Retired police captain talks drug legalization at UTWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Former Cincinnati Police Captain Howard Rahtz, who spoke in Toledo on April 10 about legalizing drugs, has seen two sides of the war on drugs — what he called the country’s largest failed policy.
“I do have an unusual background. I mean I’ve basically had two careers: one career in the addictions field and then at age 42, I became a Cincinnati cop,” Rahtz said in an interview with Toledo Free Press.
Rahtz, also a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) spoke at the University of Toledo’s Law Center’s McQuade Auditorium as part of the school’s first annual Prison Awareness Week. Prison Awareness Week, April 8-13, is part of an effort by Toledoans for Prison Awareness, a coalition of groups like the Lucas County Libertarian Party, Move to Amend, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Northwest Chapter and the UT Community for Prison Awareness.
Kenneth Sharp of the Lucas County Libertarian Party said he spoke to one of the co-founders of LEAP at a function and decided to try to bring a speaker to the area.
Sharp, also a UT student and columnist for Toledo Free Press, said he believes it’s good for people to see law enforcement officials asserting that the war on drugs has failed.
“We are probably the most credible voice on drug policy reform that exists,” Rahtz said of LEAP.
Rahtz, who worked as a supervisor for a city-run methadone program, said that many violent crimes nationally and internationally are fueled by the drug trade.
“In every city in this country, Toledo, Cincinnati, everywhere, most of the violence that occurs is related to drugs,” Rahtz said.
“If you’re in the drug-dealing business, you’re in there because violence maintains it. If you’re not a violent person if you’re not willing to use violence, you’re not a survivor in that business because you’ll be ripped off.”
Rahtz called for reform of the United States’ drug policy.
“We spend more money, we incarcerate more people and we have less to show for it than any other country in the world. If you look at addiction rates, if you look at use rates, they’re among the top of the world so the current war on drugs by all indications seems to be a complete failure. And the frustrating thing is there seems to be so little recognition of that and so little interest in doing something different,” he said.
It costs about $25,000 per year to incarcerate a federal prisoner and the United States houses about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, according to LEAP’s website.
The retired captain said he’s 100 percent for marijuana legalization. Marijuana accounts for 60 percent of drug cartels’ business, he added.
“So if we were to legalize marijuana, move those billions of dollars from the illegal market and into the legal economy in one fell swoop, we’d take 60 percent of the revenue away from [cartels]. How many operations, business or otherwise, could withstand the loss of 60 percent of their revenue?” Rahtz said.
Many of the remaining customers would be addicts of hard drugs, Rahtz said, adding that he advocates getting addicts into treatment. He pointed to Portugal’s reform of its drug policy a little more than 10 years ago when the country moved many addicts into treatment and also decriminalized drugs.
Rahtz said that just 10 percent of drug addicts in the United States receive treatment.
“If we could double that, triple that, quadruple that, what would happen to the drug trade?” Rahtz asked, adding that he supports decriminalizing possession for all drugs.
Rahtz has authored three books, including “Drugs, Crime and Violence: From Trafficking to Treatment,” which was released by Hamilton Press in August 2012. He also served as a SWAT negotiations team coordinator and captain of the Cincinnati Police Department’s Central Vice Control Section. In addition, he worked in a program that helped get prostitutes off the street.
Sharp said UT’s Prison Awareness Week has been a success so far.
“All the events have been well-attended I think and the reception has been good,” he said, adding that many students have approached the group’s booth at UT’s Student Union and said they know someone who is incarcerated.
Sharp said the goal of Toledoans for Prison Awareness is to bring different groups together.
“We’re trying to raise the awareness, pull people in. It’s really the beginning. We don’t expect to solve everything at once,” he said. To learn more, visit howardrahtz.com and toledoprisonawarenessgroup.org.