NORWAY – A retired police officer told about 20 people Monday night at the First Universalist Church that U.S. drug policy should switch from prohibiting the use of illegal substances to regulating them.

Peter J. Christ (pronounced crist) of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition spoke as part of a 10-day tour through Maine. His talk was sponsored by the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative.

“My least favorite group to speak to is a group like this one,” said Christ, “because this is essentially speaking to the choir.” No one challenged his opinions.

Christ retired after a 20-year career as a police officer working in Tonawanda, N.Y. He said his opinions on U.S. drug policy were formed before he joined the force and were solidified after five years on the job.

His work with LEAP seeks to replace the country’s existing drug policy, which makes certain drugs illegal to possess, with a system to regulate them.

“You can’t regulate something that’s illegal,” he said.

He denounced the “war on drugs” moniker given to the drug policy, saying it was an attempt to stifle disagreement with it or call for its end.

LEAP uses the term “prohibition” for banning possession of certain drugs in the United States, similar to the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and 1930s.

He argued that prohibiting possession of certain drugs increases their danger and puts the drug market in the hands of the Mafia and other criminal organizations. He said 75 percent of drug-related deaths are due to the dangers of the drug trade itself, and the rest to personal abuse.

“Legalization of drugs is not an approach to our drug problem,” he said. “It’s an approach to our crime problem.”

Drugs were organized into five categories, based on the potential for abuse, by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Schedule 1 drugs, which include marijuana and heroin, are listed as having the highest potential for abuse and no medicinal properties, and are banned in the United States.

Christ is a proponent of eliminating the schedule 1 category, which would legalize such drugs, and then begin regulating them. He said it would be necessary to immediately recognize and treat personal drug abuse problems.

He also proposed that government or free enterprise control drug purity, safe places for purchase, and treatment on demand to reduce the danger of the drug trade and abuse.

“These drugs are totally unregulated and uncontrolled,” he said. “That’s the policy we’ve chosen.”

Christ said he was optimistic about LEAP’s efforts, saying 25 to 30 percent of the groups he speaks to sign up for information on the organization. He also said such talks and the controversy around them is the only way to build a serious dialogue on the subject.

He acknowledged Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative but said that the debate had to go beyond legalization of marijuana alone.

“This isn’t about a drug,” he said. “It’s about a policy change we make as a country.”

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