by David Downs
Noted Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker Russ Jones — a Bay Area native and retired San Jose Police Department undercover narcotics detective — wraps up his May speaking engagements at rotary clubs in Gilroy, San Jose and Walnut Creek this week. Below, we conclude our micro-interview series on: cutting substance use, convincing conservatives, and the total cost of the War on Drugs. (Read Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 of the Russ Jones interview.)
Legalization Nation: You mention nicotine being an anti-drug success story. Why do you point to cigarettes?
Russ Jones: I point this out in talks, twenty years ago when I had to speak at rotary clubs there'd be an ashtray at every table. I can remember flying in airplanes when they had smoking sections. Nearly 50 percent of everyone in the nation smoked. And apparently we started kicking in doors and burning tobacco fields and throwing people in jail because our rate of tobacco smoking dropped down to seventeen percent.
Of course, we didn't do that; we didn't shoot anybody. We did it through education and public awareness.
Legalization Nation: Nicotine is more addictive than many illegal drugs and kills hundreds of thousands of people per year, yet we treat it like a health problem not a criminal one.
Russ Jones: It is a health issue. As much as we keep trying to make [drugs] a criminal issue, it is a health issue. That's one of the things people in the know know: You cannot make marijuana a health issue because the bodies aren't there. You're not going to be able to talk people out of smoking marijuana because of the health concerns. The bodies aren't there. The facts and evidence aren't there. You could do it with tobacco. It's highly addictive and it's very carcinogenic, but marijuana isn't.
Legalization Nation: The LEAP literature says we spend $69 billion per year in America to pay for the War on Drugs. Where did that figure come from?
Russ Jones: We spend about $70 billion a year in the War on Drugs. That's the whole ball of wax - federal, state and county expenditures on every aspect of the War on Drugs — enforcement, incarceration, rehabilitation, court costs. That's a lot of money. It also has to be aggregated ourselves, because the Office of National Drug Control Policy won't give us those figures. They started the ONDCP with a mandate to track of all these statistics and how we were doing in the War on Drugs. They keep changing their methodology because they don't like the answers. We can't compare year to year, because they keep changing the game.
It's very hard to come up with that figure, and how LEAP comes up with it is a lot of research and breaking it down yourself. [The ONDCP] wants to inflate how much they are spending in rehabilitation and deflate the amount they are spending in enforcement.
Legalization Nation: Did you lose any friends or old colleagues when you joined LEAP and started speaking out like this?
Russ Jones: I don't think anyone. Of course, all my ex colleagues are all retired now and I think most of them if they don't agree 100 percent, they definitely agree the War on Drugs is a failed policy. They're not fully convinced that legalization is the way to go. I don't say “legalization;” I say “regulation.”
Legalization Nation: What are these speaking gigs like? It seems rotary clubs would be a tough crowd.
Russ Jones: It depends on who has space for me at a given time. I travel all over the nation and my particular specialty is colleges and universities. I'm more comfortable doing a three-hour presentation in front of a bunch of college kids, and law students at Rutgers where I was recently — University of Texas, University of Colorado. I like doing those three hours. Our rotary presentation runs about 20-25 minutes and they range in size anywhere from a couple hundred down to forty-sixty members.
This holds true across the nation, I find most people are open to the idea. When you go to rotary clubs you tend to be in front of a rather conservative group. They are business leaders within the community, but I would say after hearing the presentation 80 percent of them say the facts and evidence are right on. There's fifteen to twenty percent who say, 'I understand what you are saying and I need to think about it,' and of course there's always that five or ten percent who think I'm out to lunch. But you can get ten percent of people who think aliens landed down here in Arizona in 1942. It doesn't bother me and I understand. Our morals and ideology have been pushing this for forty years and it's been pounded into our brains. But most people see the facts and evidence, and have been living it, and they see what we are doing is a failed policy on every measurable standard.