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Former top cop says it's time to go legal -

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SHANE MCLEOD: The war on drugs has vexed governments around the world as they've tried to stem the
distribution of illicit drugs and the associated criminal activity, and death and sickness that
result.

Dr Norm Stamper is a former chief of police in Seattle in the United States. He's now an advisor to
a group of police and drug agents in the US that's advocating legalisation.

His group says that the money spent fighting traffickers and dealers would be better spent on
addicts and health.

He's in Australia to debate the issue alongside the Australian Drug Reform Foundation.

I caught up with Dr Stamper today and asked him if what he's talking about are the campaigns we've
seen here in Australia, like the decriminalization of marijuana and safe injecting rooms.

NORM STAMPER: Well, I'm certainly supportive of those things but it's not what I'm talking about.
You know, I belong to an organisation called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and we believe
that prohibition as the organising mechanism of the drug war is a failed public policy.

Prohibition has never worked, it can't work, it won't work in the future and if we know that to be
true, we need to ask ourselves, all this money that we're investing or squandering in the drug war,
couldn't that money be spent better in prevention and treatment and education programs or reserving
enforcement for people who commit criminal acts perhaps under the influence of any drug including
alcohol.

You drive impaired, you furnish to a kid, you abuse your child, you beat your spouse, you rob a
bank - you should be held accountable for that criminal behaviour.

But if we were able to invest our money in stopping people from becoming addicted to drugs and
providing treatment to those who do, we'd all be healthier and safer.

SHANE MCLEOD: You're talking across the board.

NORM STAMPER: Across the board.

SHANE MCLEOD: All drugs that are currently considered illegal should be made legal.

NORM STAMPER: Yes. It sounds all so counter intuitive and it sounds, you know, just outrageous for
a police officer even an ex-police officer, much less a police chief to be saying this. But when
you stop and think about it, those drugs widely available to everyone, including our kids today,
are under the control of cartels and street traffickers. They're the ones who decide what they're
going to sell and to whom. They're going to decide at what levels of purity their products will be
retailed. And they're bad and they're greedy people and they just don't care if they're going to
sell to your kid.

So I think it's important to recognise that the legalisation of drugs is actually necessary for
government then to step in and regulate them and tax them and exert the kind of control, imperfect
as it is, that government has over tobacco and alcohol today.

SHANE MCLEOD: It sounds like a libertarian argument but you are actually advocating that the
Government takes a central role in the trade of drugs.

NORM STAMPER: Yeah, there are many people when I trot this argument out who say you know I agree
with you up to the point at which you say the Government should control it. Well I believe
government does have a responsibility, a public safety responsibility, which is the most basic of
all governments' charges, to ensure that every aspect of drug growing, producing, manufacturing,
pricing, packaging, is controlled and regulated.

Otherwise we'll have, frankly, what I think is the legacy of no government control over alcohol and
tobacco back in the early days. Because that was basically the spring board for marketing and
promoting and frankly selling to our kids and nobody's going to convince me that alcohol and
tobacco companies have not targeting young people.

SHANE MCLEOD: That's, I mean, in terms of the social cost of what you're advocating, drugs do have
an enormous social cost at the moment. But even the drugs that are regulated and legalised like
alcohol has a terrible social cost in terms of violence on families. Can that be controlled? If
you're talking about legalising a drug, for example, methamphetamine - "ice" - a drug that causes
immense amounts of violence in Australia. How can you control that social impact?

NORM STAMPER: Well let's take a look at the progress that's been made in alcohol control for
example. Back during prohibition we saw in my country and you in yours enormous lawlessness
associated with prohibition - an underground market was created, violence on the streets, drug
overdosed deaths in the form of bad bathtub gin and so on and so forth.

So we know the prohibition model doesn't work. We do know that there are models of education and
prevention and treatment that actually can reduce the suffering, the social and the personal and
the family suffering, associated with currently illicit drugs. So I think it's important to really
point that out.

But it's also most useful I think to recognise that - if I may just tell a quick story - I was
doing a radio show much like this one at a local public broadcasting system affiliate in Seattle.
We were on the air for about half an hour, the host was asking me a bunch of questions and then he
threw the phone lines open. Third or fourth call in a man says, I agree with everything you're
saying chief. I just don't understand however, in good conscience, how you can advocate the
legalisation of ice. He said, I was a crystal meth addict for 10 years. I lost my wife, I damn near
lost my life, I lost my kids, I lost my job, I lost everything - my health, my teeth.

And for 10 years he was a meth addict. I congratulated him for being clean and sober and then I
asked him, where did you get the drug? Can't have it, it's illegal, it's barred, it's banned, it's
prohibited, you cannot have that drug. And yet for 10 years in the throes of a gripping horrifying
addiction, he was able to have this intimate relationship with an illicit drug which caused all the
destruction that he described.

Well that's under our current system, what if we had a different system? What if we had a system
that said you know, two years into your addiction - you know, god forbid you should get the
addiction in the first place, maybe we do a better job of prevention and education. Maybe we
advance with early treatment when you've broken some other law for example.

But let's say two or three years into your addiction, you decide that your life is on the way to
utter destruction and you want to turn it around. No stigma attached to your illness, you're not a
criminal, you're a sick person and you're going to get help and you're going to get treatment.
Would you have done that?

And he said, I never thought about it that way.

You know, for me as a representative of the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, that was a huge
sort of breakthrough and success story that even somebody who was in his shoes can really
appreciate how a different system might have produced a different outcome.

SHANE MCLEOD: I can understand why you're able to make these points as a former police chief, a
former police officer. Can you understand why for political leaders, this is a far more difficult
challenge to convince a sceptical public that this would be a better way of doing things?

NORM STAMPER: It's terrifying for them. They fear that they will be labelled soft on drugs, soft on
crime. They fear that if they support the regulation model over a prohibition model, they will be
seen as advocates of drug use. Forget drug abuse, they will be seen as people who are promoting
drug use.

We have spent a trillion dollars prosecuting this colossally failed model and what do we have to
show for it? Drugs are more readily available today at lower prices and higher levels of potency
than in the history of the drug war. It's an unsuccessful mission.

SHANE MCLEOD: That's Dr Norm Stamper, the former chief of police in Seattle and now an advocate for
the legalisation of illicit drugs.