Testimony Before the Legislature
Earlier this month I testified before a State Legislative Committee Hearing on the heroin problem. The legislators in attendance were very attentive UNTIL I mentioned legalization of marijuana. Then a distinct chill fell over the room. One legislator, in a hearing that to that point had been very friendly, turned a bit nasty, stating, “Thank God you are in the minority!”
The interesting thing is that I am not in the minority. A poll of Ohio voters last year found 82% in favor of medical marijuana. On this issue, the voters are clearly out front of our elected officials.
Here is the actual testimony:
Testimony Before the Law Enforcement Perspectives
on the Drug Epidemic & Its Impact on Families Study Committee
University of Cincinnati
September 9, 2014
I am appearing before you today representing LEAP, or Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a national organization comprised of retired and active law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors and citizens who believe the War on Drugs is a failure and that a new policy framework needs to be implemented to have a real impact on the drug problems facing our country.
I began a career in the addictions field in 1972 when I started work as a counseling supervisor at a Cincinnati Methadone Program serving heroin addicts. Over the next several years I worked in a variety of roles in the addictions field, most notably as Executive Director of the Alcoholism Council of Cincinnati. The Council is an advocacy organization dedicated to improving services for all drug addicted people and their families. During my tenure we began the first Family Intervention Program in the area as well as implementing services for children of alcoholics.
At age 42, I joined the Cincinnati Police Department. I rose through the ranks serving as Community Policing Coordinator, Police Academy Commander, and Coordinator of the SWAT Hostage Negotiation Team. I retired in 2007 as Commander of the Central Vice Control Section with responsibility for city-wide drug enforcement.
This history has provided me with a unique view of the country’s War on Drugs, as I am one of only a handful of individuals who has served directly on both sides of the drug demand-supply equation.
The people testifying today come to this hearing from a variety of perspectives. My major goal is to develop a strategy that can suppress the violence associated with the illegal drug market. Whether it is the out-of-control cartel violence on the Mexican border or the far too frequent murders in our own communities, the connection between drug trafficking and violence could not be clearer.
What is also clear is that the War on Drugs began under President Nixon in 1971 is a failure. Despite millions of Americans incarcerated, thousands killed and injured in drug-related violence and billions of dollars spent at every government level, our drug problem today is, by almost any measure, worse than it was when this war was declared.
Exhibit A is the heroin problem now afflicting our communities, large and small. Despite the billions spent and the thousands of American citizens locked up, people testifying today will report that street heroin has never been cheaper, more easily available and at a higher level of purity than the heroin found on the street today.
It has often been said that the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same things and expect different results. Unfortunately, there is no better description for our drug policy over the last 40 years. I understand, perhaps better than most, the urge to get tough with dealers, to spend more and more on police and prisons. If it were working, I would be all in. However, I am a rational person and reason tells me it is time for a new approach.
There will be many good recommendations made here today and as you continue your hearings throughout the state. I want to propose two major steps for you that I believe will have a real impact on the problem. The first and most important step for us to take is to legalize marijuana. I’d ask all those who now want to remind me the hearing is on the heroin problem to give me a few minutes to make the connection. Let’s take just a minute to talk about our current policy on marijuana.
We are all familiar with the medical dictum of “First, do no harm.” Our current policy of criminalizing marijuana use causes more harm to the individual than the marijuana use itself. A drug conviction carries with it a lifetime of consequences including employment barriers, access to public housing and more. While no one should be arguing that marijuana use is risk free, a significant percentage of Americans use this drug without experiencing life problems. In fact, the major risk factors in marijuana use stem not from its consumption, but from its illegal status, as users participate in the violent street market.
The prohibition policy on marijuana has been ineffective. Recent studies find over 40% of American High School Seniors have used marijuana and for the adult population as a whole, an estimated 60% have tried it. In a fashion similar to heroin, marijuana over the years has become more pure and less expensive. Statistics on marijuana use over the years wax and wane but the policy of prohibition toward marijuana is clearly not working.
Perhaps most importantly, the current policy is unfair. It is the height of hypocrisy to arrest 750,000 Americans each year for engaging in behavior that many of our political and social elites have indulged in without consequences. How do we tell kids they shouldn’t smoke marijuana when Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, and celebrities of all stripes talk about their marijuana use, generally in a joking fashion. My guess is those with a marijuana conviction do not see the humor.
I earlier stated that my major goal is to develop a policy framework that will put the drug cartels out of business. It is important to understand marijuana is a cash cow for the cartels – it is their number one product and produces an estimated 60% of cartel revenue. Every dollar spent in a legal, regulated marijuana market is a dollar taken away from the drug cartels. Marijuana cash is the fuel that supports their murderous business and taking away their number one product will have a significant impact on their capacity to function.
The end of alcohol prohibition is instructive. Historian Andrew Sinclair wrote that “National Prohibition transferred two billion dollars a year from the hands of brewers, distillers and shareholders to the hands of murderers, crooks and illiterates…Capone was making between $60,000,00 and $100,000,000 a year from the sale of beer alone.” The Capone Cartel was taken down not by Elliot Ness and the Untouchables but by the end of the prohibition of alcohol.
Today, we can take the billions of marijuana dollars in the hands of the drug cartels and transfer it into the regulated, legal economy.
The second major step is to greatly expand our drug treatment capacity. Nearly every person in the room is in agreement with this recommendation and expanded treatment will literally save the lives of thousands of Ohioans. There is another overlooked outcome in expanding treatment and that is striking another blow against the cartels. Addicts are the lifeblood of the cartel business. They are the high-value customers and without them, the drug business will wither. Every addict we can move from the illegal market into treatment represents a loss of income to the cartels. Following drug reform in Portugal, the percentage of addicts entering treatment quadrupled. The Federal Government currently estimates about 10% of American addicts seek treatment. Imagine the impact on the drug business if that number could be doubled, tripled or even quadrupled.
While everyone wants to increase treatment capacity, the issue is always funding. Government at all levels is struggling with multiple priorities and additional funding will continue to be a difficult proposition. However, the legalization of marijuana provides an opportunity to solve this problem.
In the first year of legalization in Colorado, with a population less than half that of Ohio, marijuana sales have generated over $120 million in tax revenue. Ohio tax revenue generated would depend somewhat on the particulars of the tax structure but there is no doubt that marijuana sales would result in significant tax revenue to the state.
The legislature should earmark a significant portion of this revenue to support a greatly expanded treatment and prevention network. In essence, marijuana taxes would support drug treatment and prevention. Imagine the thousands of addicted people and their families calling area treatment programs in Ohio and instead of being put on a waiting list, being given treatment immediately.
It is also important to note that significant cost savings, particularly criminal justice costs, would also follow legalization. Police and court costs would be reduced and the criminal justice system could turn to other priorities. Addressing the current backlog of untested rape kits would be only one example.
The choice for us is clear. We can tinker at the edges of the drug problem, taking some minor steps and tell ourselves things are improving. If we do that, we can plan on attending another summit on the drug problem next year and years after that.
I think Ohioans are ready for real change and it’s time to begin a serious conversation on a new direction for our drug policy.
Thank you so much for your attention.
Captain Howard Rahtz (Ret.)