by David Downs
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition might be the abolitionists of our time. Protesting senseless death and wasted tax dollars, the national non-profit of police and others includes retired chiefs of police and the late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. Noted LEAP speaker Russ Jones is a Bay Area native and retired San Jose undercover narcotics detective who's coming back to Cali this week, on a mission to convert suburban conservatives to LEAP's cause.
Various Rotary clubs in places like Diablo Valley and Pleasanton invited Jones to speak in half-hour sessions where he will weave his riveting life story into the facts of the War on Drugs, and make a compelling case for ending prohibition in favor more sober regulation. In this series of micro-interviews with LN: Jones — who holds a Master's Degree in Education — discusses seeing a kid die over a baggie of pot, working Iran-Contra-era intelligence in South America, and some of the regrets he has from a history in what he calls a "War on People."
Legalization Nation: Why should people come out to these events? They can read up on LEAP's position on online. Is there anything better about hearing it in person?
Russ Jones: What brings people out is seeing it from a personal perspective. You can read the newspaper. You can read the articles, but when you have someone who has been on the front line and I was there from day one in 1970 when Richard Nixon came into office and he had proclaimed the war on drugs and I've been involved in one form or another for 50 years, so to be able to hear someone's story and be able to ask questions is what interests people.
Legalization Nation: Tell me about your background, how did you end up being a cop in San Jose?
Russ Jones: I was born in and raised in Los Gatos. After a tour of duty in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot I came and I actually was a sheriff in Alameda County first, but that was short-lived because I got hired by the City of San Jose and that was closer to home where I really wanted to be. I was a patrolman and got into the detective bureau and worked narcotics and got into a DEA task force.
Legalization Nation: This is in the '70s. What was the drug war like then?
Russ Jones: This was throughout the '70s. We did not have gang warfare. There were no drive-by shootings. There were no big proclamations about San Jose papers about drug seizures. I didn't originally see a real problem with drugs. We had drug prohibition but, then we had a war on people. I went on to the DEA task force and it was the same thing. We kept arresting more people and seizing more dope but of course nothing was changing. All we were doing was creating job openings for the next guy to step in and fill his shoes, whoever we arrested.
I left law enforcement and I worked intelligence. I made some connections and some contacts and I ended up in Central America working intelligence and my primary concern was small arms weapons trafficking during Iran-Contra, but I could not help but see that our government was looking the other way while drugs were being smuggled into the U.S.
Legalization Nation: How did your worldview develop, was it slowly or did you have an epiphany?
Russ Jones: I never had an epiphany. Mine was a slow, gradual change. In fact in 1986, '87 I was already speaking at Rotary Clubs on a very informal basis throughout San Jose and the Bay Area. Whenever people would hear about me and request me and I was already speaking out, and I wasn't very articulate about it then. It was more of a gut feeling.
I didn't quite have the facts and evidence, but in 1989 I traveled as a guest of the Soviet Union and Red China. I traveled throughout their countries and I worked with their law enforcement I worked with their narcotics detectives, and the Soviet Union would let me go out on the street and I saw drug dealing on the streets in Moscow, Leningrad and Yalta and I went on search warrants where they seized meth labs and saw rehabilitation programs.
And I came home and I said, "Iif the communist Soviet Union couldn't control drugs in the country through law enforcement means and through totalitarianism, then how are we as a free people ever going to?"
I always ask this in the crowd, I say, "Show me a drug free prison." We can't keep drugs out of prison. How more secure can you get than that? So prohibition doesn't work. Prohibition has never worked. The first historical prohibition event was one cop, two people and one apple tree — and it didn't work.
Russ Jones speaks Friday, April 30 at the Rotary of Pleasanton North followed by a talk Saturday May 1 at Cabrillo College's Annual Social Justice Conference. The next micro-interview will run Friday on Legalization Nation.