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12 April 2009

Stan Simpson, Hartford Courant's "short bus" columnist, slowly evolves his thinking on the complex mysteries of drug prohibition

Stan Simpson, columnist
The Hartford Courant
Hartford, Connecticut
Dear Stan Simpson,
Maybe, as an African-American columnist, you're reticent to "play the race card" about drug prohibition.
But I was astonished that you nattered on about drug prohibition and its consequences, but never even whispered about its profoundly racist historical foundations.
Let President Richard Nixon clue you in, as he explained his drug policies to his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman:
"... you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to." (From Haldeman's 1994 memoirs.)
Thanks for acknowledging my vote -- and that of 65 percent of my neighbors -- to decriminalize adult possession of small amounts of marijuana in Massachusetts. Now even an African-American college-age kid can get popped for a joint by a white police officer, and no longer be saddled with a criminal record that will burden, handicap and disenfranchise him for life -- starting with denial of federal college financial aid (Souder's Law).
But you apparently haven't heard that New York State just dismantled and reformed its racist, mad-dog 35-year-old Rockefeller drug laws.
You mentioned Connecticut's 19,000 prison inmates. Do you know how many of them are non-violent drug offenders? Do you know what percentage are African-Americans? How does the ratio of black to white prisoners stack up against the ratio in the state population?
So you're willing to think about drug legalization. That's great. If we're ever going to reform drug policy, America needs incredibly slow and dim thinkers, too. America needs people who haven't noticed, or haven't cared, that drug prohibition has victimized and destroyed their own African-American community for the better part of the past century.
I hope you keep evolving, and conclude that we need to end the racist, foot-shooting war on drugs, and the world's largest prison system, by the time Halley's Comet swings by again. If there are any CT African-Americans and Hispanics who aren't in prison by then, they'll be grateful for your support.
LEAP's white career drug cops have figured all this out before you have.
Were you a sportswriter? Did you go to school on the short bus?
Bob Merkin
Northampton, Massachusetts
The Hartford Courant
Hartford Connecticut USA
Saturday 11 April 2009

Just Say 'I'm Willing To Think About It'

by Stan Simpson

Jack Cole was driving from Norwich to Hamden with his latest convert in an emerging movement to legalize marijuana. Just so happens that the new recruit is a retired cop. No, he's not undercover.

Actually, it's no surprise that former Manchester Capt. Joseph Brooks signed up for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a Massachusetts-based
advocacy group of which Cole is executive director. Most of the 12,000 members are law enforcement types who share at least one thing in common: They want to make marijuana legal.

I'm evolving on this. While still conflicted about whether decriminalizing or legalizing illicit drugs essentially condones their use, I also realize that the government can't continue spending billions punishing behavior that it has not been able to slow or stop in the past 40 years.

We've gotta try another approach. Twenty-two states, including neighboring Massachusetts, have decriminalized marijuana

"I have long felt that the attempt to legalize morality such as marijuana use was a waste of time," said Brooks, 68, who once commanded a tri-town narcotics task force. "We've been shoveling sand against the tide."

The tide may be shifting in Connecticut. Two weeks ago, the legislature's judiciary committee voted to decriminalize possession of less than half an ounce of ganja by those 18 and older. Instead of being a crime, with a penalty of up to one year in jail and a fine not to exceed $1,000, possession would be an infraction. The maximum fine: $250. The governor has already said she will veto the bill if it gets approved by the House and Senate. That's a big IF. But getting an endorsement from the judiciary committee is a big deal.

I've talked to several passionate drug law reform advocates over the years, including Connecticut's Cliff Thornton. Whenever I talk to Thornton, he wears me out with compelling data and information. (I've taken to privately calling him 'Spliff.' )

The most convincing voices, though, come from folks whose careers were spent as soldiers in the failed war on drugs. They saw the carnage and the squandered resources. Cole, 70, is a retired New Jersey
State Police lieutenant. He worked 14 years undercover, including investigating what he described as a billion-dollar international heroin and cocaine ring.

One problem with this drug decriminalization effort is that it could create uneven laws. For example, it is a felony to sell marijuana, but, if the drug reform law passes, it would be less than a misdemeanor to possess it. Heck of a message that sends.

"That's why we're not for decriminalizing drugs," Cole said. "We are for legalizing drugs. When you decriminalize, you only decriminalize for the user. Everybody else in the chain is still a criminal. That means it's still worthwhile for distributors to kill each other to control their portion of that very lucrative market."

The drug-related mayhem and murders in Mexico are Exhibit A. While I'm bending on softening the marijuana laws, and even the idea of taxing its sale, I'm not willing yet to go there with heroin and cocaine. Plus, whenever I ask the reform advocates about the unintended consequences of legalizing drugs, such as joblessness, homelessness, increased addictions, motor vehicle accidents from drug-addled drivers, etc., I feel like I get the runaround. I'm willing, though, to advance the conversation about this.

Next year, Connecticut will spend $709 million for a cottage industry — its prison system — that houses 19,000 inmates. The large majority of them are in for drug-related offenses.

"Just Say No" no longer makes sense.

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Stan Simpson is an award-winning columnist, known for his candor in commenting on a wide array of issues in Connecticut and beyond. Simpson, in his 21st year in journalism, is a professional in residence at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, where he lectures on race and media and opinion journalism.

• Stan Simpson's column appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Read his blog at .

Copyright © 2009 The Hartford Courant

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your response. The amount of people in prison for nonviolent crimes (aka possession of marijuana) needs to decrease. Our system needs a lot of changing.

I've got 7 doctors offices here in California where you can get medical marijuana prescriptions...we're fighting the good fight!