by David Downs
Noted Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker Russ Jones — a Bay Area native and retired San Jose Police Department undercover narcotics detective — continues speaking in rotary clubs and colleges around the bay this week. Below, we continue our micro-interview series on: drug war propaganda and the regrets of a drug warrior watching a kid die over a weed ticket. (Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the Russ Jones interview.)
Legalization Nation: The San Francisco Chronicle's Kevin Fagan quoted leading Drug War lobbyist John Lovell in a story on the initiative today. He's said in the past that taxing and regulating cannabis would end up costing more in law enforcement than the estimated $1.4 billion it could bring in. What's your response?
Russ Jones: I don't know what that law enforcement costs would be. Is there a law enforcement cost for selling tomatoes? Is there state law enforcement costs in enforcing the alcohol laws compared to the laws enforcing the illegality of these drugs? I don't know what it would be. I would like to see what the facts and figures would be. It can't go up. You stop enforcing the laws, you aren't throwing people in jail, you're not paying for law enforcement, you're not taking a cop off the street for two or three hours while they book somebody for marijuana. It doesn't make sense.
Legalization Nation: Lovell says an apocalypse of drugged driving is nigh.
Russ Jones: We already know, the tests have been done, marijuana is not a problem. Driving under the influence of marijuana is not a problem. I don't recommend it and it doesn't help your driving, but it is nowhere near the problem that alcohol is. The studies have been done. There is no facts and evidence of what John says. Our government doesn't even let us do the studies in the U.S., but they have been done in Australia, Canada, and England.
In fact, when you are under the influence of marijuana, marijuana does not cause you to lose your better judgment and alcohol does. When you are under the influence of marijuana you know you are under the influence and you: 1) make the good judgment not to drive or 2) you drive more careful.
Of course, every experienced cop will tell you that someone driving under the influence of marijuana is probably: 1) driving exactly the speed limit; 2) is stopping well short of of the line at a stop sign or red light, and usually waits a little too long when the light changes. They're just being careful.
Legalization Nation: Lovell is a professional lobbyist for Narcotics Officer's Associations and such. Does the actual rank and file get a say in what Lovell says? Do the bosses speak for the rank and file?
Russ Jones: I just don't have any experience in it. I wasn't one who got involved with unions and police officers associations and organizations and such. That wasn't my thing. It's something I didn't do, at the time I didn't pay a lot of attention and I still don't today.
I'm going to paraphrase a famous quote, but, 'it's very hard to get someone to understand something when his job requires that he not understand it.' That's exactly the position Lovell is in. To keep his job, he can't understand it. He is part of that symbiotic relationship and he doesn't realize it and again, he is serving honorably. He is doing what he thinks is right. He bought it hook, line and sinker, but at some point he will realize and it's usually when you're retired and you're able to take a step back and see the whole picture.
One of the people who blogs at LEAP is Joseph McNamara, retired Chief of Police of San Jose. In fact he was my boss when he was there. He's on LEAP's board of advisers. We have California Superior court judges who belong to the organization. We had Nobel prize winner Milton Friedman. Retired Chief of Police for Seattle Norm Stamper.
When you retire you're able to get out of the force and corps and look at it and you can begin to see that may be was wrong. That's also hard. I've had a hard time with that. And that's one of the reasons I'm writing a book. It's sometimes hard to admit that you made a mistake.
Legalization Nation: Do you have any regrets? Specific cases that stick in your memory?
Russ Jones: It's not so specific because luckily I worked organized crime. From day one I went in narcotics, I worked organized crime. I did not work the street dealer. In 1970, '71 if you caught somebody with marijuana you just dumped it into the wind and said, 'Knock it off. Go home. Don't let me catch you with marijuana again.' We did the same thing with booze. But the crackdowns started and of course I came up thinking undercover narcotics would be great — of course, it was — it was a lot of fun, but ... there is a case though that I like to point out.
It was downtown San Jose and another police officer had made a stop on three kids who were touring San Jose on a Saturday night. You know, driving around in circles like in American Graffiti.
And the officer pulled three kids out of the car and he didn't know but one kid panicked and tried to swallow a small baggy of marijuana — and I pulled up just to watch and assist if needed and didn't realize what was going on either. And this kid died in front of us choking on a bag of marijuana. So those kind of things bother me. See: he died because of the War on Drugs. He didn't die because of marijuana, he died because he panicked over these stupid laws we have.
We live now in an age where if you had some youthful indiscretions, you can admit your youthful indiscretions and still become a cop, a DEA agent, a lawyer, a professor, a Senator, or you could even become president. But if you are caught, you will achieve none of those and in some states you can't even become a hairdresser. There something wrong with that picture.
Russ Jones speaks Monday, May 3, in Hayward and Palo Alto. Tuesday May 4 in Cupertino and San Jose, and Wednesday in Oakland and Castro Valley. The next micro-interview segment will run tomorrow, Tuesday on Legalization Nation.