PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows that 52 percent of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana; 45 percent are against. Of course, there's another number which is a little contradictory. More than 70 percent of Americans think that federal law enforcement money spent on marijuana prohibition is a waste of money. And alongside that, on Monday, the legislature in Maryland passed a fairly modest bill that will allow a certain amount of medical marijuana experimentation at approved research centers.
Now joining us to talk about all of this and what's happening nationally is Neill Franklin. He's the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or known as LEAP. He's a 33-year police veteran who's led multijurisdictional antinarcotics task forces for the Maryland state police and training programs for the Baltimore Police Department.
Thanks for joining us, Neill.
NEILL FRANKLIN, EXEC. DIRECTOR, LEAP: Thanks for having me, Paul.
JAY: So start with the Pew Research results. Fifty-two are for it, yet 72 percent don't want to pay to enforce it. So.
FRANKLIN: Isn't that interesting? But I'm not surprised at the results. This trend has been moving in this direction for some time now. If you go back just a couple of decades, those numbers were significantly lower. And so the polls are moving in our favor, to end the madness of marijuana prohibition.
JAY: And you say "our favor" because LEAP is for the legalization of drugs.
FRANKLIN: Absolutely. We're for ending prohibition and the legalization, regulation, and control of marijuana.
JAY: And just for people who don't know, LEAP has a lot of members. But what is it? About 2,500 of the members are either retired law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and such, and some active-duty cops as well.
JAY: So some modest measure in Maryland. Let's start with that, and then we'll look nationally at what's been happening.
JAY: What do you make of the Maryland measure?
FRANKLIN: Well, it's about time that we've got something passed for medical marijuana here in the state of Maryland. And I like to use the term cannabis, 'cause that's the original term for this product, for this leafy matter. It's the term that our founding forefathers used when they were growing cannabis in this country. And, actually, that's where the term homespun comes fromjust a bit of information there.
But I think it's good. I think we're finally moving in the right direction. I hoped that it could have been more. There was also a measureI think it was sponsored by Delegate Curt Andersonit had a few cosponsorsfor the regulation and control, the legalization of marijuana. I mean, that's what I would ultimately like to see. But if that didn't pass, then I'm very much happy with moving forward with medical marijuana.
JAY: Now, part of the opposition to it seemed to be less about whether or not marijuana should be legalized or not and more about state legislature and the government not wanting to get into a fight with the feds, and then you might do something, the feds are going to come in, so why don't we just do nothing.
FRANKLIN: Yeah. I think it's something that needs to be recognized here is that, number one, we just had the legalization of marijuana in Washington State and Colorado, and this administration, the feds, have not taken any action regarding it. And I think there's a good reason for that. They want to give the states the opportunity to see if what they've done, what the citizens have decided to do, if it's going to actually work or not. I have no doubt in my mind that it's going to work, 'cause as a matter of fact it's already worked. Just the absence of the arrests for hundreds, maybe close to 1,000 or so, people for marijuana possession between those two states is quite significant.
JAY: And the feds have not said anything about the fact that they've more or less stopped enforcing pot laws.
FRANKLIN: Absolutely. Let's use some common sense here. I for one cannot envision the federal government going after state employees for following a law that the state's citizens want. It makes no sense to me.
JAY: But hasn't there been federal prosecutions of some of the medical marijuana sites in California?
FRANKLIN: Yeah, and that hasn't beenthat didn't involve government employees. Yes, the federal government was wasting resources going after medical marijuana dispensaries in California and in states like Montana. It makes no sense to me. But it didn't involve federal employees. I think many of those dispensaries may not have been following state law. There might have been a couple that had been following state law. But, you know, it didn't involve state employees.
JAY: So one of the arguments you're hearing against this, in the sense that, you know, California is sort of wink-wink, nudge-nudge: it's not so hard to get a prescription.
JAY: Medical marijuana was a step towards legalization. And I guess most people are in favor of that now. But what arguments are you hearing against this?
FRANKLIN: Well, you know, there's always the argument, what kind of message are we sending to our children. You know. And I ask people to look at the message we currently send regarding tobacco and alcohol. Over the past couple of decades, we've cut tobacco use almost in half. We're not sending anyone to prison. We're not shooting each other in our streets, havingrunning gun battles and drive-by shootings. We can send the very same message, actually a better message to our children about the use of marijuana.
More important than the message is the system that is responsible for the violent crime that we have and responsible for more marijuana being made available for our children, because our current system of prohibition puts many, many, many violent drug dealers on our corners. You know what? And they hire children to sell to children. Our liquor store owners, who have that valuable license hanging on the wall, they don't hire children to peddle booze. And we can also control the number of those licenses that are handed out.
So knowing that prohibition creates a more dangerous environment for our children, creates more access to marijuana to our children, and marijuana that may not be free of contaminants, knowing this, how can you support a system of prohibition? I only know one group that really would, and that's the cartel.
JAY: Soand I understand the cartel has a lot of interest in keeping it illegal, because it'd certainly change their business model if it became legal.
JAY: But what are you getting fromyou know, for example, from the White House or in Congress? I know you go back and forth. You've been doing lobbying there. The majority of people favor it. The logic seems to favor it.
FRANKLIN: Those numbers that you gave, 52 percent withyou know, according to Pew in favor of marijuana legalization, believe it or not that number's higher in the halls of Congress and the Senate. It's just that they're still not comfortable enough toor maybe they just don't have the courage. I mean, get rid of that word comfort. They don't have the courage to come forward.
JAY: What are they afraid of?
FRANKLIN: They stillunfortunately, they still believe that their constituents won't vote for them the next time around. But that's not true. We're putting people in office who flat out make the case for ending prohibition. And some are getting into office. And it's not just about marijuana. They want to end prohibition for all drugs like we do.
JAY: And just to finalize thatbut give your picture of what that looks like.
FRANKLIN: And, of course, this is my picture, because the organization doesn't have a picture, because there are so many variables here and there are so many possible models. But for me, a quick look at marijuana. We already have a policy, we already have a model in place, and that's alcohol. Even though alcohol is far more dangerous than marijuana, even though cigarettes are far more dangerous than marijuana, we can still use the alcohol or tobacco model for marijuana.
Let's look at heroin. And I say heroin because Baltimore has been what I considerthat's been their drug of choice here in Baltimore for many, many years. And there's many reasons for that. But in Switzerland they have heroin maintenance clinics. So what does that mean? It means those who are addicted under a health model can go to a clinic, receive pharmaceutical-grade heroin. You know the purity, you know that it's not contaminated with anything that shouldn't be. They get tothe patients get to administer their heroin under medical supervision. They have zero overdose deaths. No one dies in that environment. And then when they're ready, there's on-demand treatment. And those people who are in the system, you know what? They can work. They can pay taxes. They no longer have to steal. And there's less crime. That's where we can begin.
JAY: How much do you think the reluctance of legislatures to pass this, at the federal and at the state level, is driven by the economics of this, you know, what some people call the prison-industrial complex? I mean, the number of people in jail from drugs, you know the numbers, and you should tell me. But the number of people in jail because of marijuana, and even just simple possession busts, is very high.
FRANKLIN: Yeah. It remains high.
JAY: The jails would not be doing such a rip-roaring business if you get your way.
FRANKLIN: No. People will tell you that we don't send people to prison anymore for marijuana possession, but that's not true. Well, first of all, we arrest somewhere between 700,000 and 750,000 people every year across this country just for marijuana possession alone, and that's costing the taxpayers a lot of money.
You know, unfortunately, when this whole business of drug prohibition startedbecause, remember, drugs used to be legal, all of them used to be legal. But when it started, weand I'm just going back four decades under Richard Nixon, the massive war on drugswe had about half a million people in prison, and today it's about 2.3 million people in prison. And, you know, when it started, the criminals were the ones making the money.
Unfortunately, today, because we've stayed with this system for so long, everyone's making money. The police are making money. The prison industry's making money, prison privatization, big dollars, New York Stock Exchange, heavy lobbying going on. Pharmaceutical company sure doesn't want to see this change. And there are so many other vested interests in keeping things the way they are, the status quo, too much money being made on both sides of the fence.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Neill.
FRANKLIN: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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