The text from this article is taken from the ADCA News, a copy of which can be found here.
Dr Stamper was a police officer for 34 years, serving as Chief of the Seattle Police Department from 1998 to 2000.
He was also Executive Director of Mayor Pete Wilson’s Crime Control Commission for three years. He is a major proponent of significant drug law reform believing the “war on drugs” has actually been a war on people.
Dr Stamper, from the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) organisation in the United States of America (US), was brought to Australia in October 2009 by the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation (ADLRF ). While here, he addressed the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform in Canberra, and met with police and other public and private figures around the country.
On his return home, Dr Stamper reviewed his “Down Under” experience for ADCA News:
“Back on American soil only after a couple of weeks and already I’m missing your beautiful country, and the wonderful new friends I met there. I spent most of October (2009) in Australia on a two-pronged mission to firstly learn about your drug laws, policies and programs, and secondly to urge you to please, please reject my country’s approach.
I spoke to universities; law schools and medical schools; think tanks; user groups; public health officials and frontline providers; police managers and police unions; elected and appointed representatives of cities, States, and the Federal Government; drug policy researchers; television, radio, and print journalists; and families and friends of loved ones lost to drug abuse and/ or drug laws.
An hour after I checked into my hotel in Sydney I was met by the first of my assigned “buddies”, there to help me navigate four States and six cities. (Thank you, Leah McLeod, for your extraordinary organizing efforts.)
First stop, the Opera House. I’d told American friends that if I was going to Sydney I simply had to see the Opera House. What a delight to learn I’d be speaking there, along with two exceptional co-panelists, Dr Alex Wodak and the barrister Greg Barns during the “Festival of Dangerous Ideas”.
Dangerous? What about our collective presentation, each of us favoring an end to the drug war, could possibly be labeled dangerous? The full house audience enthusiastically agreed with the direction we advocated.
Many Australians were surprised to learn that, unlike your country, the US does not embrace harm minimisation – yet. As you’ve taught the world, clean needle and syringe exchanges, supervised injection sites, and methadone clinics save lives.
“Trials” in Australia have proven themselves, many times over. Yet, in only a handful of American cities have our politicians shown the wisdom and the will to permit, much less encourage and fund, such programs.
In Melbourne, it was all about drink driving and alcohol-fuelled violence, a taste of which I witnessed on a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning.
I’d walked from my hotel to catch a glimpse of the thousands of runners in the Melbourne Marathon as they made their turn onto Flinders Street. I got tired just watching the race so I bought a coffee (you Australians work wonders with that drug) and wandered west.
Staggering out of a drinking establishment at 9.30am, three young drunks, one still swigging from a beer bottle, almost bumped into me. They were loud, obnoxious, physically threatening.
When a frail looking man of Middle Eastern appearance attempted to walk by them they blocked his path and taunted him. They called him a terrorist. The man managed to sidestep his ridiculers and hurry safely down the sidewalk.
The incident put me in mind of a conversation I’d had with Dr Wodak and a Detective Superintendent in Sydney. It was then that I first heard the term “glassing”. My response, once the Superintendent defined the practice, was
In the US, such incidents rarely happen in bars or taverns. I half-jokingly suggested that our drunken rowdies use knives and guns but, in fact, liquor licensees realise that what happens in their establishments can seriously jeopardize their livelihood. In Seattle, we’ve closed bars permanently, because of persistent patron misconduct.
Of course, it helps that our minimum drinking age is 21, and alcohol establishments close by 2am.
On to Perth where I was met with the disturbing news that Western Australia’s Premier is keen on more or less “re-criminalizing” minor cannabis cases. Having already written on the topic in my Huffington Post blog, I’ll spare you details of my take on this development. Needless to say, the Premier’s initiative is jarringly out of step with the way the rest of the world, even the US, is going.
Next up was Brisbane where in addition to a full slate of well-attended public and private meetings, I was asked to help launch the “Safer Cannabis Use Guidelines” promulgated by the Nimbin Health and Medical Research Council.
Competing against a major fire for media attention, we garnered exactly no reporters at a news conference. A shame since the Guidelines are excellent. Recognising that millions of Australians use cannabis, these suggestions are
designed to reduce associated “health, social, legal and economic risks.”
It was also in Queensland that I “petted” kangaroos in the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary one afternoon, only to feast on roo that same evening. My lovely hosts, Ruth and Simon, made a point of educating me about the vital role tourists play in preparing the animals for consumption – who knew the act of “petting” a kangaroo tenderises its meat? Thanks to Simon, I’m this close to becoming a vegetarian.
My final home base was Canberra where the estimable Michael Moore showed me around the nation’s capitol, introducing me to lawmakers and Ministers, and setting up meetings with terrific community based organisations, media, Members of Parliament, and a major Parliamentary committee.
On Saturday morning, Michael and his wife Helen picked me up at my hotel for a ride through the pleasant countryside to Cooma where I was scheduled to address 350 Rotarians.
My expectation, as I gazed out at a sea of service club members and their spouses, was that, given my “radical” views on drug policy, this gathering would turn into the true “festival of dangerous ideas”.
But the reception could not have been warmer. Not only were there no boos (Rotarians, constitutionally fun-loving yet polite and dignified, don’t do boos), the speech was greeted with fervent applause.
The real test, of course, is what one hears after. Many people throughout that afternoon and into the evening’s dinner, a musical “celebration of the sixties”, approached to let me know they too favour a robust regulatory model as an alternative to prohibition. Among them, a Federal Police Officer, an economist, and even a representative of a commercial drug company.
While the Australian people seem ready for fundamental drug policy reform, a good number of politicians are behind the curve. As with many US politicians, they seem to be misreading both the research and their constituents, or they’re gripped by fear and/ or inertia.
Yet I did meet several key government officials who acknowledged failures in current policy, and who professed an openness to negotiate a new course. Especially encouraging were the many police officers along the way who spoke of disillusionment with prohibition, and their desire for change.
I was a cop for 34 years, the first 28 in the Mexican border city of San Diego, and the last six (1994-2000) up near the Canadian border as Seattle’s Chief of Police. As a frontline warrior in the drug war, I witnessed evidence of the utter failure of American policy.
Since my retirement, I have been studying various approaches to drug control, and I’ve become an active member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and the Drug Policy Alliance.
All too familiar with the heartbreak of unregulated drug trafficking, I’ve seen children lose their lives to drugs, their families torn asunder. I’ve pulled bodies, sober and intoxicated, out of wrecked automobiles at crashes caused by alcohol, and mourned along with the multitudes, the drug overdose deaths of well-known musicians and other beloved artists.
While I agree that it’s “never about the drugs”, but rather an individual or a family’s underlying social and psychological issues, powerful chemicals, including alcohol, have contributed too much suffering in your country and in mine.
But the drug war is far worse. Here in the US we’re keenly aware of the limitations of prohibition – we tried it for 13 years with alcohol. For starters, it doesn’t work. And it guarantees death, disease, public corruption, crimes of violence and predation.
It’s the worst possible model on which to base drug policy. Yet this knowledge hasn’t stopped our leaders from the delusional pursuit of “zero tolerance”.
American taxpayers have spent one trillion US dollars since 1971 when President Richard Nixon pronounced drugs “Public Enemy Number One”, and declared all out war on them.
Tens of millions of Americans, disproportionately poor and young, black and Latino, have been incarcerated, many for years, many for minor possession arrests. Tens of thousands have lost student loans, been evicted from public housing, and watched their prospects for meaningful employment go up in smoke.
What do we have to show for this “investment”? Illicit drugs are more readily available, at lower prices and higher levels of potency, than when President Nixon made his famous declaration. Moreover, a 2008 study by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that despite our harsh penalties, drug use rates are much higher in the US than in most other nations.
Why would any country look to us for guidance? After four decades of the US led global “war on drugs”, I believe you Australians are poised to show the rest of the world what enlightened drug policy looks like. Many of us in the US are hoping and praying you’ll do just that.”