Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The importance of talking to your neighbors about drug policy

The following piece by former prosecutor and LEAP speaker Jim Gierach was published in The Regional News on March 3.
Golden Neighbors Have Lots In Common
Thursday came and with it my copy of The Regional. As is my newspaper habit, I immediately turned to the editorial and letters page, only to find a letter taking the newspaper to task for consistently publishing my letters that support “the legalization of marijuana and even cocaine.” The writer called on law enforcement, parents, teachers and principals to write in supporting the [failed] war on drugs.

My initial reaction was to charge like a tenacious full back in the closing minutes of a Super Bowl, or like the driving drug prosecutor I once was, armed with an encyclopedia of facts and reams of refuting stories, anecdotage and medical, addiction, Prohibition, law-enforcement and economic theory.

I searched the phone book for the telephone number of this dismayed letter writer with thoughts of inviting him for coffee and a heart-to-heart talk, only to discover, “It’s my neighbor! A neighbor only a nine-iron from my front door.” I thought… I have to make clearer that I am completely opposed to drug use, just as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (www.leap.cc ), the organization I represent when I give anti-drug war speeches around the country, is strongly opposed to drug use. But while L.E.A.P. and I oppose drug use, even more emphatically, we oppose the drug war, because it doesn’t work, because it causes what it seeks to prevent, because it is the heart of most American crises worth discussing and, collectively, because these crises are unaffordable. In significant part, America government at the national, state, county and municipal levels can no longer pay the bills accumulating as a result of drug-war-driven crises.

I called my neighbor as I put on the coffee. Jim answered the phone. After a few words, I recognized his voice and he knew mine. “Jim, my neighbor with the Golden Retriever, Dakota, who romps with my son’s Golden Retriever, Scooter?” In disbelief, I asked, “Why didn’t you say something if my writing has been irritating you so long? You never said a word.” For 20 minutes, we bantered back and forth, our sincere and juxtaposing philosophic disagreements grated raw and our blood-pressures rising in tandem. It’s not a liberal-conservative disagreement, and it’s not a pro-drug or anti-drug disagreement, I contended.

Agreeing, respectfully, to disagree, we hugged over the phone, vowing that this genuine concern and disagreement would not come between our Golden Retrievers or us. Knowing it’s my neighbor, a good and honorable man, takes all the karate impulse out of my system. Instead of wanting to strike out, it occurred to me how much we agree. We both are opposed to drug use; we both favor of self-discipline, self-reliance and self-control; we both oppose runaway government and runaway public-sector pensions; we both abhor driving under the influence of substances; we both are angry with government’s inability to govern. We agree philosophically, so much. But my week and its friendly revelations were not over.

Another Gierach letter reader is the father of a Stagg basketball player on the same team as my son. We fathers both oppose drug use. “You want to legalize marijuana?” he asked incredulously. “No, not just marijuana – all illicit drugs,” I explained. “Illicit drugs are too dangerous not to control and regulate. Prohibiting them, paradoxically, surrenders the ability to control and regulate them.” A basketball game or two later, this week, the father who I’ve known for years from our son’s shared interest in sports, says, “Well, I can see legalizing marijuana but I still don’t know about harder drugs.” Progress.

Then, leaving church Sunday morning, I’m speaking to young man who looks vaguely familiar. “I see you’re still writing those drug articles. Keep them coming,” he said, and confidentially added, “You know, I’m in AA, and I haven’t had a drink or used drugs in 90 days. I’m looking for a new church.”

“Congratulations. That’s great!” I complimented. “Life is much better when sober and alert. But we each have to make that decision for ourselves.”

“You know, I use to think of your writing – ‘Great, this guy’s for legalizing drugs.’ But now, I understand – you’re not for drugs at all. I understand, and you’re right.” Progress.


  1. With so many people that do agree then why is there still a war on drugs LEAP?
    I am so unhappy with the lack of progress.

  2. Lea - it is a slow process. We need to convince the people and that will take time unfortunately.

    All policy reform movements have ups and downs - but it is worth sticking with this beacuse we know it is the right thing to do.

  3. You're right Rory and I won't give up or give in.

    I've been involved with one reform movement or another since I was 21. I've been arrested for cannabis and put in jail, part of a sting operation, so I have hands on experience so to speak.
    How anyone with a inch of compassion can continue to support this oppression is beyond me, it is so very wrong.

  4. Hey Lea - it is wrong. Just read on the blog about the guy in Texas getting 35 years. Jeez - dont they have violent crime in Texas worth sending people to jail for ???

  5. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Gierach in person at this last Reform conference. He was even more friendly than I'd imagined, based on his writings at the LEAP site.

    My only "issue" is that not every one lives in a neighborhood with those kinds of neighbors. Some people live in neighborhoods and are surrounded by drug dealing gangs. These people have no interest in prohibition going away.

    But I do agree with the gist of what he says, we need to spread the truth and real cause-and-effect logic, not the lies and false assumptions the prohibitionist arguments are based on.


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