By Mansfield Frazier
“You can overcome addiction, but you can’t overcome a conviction,” posits Peter Christ, the co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) as he spoke to a diverse group of students on the Case Western Reserve University campus recently. He’s been in the forefront of the battle to bring much-needed sanity to our nonsensical and chaos-causing drug policies for 20 years now … and that’s as long as he was a Tonawanda, NY, police officer, now retired.
His statement, setting forth the nexus between the medical condition of addiction and our nation’s attempt to address it using the legal remedy of conviction and incarceration, is just one example of the many truths Christ states with rare compassion and humor. He’s obviously better versed in all of the nuances of (and damage caused by) our failed “War on Drugs” — which has unnecessarily destroyed millions of lives and families — than virtually anyone else in America. He’s prone to wondering “… what if we sent to prison, instead of to college, some kid who could have gone on to discover a cure for cancer?”
In a 15-minute interview on a Buffalo TV station last fall Christ literally demolishes all of the arguments against legalization.
Founded over a decade ago, LEAP membership was initially limited to current or former law enforcement professionals (usually retired police officers, DEA agents, local and federal prosecutors, and a goodly number of judges) but the group grew so rapidly and so many others were clambering for membership, the board decided to allow individuals not directly involved in law enforcement to join, and their ranks of supporters has swollen to close to 100,000.
For the most part these are folks who have been on the frontlines of the so-called “war” and know the futility and damage of its continuance. And their commonsense message is, finally, at long last, beginning to resonate loud and clear with a citizenry grown weary of this battle — which claims too many victims to violence, needlessly incarcerates too many of our fellow citizens, and costs us far too much of our national treasure.
“When I first started making speeches I was concerned when, during the Q and A, no one ever asked any questions,” said Christ. But then it hit him: During his talks he covers every aspect of the drug war so thoroughly, debunking all of the myths so completely … that no sane or logical person can come up with a reasonable query or truthful countervailing argument.
Take for example one of the main issues prohibitionists consistently raise: That legalizing drugs would send the message to youth that currently banned substances are OK to use. “Nonsense,” Christ replies.
He smashes this line of logic to smithereens by using tobacco as an example. “Thirty, even 20 years ago, you could go into any restaurant and there would be ashtrays on the tables … you could even smoke on flights from New York to LA,” said Christ, “but all that has changed, and we didn’t have to outlaw tobacco to bring the change about, we simply used education and some commonsense regulations in regards to where people can smoke to reduce the number of tobacco users in America by over 50 percent in the last few decades. We literally shamed some people out of the habit with education and public censure, and the same principle would apply to users of other drugs.”
The day after Christ spoke in Cleveland, the newspaper ran a story regarding a major drug bust and the violence that erupted after the so-called “kingpin” was carted off to prison. The article stated, “ … the arrest created a void in the city, launching a bloody battle between opposing groups of dealers seeking to fill the needs of addicted customers.”
Addressing and reducing this kind of violence is at the heart of LEAP’s efforts. “Drug prohibition over the last 40 years has created the exact same results as alcohol prohibition did during the ’20s and ’30s … the rise of gangsters,” said Christ. “Which would we rather have, a legal, tightly controlled and regulated drug marketplace, or to continue to have kids as young as 13 being recruited into gangs via drugs, which are then sold on and every place else?”
Christ, however, believes the incremental approach of legalizing cannabis first, as some states have done, is perhaps the wrong answer to the problem. “That will still leave too many substances on the illegal list, and the violence to control the illegal trade will continue. We have to legalize and tightly control everything.”
Nonetheless he feels a good first step would be for the federal government to take cannabis off the list of Schedule I drugs (where it really doesn’t belong) and put it in Schedule II, which makes far more sense and would allow states to more easily regulate and tax it. This is something the Obama administration could do without engaging in a nasty, protracted battle with reactionary members of Congress.
“When we started LEAP over a decade ago,” said Christ, “we assumed we were like the early abolitionists, fighting this fight for the next generation. It took them well over 30 years and a Civil War to win that battle, and the battle to give women the right to vote took even longer. But we’re beginning to see some signs of light at the end of the tunnel. We think that as a nation we’ll come to our senses on this ruinous drug prohibition issue sooner rather than later.”
But, no matter how long it takes, Peter Christ is in the battle for the long haul … one that he and his colleagues are now winning.
From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting http://www.NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com.