Terry Nelson worked in law enforcement for more than 30 years, serving in the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs Service, and the Department of Homeland Security. During his career, he participated in the seizure of more than 230,000 pounds of cocaine. Nelson retired from law enforcement in 2005 and soon after joined Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) because he believes the ongoing "War on Drugs" simply isn't working. Nelson will give a presentation tonight at 8 p.m. in the Orgill Room of Clough Hall at Rhodes College.
Flyer: Why do you think marijuana should be legalized?
Nelson: I want to be clear. We're not for drug use because all of us have seen how it destroys families and everything else, but we're for crime and violence reduction. We think that by legalizing we can reduce crime and violence in our country by about 80 percent because most of the crime and violence occurs in the distribution network.
If you arrest a kid who's 18 or 19-years-old and give him a prison sentence because he doesn't have the money to fight it, hes going to have that felony record for the rest of his life. He's going to be marginalized in society. He won't be able to vote in some states and won't be able to get a decent job. So we want to deal with the crime and violence issue and deal with the drug issue separately. Drug use is a social issue, not a criminal issue.
How would you approach the drug issue?
The drug problem is best addressed with education, and when that fails, treatment. Jail is not the answer for an addict because it won't fix his problems, it will compound them.
Education is the key, and programs like D.A.R.E. don't work because police teach those programs, and they lie to the kids. The cops tell these kids, whose older brothers and sisters or even parents smoke marijuana, that if they smoke, they'll lose their mind and things of that nature. And they know it's a lie.
What do you think would be the benefits of legalization?
There would be less crime and violence, and we'd have a more humane society. And our police could get back to doing police work. I could go out on any street in Memphis on any night and bust two kids with marijuana, but what have I accomplished? I just screwed them up, but I haven't done any good for law enforcement. I took myself off the street for about 4 hours when people are really committing crimes. Our police officers need to focus on police issues. Lets focus on real crime, crime against people and property and leave people who are just hurting themselves alone.
Why do think the federal government wont recognize that the "War on Drugs" isn't working?
They just don't have the political guts. In 1995 at the Hoover Institute, chiefs of police from all over the nation attended a seminar, and around 90 percent said the "War on Drugs" wasn't working.
Unanimously, they voted for a panel to be established to study it, but the federal government ignored all of this. I was at the National State Legislators Conference about 2 months ago, and 82 percent of the staffers, state Senators, and congressman that came by our table agreed with us.
Why do you think marijuana has not been legalized?
It's all about the money. There's a lot of money made off of the drug war. The pharmaceutical companies make money off of drug-testing kits. There is money from helicopters being made and sold to police squads. The military also uses a lot of their budget for the so-called "War on Drugs." And there are countless so-called criminals who have to pay to get themselves out of jail.
--by Shara Clark