“Poverty, addiction and homelessness are human problems not criminal problems and won’t be solved with longer prison terms."
Jerry Epstein is a former U.S. Marine Corps officer. In this capacity, he has served as prosecutor, defense attorney and judge under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
After his active duty ended, Jerry worked for IBM and later earned an MA in sociology. During this period, his beliefs about drug policies began to change. He studied the research on heroin addiction in the military during Vietnam and President Nixon’s National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse report which explained that our drug policies are based on “incorrect assumptions.” He was on college campuses where marijuana was as common as alcohol. He concluded that significantly reducing the supply of drugs was not possible. “The only real choice,” Jerry says, “is whether we want the drugs controlled by cartels and drug dealers. The answer should be obvious.”
An especially painful case occurred in 1997 when a Texas teenager, Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., was killed in his own backyard by four young Marines who mistakenly thought that Esequiel was smuggling drugs. In fact, he was herding his family’s goats. The case deeply affected Jerry, who wrote an opinion column in the Dallas Morning News explaining that the blood of innocent victims was an inevitable cost of drug prohibition. He warned that if we did not change our policies, many more such deaths would follow. Sadly, this prediction has come true.
For the past seventeen years, Jerry has studied the problem of drug abuse and addiction with numerous experts from the U.S. and around the world, collaborating closely with Distinguished Professor G. Alan Robison and with the James Baker III Institute for Public Policy. “As recent research has improved our understanding, it’s even clearer that the drug war has no positive impact on the problem,” he says. “Prohibition has produced unnecessary crime, violence and corruption while diverting our resources and attention from the programs, control and regulation that can produce a better result.”
Jerry became a co-founder of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas. He lives in the Houston, TX area.