Wednesday, March 22, 2006

It's Christ as in twist on drug war

Bridgeton - At the Bridgewater Pub and similar establishments, individuals take part daily in an activity made illegal by the federal government over 85 years ago.

That act is the consumption of alcohol. Its prohibition from 1920 to 1933 created a profitable and violent black market.

A similar underground market exists today, according to Peter Christ, a former police captain and member of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Christ is the treasurer of LEAP, a group of 500 current and former law enforcement members and thousands of "friends of LEAP" with one common goal: To end the "prohibition" of illegal drugs.

Instead of alcohol, it's illegal drugs that help create high levels of organized crime today, according to Christ.

Christ, whose last name rhymes with "wrist", was the guest speaker at a meeting of the Cumberland County Green Party held Monday night here at the Bridgewater Pub.

A 20-year law enforcement veteran from upstate New York, Christ said there is no winning the war on drugs.

The only way out is decriminalization, he explained.

Regulating all drugs wouldn't solve every problem they create, but it would be a start, according to Christ.

"We didn't legalize alcohol because it was OK," he said. "Legalization of drugs is not an approach to our drug problem. Legalization of drugs is about our crime and violence problem."

Christ cited a survey from the late 1980s that took into account all of the drug-related crime in the United States.

He said the study found 15 percent of these crimes were committed by people high on drugs and hurting someone else. The other 85 percent were over "marketplace disputes."

Christ said LEAP's position is to take all Schedule 1 narcotics, illegal drugs, and put them into Schedule 2, drugs that are legal under close supervision. Schedule 2 drugs include morphine, methadone, codeine and oxycodone (Percoset).

After that, the group would encourage open dialogue leading toward a state-enforced system of regulation, taking power and money away from the underground drug market and giving it to the government.

Will this initially lead to an increase in drug use?

Drug use will appear to "sky-rocket through the roof," according to Christ. However, he said, that's only because people afraid to admit to drug use will no longer have to hide their behavior.

LEAP takes no position on how to ultimately regulate the drug trade.

"I know what doesn't work," Christ remarked.

He added as law enforcement members, LEAP does not have the expertise to create a model system for regulation.

Other individuals have ideas of how a regulated drug system would work. Christ said LEAP does not adhere to any one side because their members come from different political backgrounds and taking a position on the subject could create a rift.

Gregory Lane, treasurer of the Cumberland County Green Party, said the Green Party's stance is that they are against the drug war.

"It may be an infringement on personal freedom," Lane said. "It needs to be regulated and controlled."

Whether this will happen any time soon is doubtful, according to Christ.

"I used to say I hoped to see the end of the drug war before I died," said the nearly 50-year-old man. "Now, if before I die we are having a open dialogue, I'll be happy."

Cumberland County Green Party Interim Chairman Rich Raimonde brought his son to see Christ speak.

"I'm not going to see the day (decriminalization) happens, but maybe he will," Raimonde remarked.

By Matt Dunn


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