Peter Christ, a retired police captain who now speaks for the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), spoke in a panel discussion with Betty Zimmerberg, professor of neuroscience, and James Mahon, professor of political science, last night in Paresky Theatre. The Record caught up with him on Monday before he came to the College to discuss his work.
What is your position on the state of legal issues regarding drugs? What is your definition of drugs?
Basically we believe that drugs are really cool . . . no, I’m being facetious. We at LEAP believe that all those drugs â€“ heroine, crack-cocaine, LSD â€“ have so much potential to do harm to individuals, and likewise to society, that they must be regulated and controlled. When I tell people that, they all agree, but then I point out the reality: we are currently using a policy of prohibition, which takes away all our ability to control them. We have turned this whole marketplace over to gangster and thugs. This is not a good choice. We’re calling an end to this prohibition just like we put an end to the other prohibition in 1933. This doesn’t solve our drug problem, but it puts a big dent in our crime and violence, and that’s the intent of LEAP’s position.
What is LEAP actively doing to promote drug legalization?
We’re educating. We speak to Rotaries, churches, college campuses, and explain this situation. If you’ve lived in this culture for the last 30 to 50 years, you’d be insane to think to legalize drugs. We at LEAP come and explain that’s wrong.
What affect would legalizing drugs have on college campuses?
It would make illegal drugs as hard to get as alcohol. You have to deal with a legal distributor, and at least you know when you get that alcohol, it’s pure, hasn’t been mixed with rat poison â€“ things like that. These are the things that change once you move to regulated market: purity of drugs, distribution points in the marketplace. We at LEAP have no position on what form of a regulated and controlled marketplace it could be â€“ it could be by prescription. At least Rush Limbaugh knew when he was buying his Oxycontin, it was Oxycontin. I did a high school thing in Schenectady, and one student stood up and said, “I can make a call right now and in an hour I can get someone to deliver drugs to me. In order to buy alcohol I have to find a 21-year-old to risk buying alcohol. It’s much easier for me to get illegal than legal drugs.”
Would making drugs available make them more widely used?
The point is that here drugs are [already] available, and people are choosing not to use them. How could we possibly, by legalizing the market, make them more available? We have 13-year-old kids selling them on our street corners . . . We hear that if we’re legalizing drugs then we’re condoning. I’ve been a cigarette smoker for 40 years, and I can remember when I was condoned to be a cigarette smoker: a person could book a seat in the smoking section on an airplane, all hotel rooms were for smokers, there was always an ashtray at a restaurant table. Today I don’t feel condoned anymore. I feel barely tolerated, and my drug is perfectly legal â€“ but not condoned, and that’s what we’re talking about . . . I believe the way it is now for us smokers is the way it should have always been. We’re talking about taking them under control.
You usually tour Rotaries and Lions clubs, usually an older audience. How does your message to college- and high school-aged students differ?
It really doesn’t too much. High school seniors are the youngest I speak to â€“ those who are old enough to vote â€“ this is a political issue. We have to change the laws. It’s the same message I take to everybody. It isn’t somehow different on a high school or college campus or at a Rotary Club.
I was down in Atlanta last spring doing a Rotary. At the end of a presentation, an older gentleman comes marching up, points at me, and said, “When I heard what this was, I thought there wasn’t a bigger waste of my time to listen to this garbage.” I apologized, but he told me to wait. “Then I didn’t have anything else to do today, and I decided I’d got to go to the meeting and find what goofy Rotarian hired you.” I apologized again, but then he pulled out a membership form for LEAP and said, “I never looked at it this way before.” Those are the kinds of comments we get, from someone who didn’t agree when he first heard what it would be about.
It’s a dumb policy. In the history of our species there has never been a society to pull off a prohibition. “Do not eat the fruit” was zero-tolerance prohibition. You’ve heard the term â€“ drug-free society, it’s absurd; it’s never going to happen. We’ve decided to make 2 percent illegal, and by doing that we’ve created underground markets, and it’s not good for society.
You mentioned this issue is very political. Your panel discussion is hosted in part by our College’s Green Party. How does this issue tie in with the upcoming presidential primaries?
For the first time there has been some discussion in the debates on drug policy â€“ Kucinich and Ron Paul talked about it. We’re starting to get discussion, and that’s where change starts.
I have no expectation that I’m going to see an end to this drug war in my lifetime. It will take longer than that for us to wake up to see how stupid we’re being.
Is there one candidate or party that is the most receptive to these ideas? Does LEAP affiliate itself with anyone or group?
LEAP doesn’t affiliate. We’ve got Republicans, Democrats, libertarians, all sorts . . . Failed policy isn’t left or right. It’s simply failed policy. One we decide to legalize drugs, left and right will come into play, but at this point that isn’t the equation. They all see this as a failed policy. And something that has to change to get a handle on the drug problem.