Former Baltimore Top Cop Talks Drug War and Legalization

By Paul Gaita 09/22/15

Neill Franklin has been advocating for drug policy reform ever since the murder of his friend.

Neill Franklin
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Neill Franklin spent 34 years waging the war on drugs as part of Maryland law enforcement, first with the state police, where he lead the Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement, and later with the Baltimore Police Department’s Education and Training Section.

But the murder of his friend, Corporal Ed Toatley, during an undercover drug operation in 2000, changed his stance on state and national policies towards drug enforcement. He joined forces with the non-profit Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which advocates drug legalization, and became its executive director after leaving the Maryland Transit Administration Police Force in 2010.

Franklin has become an outspoken, compassionate, and realistic advocate for drug-law reform, emphasizing education and regulation over incarceration and prohibition.

“Drugs have always been here, drugs are here, and drugs will be here as long as we are,” he said in a recent interview. “The notion of a drug-free society is just that—it is a notion. It’s a dream.”

To contend with that scenario, Franklin proposes a two-fold approach: “The first thing we say to our kids is, ‘You’re not an adult, so this is not legal for you to use,’ just like we do with alcohol,” he said. “Then we say to them, ‘It is our very, very strong advice that you do not use them.’ The third thing is: ‘If you find yourself in a predicament and you do use, here’s what you need to know.’ Then it’s teaching about the qualities, the properties and the harms.”

From there, Franklin has proposed a policy of regulating the distribution of drugs through a medically supervised system based on existing models.

“I think what we’re beginning to see with marijuana is that a reasonable policy is privately owned retail outlets,” he noted. “Maybe the best policy, depending upon your community, for cocaine may be a pharmaceutical model, where you have to get it from a pharmacist ... but you have to identify yourself. Maybe the best policy for heroin is a supervised injection facility.”

But before any sort of change can be implemented, Franklin says that the public has to acknowledge that the current model, built around the war on drugs, is no longer valid. “The first thing is to get people to admit to and accept the failure of our past policies and prohibitions,” he said.

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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.