A Former U.S. Police Chief Stirs the Pot on Drug Laws

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A Former U.S. Police Chief Stirs the Pot on Drug Laws

Newspaper article

By: Gary Mason

Date: October 20, 2005

Source: Mason, Gary. "A Former U.S. Police Chief Stirs the Pot on Drug Laws." Globe and Mail (October 20, 2005): A14.

About the Author: Gary Mason began his career as a journalist in British Columbia. He worked for the Vancouver Sun, for nineteen years, as a legislative bureau chief, city editor, and deputy managing editor. Mason started with the Globe and Mail in 2005, as a national columnist covering British Columbia issues. He received British Columbia's highest journalism honor, the Jack Webster Award, twice. He has won other awards and is the author of several best-selling books.


Drug abuse is generally believed to be one of the most significant social and health problems facing the United States. Studies by the National Institute of Health (NIH) estimate that the costs of substance abuse exceed the costs of any other disease, when taking into account health care expenditures, earnings lost, and the costs associated with crime and accidents. U.S. drug policy considers drug use, trade, and cultivation to be criminal activities. However, there is an ongoing debate as to whether or not drug use should be legalized in the U.S.

The mainstream viewpoint in the U.S. is that the legalization of drugs would, in fact, exacerbate existing drug addiction and crime rates. However, critics say current U.S. drug policy is ineffective, leading to a lack of control of the inevitable drug use and the overcrowding of prisons with non-violent drug users. It is also said that the U.S. spends too much money trying to enforce an unenforceable policy. Some estimates are that only five to fifteen percent of illegal drugs arriving in the U.S. are intercepted by authorities, at costs as high as $40 billion. It is thought that the illegal drug trade is a $200 billion industry, with nearly thirteen million Americans using illegal drugs in any given month. Another argument against U.S. drug policy is that it is unjust to punish individuals for using drugs when they do so at their own discretion and do little harm to anyone else.

Former police officer Norm Stamper spent the last six years of his thirty-four-year career as the Seattle Chief of Police. He draws upon his experience with drug law enforcement to take a position strongly in favor of the legalization of all types of illegal drugs. Stamper speaks of neighborhoods where illegal drug markets put children and other innocent citizens at risk. He describes U.S. anti-drug foreign policies as causing instability and creating problems for subsistence farmers in developing countries like Colombia and Afghanistan. Police forces have had to confront the problem of police officers giving in to the temptation of doing such things as planting drugs on suspects, stealing money from drug dealers, and using drugs themselves. Stamper, and others, believe many of these difficulties could be reduced or eliminated with legalization of drugs.


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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has a campaign to promote current drug policy, in response to lobbying for the legalization of drugs. The DEA says that enforcement of current laws has been successful in bringing down the overall use of drugs and that legalization would diminish this success. The DEA justifies money spent on the fight against drugs, saying that high social costs of drug abuse and addiction would outweigh the rise of preventative costs if drug use was legalized. The DEA plays down the argument of overcrowded prisons, saying that only five percent of federal prisoners are in jail because of drug possession. They go on to say that most drug criminals, including those in jail for the possession of drugs, have plea-bargained down from more serious charges. The DEA feels that most nonviolent drug users get treatment, not jail time.

The highest elected official to speak on behalf of the legalization of drugs is the former Republican Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson. Johnson's claim is that all drugs should be allowed, as long as they are controlled, regulated, and taxed. Johnson claims to be against drug use but thinks society would be healthier with the legalized use of drugs. Other leaders have called Johnson's remarks irresponsible, saying most health care professionals advocate for drugs to remain illegal.

Stamper and other analysts say that part of the reluctance to rethink U.S. drug policy is due to the fact that drug users have been demonized and portrayed as people that society should fear. It is said to create a political and social climate that resists finding answers to society's drug problem. Stamper says this is exemplified by President George W. Bush's resistance to the legalization of the medical uses of marijuana. President Bush has said that doing to do so would 'coddle' the enemy. Some U.S. states have passed laws allowing marijuana to be used for medical treatment.



Belenko, Steven R., editor. Drugs and Drug Policy in America: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Husak, Douglas N. Legalize This! The Case for Decriminalizing Drugs. New York: Verso, 2002.


Stamper, N. "Let Those Dopers Be." Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2005, 〈http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-op-legalize16oct16,0,4914395.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions〉 (accessed January 8, 2006).

Web sites

CNN. "New Mexico Governor Calls for Legalizing Drugs." 〈http://edition.cnn.com/US/9910/06/legalizing.drugs.01/〉 (accessed January 8, 2006).

National Institute on Drug Abuse. 〈http://www.nida.nih.gov〉 (accessed January 8, 2006).

U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. "Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization." 〈http://www.dea.gov/demand/speakout/speaking_outmay03.pdf〉 (accessed January 8, 2006).