By Glenn Garvin
I owe Kyle Vogt an apology. A former military policeman, he's a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP, a group of former cops, prosecutors, and judges that supports ending the war on drugs.
When I interviewed Vogt earlier this year, almost everything he said about the high cost and scant results of the war on drugs made sense. But he made one claim I didn't believe: that dozens and dozens of drug cops have contacted LEAP to express their support.
"They're afraid," Vogt said. "Any policeman who says he thinks drugs should be legalized gets fired."
In civil-liberties-conscious America, patrolled by attack squadrons of ACLU lawyers? Get real, buddy, I thought. The war on drugs does enough damage without piling on paranoid delusions.
But in the war on drugs, the line between paranoia and reality turns out to be thin. The New York Times recently carried a story on Bryan Gonzalez, a young agent fired by the U.S. Border Patrol. Grounds for dismissal: Gonzalez told another agent that legalizing marijuana would save lives in both the United States and Mexico.
When the other agent reported the conversation to his superiors, it triggered an internal-affairs investigation that ended with an official letter dismissing Gonzalez for holding "personal views that were contrary to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication and esprit de corps."
Since when is it unpatriotic to advocate a change in the U.S. criminal code? If Gonzalez had told his fellow agent he thought prison terms for drug smugglers should be doubled, would that have been unpatriotic, too?
Gonzalez did not light up a joint or bring a pan of pot brownies to work. He did not let a drug smuggler go. He did not even sell guns to the Sinaloa Cartel (which apparently is not a firing offense in the Obama administration). All he did was express an opinion.
But, as Vogt tried to tell me, having the wrong opinion about the war on drugs is enough to get you fired from a law enforcement job these days:
Last month, former Arizona probation officer Joe Miller filed suit after being fired for signing a letter in support of a ballot initiative (in another state!) to legalize personal use of marijuana.
Jonathan Wender, a Mountlake Terrace, Wash., police sergeant, was fired for supporting the decriminalization of marijuana. He won an $815,000 settlement plus his job back, but decided to quit anyway.
After city officials in Victoria, British Columbia, invited local cop David Bratzer to give a speech about his support for legalization, Bratzer's chief canceled it, then warned him not to criticize drug laws while within city limits.
Clearly, the war on drugs has escalated to a war on talking about the war on drugs.
I'm sorry I doubted Vogt. As the old joke goes, even paranoids have real enemies - though nobody's laughing in this case.