2nd Judge Says Drug War Lost, Legalize Them : Law: Federal magistrate says substances should be decriminalized and given free to any adults 'insane enough to want them.'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A second judge in Orange County has concluded that the "war on drugs" has been "lost in a big way" and is advocating the legalization of drugs for adults.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald W. Rose, who sits on the federal bench in Santa Ana, said that drug laws should be repealed and drugs should be decriminalized.

His position closely mirrors a proposal offered by Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray, who has recommended that marijuana, cocaine and heroin be sold to adults legally at "licensed" neighborhood pharmacies.

Gray, who has been roundly criticized by local law enforcement officials, said Thursday that he was "encouraged that another judge has come forward about the problem."

Rose's stance was revealed in a column he wrote for the May issue of the Orange County Lawyer magazine. A regular contributor to the journal, Rose said he arrived at his view independent of Gray and that his article was actually submitted about a month before Gray made his proposal at an April 8 press conference.

But like Gray, Rose said his opinions were forged by years of experience as a judge and prosecutor. He said that he used to believe that "ridding society of these (drug) vermin would solve the problem and provide a significant deterrent to others who might follow. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong."

He said the drug situation is getting increasingly worse as courts get overwhelmed and jails get overcrowded with drug-related criminals. Not only are there more crimes being committed as a result of drugs, the crimes are more violent, he said.

The way the drug problem is being combatted is like "fighting a raging forest fire with water pistols," he wrote.

Rose concluded in his article that law enforcement will never effectively battle the problem as long as the drug trade remains so lucrative. Because of that belief, he suggested that drugs actually be given away free "to anyone insane enough to want them."

"We have to take the profit motive out of this Dante's Inferno that is killing us like the Chinese 'death from a thousand cuts,' " he wrote. "There is just so much money to be made that the slim chance of being caught is always worth the risk. Believe me, after 20 years as a prosecutor and judge, I can assure you that we only catch the stupid ones."

One of the reasons Rose said he decided to write the article, despite the risk to his reputation and career, was to spark public debate about the problem.

"Why can't we realize what is happening to us before it is too late?" he wrote. "If we used the money presently being squandered to lose the drug war, funnel it into drug treatment and education, the problem would largely disappear in a few years."

While supporting the legality of drugs for adults, both Rose and Gray draw the line for minors. Rose said giving drugs to minors "should always be a capital offense."

Gray's announcement three weeks ago caused a firestorm of controversy within the county, with many public officials denouncing his proposal. Many charged that the judge's stance put his impartiality into question. Gray and Rose, however, took care to point out that they were speaking as "private" citizens and not members of the bench.

With their stance, the two judges have joined ranks with a number of prominent figures who advocate similar plans. Among those supporting drug legalization are conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr., Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke and economist Milton Friedman.

Because Rose's column has not yet appeared in the magazine, local officials were reluctant to comment about his views.

Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates, who was one of Judge Gray's most vocal opponents, declined to comment about Rose's position until he sees a copy of the article.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Paul Seave, who tries drug cases before Rose, also declined to comment about the article, having not read it.

Rose said that he, too, expects a backlash because of his views but added that he wasn't very concerned about it. Unlike Gray, who must stand for election, Rose is appointed by federal judges in the district to serve an eight-year term.

"The people calling for the lynching are the ones who are building empires because of the drug trafficking. Not that there is any evil intent in it, but to them (the drug war) means more police officers and DA's."

He also recognized that his stance might affect his career.

"Should my position on decriminalization of drugs, as a means of stopping the carnage and saving our next generation, cause me the loss of future employment or an opportunity to serve my country, so be it."

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