Neill Franklin: While 45 percent of Americans oppose legal marijuana, 70 percent think enforcing federal drug laws is a waste of money
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
A recent research study by the Pew Center found that 52 percent of Americans now favor the legalization of marijuana; 45 percent are against. But there’s another number that kind of contradicts a little bit of that 45 percent number, ’cause apparently over 70 percent of Americans think that federal money spent to go after people with marijuana is money not well spent. Recently in Maryland, the legislature passed a bill that will allow a for a modest amount of experimentation witnh medical marijuana. And, of course, other states in the country have gone much further.
Now joining us to talk about the whole marijuana debate and where we’re at with the issue of legalization or decriminalization is Neill Franklin. He’s the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, otherwise known as LEAP. He’s a 33-year-old police veteran who’s led multijurisdictional antinarcotics task forces for the Maryland state police and ran training centers for the Baltimore Police Department and the Maryland State Police.
Thanks very much for joining us, Neill.
NEILL FRANKLIN, EXEC. DIRECTOR, LEAP: Thanks for having me, Paul.
JAY: So what do you make of that? Seventy, 72 percent of people think it’s a waste of money, enforcing drug laws, yet 45 percent of people want it to be illegal.
FRANKLIN: 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 “in our favor” because LEAP is actually for legalization and not just decriminalization.
FRANKLIN: Absolutely. We’re for ending prohibition, the legalization, regulation, and control of marijuana.
JAY: So just for people that don’t know, LEAP has about 2,500 members, mostly retired police, but also some active-duty cops and people that run prisons and former prosecutors and such.
But, Neill, let’s start with what happened in Maryland recently, where the legislature passed, as I said, a pretty modest bill.
FRANKLIN: 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, because 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 from–just 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 measure–I think it was sponsored by Delegate Curt Anderson–it had a few cosponsors–for 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: So it seems that a lot of the opposition to this bill in the legislature really wasn’t people that think marijuana should be illegal, but it was more about they’re worried about the feds are going to come in and overrule or fight with Maryland about this, and they don’t want to get into that with the feds, so they’d rather 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 done or said anything about the fact that these states are not enforcing the federal drug 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 haven’t there been some prosecutions in California, federal prosecutions of medical marijuana places?
FRANKLIN: Yeah, and that hasn’t been–that 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 just what kind of arguments are you hearing against legalization of medical marijuana or legalization of marijuana? I mean, in California, everybody knows, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, it’s not so hard to get a prescription for medical marijuana. And it is a step towards legalization, and it seems most people are in favor of it. So what’s the argument against it?
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, having–running 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.
But 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: So I understand now that the drug cartels want to keep marijuana illegally. They have lots to gain. But what are you hearing from the White House? You know, the logic seems to favor legalization. Public opinion seems to favor legalization. So what’s the White House saying?
FRANKLIN: Those numbers that you gave, 52 percent with–you 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 to–or maybe they just don’t have the courage. Let me get rid of that word comfort. They don’t have the courage [snip]
JAY: What are they afraid of?
FRANKLIN: Unfortunately, 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: So give your picture of what that looks like.
FRANKLIN: 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 consider–that’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 it shouldn’t be. They get to–the 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: So how much do you think this reluctance at the federal level, at state level is actually driven by some people call the prison-industrial complex? There’s a lot of people in jail because of marijuana, and not just for trafficking–a lot of people for possession. And, you know, prisons might not be doing such a rip-roaring business if you get your way.
FRANKLIN: You know, 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 started–because, remember, drugs used to be legal, all of them used to be legal. But when it started, we–and I’m just going back four decades under Richard Nixon, the massive war on drugs–we 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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