Nate Bradley, a former deputy sheriff, talks about why he supports legalizing all drugs to members of American Mensa. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
RENO, NEVADA – Nate Bradley has a photo, taken from the early 1930s, showing a group of women lobbying to legalize alcohol at the height of the Prohibition movement. The women were social activists, including some who had been involved in the original push to ban booze sales.
What particularly fascinated him, Bradley said, was their slogan: ‘Legalize Alcohol, Save Our Children.’
“Why would those women say ‘Legalize alcohol, Save Our Children,’ “ he asked. “Because they saw the blood on the streets. They saw the violence. They saw the failed policies. They saw the poisoned alcohol getting to kids quicker.”
Congress and the nation eventually agreed, the Prohibition – enacted in 1920 – was repealed in 1933 after it became clear that banning alcohol simply led to widespread bootlegging, as organized crime handled the distribution of alcohol.
Bradley, a former deputy sheriff in Northern California, thinks the same lessons apply today to the War on Drugs, which he views as a dismally failed policy. And he thinks he has a solution: legalization.
“Is blanket drug legalization the answer? Yes, that’s the answer,” he said. “But when people hear the word ‘legalization,’ they get scared and think ‘Tomatoes are legal, and my kids can go buy them at the store, will they be able to buy heroin, too?’ The answer is no. What we need to do is change our system.”
Bradley isn’t alone in holding this belief. He’s a member of LEAP, which stands for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The organization founded in 2002 by five police officers has grown considerably since then, Bradley said, and now includes prominent members of all segments of the law enforcement community.
“We’ve got current judges, cops, wardens and drug enforcement agents,” he said. “We’ve got retired members of the Supreme Court in Brazil.”
The American Medical Association has endorsed the concept of treatment over incarceration, while “The California Medical Association broke ground when they called for the total legalization of marijuana,” Bradley said. “Has the war on drugs worked? In 1970, when (President) Nixon first started the war on drugs, it was budgeted at $1 billion. We’re now spending about $16 billion a year, while we’re laying off teachers left and right.”
On Friday, Bradley talked about the War on Drugs during the 2012 Annual Gathering of American Mensa, held at the Silver Legacy hotel in Reno, Nevada. He said contrary to what supporters of the war on drugs claim, there are alternatives to making drugs illegal and imposing prison terms on violators.
“My mindset is not that heroin is great,” he said. “That’s not what I’m talking about, and neither will the folks at LEAP.”
Bradley said his own experience as a California patrol officer demonstrated exactly what those women were saying about alcohol Prohibition 80 years ago: that it simply doesn’t work.
“Homicides peaked in this country in 1932 and 1933,” he said. “That was at the height of Prohibition. In 1963, police were credited with solving 91 percent of all murders. Today, police are credited with solving 40 percent of all murders.”
The problem, he said, is too many law enforcement resources are spend on the war on drugs, and not on other crimes. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation files, he said, 60 percent of all rapes in this country go unsolved, while the same is true of 75 percent of all robberies.
“You’ve got a one in 10 chance you’re going to get caught,” he said.
On the other hand, just as in the Prohibition era, organized crime has profited handsomely, he said. Back then it was bootleggers and rum runners, while today it’s urban gangs. In 1960, Bradley said, there were 100 gang members in Los Angeles. Today it’s been estimated there are 20,000 gangs, with more than one million members, scattered across this country.
“How do they make their money?” he asked. “They sell drugs.”
There are more than 1,000 known Mexican drug cartel distribution points in the U.S. alone.
“The truth is, it’s in every state,” Bradley said.
In the 1920s, if booze dealers couldn’t make the real thing, they made dangerous imitation alcohol, Bradley noted.
“During alcohol Prohibition, we saw the fake booze coming out,” he said. “We had kerosene being mixed in with the juice.”
Likewise today, whenever authorities start to crack down on a particular drug, dealers find a substitute to replace it. When authorities targeted powdered cocaine in the 1980s, it led to the creation – and widespread sale and use – of crack cocaine.
“We had crack cocaine come out in the 1980s due to the crackdown on powdered cocaine,” he said.
Efforts to combat the use of marijuana have led to the recent sale of synthetic forms of weed, like K2 and Spice. This is a chemical compound that is sprayed over herbs and sold as an incense, although people mainly smoke it to get high, Bradley said.
“K2 and Spice are the newest things born because of the war on drugs,” he said.
Consider this, Bradley said: a lot of young people today either have given up using cigarettes or never tried one, but they still smoke marijuana or K2. Why?
“The reduction in cigarette use is due to two things, education on the Internet, and taxing it,” he said.
High taxes on cigarettes have scared away many young people, who can buy K2 or pot more cheaply – and neither one is taxed.
Young people have also learned about the health risks of cigarettes, including the dangers of getting lung cancer. But the problem with marijuana, he said, is that they now feel they got sold a bill of goods on how bad it is for them.
“As people see the black lungs, they stopped smoking,” he said. “But when it comes to marijuana, kids have been lied to all their life that their brains would be melting, and they find out ‘Wow, my brain isn’t melting,’ “ Bradley said. “(President) Reagan’s drug czar was quoted saying marijuana will turn you gay. I’ve read the quote.”
Bradley said he no longer believes the war on drugs works, and thinks the nation should legalize all drugs, and tax and regulate them as we do alcohol and cigarettes.
”Why would we want to legalize marijuana? Because it would prioritize law enforcement resources,” he said. “And it would reduce the already easy access our children have.”
Portugal has already tried this, he said, when in 2001 the government decriminalized all drugs.
“The government pushed this through, and they were told the sky would be falling,” Bradley said. “Within five years, drug use by 13 to 15 year olds decreased 25 percent. Drug use by 16 to 19 year olds decreased by 22 percent. Heroin drug overdoses were down by 52 percent. HIV infections reported by drug users was down 71 percent.”
In Switzerland, he said, the government in the early 1990s adopted a heroin maintenance treatment program as an alternative to prison.
“Within five years the Swiss government reported lower rates of crime, death, disease and drug addicts,” Bradley said.
A similar trend is starting in California, noted attorney Jerome Ghigliotti. The state changed its drug laws to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, and now marijuana clinics have been popping up all over the state.
“In California, if you want to use marijuana, you go to any clinic and get a medical marijuana license,” Ghigliotti said.
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