April 20, 2006

Drug Policy Activist Peter Christ Comes to C.U.

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Peter Christ, of the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), gave a lecture yesterday in HEC Auditorium on the current state of the “war on drugs” and the international drug problem the world faces.

“Prohibition doesn’t work,” Christ said. “And that’s the good part about it. The bad part is that it has created crime and violence in our society.”

Christ worked as a drug enforcement agent for 20 years in Tonawanda, N.Y. before retiring at the age of 42. Since 1989, he has devoted his life to the reforming of drug policy nationally and internationally by founding LEAP and delivering lectures around the United States.

During the Nixon administration, the term “war on drugs” was used in order to deal with the problem, Christ explained.

“‘War on Drugs’ implies that we are going to be so happy when this war is over,” Christ said, “but we all agree that this will never be over, so to call it a war is a little misleading.”

He also explained that the supposed “drug problem” is really divided into two parts: use and abuse, and the crime and violence that is associated with the market.

Christ outlined a policy of legalizing, regulating and controlling drugs in order to deal with the crime problem. He related the current situation with the past situation of prohibition in the 1920’s to 1930’s, recounting how it failed to solve the alcohol abuse problem and how the only remnant that is left from that era is the legacy of organized crime. According to Christ, 85 percent of drug-related violence in society is not associated with people being under the influence and hurting other people. Rather, it is due to “market place disputes,” a terms the government calls crimes surrounding the sale and movement of drugs.

“If we just went out and cleaned up the street people, that would not solve the problem,” Christ said. According to him, those people can be replaced quickly, and imprisoning them will not stop drug trafficking.

However, when explaining the capture of the “kingpins,” Christ says, “If the violence starts, then we know we have to right people,” referring to the inherent struggle for power that would follow such a capture.

In order to clarify his stance, Christ made it clear that promoting drug use was not in LEAP’s agenda, that he was not trying to convince people that “drugs aren’t as bad as everyone thinks they are.” He tried to make it clear that prohibition and the policy of “zero tolerance” do not work.

“If you want to regulate and control anything, it has to be legal first,” he said, “don’t try and defend the drugs.”

In response to his own question of “how would you control and regulate drugs,” Christ replied that LEAP had no answer yet, but that their first mission was to shed light on the issues and make the population more aware or the ramifications of prohibition, before even attempting to suggest the logistics of actual legalization.

“Drug policy is a really taboo subject,” said Ryan Juliano ’06, president of the Cornell Libertarians, “And we really felt it should get light shed on it. LEAP isn’t necessarily a libertarian organization, but we felt the issues were important for the Cornell community.”

“Do laws prevent crime?” Christ asked the audience. “No. But the swift and sure enforcement of the law does.”

“If you support the current policy, you support the total deregulation [of drugs]. If you believe that, you are foolish,” he said.

Archived article by Emily Gordon
Sun Staff Writer