RUSS JONES has spent nearly half of his 64 years dealing with drugs.
Of his 10 years with the San Jose Police Department, six were in the narcotics division. He was part of a Drug Enforcement Agency task force. He did intelligence work in Central America for the U.S. State Department and research in China and the Soviet Union for the Office of International Criminal Justice.
Name a controlled substance, and he can tell you how it is made, where it is marketed and what it costs on the street. He can tell you something else: America's war on drugs is an unmitigated failure that should be terminated.
"The U.S. over the last four decades has spent $1 trillion of our tax dollars, made 38 million nonviolent drug arrests and quadrupled our prison population," he said. "And the rate of addiction today, 1.3 percent, is the same as it was in 1970, when we started."
Jones spoke to the Martinez Rotary Club last week on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a volunteer organization of 15,000 former judges, prosecutors, federal agents and police officers who support the end of drug prohibition.
He wasn't specifically promoting Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana in the state, but he welcomes any advancement toward the larger goal of legalizing and regulating all controlled substances.
Jones said he began to question the war on drugs while working undercover in setting up major drug busts. He still has copies of the front-page headlines that appeared in the newspapers.
"The district attorney would announce that a major blow had been dealt to the drug network," Jones said. "Then what would follow is some new drug dealer would take the old dealer's place."
This same pattern was repeated so often -- a heralded drug bust followed by the arrival of a new dealer -- that narcotics officers winced whenever the district attorney claimed a "victory" over drugs.
"When I arrested a rapist or a robber, the community was safer," Jones said. "When I arrested a drug dealer, all I did was create a job opening."
He said one of the unintended consequences of shutting down local dealers was to create a void into which moved much larger, better-organized operations.
Unintended consequences are a product of the war on drugs. When amphetamines were outlawed, Jones said, criminals learned to cook up methamphetamines, which are far more potent. Because cocaine is water soluble, requiring special packaging that is difficult to get past authorities, dealers invented the derivative crack in smaller, easier-to-hide "rocks." Those smaller, cheaper portions made it affordable in poor communities.
Jones reminds anyone who will listen that you can be against drugs and still favor reform. He wants addicts to receive professional treatment and education, recognizing abuse as a health concern, not a legal one.
"Doctors should be allowed to prescribe drugs to addicts, who can take their prescription to a clinic where they can get a pharmaceutical-grade dose administered by a health clinician. When habitual users start going to clinics, you put violent drug dealers out of business, and addicts don't commit crimes to support their habit."
He cited as an example clinics in Switzerland, where heroin is dispensed freely. Deaths by overdose have been reduced by 50 percent, drug crimes by 60 percent.
To those who doubt the effectiveness of education, he points to cigarette smoking. "With education," he said, "we reduced the use of tobacco in this country from 42 percent to 17 percent, and we did that without firing one shot or kicking in any doors."
With such powerful logic, why does drug regulation keep meeting resistance? For some people, Jones says, it's a moral and ideological issue. For others, the reason is simpler: money.
He said the DEA, with a $2.6 billion annual budget and nearly 11,000 employees, would be out of work without illegal drugs.
Local law enforcement agencies would be denied federal funds.
Privately operated prisons, whose revenues are based on occupancy, would wind up with empty beds.
"A lot of people have their fingers in the bowl of money tied up in the drug war complex," he said.
The arguments might be dismissed if the speaker had wandered in from a college campus with a new book to promote and a string of letters behind his name.
But this is a guy who during six years in the major violator unit averaged one narcotics arrest per week. He understands the damage drugs can do.
He thinks the damage done by the war on drugs has been far worse.
By Tom Barnidge
Contra Costa Times Columnist
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Barnidge: It's time to call off war on drugs, former narcotics agent says