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Police Chiefs Question Merits of Drug War Policies

reprinted with permission from Stanford University's Campus Report, May 17, 1995 Two years after he circulated and signed a petition calling for sweeping changes in national drug policy and the appointment of a commission to study altematives to the so-called "war on drugs," Hoover Research Fellow Joe McNamara hosted a two-day "Law Enforcement Summit on Drug Policy" at Stanford May 9 and 10. Fifty invited participants representing 49 law enforcement agencies attended the conference, which was closed to the press. The invitees' names were selected from rosters of the Police Executive Research Forum, the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association and the California Police Chiefs Association. McNamara said that 26 of the 38 participants who completed an evaluation form on the conference checked the box that read: "I am basically opposed to the Drug War." Four participants checked the box reading "I basically support the Drug War," and the responses of eight participants "could not be interpreted," according to McNamara. When asked "Did the Conference change your opinion on the Drug War?" 18 participants said the discussions had changed their opinions "slightly," and 17 indicated that their opinions had been changed "significantly." "The most incredible finding of all is the number that changed their opinions on the drug war," said McNamara, a former police chief in San Jose and Kansas City. Brian Brady, police chief of Novato, who attended the conference as a representative of the Califomia Police Chiefs Association, said his view had been altered by the discussions he heard. "I don't think, in all honesty, that prior to the conference I would have sat down and discussed at length the decriminalization of marijuana," he said in a telephone interview. "But as a result of the conference, I would probably lean in that direction at this point." McNamara said that "the other major theme" of the conference "is that the drug war is doing a lot of harm. It is contributing to murders, homicides, violence, corruption, the deterioration of inner cities and youth, and it is having disastrous racial consequences." McNamara also said that arrest rates for non-whites were four to five times greater than the rates for whites, and that the punishment for selling rock cocaine was 100 times greater than that for selling powdered cocaine. McNamara said there was "considerable discussion" at the conference of methadone maintenance programs, foreign programs for combating drug use and sterile needle exchange programs in the United States. A "more medical approach" to treating drug users also was discussed, contrasted with the "criminal approach" now practiced by domestic law enforcement agencies. Speakers at the conference included John Raisian, director of the Hoover Institution, Ethan Nadelmann of the Lindesmith Center, lerome Skolnick of the University of California-Berkeley; George P. Shultz of the Hoover Institution; Kurt L. Schmoke, mayor of Baltimore; Vaughn Walker, U.S. District Judge; Robert Sweet, U.S. District Judge; Frank M. Jordan, mayor of San Francisco; Alfred Blumstein of Camegie Mellon University; and Milton Friedman of the Hoover Institution. McNamara said he hoped the discussions initiated at the conference would help to narrow the gap between what law enforcement officials feel free to discuss behind closed doors and what they are willing to say in public. He praised Schmoke for his advocacy of treatment programs instead of jail terms for drug users, and noted that even after Schmoke publicly called for the "medicalization" of anti-drug programs in Baltimore, he was reelected. "Mayor Schmoke described a school visit during which children told him that most of the youngsters dropping out of school did so not because they were hooked on drugs, but because they were hooked on easy drug money," McNamara said of the economic reality of drug-dealing in many large urban cities today.
This article from Stanford University's campus paper reported on an important gathering of police chiefs questioning the drug war.
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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