Last week Darby Beck of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) sent me a statement on drug legalization by Major Neill Franklin (Ret.) Franklin, now LEAP’s executive director, is a 34-year veteran of the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department. Like other members of his organization, he now advocates ending the war on drugs, after years of fighting on its front lines.
While reading Franklin’s statement, it struck me that although law enforcement officials and economists start from contrasting perspectives, they reach many of the same conclusions.
Here is how the war on drugs looks to those who, like Franklin, have a street-level view of U.S. drug policy:
Before Nixon declared the war on drugs in the early 1970s, policing was a different creature altogether. Police were the “good guys” going after the “bad guys”—the rapists, the murderers, the child molesters— [the ones] most people could agree society was better without. Since that time, the very nature of policing has changed. . .For Franklin, the broken relationship between police and the communities they serve is unintended consequence number one of the war on drugs. He also points to a second unintended consequence—the way drug policy enriches criminals.
All of this has caused society generally and our communities of color specifically to look upon us as people to be feared rather than as public servants advancing public safety, and that distrust, far from being merely an abstract concept, makes our jobs infinitely more difficult as community members shy from cooperating in investigations.
Will the legalization of marijuana and other drugs lead to a reduction in the power of street gangs and cartels that terrorize our cities? I believe that most officers brave enough to be honest with themselves can only answer in the affirmative . . . The prohibition of drugs, just like the prohibition of alcohol, is what provides the tremendous profits to the criminal organizations that provide the drugs on our streets.Economists, in their own way, make the same point. They see the wealth and power of the drug gangs in terms of elasticity of demand. If demand for a good is elastic, a small increase in price causes a big drop in sales, and the total revenue of the seller goes down. If demand is inelastic, which is the case for illegal drugs, even a large increase in price makes only a small dent in the quantity sold, so the revenue of the seller goes up.