Musings: Sessions and Franklin

The "poisonous tree" shows the harm that grows out of drug prohibition. Image courtesy of LEAP at https://lawenforcementactionpartnership.org

Attorney General Jeff Sessions should have a talk with Major Neill Franklin. He might learn something. Sessions should also learn from history, but he's not alone in that. All prohibitionists — whether they want to prohibit drugs or guns — should learn from history.

But, of course, the first question you probably have is: "Rich, who the heck is Major Neill Franklin?"

Franklin is the current executive director of LEAP, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, formerly called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. After 23 years as a Maryland State Trooper and then being recruited by the Baltimore City Police, Franklin spent a career as a drug warrior, busting kids for joints and sometimes getting "the big guy" and "cutting off the head of the snake."

Those actions did no good, Franklin learned. Indeed, he learned that prohibition of drugs does more harm than the drugs themselves. And that's the conclusion of the rest of LEAP's members, all former cops, drug agents, prosecutors and judges.

During a community conversation at the First Unitarian Church of Wilmington last Sunday, Franklin said that every person in law enforcement who actually researches the history of prohibition and looks at the results of the current war on some drugs always comes to the conclusion that the prohibition must end. None of them go back to the old way of thinking.

"They're now doing penance," he said, explaining that they're atoning for their actions that ruined lives; actions the attorney general wants not only continued but also ramped up even more.

According to Reason.com, Sessions told a group of law enforcement officials in Virginia on March 15, "I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that's only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life."

Sessions should talk with Franklin who has front-line experience in the failed war on drugs. The attorney general should be prepared to hear more than he would like since Franklin and other members of LEAP want to see an end to all drug prohibition.

Highlights from Franklin's talk include a story about a Florida chief of police whose town had a drug gang. There was little violence, but people and politicians were up in arms so the chief gathered all his men and they busted the group. End of story? No.

What happened next, Franklin said, was that a new group moved in, one that was indeed violent. Its members were heavily armed and used those weapons.

"The chief told me he wished he had his old drug gang back," Franklin said.

The lesson, he said, was that busting one drug ring only lets another one in, which leads to an increase in violence, the violence of in-fighting over who will control the drug trade in that area. And innocent bystanders get hurt in the process.

Franklin also mentioned the results of what Portugal did in 2001. The country decriminalized all drugs, not just weed, but also heroin, cocaine, acid, mushrooms and all other drugs that were illegal at the time.

What were those results? According to Franklin, Portugal saw a 52 percent drop in overdose deaths, a 72 percent drop in HIV and a drop of 22 percent of kids using drugs.

That's far better than what we have here in the United States, except in those states where marijuana has been made legal. Washington State, in particular, has shown a dramatic drop in childhood use of marijuana while billions of dollars have been added to the state's coffers.

Franklin also brought up the racist aspect of the drug war, reminding people that while a drug such as marijuana is used by blacks, whites and Latinos in equal proportion, blacks and Latinos are more likely to go to jail for drug use than whites.

The drug war is fought in the cities, according to Franklin and that when the rich kids in private schools get caught with drugs, they get expelled, but when a city kid gets caught with drugs in public schools, they get arrested.

He called mandatory minimum sentencing a "major, non-scientific mistake," adding "You can't solve a health problem by jailing people."

Franklin also referred to drug prohibition as "the poisonous tree," and that it, not the war on terror that led to the militarization of police that has destroyed police and community relations. It has also given the U.S. the world's highest incarceration rate, given rise to international drug cartels, increased murder rates and, in general, made the country less safe. (See top photo.)

LEAP advocates a totally different approach. Stop arresting people for drugs, get them help using pre-arrest diversion programs and put an end to cash bail.

Franklin said cash bail hurts the poorer people in society since those that can't afford bail are more likely to be sentenced to prison and for longer sentences.

Kathleen Jennings, New Castle County's chief administrative officer and a former state prosecutor, also spoke during a panel discussion after Franklin's talk. She was direct and to the point: "The drug war failed. It was never any good."

Yes, Jeff Sessions should have a talk with Neill Franklin, a very long talk. A chat with Kathy Jennings wouldn't hurt, either.

Anyone interested in learning more about Law Enforcement Action Partnership should visit https://lawenforcementactionpartnership.org

* The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to editor@chaddsfordlive.com

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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