Neill Franklin

NEILL FRANKLIN: SPEAKING FOR JUSTICE & FAIRNESS

“It pains me to know that there is a solution for preventing tragedy and nothing is being done because of ignorance, stubbornness, unsubstantiated fear and greed.” – Neill Franklin

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, is the only organization of its kind (established by 5 cops in 2002) with the intent in bringing together a group of law enforcement officials to speak about ending prohibition of all drugs, in turn, fostering a good environment for the collaboration of citizens and police by reducing crime, addiction rates, and overdose deaths. Having well over 50,000 members today (with 3000 to 4000 retired) from 76 countries, including judges to former judges, criminal prosecutors, corrections officials, retired federal agents, parole and probation agents, to a prison warden, L.E.A.P. has covered the whole criminal justice spectrum of law enforcement per se. The Austin420 recently had the honor and opportunity to speak with Retired State Police Major and Executive Director of L.E.A.P. Neill Franklin, a 34-year law enforcement veteran of the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department. As with anyone, we typically don’t get involved or impassioned about something until that something affects us personally and directly; we all have a breaking point. In the case of Neill Franklin, what led him to his turning point came by way of tragedy as he went on to explain.

“It was the assassination of a good friend of mine, who was an undercover agent for the Maryland State Police, who was murdered while working an undercover drug-deal in October of 2000 down in Washington D.C. That was the moment that got me to start looking at this from a different perspective and it’s been a learning process ever since. Since then, I’ve learned more about, not just the violence, but the prison industrial complex, how many people we put in prison in this country, and how the vast majority of those people who are in prison are in for drug offenses, and of that number, the majority of those in prison for drug offenses that are non-violent. There are so many harms done from our current drug policy, murders, assault, robberies, and property crime, which are the result of those addicted trying to finance their addictions. In addition to that, this country is losing well over 70 billion dollars a year, dumped into drug enforcement. Every day I am learning something new about how this affects our country. This is obviously a global issue when you look at the power & the influence of the criminals in Mexico and in other countries.”

While Neill had made the change, it certainly didn’t happen overnight. The tragedy in of itself, is what encouraged him to start looking and paying attention, but he had to also, continue to seek knowledge and find others he could share information with. In talking with fellow officers about the need to end prohibition, the threat of resistance always exists, but according to Neill, resistance in pushing against what L.E.A.P. has been recommending, has been growing less year after year.

“The men and women at the street level see it and understand more than the hierarchy;” he stated, “they’re quicker to admit to it. The hierarchy is faced with challenges such as balancing the department’s budget, and what I mean by that, is that many close to most of the police departments receive federal dollars in grants for drug enforcement and it’s quite a bit of money. So they’ve become accustomed to balancing their budgets with federal dollars. Prohibition has been around for a long time, for four decades since the Nixon administration and it was ingrained in my head that this current policy was the way to go, that we could beat this, that we could keep drugs out of communities, that we could put all the drug-dealers in prison, that we could discourage people from becoming drug-dealers. But there comes a time when you realize that this IS NOT WORKING; we’re just doing the same thing over, and over, and over again!”

While the legalization of all drugs may be an issue that may take a few more years in changing policy, the reclassification of cannabis/marijuana (from a Schedule I to a Schedule II) has steadily grown into a national point of discussion. In regard to the medical marijuana patients who are suffering from debilitating conditions, reclassification is quite important as this would open the door for medical research and clinical trials to be conducted, which in turn would allow for advancements in cannabis-based therapy by means of tinctures, oils, topicals, and many other therapeutic methods.

“If we were to move forward in ending the prohibition of marijuana, it would have better quality control measures, so it would be more accessible for medical marijuana patients to get, therefore, it would be easier for them to get relief. It would definitely improve their lives, and the lives of people currently being subject to arrest; in many cases, facing prosecution. And that’s good for our communities and for our neighborhoods. The less people we introduce to prison, a safer and better society we’re going to have; it’s going to cost us a lot less too.”

Neill pointed out in regard to the current reality of medical marijuana patients, “Even though we have many states that have medical marijuana programs, it’s still a very stressful environment for patients, with the challenges of the D.E.A. and local law enforcement, and things not clear because policy makers haven’t done their jobs in some states. There is nothing worse for someone who has a medical condition than stress, I mean we all have stress, but “unnecessary stress” is one of the last things we want to invoke upon somebody. If we end prohibition, imagine the stress that would be eliminated from the many lives of sick people, which makes for a better environment for their health to improve. I read about the cases, the individuals, and I know they’ve got to be stressed out about this. I talk to so many patients and to hear them talk about their challenges facing arrest, facing prosecution, or can’t get what they need through legal means and have to revert back to the illegal trade, and they’re card-carrying medical marijuana patients having to go out into this criminal market place to get what they need. Wow, that’s stress!”

Reverting back to our conversation of ending the prohibition of all drugs, we talked of possible examples that have been based in other countries, particularly one, Portugal, which could be a prime candidate for a system that has shown and has proven to be working.

“Portugal is the best example out there right now. Other countries are doing some things, but Portugal, not just the fact that they stepped forward to decriminalize the possession of all drugs ten years ago, but they made sure that they had the proper systems in place for treatment and made an inviting environment for those who are suffering from addiction to come in and get counseling and treatment. Overdose deaths cut in half, 52 percent reduction, that’s amazing! A 71 percent reduction in new cases of AIDS, that’s absolutely amazing! And the added benefit is that for teenage children, your “school-age population”, a reduction in drug use between 22 and 25 percent. And all they did was stop arresting people for possession for personal use. Why can’t we adopt similar practices? That’s a great start; a great beginning!”

One specific topic that is an important issue to most is in educating our children about the honest facts of responsible drug-use and drug-abuse prevention. This is a big concern with parents and rightfully so.

“I am glad you asked that question because I was thinking about something earlier today. I was glancing over at the TV this morning as I was getting ready, and you know, you have your morning news shows on, and they showed a clip of Jimmy Fallon visiting the White House to interact with First Lady Michelle Obama and her program of Fitness For Kids, which is about exercising and being healthy. Now isn’t that an effective strategy for reverting kids away from drug use, and not just drugs like cocaine, or heroin, or crystal meth, but from alcohol, cigarettes, and all these legal drugs. And then I started thinking about the JUST SAY NO campaign from a couple of administrations past. So, imagine, instead of just saying to kids “NO”. What about, here’s how you take care of yourself and your body. We’re going to show you how to make sure that you have a productive and a very happy life; to talk about the things to do to prolong your life, to increase the quality of your life. And in that process, you’re also teaching to kids the truth about drugs, and what will harm you, how it harms you. When you come to a child from a place of, how do you make your life better, here are the tips, here’s the information to make good decisions and to have a better life, I think we would have far fewer cases of children just arbitrarily using drugs. For the average kid “that population of our kids” that could typically be drawn into drug use by peer pressure, I think that would be an effective strategy.”

We continued to talk through the various issues in regard to prohibition, medical marijuana, and parental concerns, as the issue of “our border” arose. A very important issue altogether, in consideration of the 50,000 deaths occurring in Mexico, since 2006, all related to the drug war. In response of the denial to the idea that prohibition and the black market are driving the profits and violence in Mexico, Neill pointed to President Felipe Calderon.

“I think the leadership in both countries, were in some sort of denial even as the years begun to clip along 2006, 2007, 2008. Though our federal leaders here in the United States are still in denial, I’m seeing a change with the Mexican leadership. President, Felipe Calderón, is starting to question these policies of this strict, aggressive enforcement against the cartel, and he’s starting to ask those questions while we still have this huge demand issue in the United States that hasn’t subsided and probably won’t. Now that he’s started down this road, I’m telling you he’s not going to turn back. As things pick up in Mexico, I think you’re going to hear even more from him as to the need to end our policy of prohibition.”

While there any many issues that pertain to the drug war on both sides, in closing, our conversation narrowed itself to the state of Texas and the points and issues we could make in speaking with lawmakers about ending the drug war.

“One thing that resonates in Texas is how much this drug war is costing. I think this is the issue that’s causing them to take a good look at their criminal justice system, regarding who’s in prison, why there in prison, how much it’s costing, and how do we reduce the prison population and still keep our communities safe. They’re beginning to realize that public safety has nothing to do with putting non-violent drug offenders in prison. The main motivator here is money! As long as they continue to move in the direction they’re moving and if it’s reducing the harms of the drug war, fine. If remained as a financial motivation, I want this change to be long-term; to be forever! And for that to happen, they need to understand the significance of justice and disparity, and making sure that there’s a sense of fairness about how we go about enforcing these policies. We need to come up with new strategies, focusing on health and education, not criminal organizations.” ~


NEILL FRANKLIN