HPD Chief McClelland Calls War on Drugs "A Miserable Failure" in Radio Interview

In a 30-minute in-depth interview set to air on KPFT 90.1 FM this afternoon, Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland acknowledged that the war on drugs has disproportionately hurt "young minority men," and that law enforcement attitudes on marijuana use are beginning to shift.

In a wide-ranging interview with Dean Becker, host of the "Cultural Baggage" radio show and a regular speaker with the marijuana legalization group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, McClelland also said the money spent jailing non-violent drug offenders -- it costs about $50-60,000 to house a single inmate for a year inside a Texas prison, he says -- would be better spent on drug treatment and prevention programs.

"Most of us understand, we do believe, those of us that are law enforcement executives, that the war on drugs, the 1980 drug policies, was a miserable failure, there's no doubt about that," McClelland said.

Becker, who provided the Houston Press a transcript of the interview that's set to air today at 4:30 p.m. CT, credited McClelland with showing a willingness to move away from what Becker calls "the old law enforcement paradigm on drugs."

"He (McClelland) wants to end the war on drugs, too," Becker told us. Becker says McClelland has agreed to come on his show once every few months to discuss drug policy and policing.

In the interview, McClelland directly addressed the drug war's impact on minority communities:

"The drug war, or the war on drugs, has been somewhat a failure in this respect. It has disproportionately criminalized a certain segment of our population. Now, we certainly found that out after President Reagan's drug policies in the 1980s and mandatory sentencing, it has a disproportionate effect on young minority men. And what that has, it has a trickle-down effect, that a lot of young men who are minorities, in their early 20s, have a felony conviction on their resume, and now they're unemployable. And we wonder why they don't have jobs, they're not working, they're not contributing to society in a productive way, but we've put them in a position to where the odds are stacked against them."

The HPD chief also said law enforcement attitudes on marijuana are changing as more states and cities across the country legalize and decriminalize pot.

"Most police chiefs understand that when it comes to marijuana use, we cannot criminalize such a large population of society that engage in casual marijuana use. We can't, you just can't continue to do that, we understand that. ...And this is why the federal government really needs to take the lead. Now health-wise, I don't know what the long-term effects is for marijuana use, just like long-term effects of using an aspirin. I just don't know. But I do know that it makes it difficult for law enforcement to enforce the law when you have a state law that may allow it, federal government does not. And, and on the other hand, too, sometimes young people make a mistake, and they've got to be given a second chance. And, so, I think this is something that, the country has moved, and sometimes you know, government has to move too. You know, in answer to the will of the people."

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Michael Barajas
Contact: Michael Barajas