(Florida Today) -- Neill Franklin knows it's a scary idea, but the former police officersays the best way to cut crime and fatal overdoses is to legalizedrugs.
Franklin, executive director of LawEnforcement Against Prohibition and a former undercover druginvestigator from Maryland, told the Cocoa Beach Daybreak Rotarians overbreakfast Tuesday. His message was untraditional, but welcomed by many:legalize and regulate drugs to curb crime and addictions.
"We'veliterally turned our drug management system over to the criminals,"Franklin said. "The question is, since we know we can't keep drugs outof our country, what's the best way to manage (them)? ... I know onething: It's not prohibition. It has to be regulation. It's the ugly wordthat people hate to use: legalization."
Theidea is backed by LEAP, a decade-old non-profit that advocates a stopto the so-called "War on Drugs" based on a belief that current drugpolicy fails to address problems associated with drug abuse. Franklinsaid legalizing and regulating drugs will save law enforcement time andmoney, as well as potentially create a profit for government.
Hesaid a growing number of law enforcement officers are backing thecause. That support is not coming from some top law enforcers in BrevardCounty.
"In theinterest of protecting our citizens, we can't stop our war on drugs anymore safely than we could stop our fight against violent crime orterrorism," Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said.
"Legalizationdoes not help stop the abuse of drugs. In fact, prescription drugs arethe most regulated form of controlled substances we know. Yet today theyare the most widely abused. Prescription medication has caused almost athousand deaths in Brevard County alone during the past five years."
InPalm Bay, where drugs are linked to most homicides and violent crimes,Police Chief Doug Muldoon is skeptical. Some drugs already are legal byprescription, but still are abused, he said.
"Wehave the pill mills that are out there," he said. "We have licenseddoctors, licensed pharmacists giving out illegal prescriptions. It'salready controlled and causing numerous illegal activities."
Franklin, who spent 34 years working with Maryland State Police andBaltimore police overseeing education and training as well as drugenforcement, is traveling around Florida asking people to consideralternatives to the way the nation regulates and punishes drug use. In2000, one of Franklin's close friends - also a police officer - was shotand killed while making an undercover drug deal.
Franklinstill chokes up talking about it, the tragic moment that he saidmotivated him to begin advocating an end to the four-decade drug war. Heknows widespread change could be a long way off, but hopes to getpeople talking.
"I'mjust trying to get a conversation started," he said. "I want it startedin our communities, in our state capitols, in Tallahassee. ... There'sonly one direction to go in."
CocoaBeach Rotarian Jimmy Love knows about the drug trade firsthand. He saidwhile growing up on Merritt Island, many of his family members wereaddicts or dealers. He saw people doing anything they could to supporttheir addiction, and believes decriminalization would allow moreresources to go to treatment.
"Withthe war on drugs, there was no treatment centers, it was all aboutmaking an arrest," Love said. "As (Franklin) said, those people arelooked at as scumbags by law enforcement officers. Like they'reworthless."
"Thevast majority of people who sell drugs are opportunists. It's so easy,"Franklin said, adding that regulating drugs could drop prices so farthat illicit sales are no longer profitable.
"Youcan buy from a guy on the street corner or the local CVS. Here's mythought process: At the CVS, I can read and know exactly what I'm goingto get. I know what the purity is. If I buy from the guy on the street, Iknow it's dangerous, cut with other stuff, and if I'm caught buying itfrom this guy I'm going to go to jail. I'm not going to take thatchance."
Franklinsaid he's seen cases where drug offenders spend more time behind barsthan violent or sex offenders. He said before the 1970s drug war, policesolved nine of 10 homicides. In 2011, only about six of 10 were solved,according to FBI statistics.
Hesuggested looking at how Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana,or the regulation of tobacco and alcohol in the United States asexamples. Muldoon said there is widespread speculation about whetherlegalization in those states will increase or decrease crime. He saidtime will tell.
Effortsto make cigarette smoking socially unacceptable through education couldwork for drugs too, Franklin said. "They kicked the habit ... withoutsending anyone to prison, without anyone getting shot in the street."