Tony Ryan and Jack Wilborn are voting "yes" on Proposition 205, the initiative to legalize marijuana in Arizona, and they're encouraging others to do so, as well.
Especially law-enforcement officers like them.
"If law enforcement wants to improve community relations, they need to vote yes on 205," says Wilborn, a retired reserve officer and NRA firearms instructor for the Glendale Police Department. "The War on Drugs is a war on people. The public's trust of law enforcement is in the pits."
Wilborn and Ryan, a lieutenant who spent 36 years with the Denver Police Department before retiring to Sahuarita, are members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (L.E.A.P.), an international organization headquartered in Massachusetts. Since its founding in 2002 by five former police officers, L.E.A.P. has grown to about 150,000 members in 20 countries. Membership is mostly composed of civilian supporters of drug reform, but 5,000 or so members are retired police officers, prosecutors, prison wardens, judges, and federal agents who all see the War on Drugs as a failure and advocate for the legalization and regulation of marijuana and other drugs. L.E.A.P. has supported bills to decriminalize or legalize marijuana in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, and now, Arizona. The group's global speakers bureau consists of 150 people, including Wilborn and Ryan, and fellow Arizonans Nicholas Dial (former deputy sheriff, Pinal County); former undercover narcotics officer Jay Fleming; and retired Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Finn Selander.
"L.E.A.P. exists because police officers spend most of their lives doing other police work, and other things that have far more serious problems than whether or not somebody smokes a different kind of cigarette," Ryan says. "Homicide, child abuse, wife-beating, and all those kinds of things that are the routine calls for police work — robberies and things. The drug war distracted cops a lot from doing all these other things, and I think police officers, if they're honest, would rather focus on the things the police were originally asked to do."
Ryan points to Colorado, where he spent nearly four decades on the police force, as an example of successful reform. He says the anti-Prop 205 ads he has seen on local television stations proclaiming that children are using marijuana at alarming rates since legalization are untrue.
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"They talk about how kids have gotten a hold of it and all that, but you know what they don't do? They don't give you actual numbers. Out of the whole of society in Colorado, how often is this happening? I'm here to tell you we're not seeing that happening any more than any other type of drug — prescription or otherwise — that kids could get their hands on because their parents aren't paying attention," Ryan says. "As far as Colorado and the children in Colorado and they're trying to emphasize 'Look how horrible it was for kids' — that's kind of patent b.s. if you go and look at the real stats instead of just grabbing a couple of things from the air. Go and look at the entire picture, and compare it to other things like alcohol or cigarettes that kids also get into. You'll see it's really not the end of the world, so to speak. Kids will get into anything. I don't think there's a way to absolutely stop it, but it's not a reason to vote against marijuana, because it has so many other benefits for people who are really sick."
Wilborn says the number of law-enforcement officers — active and retired — who support the legalization of marijuana is much higher than it appears. Some members of L.E.A.P. choose anonymity. "I think there is a lot of law enforcement that doesn't speak up because of the political environment," Wilborn says.
Wilborn understands the politics but prefers the principle. "I'm a conservative political person. I'm a Republican. In fact, I'm a precinct committeeman for the GOP," he says. "So I know a little bit about politics, and I know we want our kids to be safe. We want our kids to be educated and have a good life. When we legalize, and we educate the public, they become more savvy and understand what's going on, and it makes everybody get along better. It's a positive move for everybody."