How to Win the Drug War? End It.
In the latest episode of The Real Baltimore, our expert panel discusses both long and short term solutions to the War on Drugs
KIM BROWN: Hello, and welcome to The Real Baltimore being presented to you by The Real News Network. I’m your host, Kim Brown.
In the first part of this discussion, we talked about the impact of the war on drugs in Baltimore City. Now we’re switching gears a bit to examine what practical solutions look like to address issues such as drug addiction and the violence that it fuels. We invited the police department, the State’s Attorney’s Office, and the Fraternal Order of Police to join this panel discussion, but they could not attend.
I’d like to welcome our guests for this segment. We’re joined today by Diamonté Brown. She is a community activist. She’s also a Baltimore native, and she is an educator, who was directly impacted by the war on drugs. She devotes her free time now to advocate for the reform of policies that negatively impact black communities, especially counterproductive drug policies.
Kaitlyn Boecker works as a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. She believes that the drug war has been a devastating failure, and that drug use is a public health issue, not a criminal justice one.
And we’re also joined by retired Major Neill Franklin. He is a 34-year law enforcement veteran of the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore City Police Department. He’s now the executive director of LEAP –- Law Enforcement [Action] Partnership — and Todd Oppenheim is joining us, as well. He is an attorney in the Felony Trial Division of the Baltimore City Public Defender’s Office.
Panel, welcome, you guys, for everyone who hung around for Part 2, and Kaitlyn, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
So, Diamonté, I wanted to start with you because in our first segment you talked about your experience in the criminal justice system, and you shared with us your arrest for possession of marijuana, and Maryland has taken some steps in the past few years, going as far as to decriminalize 10 grams of marijuana in 2014.
In your opinion, is this a positive step to helping remove people who otherwise would be caught up in the jail system behind weed?
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: I think it’s debatable. It’s a positive step if you’re a policy-maker and you believe in incremental change, and you believe that decriminalization will lead to legalization, or taxation and regulation. It’s not a positive step so much for the people that understand that this is a war on black people. Because what decriminalization does, is it still gives the police officers access to be able to stop you, and a citation is what leads to that downward spiral.
And so, it’s kind of like the fight for $15 an hour. On one hand, you want to say 2020 is way too long. By then, $15, you’ll be a poor person. But at the same time, you don’t want to say no, because it’s better than what we have now.
So, that would be my response to the decrim legislation. But, I think it just depends on what perspective you come from. For me, it’s still a way to access… it’s still a way to access people and to lock ’em up.
KIM BROWN: Mmm. Do you think that decriminalization should be spread to other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, perhaps?
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: I’d want to say… I want to say yes. Because I think that if we’re going to truly make drugs into a public health problem, or into a health issue, period, then we have to get away from criminalizing the person that’s using and/or the person that’s administering the drugs.
Because as Neill mentioned earlier, even the people that are administering the drugs are addicted, and even if they’re not addicted to using a drug, they may be addicted to selling the drug. Which is also an addiction.
KIM BROWN: Mmm. Kaitlyn, in the legislative session that just ended here in Maryland, there were some bills introduced that would have decriminalized smaller amounts of other drugs, including heroin and cocaine, and these bills didn’t pass.
Were they close to passing? What was sort of the temperature of lawmakers in Annapolis when they were weighing whether or not this was something they should make into law?
KAITLYN BOECKER: Folks were more receptive than you would expect. I think people are really starting to accept that criminalizing personal behavior that affects your health really is not a public health solution. It is not the way we should go. So, what actually happened was the decriminalization bill was partially wrapped into another bill, and a compromise was reached where it was put into a bill about citations.
So, instead of being arrested and put in the back of a cruiser and taken downtown, you would be given a citation. So, it would still remain a crime to possess drugs, but it would instead be a citation instead of a custodial arrest. So, the compromise was to have drug possession be added into that bill as a citationable offence. It really got almost to the final step. We just needed a vote in one last committee, but unfortunately, it was the last day of session, things were crazy as they always are, and we didn’t get it through.
But we are going to try again next year, and we do think that lawmakers are a lot more receptive than we might believe at first blush.
KIM BROWN: How fast are things progressing on this front? You know, Maryland is viewed by the nation, I would suspect, as a relatively progressive place. But I think Marylanders may not think that Maryland is the most progressive spot. But we have seen a lot of action coming from lawmakers since the decriminalization effort, when in 2014, there is a legal marijuana medicinal industry that is budding -– pardon the pun -– it’s not up and running up, yet, but it’s headed in that direction, at least it appears to be.
How fast or slow is Maryland operating, when it comes to the issue of decriminalizing drugs, and making sure that fewer people enter the criminal justice system as a result?
KAITLYN BOECKER: The citizens of Maryland are there. More than 60% think marijuana should be legal, high amounts believe the drug should be decriminalized and treated as a public health issue. Really, it’s our leaders and our policy-makers who aren’t there. And the really disappointing thing is that a lot of them talk, you know, a big game, and they use these talking points about the opioid epidemic and public health, but they really just default to Drug War 2.0 policies.
And a great example is about fentanyl. We’ve seen all these deaths from fentanyl, and lawmakers’ first instinct, this past session, was a new mandatory minimum about fentanyl. Okay. No, we’ve already done that, so many times. So, they really used these talking points, and you think they’ve progressed, but then as soon as they’re confronted with a challenge they default back to these very old, emotional, knee-jerk responses, rather than looking at a public health approach, like preventing drug users with fentanyl testing kits to test their heroin.
KIM BROWN: That’s incredible. And speaking of that -– I’ll kick this to Neill Franklin — as we said in the first segment, the Baltimore Sun is reporting that Baltimore City homicide detectives will now be tasked to investigate overdose deaths from drugs, and try to identify and prosecute the dealers and hold them criminally responsible.
There were over 800 overdose deaths in Baltimore City last year. Good idea? Neill Franklin, is this a wise use of city resources in your opinion?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Again, just like Kaitlyn said, here we go! (laughs) Drug War 2.0. You know, been there, done that, right? And at a time we need every single homicide detective to focus on the violent homicides that are occurring in our streets, to divert them to do this work? I think not. You can take… you can make an arrest of a hundred people for selling fentanyl in this city, and you’re just going to create an opportunity for a 110 to come in and take their place. It solves nothing. Until we move this from a place of criminal justice to a place of health, it solves nothing.
Let’s look at other countries. Look at Portugal. Fourteen years ago, they decriminalized the possession, personal possession, of all drugs for a 10-day supply. Now, a 10-day supply for Diamonté, or for you, is going to be different among each other. Right? Tolerance levels. But here’s the thing. They moved it from a place of criminal justice to health, and what has happened?
Seventy-one percent reduction in new cases of HIV for intravenous drug users, a 52% reduction in overdose deaths, how many people, how many lives would be saved here? We’re going in the other direction because of our criminal justice approach. Right?
What about the young people? Middle and high school kids in Portugal, a 22% to 25% reduction in overall drug use. They’ve normalized this. They’ve taken the excitement out of it for our young people. They teach them the facts twice a year in school, through healthcare practitioners, about what these drugs are and what they do, and they’re having great success. We need to follow their lead; we need to follow the lead of other countries that are doing similar work.
KIM BROWN: Well, speaking of, The Real News’s Jaisal Noor sat down with Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and asked him specifically about the issue of legalization of drugs. Here’s what he had to say.
KEVIN DAVIS: Yeah, but I’d like to compare apples to apples. I think a lot of these countries that enjoy violent crime rates that are much lower than the United States of America, don’t have the proliferation and availability of firearms that we have here in America. And, you know, I’ve always been of the mindset that, you know, where there’s drugs there’s money, and where there’s money there’s guns.
So, I’m willing to be as progressive as any police chief in America when it comes to doing things differently and, in fact, I’m the police chief in our state who recently amended marijuana hiring standards. I stood alone when I started this journey about a year ago, when I asked my fellow police chiefs in the state of Maryland to amend this 1975, or so, hiring standard that prohibits forever people who’ve used marijuana over a certain number of times from serving as a police officer. So, I’m proud of that.
I’m willing to be as progressive, if not more progressive, than anyone. But when it comes to decriminalizing all drugs, I’m just not there yet. But I’m willing to take a look at anything. But, again, it kind of all circles back to what I said at the beginning of my answer. You know, firearms… it’s a curse of our country. 300 million-plus firearms are on the streets of America, and it’s the accessibility and availability of guns, that I think really makes America a much different place than other countries.
KIM BROWN: Todd, here in the state of Maryland we’ve seen the decriminalization of marijuana. And then slight re-criminalization of it again after the state legislator decided to -– legislature, rather –- decided to make sure that there were penalties in place for driving in a car in possession of marijuana or smoking behind the wheel.
Stuff that was already illegal and on the books, they wanted to, I guess, to double-down on that. And with this new report from the Sun about how Baltimore City homicide detectives will now be investigating opioid overdose deaths as homicides, I would imagine -– I’m not exactly sure how the police are going to classify these — this is going to make a lot more cases coming into your office. What are your thoughts about this recent action?
TODD OPPENHEIM: They don’t want to give up useful law enforcement tools. They don’t want to give up the pretext that they have to stop certain people that have been well documented by the Department of Justice, and they’re not ready for reform yet. I mean, we’re moving slowly, but they can’t back off these old efforts that are still around.
I mean, to piggyback on what Diamonté was saying, it’s not even just maybe holding someone up and finding a small amount of marijuana on them. The mere smell, or claim of a smell, of marijuana gets a cop in your car, a full search of your person, and it doesn’t even ever have to be found, and then it leads to whatever. And we’re talking about 26 out of 27 stops, finding absolutely no contraband whatsoever, no arrests being made, and the one stop is the case that I get in court and could potentially be an illegal action, something that violates someone’s constitutional rights — but maybe something is found.
Maybe it is a small amount of drugs, maybe it’s a gun, and then we’re stuck arguing in court that this has to be stopped here, so that it doesn’t continue out in the community, and it kind of all spirals from these policies that still go forward.
I mean, they’re making efforts, but I think the Commissioner there throws guns into the mix, where you’re conflating two different issues. I mean, we can talk about the violence in the community, but it’s not necessarily always intertwined with the drug policies. And if you want to talk about that, let’s start talking about serious gun control, and why there’s no gun shops in our city limits, yet there are all these illegal guns on the streets.
KIM BROWN: Well, Neill, you worked in law enforcement 34 years. As far as I know, the police have never stopped trying to get guns off the street, and yet there are still a lot of guns on the street. So, what–
NEILL FRANKLIN: There will be a lot of guns on the street as long as we have need… the people using them, as long as they have a need for them, as long as they believe they have a need for them, there will be guns. Okay? These guns last for a very long time. Even if we decided to no longer make guns -– we know that’s not going to happen -– but to make guns, we have guns that will be around beyond your lifetime, beyond your children’s lifetimes, and millions of them.
So, here’s the thing: have we ever really dug down deep, to deal with the issues of why people are using guns in the first place? We continue to deal with the symptoms. But why are people using guns? Again, part of this foundation, the reason they flooded our inner cities, is because we needed them to manage our illegal drug trade activities. Right? Because the competition is fierce.
I have to protect myself from the stickup boys who are going to come steal my drugs and my money. I have to protect myself from the crews, my competition, and I’m out there selling drugs because I can’t get a job. I caught a charge a couple of years ago -– whatever the case may be -– I can’t get a… So, I gotta do what I gotta do to make money. I’m out here in the streets, and not only that, that’s what I learned growing up. You see, the streets raised me, you know? And that’s what I know. That’s what I learned.
When are we going to really dig down into the social issues of why people are using guns, and feel the need to use guns in the first place? Yes, it’s about the drug trade, it’s about the culture, it’s about being raised by the streets, it’s about a lot of these things. But we’re not putting our limited resources there; we’re dealing with these topical issues, you know? And we’re not connecting the dots.
So, until we get to that place of solving the issues of why people are using guns in the first place? They’re going to be there, and they’re going to be used, and the big part of that, again, is the illicit drug trade, you know, where there’s so much money to be made.
KIM BROWN: Kaitlyn, as Todd and Neill pointed out, that drugs are oftentimes the key that gets the door open for police to either come in your home or come into your vehicle and search your person, under the auspices of getting drugs off the street and getting guns off the street, does this work? Has this worked anywhere?
KAITLYN BOECKER: The law enforcement efforts just trying to get in? No. I mean, they’ve never worked. We’ve seen millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars of property seized, under civil asset forfeiture laws that were connected to drugs, guilty of drug crimes. That has not stopped the drug trade, and most of those people were completely innocent that lost their property. There are about a million examples of failed public policies that were instituted because they were going to reduce the amount of drugs on the street, but not a single one of them has worked.
If we look at how much money we’ve invested in the drug war over time, and then we compare that with rates of addiction and rates of overdose, they are in no way correlated. In fact, they’re opposite. As we’ve spent more money, the rates continue to go up. So, we don’t actually reduce any of the harms of drug use. They just get worse.
So, the more resources and time we use to ruin people’s lives with the drug war, things are just going to get worse. It’s not ever going to reduce drug use.
KIM BROWN: Mmm. And I wanted to pose this next question to the entire panel, because we have a new Attorney General, in Jeff Sessions, and Jeff Sessions has not only vowed to restart the war on drugs, but he has pretty much promised to take America back to a policy of mass incarceration for a variety of things that, didn’t necessarily go away under the Obama administration, but the Obama administration was starting to pull back from -– some.
What we can expect at least for this first term of Donald Trump, and this new head of his Department of Justice, who wants to go back to the policies -– it sounds like -– of the Reagan years. Diamonté let me start with you.
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: Well, if they’re successful, we can expect a lot more money coming in, and unfortunately that’s what’s going to get the people to back it. Because when they see that there’s more revenue and, you know, we don’t have to make as many budget cuts here and budget cuts there, because of the money that’s coming from people being incarcerated.
Unfortunately, I think they’re going to be successful, because of the propaganda behind it. And what you’re also going to see is a lot of advocates like myself and Kaitlyn and Neill and Todd fighting against it once again. And so, on one hand it’s going to divide the country, and on the other hand, it’s going to bring the country together, because there are some people that agree with taking America back to the way it was. And anybody that understands black plight knows that we never wanted to take America back to the way it was. It’s the most threatening thing that you could possibly say to any person of color.
And here we go again, with just changing the verbiage to result in the same outcome.
KIM BROWN: Kaitlyn, how is this going to work? Especially with something like marijuana, where a number of states –- the whole west coast -– is green, pretty much, right? And here on the east coast it’s legal enough for recreational sale, but legal to possess in Washington, D.C., now legal in Massachusetts. I believe it’s legal in Maine, if I’m not mistaken. I think they…
KAITLYN BOECKER: Yes.
KIM BROWN: …passed that most recently in 2016. So, how is… from a federal perspective, how can they even attempt to rein in near half the country with legal recreational and medicinal usage for marijuana?
KAITLYN BOECKER: Because they’re hypocrites. At the end of the day, Jeff Sessions likes to talk about small government, and ending federal interference -– unless it’s something he doesn’t love, like marijuana laws. So, we’ve seen eight states plus D.C. legalize adult use of marijuana, and Jeff Sessions has decided, no, he doesn’t like that.
So, he is amping up all the federal interference with those states’ markets. They’re revisiting the Cole Memo, which is what the Obama administration put together to guide marijuana law enforcement. And we believe that he’s going to make some unfounded and unhelpful changes that will lead to increased federal interference in legal markets.
KIM BROWN: Mmm. You know, some of the rhetoric around keeping drugs illegal is that marijuana is a gateway drug. So, part of the reason that the opioid crisis is what it is is because these people tried marijuana and went on to the next thing.
TODD OPPENHEIM: Mm-hmm. It’s a gateway for cops to get in your car.
KIM BROWN: Right.
TODD OPPENHEIM: A gateway into the criminal justice system, that’s what it’s a gateway to.
KIM BROWN: I mean, talk about what the next four years possibly could look like for you, Todd, in your office, for police, for citizens who maybe earned a little bit of breathing room for adults who wanted to consume marijuana at least, or, you know, during the Obama administration. But that could all be possibly rolled back with this new administration.
TODD OPPENHEIM: It could. And I’m going to inject a little bit of hope into the discussion. I hate to do that. But…
KIM BROWN: (laughs)
TODD OPPENHEIM: …I work in the state system, so we’re not directly controlled by Jeff Sessions. We have a local prosecutor, and we don’t necessarily have to deal with the other jurisdictions in the state do, because we have a fairly democratic and progressive city, and I would hope that we build on the reforms that the Obama administration tried to implement.
But, you know, I worry about it, because we still have this old school model of prosecution that we deal with all the time in courts, and that is give new prosecutors all drug cases and let them work them, and that’s where they cut their teeth without any perspective on what sort of value that has in the system as a whole. Being relatively unimportant when you scale it up against victim crimes or crimes of violence. So, we’re still operating under that bad model, and we’re still sentencing people to felonies where they could be pled out to misdemeanors.
But we don’t have to do that. They have local discretion, and we’re kind of seeing where people line. Even everyone within the Democratic Party: are you going to be progressive? Or are you just going to toe the line as usual?
KIM BROWN: Neill, I’m coming to you, hot second. I wanted to toss, really quick, to a clip that we have of Kevin Davis, the Police Commissioner here in Baltimore City, talking about the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Fund. It’s a program aimed at helping low level drug offenders. Let’s check out what he has to say.
KEVIN DAVIS: We’re really proud in Baltimore to be one of a handful of police departments in the country to adopt Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion -– LEAD. So far, 25 folks who would otherwise have been arrested for that low-level drug crime, that possession crime, have been referred to services, and I think that’s where we need to go.
Now, you know, look, we’re not taking drug dealers and referring them to health services. We’re not taking people who carry guns, and referring them to these services. We’re taking people who are addicted to drugs, and they’re in a misdemeanor possession quantity of drugs to fuel their habit, and we’re getting them help that they can’t get in a jail cell, they can’t get with a pair of handcuffs, and we think it’s the way forward.
There’s a price tag attached to Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, because the success of the program relies so heavily on having those other government entities available, to bring them those services.
But so far so good in Baltimore, and I’m proud of the fact that we’ve already referred 25 people who would otherwise would just have been handed another arrest, another conviction, and does it serve to better them, or better our society?
KIM BROWN: Neill Franklin, what are your thoughts about what Commissioner Davis spoke about in his program that they’re starting here in Baltimore City?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, here, Kevin Davis, here he is again doing something good. Oh, God. I gotta find something bad on this guy.
Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion is one of the things that we should be doing. And one of the most important things about this program, which started in Seattle a few years back, is that it is pre-arrest diversion. It’s not drug courts. It’s not once someone has been arrested and they now got an arrest record, and now we put them through drug court and blah, blah, blah, into whatever –- these in-the-box treatment programs, four weeks, twelve weeks, whatever.
Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion is a pre-arrest diversion program, where it’s about wraparound services for that person before they get arrested, not just looking at their addiction, but looking at the entire person. You have to treat the entire person -– employment, you know, what’s their home life like, what are their other health conditions, and so on. That’s where you have the most success in helping someone with their addiction issue.
I think it’s the good direction to go. We tried to get that in Baltimore a few years back, under Commissioner Batts… crickets. That’s all I got to say about that.
KIM BROWN: Mmm. I wanted to ask you, as well, about the Trump administration, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, both of whom have made tremendous commitments to law enforcement, and is speaking directly to the law enforcement community, “We have your back,” “We will restore you,” “We won’t enforce, or we won’t pursue Consent Decrees,” per Jeff Sessions –- I’m paraphrasing here –- “Because it demoralizes our law enforcement agencies.”
What does that sound like to the average cop? The average detective who’s out there? Do they feel empowered maybe, to go and arrest a lot of people, after hearing that they have the whole-hearted support of the Trump administration?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that’s really a bad message to send at a time when we’re trying to bring police and community together. This is just rhetoric that, again, separates the police from the community.
A lot of the things that we’re dealing with, as we move in this direction of police reform, and criminal justice reform, unfortunately my brothers and sisters in uniform are taking this stuff personal. And they’re failing to recognize that the enemy here, the common enemy, between police and community, is policy. Ineffective and problematic policy, such as the war on drugs, such as civil forfeiture, and the many other things that we’re trying to deal with, our police in schools, and on and on and on.
So, the policy is the common enemy, but this rhetoric again puts the police at odds with the community. Yes. Obviously, I’m in support of our police, but you know what? Our police are given a great responsibility. And we have to have the proper oversight, and if we’re not having that oversight at the community level -– where it belongs, first and foremost –- communities should have oversight of their police departments. If we’re not having it there, if we’re not having it through their leaders, and through the local government, someone’s got to do it.
Now, if we ever get to a place, if we ever get to a place where the police belong, which is under the control and management of the community, governance boards and so on, then maybe we don’t need the federal government, you know, and Consent Decrees overseeing police departments.
But until we get to that place, we need the federal government keeping an eye on what’s happening — and it’s their job, because these are violations of constitutional rights and protections. That’s the federal government’s job: to ensure that each and every one of us are protected in that area of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
KIM BROWN: Mmm. So, if we could keep making progress, to either end the war on drugs, or modify it in a sense that it addresses drug addiction from more of a public health perspective, rather than a criminal justice perspective, what solutions would you put forth, Todd? What… you’ve worked in the public defender’s office. I can only imagine what you see. If you could wave a magic wand, or you write the law, what would you change?
TODD OPPENHEIM: Wow. I would… I think a lot of it comes down to prosecution. So, I think that when people are going into drug courts, which again Major Franklin was saying that if you do the diversion before arrest, you’re not even in the system. But if you’re in the system and you’re offered alternatives, then you should at least be able to work your case out to a lesser charge.
We still force people into felony convictions, even when they’re getting treatment. And then when they go through the process now –- there’s a case in the Appellate Courts now that deals with sanctioning people in drug courts, and almost, you know, threatening them with jail time, to keep complying with the requirements of drug court. Which is crazy, because we’re using jail as a carrot to force treatment. Which is just a crazy approach to the justice system.
So, it’s kind of stepping back from that, and realizing where drug crimes are in relation to everything else that comes into court. And, I mean, the net is still cast really wide, and especially with our clients who are indigent people. It just helps to sometimes take a look at some of these cases and realize, yes, the charges may be serious, but a lot of the times, the wrong people get caught up in raids, searches, or whatever, and, like, an arrest that encompasses a bunch of people you have to realize there’s going to be lesser players, addicts, or people of those sorts, that are arrested. And it’s just not taken into account.
We just look at the charges on their face, and we’re still going hard on them. So, it’s kind of this step back from it, and take a big perspective as to where we are.
KIM BROWN: Mmm. Kaitlyn, I wanted to ask you about the Drug Policy Alliance. Do solutions to the war on drugs lie within Congress, lie within state legislatures? Is it about repealing bad laws, and putting better ones on the books? Or, are there other solutions that could be best served to mitigate some of the terrible effects that the war on drugs has had on people and communities?
KAITLYN BOECKER: Sure. The simplest way to mitigate the effects of the war on drugs, would be to have our policy-makers step up for once in their lives, and be brave and take a step forward and do what needs to be done to treat drug use as a public health issue. And that is within their power and they could do it.
Me, personally, I would immediately end the federal scheduling of drugs and allow states to handle it. I would essentially decriminalize drugs that way on the federal level. I would stop charging federal possession crimes for drugs. I would dismantle the DEA, and take their entire budget and put it into public health programs and hire a million social workers.
I think there are so many changes that might sound bold, but if we look at what every other country in the world is doing, they’re really not that innovative, or that bold. They’re kind of old hat policies at this point.
KIM BROWN: Mm-hmm. Diamonté, you got caught up in the criminal justice system. The law has now changed, that if you were to be caught, caught, caught with the same amount that you were convicted of before, you wouldn’t even be arrested. You would get a ticket. Do people who have been the victims of the criminal justice system in this way, deserve some sort of reparations, or repayment for their suffering and pain, that they endured while operating and having to deal with these obviously draconian laws?
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: I think we do, and I think a form of repayment would be to start with the Anti-Stigma Campaign.
KIM BROWN: Talk about that.
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: The same way before we changed policy on gay rights, the first thing that gay activists did was, they did an Anti-Stigma Campaign, because they needed some attitudinal change, so people could understand their perspective, and then that that made policy change easier.
So, we still have this stigma on cannabis users, and other drug users, but then asking policy-makers to think about it differently. So, I think we need to initiate an Anti-Stigma Campaign so people don’t see drug users as bad people. Because people equate drug users to criminals, or drug users to bad people, and bad people and criminals get jail time, and so in their mind it’s a linear way of thinking. So, we have to break it up a little bit, and I think we have to start destigmatising.
Like Kaitlyn said, maybe we can take some of that DEA money and put it into the Anti-Stigma Campaign.
KIM BROWN: And Neill? I wanted to wrap this with you. I know you’re a big proponent for ending prohibition…
NEILL FRANKLIN: End it all.
KIM BROWN: …and to decriminalizing small amounts of drugs. Starting today, what could the state of Maryland do? What could Baltimore City do today, even without the support of the federal government, to lessen the effects of the war on drugs, on the communities that it has impacted the most?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Mm-hmm. Well, we continue where we are, I like our health commissioner here, Dr. Wen, and how she sees things, continue with moving this from a criminal justice approach to a health approach. We can continue with the pre-arrest diversion programs. There are others we can do in addition to Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.
Again, part of that is like Diamonté said about the stigma. Launch campaigns, to change how people view people who use drugs, and who are addicted. These are people. These are brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and so on. Let’s keep moving in that direction.
We could also do things like the Swiss model, or maybe even what they’re doing in Canada, with safer drug consumption facilities. So, you know, here’s a point with that, where someone is using heroin and can go into a medically staffed facility, and administer their heroin under medical supervision, and then they’re no longer in the alleys, they’re no longer in public restrooms and so on.
They get counseling, they get other needs tended to, wrap-around services, and you know what? In these facilities, like in Canada, and in Switzerland, which are two different models, but in these facilities, no overdose deaths are experienced. Zero.
What would that mean? What that also does, it begins this process of shrinking the user population. What that means is less opportunities to sell drugs. What that means, is less people selling drugs. So, to go back to what Commissioner Davis was saying about guns, and what they’re doing in other countries, in Portugal, and the gun issue we have here, you know what? If you begin the process of moving it from criminal justice to health, and shrinking that user population, which shrinks the market, you know what? Then you’re shrinking the need for these guns to be used within our communities and on our streets.
KIM BROWN: Mmm. Indeed. Well, the war on drugs and all the ensuing issues surrounding it is obviously a never-ending conversation, but we are out of time.
I’d like to thank our panel, Kaitlyn Boecker, Drug Policy Alliance, Diamonté Brown, she is a social activist and educator here in Baltimore City, Neill Franklin, former Major -– oh, Major Neill Franklin, former law enforcement agent for 34 years in Baltimore City and Maryland State Police, and of course, Todd Oppenheim, working in the Baltimore Public Defender’s Office, dealing with felonies. I’d like to thank you all for joining us, and sharing your expertise with us today.
And that wraps it for The Real Baltimore. This is being brought to you by The Real News Network. On behalf of all of our crew here on Holliday Street, I’d like to thank you all. I’m your host, Kim Brown. Take care. See you next time.