Mr Jim Duffy : Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)
‘What’s the difference between a traffic Cop and a terrorist?” asked Jim Duffy. ‘You can negotiate with a terrorist!’ Our guest speaker self deprecatingly broke the ice revealing his traffic policing days.
It was in his role as Chairman of the former Strathclyde Police Federation, that Jim became a passionate advocate for the legalising of drugs so that it can be managed better. He contrasted the 130 annual road deaths to the 479 drug deaths, not to mention the drug squad used more police resources! The problem as Jim sees it, is that the trade is all about money. The prohibition of drugs had guaranteed a market for organized crime. This was very much what had happened with alcohol in the US in the 20s and 30s.
What had made drugs a problem was the prohibition of drugs by the Nixon Administration in the US. The Nixon presidential campaign in the late 60s had been looking for a Law and Order issue and jumped on a War on Drugs as the way forward. This led to the banning of marijuana and resulted in a dramatic increase in the use of harder drugs! It also caused the numbers imprisoned to increase dramatically. Some 65% of all US inmates have histories of drug abuse and may have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol when committing their offence. Tellingly Jim compared the $100m spent in 1970 on drug enforcement but by 2003 it had grown to $69 billion!
On retirement, Jim had been happy to join LEAP which was established in the US in 2002. The members are largely retired policemen, drug enforcement officers, lawyers and judges who have hands on experience with the drug trade and the damage it is doing to our societies. It has grown to be an international organization with 150 speakers in 90 countries happy to promote LEAP any wheretheir message might be heard.
To make his case, Jim described the positive experiences in the US, Portugal and Switzerland where drug reform, regulation and control had been introduced. Marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2012. Some $700m was sold in the first year. Twenty per cent of this revenue was tax which the State could use for public purposes. Just as important $700 didn’t go into the coffers of organized crime. The ‘industry’ now employs 10,000 people and generates a revenue of $1 billion of which 20% goes to the State’s coffers.
In 2001 Portugal decided to treat drugs as a public health problem rather than a criminal one and now has one of the lowest drug related deaths in Europe. Needle transmitted diseases also declined dramatically. Over a decade ago Basel in Switzerland had a major problem with drug usage in their parks. Since they introduced a number of public health measures including Drug Consumption Facilities for drug users, there has been no deaths in the last 15 years. The crime rate also decreased by 60%. Jim noted that the addictslives were stabilized and had become part of the community once more, a great achievement.
Jim’s case is clear. As a country the UK can compromise in policy terms as tobacco and alcohol make clear. However, by banning drugs we lose control to the drug dealers. It’s a classic replay of prohibition in the US which transformed organisedcrime. Jim bemoaned the slavish way British legislation chose to follow the Nixon route and introduced the Misuse of Drugs Act in 1971. Prior to this policy had been far more enlightened when drug use could largely be managed through the NHS.
It’s not possible to do justice to Jim’s talk in this short blog. Crucially he presented a powerful case for reform, regulation and the control of drugs. There are many angles to it : improved public health, making our streets and parks safer,strengthening communities, reducing police and prison costs, tackling organized crime and, as demonstrated in a number of US States, generate healthy tax revenues. Jim demonstrated it’s really a no brainer. It’s time our politicians focused on pragmatism rather than high principles which only help strengthen the market for organized crime. A cracking talk, Jim!