Nations prohibition drug treaties that serve as the fountainhead of worldwide drug prohibition.

A’Damaged Pro – How do you recommend that people get involved?

James Gierach – Join LEAP. Donate to LEAP. Speak up about ending the drug war. Tell your elected representatives to legalize, control and regulate dangerous drugs. Tell your friends and neighbors and support reform efforts to take the profit out of the drug business with regulated, legal markets – not because drugs are good but because the drug war is worse.

A’Damaged Pro’s final words…

The system in place needs to be changed. It will be a very daunting struggle, for those that pick up the fight, because billions of “legitimate” income are at stake. In a world where dollars are the common denominator for what makes sense, a call for a fundamental realignment has been made. The choice to reclaim a future that doesn’t represent an Orwellian prophecy is yours to make. I must stress that this battle is not about fulfilling people’s desires to use substances, that are presently illicit, freely without the fear of reprisal. This is about disengaging the handhold a system, that is failing the American public, has had on us for far too long.

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