Swimming against the tide E-mail
Written by APB Staff   

As some police officers and their agencies try and figure out how to handle changes regarding the law and criminal penalties for low-level drug possession, many others in public safety have turned into unabashed and extremely vocal critics of American drug policy. One such critic is Terry Nelson – a man whose resume leaves little doubt that he knows something about the subjects of narcotics and public safety. 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 the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Like many former drug warriors, Nelson has come to believe that the ongoing “War on Drugs” simply isn’t working. He recently gave a presentation at Rhodes College and sat down for an interview with a publication called the Memphis Flyer. The views expressed by Mr. Nelson are his own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of American Police Beat.

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, he’s 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.

Flyer: What do you think would be the benefits of legalization?

Nelson: 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.

Flyer: Why do you think the federal government won’t recognize that the “War on Drugs” isn’t working?

Nelson: 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 two months ago, and 82 percent of the staffers, state Senators, and congressman that came by our table agreed with us.

Flyer: Why do you think marijuana has not been legalized?

Nelson: 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.

This interview was conducted by Shara Clark.

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