By Alfa · Feb 7, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    In another time and place, Jack Cole infiltrated drug cartels and
    tossed countless traffickers into jail.

    He so excelled at his work - notching hundreds of arrests and
    garnering better assignments - that a former New Jersey State Police
    colleague called him "probably the best undercover agent" he ever
    worked with.

    But Cole's faith began to waver during his 26 years on the job, and
    the onetime Wyckoff resident eventually came to a realization.

    "The 'War on Drugs' is a total failure. There's no way we can fix it,"
    he says now. "This isn't a war on drugs - it's a war on people. Their
    lives are being destroyed.

    "You can get over a drug addiction, but you can't get over a drug
    conviction," Cole adds. "It tracks you for the rest of your life."

    Cole has a solution that might strike some as outrageous: Legalize all

    "We want it all legalized so that it can be controlled," he

    He's taken that message on the road, traveling the country as
    executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group he
    formed in 2002 with a retired upstate New York police captain.

    The message is striking a chord within law enforcement: Hundreds of
    police officers, lawyers, and judges from five countries have joined
    the group. Cole estimates 50 members in New Jersey alone.

    "Not everyone who has done drugs or does drugs are criminals," says
    Kevin Long, a former Air Force Reserve police officer from New
    Brunswick who recently joined LEAP's speakers' bureau. "Some of them
    need help."

    Cole's message also has its detractors - including his former

    "He's a private citizen and he's entitled to his position," says state
    police Sgt. Kevin Rehmann. However, Rehmann says the state police
    "doesn't think it's a good idea."

    Legalization would destroy more lives by unnecessarily increasing the
    likelihood of drug addiction, adds Passaic County Sheriff Jerry
    Speziale, a former narcotics agent who worked "deep cover" in the
    South American drug cartels. He says it would also send the wrong
    message to children that drug use is acceptable - never mind the
    mental and physical harm it can cause.

    "Maybe its well-intended, but it's certainly not well-thought-out,"
    Speziale says.

    Cole, who now lives in Massachusetts, says he understands the
    opposition from his law enforcement brethren. All he wants is a chance
    to make his case.

    He's about to get that opportunity.

    So far, LEAP has targeted mostly mainstream groups, including Rotaries
    and chambers of commerce. But having recently received a $20,000 grant
    from the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, the group is deploying
    some of its more than 30 speakers to national police conferences.

    Cole's role as a drug policy reformer may seem an unlikely destination
    for a soft-spoken Midwesterner.

    Born in Iowa in 1938 to an ironworker father and a factory worker
    mother, Jack Arlen Cole grew up in Wichita, Kan., where he says kids
    fought boredom with alcohol - and then became addicted to it. Cole
    dropped out of high school in his senior year to join the Marines. He
    left the service in 1960 and moved to New Jersey, where he took a job
    as an ironworker.

    One night, while watching the television news in his Wyckoff home,
    Cole grew frustrated.

    "I could no longer look at the newscast and watch the police beating
    men and women who only wanted their rights," he recalls.

    Believing he could change things from the inside, Cole joined the
    state police in 1965. Seven years later, he joined the narcotics
    bureau and became a warrior in President Richard M. Nixon's war on

    Cole set out to "rid society of the evils of drugs," says a former
    colleague, retired state police Lt. Fred Martens. He worked
    constantly, even when he was supposed to be off.

    "He passionately believed it," Martens says. "He's probably the best
    undercover agent I ever worked with."

    Cole's work habits showed when Martens, Cole, and their wives went to
    dinner at the Playboy Club hotel in Sussex County, where the troopers
    heard rumors of drug activity.

    "Jack couldn't enjoy dinner," Martens recalls. "He had to try to buy
    drugs from the waiter. I said, 'Jack, come on. Let's enjoy ourselves.'
    We were there to eat."

    Even as he excelled, Cole says, he began to question his mission. It
    all came into dramatic focus one night in Paterson in the 1970s when a
    drug dealer and an accomplice tried to rob Cole and an informant at
    gunpoint. Cole drew his weapon, and the two men fled.

    A good Samaritan came along and tried to help. Cole, still acting as
    if he desperately needed a hit, asked the man if he knew where he
    could buy drugs. The man told Cole he didn't take drugs but that he
    knew of someone who could provide them. Later that night, both the
    dealer and the good Samaritan were in custody.

    "Man, I was just trying to be your friend," the man told Cole at the

    It was a profound experience.

    "I think he started seeing the people he was arresting as human
    beings," says retired Capt. Peter Christ, LEAP's co-founder. "I think
    the light went on inside him."

    Cole kept quiet at first. He continued in his job, believing that
    speaking out would jeopardize his chances for promotions. Working on
    large-scale drug distribution rings, he told himself, was morally
    better than locking up small-timers.

    "It was intoxicating. It was an exciting thing to do," he says now.
    "We were considered heroes by our peers and the public. It was a hard
    thing to give up."

    Eventually, though, "it came to the point where I couldn't stand it

    After retiring in 1991 with the rank of lieutenant, Cole began
    studying the drug war.

    "Jack personally suffered from what he believed was a misguided
    policy," Martens says. "And I think his personal integrity demands
    that he try to at the very least make amends."

    Cole and his LEAP colleagues believe their views will be received more
    credibly because of their drug-fighting history, in much the same way
    that anti-war Vietnam veterans were considered.

    "It inoculates you from the charge that you're soft on crime, that
    you're soft on drugs, and that you don't know what you're talking
    about," Martens says.

    LEAP members agree that drugs are a scourge and that laws emphasizing
    harsh prison sentences over rehabilitation are costly and ineffective.
    Members differ, however, in how to attack the problem.

    Cole, who's working on a public policy doctorate at the University of
    Massachusetts, offers his own solution. First and foremost, he says,
    the drug war must end. Congress should legalize all drugs - everything
    from heroin to marijuana - and install a government-operated system to
    distribute free and pure narcotics.

    The profit motive that draws criminals to the lucrative drug trade
    would vanish, Cole says. Addiction would plummet because addicts could
    be given daily "maintenance doses" while social workers help them get
    their lives together, he adds.

    Since the drugs would be readily and freely available, Cole says,
    addicts would no longer have to steal, rob, or prostitute themselves
    to get drug money. Police then could concentrate on more serious crimes.

    Cole knows it's outlandish. What he doesn't get is why more people
    aren't trying to come up with new and different ideas to deal with
    America's drug problem.

    "It's like what Albert Einstein said," Cole says. "The definition of
    insanity is repeating the same task over and over and expecting a

    different outcome."

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