We are really pleased to be able to publish this interview, which was recently conducted by phone with Felicity madly scribbling in the background. Big thanks to Joanne Naughton for her time and Darby Beck of LEAP for arranging it. LEAP, per our recent article, stands for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and is a nonprofit group of experienced cops, judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs.
Who is Joanne Naughton and why should we listen to her? From her official LEAP biography:
Joanne Naughton was a member of the New York Police Department for over 20 years, starting as a police officer and retiring a lieutenant in 1987. As a Detective, she worked in the narcotics bureau making undercover street-level buys for three years. As an attorney, she witnessed the drug war from the defendant side, representing indigent defendants for the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan. While an NYPD officer, she was involved in developing the first sex crimes unit in the country, a model that was widely replicated. She received her BA and JD from Fordham University. She taught Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and recently retired from the faculty at Mercy College.
That means that Ms. Naughton is a pioneer and thought leader in law enforcement circles. There weren’t a lot of female police officers back then, much less lieutenants. And although she modestly refers to herself in the interview as having taught “at a local college”, John Jay College of Criminal Justice is one of the most respected institutions in the country. We can only guess at the number of lives she has touched in a positive way. — Old Hippie
OH: Thank you for agreeing to talk with us!
Felicity: What led you to join LEAP and volunteer your time?
JN: Well, I was a cop with the NYPD. And I also have a law degree, and I represented indigent criminal defendants. After I stopped being a cop, I taught at a local college. For a long time,I realized that the war on drugs isn’t doing any good at all. It just isn’t working. And I used to say that in the classroom, and a student of mine knew about the organization, and she told me about it. but I’m not a joiner, and I wasn’t interested.
But she kept after me, and I’m happy that she did. So it was because of this student. She got me to speak at Columbia University, and once I got involved, I thought maybe I could do some good.
Felicity: Cool, thank you!
What advice would you have for medical marijuana patients?
JN: If it’s legal, and they’re not doing anything wrong, then a police officer shouldn’t be involved. Different states have different rules about all of this, it’s really just a handful of states that have medical marijuana, and New York is not one of them, unfortunately. But as long as someone is not breaking the law, then the police should not be involved.
Even in the states that have medical marijuana, Federal law supersedes. And Federal law doesn’t recognize the legality of medical marijuana. So there can be a problem. If the Feds want to prosecute in a state that has legal medical marijuana, the Feds can do that, and the Constitution allows it. And I know that they have been doing that, giving people in California and a few other places a hard time. So that’s a problem for the legislators to solve. If Congress doesn’t want to do anything…but they’re the ones who’d have to change the laws.
OH: Yeah, you mentioned California. Right now, there’s a very nasty case in the court in San Diego where a legal medical marijuana patient was arrested and charged with all kinds of stuff, in spite of the fact that he was legal and everything he was doing was legal under state law…and this is in a state court!
I don’t even understand how stuff like this even gets to court. Apparently the local police and the local District Attorney are very anti-marijuana. What do you do when the justice system breaks the law?
JN: Oh, well, that is a big problem. We see that in a few different places, don’t we? You know…I don’t have any of the answers. It’s in the hands of the legislators, and the only thing that I can imagine doing is pressuring the legislators either with demonstrations, by writing or emailing them. They’re the only ones who can change what’s going on. The prosecutors, the D.A.s get elected, and if the people let the prosecutors know that they don’t want them doing this, then they’ll stop doing it.
But it’s really a tough one. We have a lot of crazy stuff going on in this country, not just with drugs.
This raises another question. You were on the force for 20 years, you were doing a lot of narcotics stuff, and you’ve talked about all the big drug busts that didn’t seem to change anything on the street. Did you ever see the results of drug money influencing police directly?
One of the worst things that we expect of police officers is to enforce unenforceable laws.
JN: Well, I didn’t. However, one of the worst things that we expect of police officers is to enforce unenforceable laws. Every so often we had a few horrible scandals in New York regarding police officers being involved in the sale of drugs, in the theft of money. When you put that much cash — and all the money is cash, of course, they don’t use credit cards or checks — in front of somebody, who has a mortgage to pay, has kids to send to school, or doesn’t even have a good excuse, it’s tempting. That doesn’t justify it, but it’s very tempting. And we’ve had scandals in New York. We know it happens, and it happens all over the country: police officers being caught stealing money, framing people, in order to get the arrest. It just leads to all kinds of corruption.
And the laws are unenforceable, because Americans want their drugs. Not all Americans, but a sizable number of Americans want their drugs. And they’re going to have them! Police officers are tasked with enforcing unenforceable laws. That’s the major cause of corruption. And it happens throughout the country. You can see stories in the newspaper all the time.
This interview will conclude on Monday with Part Two — OH