How do I get the police to cooperate in drug reform efforts?


Further Reading

I am endeavouring to put together a training package for police in regard to harm reduction principles. There is a great reluctance shown by police (especially from the “old school”) to adopt these principles. There is ample material on harm reduction or harm minimisation, however I am having difficulty finding views on HOW to get the message through to police. After all, the police probably interface with drug users as much as anyone in society, and their co-operation would be invaluable. What do you think?

Geoff Stockton

Dear Geoff:

An interesting question. Yes, the police are important ingredients in harm reduction. Their opposition or support could be critical. As you know, some police brass have been very forward-looking about drug reform. The leading police figure in this regard is Joe McNamara, former police chief in Kansas City and San Jose. He now organizes drug policy workshops (such as one he ran at the Hoover Institute in November, 1997, in which Milton Friedman, Ethan Nadelmann, and George Schultz participated). Several other prominent police reformers in this regard are Luis Cobarruviaz (McNamara’s replacement in San Jose), Nick Pastore (formerly police chief in New Haven, although he had to resign after fathering a child with a prostitute while he was married), and Tom Frazier (Baltimore).

This is even more true among judges (you can find quite a long list of them opposed to current drug policy/law). These critics argue that police and the overall legal system suffer the most from counterproductive drug laws—police forces and courts face overwhelming demands from never ending drug use and commerce, increasing street violence from drug dealers, the potential for corruption in the massive cash business generated by drugs, and so on. While police officials are acutely aware of these phenomena, they are generally hemmed in politically, unless their administration is very forward looking (cf. Baltimore).

To create a program for the police, I would begin by contacting these individuals and asking for their input and any articles or published interviews they have done. Then use these as a basis for group discussions: “Police Chief so and so has come out for decriminilization of some drugs. Why do you think s/he would do so? Here are some of the reasons s/he has given. Is there any basis for her/his position?” Let the police enumerate the negatives of current policy, even if they want to list positive reasons for maintaining it. The vague “We can’t give in to drug dealers” and “We would be sending the wrong signal” should then give way to the specifics of police work and court burdens—the nitty-gritty of daily police work.


Joseph Miranda wrote:

I just put up a web page called “45 Reasons Why You as a Law Enforcement Officer Want to End the War on Drugs.” It’s aimed at the police. You might find it interesting.

It is at:

–Joseph Miranda

PS: Interested in a crosslink?


You know I always love your work. But I want you to read each of your reasons and think of them from the standpoint of a straight arrow police officer. How many of them will he find offensive (e.g., “Because the people who belong in jail are the corrupt politicians who run this country,” “Because you do not want to work for corrupt narcotics agencies,” “Because you do not like the idea of D.A.R.E. programs turning children into Gestapo/KGB style informers,” et al.) Can you think how to turn each of these into a police-officer friendly recommendation that could actually make him or her shift their thinking?


Stanton Peele

Stanton Peele , recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts by The Fix, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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