NILES - A former Pittsburgh-area prosecutor on Thursday tried his best to persuade area residents why street drugs should be legalized.
Former prosecutor Patrick Nightengale traveled from Pittsburgh to speak on behalf of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, about potential benefits of ending prohibition on drugs.
LEAP has more than 30,000 active members and was founded in 2002 to educate the public about the failure of the war on drugs.
Nightengale started his discussion with a reference to the recent incarceration of 40 people after a 16-month drug investigation in Westmoreland County, Pa.
"What do you think that did to the price of crack cocaine on the north side of Pittsburgh?" Nightengale asked, estimating that it cost taxpayers more than $10 million to make the incarcerations with zero effect on the street.
Nightengale suggested instead a legalization of drugs, beginning with marijuana, to reduce the amount of harm drugs impose.
"If you take this massive profit margin out ... these individuals are not going to risk going to prison for $25," he said.
Nightengale used statistics of Portugal's success with decriminalization of drugs 10 years ago to suggest the U.S. use it as a model for future action.
"Let's end the war on drugs, and start the war on pedophilia," Nightengale said. "There is still plenty of other crime to focus on. Let's just refocus (law enforcement) a little bit."
Drugs at a glance
There is a drug arrest every 19 seconds in the U.S.
One in 100 U.S. adults is behind bars in jail or prison.
900,000 criminally active gang members operate the illegal drug market in the U.S.
23.5 million Americans are in need of substance abuse treatment; only one in 10 receive it.
48 percent of U.S. high school students have used illegal drugs by graduation.
Nightengale said the price of cocaine is not only more readily available, but purer and cheaper today than it was in 1985, which defies inflation and proves that the war on drugs is failing.
One resident expressed concerns regarding the legalization of drugs and potential effect on peoples' ability to operate heavy machinery. Nightengale said there is a concern for safety standards to be maintained, and that business owners should be free to impose any safety regulations or restrictions on their employees.
"Tax and regulate, that's the model," he said.
Another resident brought up the idea of marijuana being a "gateway drug." Nightengale called the gateway drug a myth, and said although 30 to 40 million Americans use marijuana daily, cocaine and heroin use are not skyrocketing as a result.
However, he said he has many clients who take prescribed drugs, such as OxyContin, and get addicted, which leads them to seek other drugs, such as heroin.
"Heroin is epidemic," he said. "This is a health care crisis."
Nightengale said the U.S. needs to have a mechanism in place to regulate dangerous drugs and provide care for those who seek them out, and to ensure crime does not come with it.
"They say if we just prosecute the war on drugs harder, we will win. There is no empirical support for this," he said.