Fighting against the war on drugs

Prohibition is a failure, says former undercover cop

The war on drugs is not working, former DEA Task Force Officer Robert "Russ" Jones told Rotary North members at their meeting last Friday. Criminals are getting rich, and drug use has not gone down in the last 40 years.

"For 37 years I was involved in the war on drugs," said Jones, 63, who was raised in Los Gatos.

He was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, then joined the San Jose Police Department in 1970, the year after President Nixon declared the war on drugs.

"As police officers on the streets, we didn't see any problems with drugs," he recalled.

But as the federal government gave grants to enforce drug prohibition, police forces signed up. Jones joined the Narcotics Division in 1974 and worked undercover, infiltrating the drug world with results that made headlines and took the local dealers off the streets.

"We knew someone would take over," Jones said. "And the Nuestra Familia moved into the void in San Jose."

The fight was frustrating, he said. "When I arrested a robber or a rapist I made it safer. With a drug arrest, I just made a job opening."

Jones worked at Santa Rita Jail for five years, as a deputy at Greystone, its maximum security facility. He joined the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in the late 1970s, and worked in Central America during the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s.

He visited China and the U.S.S.R. in 1988-89, where he accompanied Moscow narcotics officers on a methamphetamine lab bust. He said that there, too, as quickly as they arrest dealers, others replace them.

"If the Soviet Union - a repressive regime - is unable to control its drugs, how can the United States, with all its freedoms?" he asked.

When the United States launched its war, it pressured other nations to join in, said Jones, and now other countries are rethinking their policies.

"Switzerland has begun treating heroin addiction with heroin," he said. "There has been a 50 percent decline in overdose deaths, a reduction in AIDS and hepatitis, crime has been cut 60 percent, and there has been an 82 percent decline in the number of addicts."

In the U.S., the rate of addiction is now 1.3 percent of the population, the same as it was in 1970 when the war on drugs began, Jones noted. Since the war began, the U.S. has spent $1 trillion on the fight; there have been 38 million non-violent drug arrests; and the prison population is now at 2.2 million, a higher percentage than any other country in the world.

"We need to fight smarter; we need to reframe the debate," Jones said. "It isn't a 'left' or a 'right' issue - it isn't a Republican or Democrat issue."

He quoted Albert Einstein: "Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results."

"You can be anti-drug and still be anti-prohibition," he said, adding that forcing abstinence or regulating pleasure has never worked. "I use the word 'regulate.'"

Now, $400 billion is made by the drug cartels each year, said Jones.

"We can collapse the drug cartels as easily as we did Al Capone," he said, by ending prohibition. "Street gangs aren't distilling alcohol and selling it to teens."

Doctors should be able to write prescriptions for drugs, and addiction should be treated as a health problem, he said. "We have to get the Department of Justice out of the doctor's office and remove the street dealers."

"The use of tobacco has been decreased from 42 percent to 17 percent - without arresting and jailing tobacco users," he said. The key has been education.

After the speech, several Rotarians had questions.

"How can this change come about?" asked Ron Sutton.

Jones said it will have to be a grassroots effort, and it will be incremental.

"Leaders don't lead, they follow," he said, so they must hear what their constituents want.

"How has medical marijuana worked?" asked someone else.

Jones said the problem is putting dispensaries into communities. "It should be sold at Walgreen's." Thirteen states have legalized medical marijuana but federal laws still prohibit it.

Someone else asked whether putting doctors in charge of now illegal drugs would put them into a difficult position.

"Ritalin is a methamphetamine," Jones noted, plus doctors now prescribe pain pills.

"How do you spread this knowledge?" was the last question.

Jones said that's why he has joined Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and he suggested people find out more at

After the speech former Judge Ron Hyde said he is not convinced that marijuana is not a gateway drug to harder substances since drug addicts that came through his court said they'd begun with alcohol and marijuana.

Jones said that statistics don't support this point: 41 percent of U.S. residents ages 12 and over say they have used marijuana while hard drug addiction remains at 1.3 percent.

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Posted by TYC
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2010 at 10:14 am

Great article!!! Thanks!

Like this comment
Posted by malcolm kyle
a resident of Canyon Creek
on May 7, 2010 at 11:04 am

Prohibition is a sickening horror and the ocean of incompetence, corruption and human wreckage it has left in its wake is almost endless.

Prohibition has decimated generations and criminalized millions for a behavior which is entwined in human existence, and for what other purpose than to uphold the defunct and corrupt thinking of a minority of misguided, self-righteous Neo-Puritans and degenerate demagogues who wish nothing but unadulterated destruction on the rest of us.

Based on the unalterable proviso that drug use is essentially an unstoppable and ongoing human behavior which has been with us since the dawn of time, any serious reading on the subject of past attempts at any form of drug prohibition would point most normal thinking people in the direction of sensible regulation.

By its very nature, prohibition cannot fail but create a vast increase in criminal activity, and rather than preventing society from descending into anarchy, it actually fosters an anarchic business model - the international Drug Trade. Any decisions concerning quality, quantity, distribution and availability are then left in the hands of unregulated, anonymous, ruthless drug dealers, who are interested only in the huge profits involved.

Many of us have now, finally, wised up to the fact that the best avenue towards realistically dealing with drug use and addiction is through proper regulation which is what we already do with alcohol & tobacco, clearly two of our most dangerous mood altering substances. But for those of you whose ignorant and irrational minds traverse a fantasy plane of existence, you will no doubt remain sorely upset with any type of solution that does not seem to lead to the absurd and unattainable utopia of a drug free society.

There is an irrefutable connection between drug prohibition and the crime, corruption, disease and death it causes. If you are not capable of understanding this connection then maybe you're using something far stronger than the rest of us. Anybody 'halfway bright', and who's not psychologically challenged, should be capable of understanding that it is not simply the demand for drugs that creates the mayhem, it is our refusal to allow legal businesses to meet that demand.

No amount of money, police powers, weaponry, diminution of rights and liberties, wishful thinking or pseudo-science will make our streets safer, only an end to prohibition can do that. How much longer are you willing to foolishly risk your own survival by continuing to ignore the obvious, historically confirmed solution?

If you still support the kool aid mass suicide cult of prohibition, and erroneously believe that you can win a war without logic and practical solutions, then prepare yourself for even more death, corruption, terrorism, sickness, imprisonment, unemployment, foreclosed homes, and the complete loss of the rule of law and the Bill of Rights.

"A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded."
Abraham Lincoln

The only thing prohibition successfully does is prohibit regulation & taxation while turning even our schools and prisons into black markets for drugs. Regulation would mean the opposite!

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on May 7, 2010 at 11:05 am

Good article! If comprehensive immigration reform is going to be successful, it must make the distinction between the criminal drug cartels, the immigrants who only want to work and the human traffickers.

The drug lords are making billions and not paying one cent in taxes. The traffickers are making billions and not paying taxes.

If they can be stopped at the northern & southern borders, the US will be a safer place and on it's way to a workable immigration policy.

Like this comment
Posted by Roger Jakubiec
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2010 at 11:10 am

The notable victory of the drug war must be acknowledeged. The oversight of drug users successfully switched from juristiction of the medical community to law enforcement with the passing of the 1914 Harrison Act. The selling point? The alarming fact that it was perceived that 1.4 % of Americans were addicted to drugs. Just over a trillion dollars of law enforcement efforts has decreased the level of addiction in our communities -0.1%

Should we really be thinking of handing drug users back over to the medical community when we all have benefitted from generations of such prowess from law enforcement?

Like this comment
Posted by Stop the insanity
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 7, 2010 at 11:19 am

I couldn't agree more. We need to stop this insanity of prohibition. It didn't work for alcohol in the 1920's and it's clearly not working for drugs. Tax and regulate them like we do alcohol and tabacco. Use the money to fund social intervention programs and addiction centers. Once you get rid of the profit motive, the drug dealers will go out of business and the violence associated with drug running and turf wars will go away. In addition, farmers in Afganistan and elsewhere won't have the profit motive to grow plants like poppy for opium anymore. They will grow more profitable crops like fruit and veggies.

Of course, the drug czars won't go down without a fight. I'm sure they would be the biggest lobbiers of congress to keep prohibition in place. We need to make our leaders realize that by supporting prohibition, they are supporting the drug czars, helping them make millions or even billions of dollars by artificially inflating the price drugs. I would even go as far as saying that any congressional leader that, after reviewing the 37 years of data, still supports prohibition may very well be on the payrole of the drug czars. After all, they can always claim they support prohibition to protect the children of America and not because they are getting millions of dollars of drug money from the drug czars to support prohibition.

Like this comment
Posted by ed
a resident of Downtown
on May 7, 2010 at 12:57 pm

It’s interesting how Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" advertising campaign coincided with the growth of the cocaine/crack epidemic of the 1980s. I was shocked, because one would expect an overly simplistic conservative bumper sticker slogan to solve all our nation’s drug problems...NOT!!!

Like this comment
Posted by A nonny mouse
a resident of Southeast Pleasanton
on May 7, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Yes the drug war is an abject failure IMO former Judge Ron Hyde is symbolic of the up hill struggle we face to free our communities of the sinister activities of the drug warriors. Mr Hyde's arguing that Marijuana is a gateway drug is like saying hard lemonade or wine coolers are a gateways to alcoholism. He like - many completely misses the point. There are always going to be people in your society ruining their own lives and the lives of other through various additions - how you mitigate the damage is the important part. After 40 years of drug war follies it should be obvious to anyone who really cares that kicking in front doors at midnight is not a solution for anyone - except maybe those who stand to benefit from an continued war on the populous = the Police ,the judiciary,the prison system, the drug testing industry and the makers of police tactical equipment. This present situation is not one I wish to hand my children We have spent a $trillion to reduce drug use 0.1% in just under 100 years which is quite frankly utterly ridiculous and completely sad.

Like this comment
Posted by Rick
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 7, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Only we can change things is to stop voting idiots in government(both) so they can put others in power who have narrow views. Have you ever talked to a Police Chief of almost any city or county. Narrow views typically. How do they get there? Lousy politicians with narrow views all the way from the local level to the national level.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill Harris
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2010 at 5:35 pm

If you allow liberty to garden your own pot and share it, potheads won't ever have a reason to meet anyone who sells hard drugs. Prohibition is the gateway. If people can't grow their own, they buy it from an outlaw. The outlaw may offer other drugs from his inventory. If not for prohibition, people wouldn't have to pay through the nose for what God gives for free. Prohibitionists would have you believe that God made a huge mistake creating the psychoactive plants.

Like this comment
Posted by JB
a resident of Lemoine Ranch
on May 7, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Hmmm maybe he should have asked Ron Hyde how is drug and alcohol use started?

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on May 7, 2010 at 8:25 pm

I think that any immigration reform must address:1) Keeping the drug cartels out of the US 2) Stop the trafficking in human beings/sex slavery 3) Amnesty for workers already here.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Highland Oaks
on May 8, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Legalization makes sense: it increases tax revenue while denying criminal gangs a financial resource, it reduces prison overcrowding, and it brings prices down!

What's the downside?

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on May 9, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Does anybody know if Mike is an addict? just askin'...

Like this comment
Posted by steve
a resident of Parkside
on May 10, 2010 at 9:49 am

Did any of you drug promoters experience those flashbacks they promised you in the 60's?
Do any of you actually work in responsible positions, operate heavy machinery, supervise or teach young kids?
Do you think your boss and the people who's lives depend on your actions would approve of your unrestricted drug use? Even if you just get high at night (and presumbly drive home from wherever you're doing drugs), your performance the next day is impaired.
Liberal socialists just want the potential tax revenue for more failed social programs and could care less about who gets harmed by uncontrolled mind altering chemicals, natural or not. Very progressive, in a selfish, mindless sort of way.........

Like this comment
Posted by the cube
a resident of another community
on Jul 4, 2011 at 10:29 pm

The 'war on drugs' is a disgusting thing, costing massive amounts of money and punishing VICTIM-LESS CRIMES which is straight out WRONG.

Its not that the war on drugs isnt working, its that it should'nt work, and even the very idea of making drugs illegal is wrong, as it infringes heavily on our personal freedoms

Since when did we need the government protecting us from ourselves?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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