The prohibition against illicit street drugs should be ended as hard-line legislation against drugs is doomed to failure, a US police chief warned today.
Jerry Cameron, a police veteran with 17 years experience, urged the Irish Government not to make the same mistakes the United States has made in its war on drugs.
Mr Cameron said there was ample evidence the hard-line crackdown with severe prison sentences for possession of street drugs such as cannabis and heroin in America had failed to deal with the problem.
“If someone wants to try a drug they are going to try it the law makes no difference,” he said.
“In a free society you just can’t keep people from doing things which are sometimes foolish.”
At a conference in Dublin, Mr Cameron said the mission of the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) was to save lives and lower crime rates by ending prohibition.
“I would urge the Irish as a sovereign national country to get their own experts together, and dismiss this idea there is only one approach and come up with an Irish solution to Irish problems and do not let the US lead you down this path that we have gone down,” he said.
Mr Cameron said prohibition simply never worked and results in criminal activity.
“I certainly think the first step is physicians ought to be able to prescribe anything that they believe will help their patient, the police have got no business practising medicine,” he said.
Mr Cameron said if the profit motive was removed from the criminals by making drugs legal then law enforcement could regain some control in the area.
“The biggest thing is the violence that is associated with black markets when you buy a product from a person and it is defective, with a drug you can’t take him to court and you have to solve it in another way. And in the US we do that with guns,” he said.
“I don’t think Ireland has started to experience the full consequences of the black market but it will.”
Mr Cameron said if he could sit down with a parent and rationally discuss the evidence he could convince them of the futility of prohibiting drugs.
“I certainly don’t want people out using drugs, but the problem is just like in alcohol prohibition you’re gonna’ have the same usage but with all of these unintended consequences caused by criminalising something that you can’t control,” he said.
“If you wanted marijuana tonight and didn’t know where to go who would you ask? The young people, the teenagers. It is out there they have got it. The only thing that is different now is they have to deal with criminals in order to get it,” he said.
“The guy from the market is not down at the school giving out cigarettes and beer as free samples, and trying to recruit the students to sell these products in their school. He has a licence to worry about.”
Rick Lines of the Irish Penal Reform Trust said by any measure the 30-year international war on drugs has failed.
“The use of illegal drugs has never been more prevalent, our prisons have never been fuller and injecting drug-related health concerns such as HIV and Hepatitis C infection have continued to grow across the world,” he said.
Mr Cameron said marijuana was an innocuous drug which had been demonised. “My drug of choice is alcohol but if I had to make a decision,” he said. “It would take a nanosecond to tell you marijuana is the safer drug.”
He added: “Poor eating habits are definitely more dangerous than marijuana.”
Eoin Ryan, a Fianna Fáil MEP and former minister of state, who attended the conference, said: “What politician is going to get up and say you should legalise drugs?
“The problem is if you are a minister who wants to legalise cannabis you are going to get an endless amount of medical evidence that cannabis is a carcinogenic.”
He added: “The state would end up being sued as tobacco firms are being sued.”
“I don’t know how we solve it, I honestly don’t,” he said.