“The War on Drugs creates a war for drugs.”
“Prohibition hasn’t worked anywhere in the world.”
“It should be a health issue.”
And, arguably most persistent, most convincing, too: “It requires an evidence-based approach.”
The statements come like the phrases in a Bach fugue: They are based around a theme, they pick up on each other’s line and modulate it, give it a new nuance, allow for another iteration to create another resonance that counterpoints in harmony what has been expressed before. Together, when it’s the instruments in Bach, the sound they produce is heavenly music; when it’s the speakers at the launch of LEAP UK, it is perfect, even common, sense.
LEAP stands for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and the clue is in the name. As their “about” page explains: “Founded on March 16, 2002, LEAP is … made up of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities who are speaking out about the failures of our existing drug policies.” Their main mission is “to reduce the multitude of harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime and addiction by ending drug prohibition.”
Originally confined to the United States, LEAP now has branches in Canada, Brazil and various other parts of the world, and Leap Day 2016 marked the adroitly timed launch of LEAP UK, the latest addition to the fold.
And this is where it becomes so compelling: These people really know what they’re talking about.
It is one thing listening to the enlightened opinions of commentators whose job it principally is to have an opinion, or hear the arguments for a holistic approach to substance use from people who broadly fall within a more or less socially liberal demographic.
It is quite another when FBI officers and MI5 agents—individuals who have fought the War on Drugs, who have seen what it does and does not achieve first hand, who have dealt with, face-to-face, its effects—stand up in the hallowed halls of Westminster Palace and declare, one by one, with unwavering conviction: The War on Drugs can’t be won; it’s not a war on drugs, it’s a war on people. It has failed. It is, in fact, as Diane Goldstein, retired US Lieutenant Commander, LEAP Executive Board Member and Influence contributor—who speaks not only from professional insight, but also from the trauma of losing her own brother to drugs—puts it, “America’s greatest political failure.”
For “America,” you may read almost any country in the world.
Like every other corner of Westminster, where both Houses of the UK Parliament have their chambers and where, from the almost completely unknown Elizabeth Tower, ring out the chimes of possibly the most famous bell in the world, Big Ben, Committee Room 10 oozes history and weighty, tradition-steeped authority. Maybe that explains why the tech didn’t go, and a video message of support from the original entrepreneurial dude, Sir Richard Branson, had to be aborted. But how refreshing to witness such an eclectic line-up of hosts and their guests make such a coherent case for such a categorically essential reform.
There was Major Neill Franklin, formerly of Maryland State Police, now executive director of LEAP; there was Patrick Hennessey, a former British Army officer in the Grenadier Guards who has served in Afghanistan, where the bulk of the opium for the world’s heroin is grown; Annie Machon, former MI5 agent, now director of LEAP Europe; the author and Influence contributor Johann Hari, who spoke with characteristic eloquence of his wide-ranging research into drug policy across the globe; and there was also Rose.
Rose Humphries is a mother who lost not one, but two sons to drug overdoses. Her heartrending testimony lent emotional power to a rational proposition that is already overwhelmingly sound.
I am not a journalist, nor a policy wonk, and so will not give you here the facts and figures, well-evidenced statistics and case studies: All of that is available at a few clicks through your favorite search engine, and indeed from the LEAP website.
But I am a writer, a more-or-less engaged citizen, a human being with a conscience and a sense that we can do a whole lot better than we are now. My sole claim to any expertise on this issue is that I spent five of my still fairly formative years as the administrator of a Soho-based frontline drugs agency in London in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. If nothing else, I, too, have seen what our drug policy does to people. And it’s an outrage. It’s not just a problem, a failing or an imperfect way of muddling through—it’s a social, human, and entirely human-made catastrophe.
The evidence absolutely is out there. Both of how horribly wrong we’re getting it still in the UK and in the US, and how swift and comprehensive the change for the better is when we are brave enough to try something different. Portugal, Switzerland, the Netherlands, even pockets now of Durham, in England, all provide examples that illustrate, time and again, that when you separate substance use from crime and treat people who use drugs not as law-breakers but as normal, ordinary fellow members of society—offering help to those who use drugs in a problematic, self-destructive or addictive way—you get a healthier population, a signally smaller prison population and a much lower public spend associated with the regulation of substances. Immediately.
And so I can wholeheartedly second the motion, put forward as a simple statement by one of the speakers in Westminster on Monday: “I welcome the arrival of LEAP in the UK.”
Sebastian Michael thinks, writes and creates across disciplines in theater, film, video, print and online with a deepening interest in humans, the multiverse and a quantum philosophy. You can follow him on Twitter: @OptimistLondon.