Boston Globe Editorial Calls for End of Heroin Prohibition

By Paul Gaita 08/27/14

A former New Jersey police officer passionately denounced arresting and imprisoning opiate addicts.

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A former New Jersey State Police officer has called for the end of “zero-tolerance prohibition” of heroin in a passionately worded editorial for the Boston Globe.

The essay, which echoed a similar op-ed piece in the New York Times that called for the legalization of marijuana, ran in the August 24 edition of the Sunday Globe. It was written by Jack Cole, a former cop who spent two decades on the front lines of drug enforcement and now serves as board chair of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a nonprofit organization made up of current and former police officers, lawyers, judges, and other law enforcement officials who speak out against current drug policies.

In his editorial, Cole testified to the damage wreaked upon communities by attempts to arrest and convict an ever-increasing number of heroin and opiate addicts. “As a police officer, I understand the instinct to mete out punishment, send a message, put somebody away for abusing drugs,” he wrote. “Nonetheless, my experience has shown me that it is futile, counterproductive, and dangerous to try and arrest our way out of this very real problem.”

Cole cited in stark terms the futility of current drug laws in stemming the tide of opiate addiction and the drug trade. He quoted Edward Walsh, police chief of Taunton, a Massachusetts suburb under siege from a wave of heroin-related overdoses and deaths, who said that the recent arrest of a high-profile dealer in his town has failed to stem the tide of drug use—the exact opposite of what hard-line drug enforcement advocates are selling to the public.

Another Bay State police chief, Gary Gemme, was quoted as saying that the nature and quality of current street heroin is so unpredictable that users risk overdose or death with even a single hit. In the face of such seemingly insurmountable odds, Cole said that the only logical approach is to adopt “more non-judgmental approaches that include open dialogue about stigmatization and increased availability of health insurance to cover treatment programs.”

Cole noted the use of the overdose reversal drug naloxone by more police officers as a step in the right direction, as well as supervised injection sites in countries like Australia and Canada, which have dramatically reduced the number of overdose deaths and spread of blood-borne illnesses like HIV in those regions.

Ultimately, Cole said that what is needed to gain any sort of foothold in this war of attrition is to give addicts help, not jail time.

“It is a brutal irony that our drug policy inadvertently makes already dangerous drugs even more dangerous, and cheap, and available,” Cole concluded. “The harder we push a prohibitionist approach, the harder our children fall.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.