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Enforcing the drug laws they oppose

(Via The November Coalition listserv.)

The Manchester Union Leader recently ran a feature on LEAP. In particular, the article is on members of leap who are currently active police officers, like Bradley Jardis of Epping, New Hampshire. The article is called Opposing the drug laws they enforce:

When he’s working, Epping Police Officer Bradley Jardis is just like any other cop.

He’s patrolling the streets to catch people with drugs because that’s what he’s supposed to do.

But when he’s off the clock, this 28-year-old officer is speaking publicly about why he believes existing drug policies have failed and why it’s time for lawmakers to legalize drugs.

It’s an unusual position to take for a police officer charged with enforcing laws, but Jardis insists that prohibiting drugs leaves the dealers in control, creating a dangerous black market that breeds crime and gives kids easy access.

Jardis believes drugs should be regulated by the government just like alcohol. We treat alcoholism as a public health problem, but we treat drug addiction as a criminal problem, and that’s wrong, he said.

And he’s not the only officer who feels this way.

Jardis, of Hooksett, is among a growing number of current and former New Hampshire law enforcement officers and others in criminal justice who have joined a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP.

Rick Van Wickler, superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections, joined LEAP in late 2007, and Ron White, superintendent of the Merrimack County Department of Corrections, came aboard about a month ago.

LEAP’s membership in New Hampshire has now grown to 132, with as many as 20 new members joining in the past three months, according to Tom Angell, the group’s media relations director.

LEAP, which began in 2002 with five founding members, now has more than 11,000 members in 90 countries.

— Jason Schreiber, Manchester Union Leader (2009-02-21): Opposing the drug laws they enforce

The story is presented as a policy debate between cops in LEAP and other cops who support drug prohibition. As such, it’s fairly boring, and not especially insightful or well informed. (Did you know that if drugs are legal then people will completely disregard any medical advice or personal judgment about the harms of drug abuse? On the contrary, sir! Prohibition makes drugs more dangerous! And blah, blah, blah.) But what’s far more interesting to me is the theme that keeps recurring in the story without ever being remarked on. This is not just a story about a policy debate among cops; it’s also a story about individual conscience, and about the fact that the supposedly anti-Prohibition Law Enforcement types who the story profiles apparently have no problem continuing to lock harmless drug users in cages, and to rigidly enforce the laws that they themselves publicly admit to be foolish and destructive. The story is called Opposing the drug laws they enforce; but of course it could just as easily have been called Enforcing the drug laws they oppose:

When he’s working, Epping Police Officer Bradley Jardis is just like any other cop.

He’s patrolling the streets to catch people with drugs because that’s what he’s supposed to do.

But when he’s off the clock, this 28-year-old officer is speaking publicly about why he believes existing drug policies have failed and why it’s time for lawmakers to legalize drugs.

. . .

As they try to spread their message, Jardis, White and Van Wickler say they’re careful not to promote LEAP while they’re on the job. Jardis said he never lets his views prevent him from enforcing the current drug laws when he’s at work.

. . .

Too many young people also are being locked up and branded as criminals, in some cases caught for the first time with marijuana or another drug, Jardis said. A conviction for making a poor choice then follows that person forever, he said, jeopardizing student loans and other aspects of their lives.

But Epping Police Officer Bradley Jardis has no problem locking those young people up and branding them as criminals and ensuring that they will be followed and ruined forever by their nonviolent recreational drug use, when he’s on the clock. Orders, you know.

A lot of us in the movement against the Drug War have spent the past several years giving LEAP all kinds of special prestige — for much the same reason that a lot of us in the movement against the U.S. government’s foreign wars have given all kinds of special prestige to retired generals, and to groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War, and to just about anyone who, regardless of their own personal qualities as an activist or analyst, can flash some sort of notable personal or family connection to the military. The idea is that these people enjoy some kind of automatic credibility precisely because of their position within the system of state power. We are supposed to be especially thankful for these sorts of allies. But whatever personal convictions Bradley Jardis and his fellow LEAPers may hold, the fact remains that they have deliberately decided to subordinate those convictions to the admittedly stupid and destructive requirements of The Law while they are on the clock; while I’m glad that Bradley Jardis and his fellow LEAPers are intellectually opposed to the Drug War — it’s not like I’d rather they were for it — the fact is that I’d rather have some good honest corruption. Ideally, of course, what you would hope for is cops who might intellectually oppose the drug laws and also refuse to enforce them; but if I have to pick one, I much prefer cops who don’t vocally oppose drug laws but do fail to enforce them, rather than cops who talk up their opposition to drug laws while meticulously enforcing them anyway. The latter sort of cop may talk a good talk and give a good press conference; but then the former sort of cop isn’t locking innocent people in cages for years at a time.

I’m just sayin’.

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