Joanne Naughton | LEAP | Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

About Joanne Naughton

New York Police Department Lieutenant (Ret.)

New York, NY

“Alcohol addiction is a problem for many people, yet banning alcohol made it worse.”

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. She worked in the narcotics bureau making undercover street-level buys for three years. Later, as an attorney, she witnessed the drug war from the defendant side, representing indigent defendants for the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan.

Like most law enforcers, Joanne started out believing that the war on drugs was the ethical and moral solution to drug problems. But she began to have doubts when she noticed that no matter how huge the latest seizure of drugs, and no matter how important the arrest of the latest "drug kingpin", nothing changed. Drug trafficking didn't go away, nor did illegal drug use. “It slowly dawned on me,” she says, “that if the drug laws were working, we wouldn’t be hearing periodically about these big drug busts. When was the war on drugs going to end?" She realized that punitive drug laws are ineffective and lead to a colossal waste of lives and resources, not only in the US but around the world.

Joanne says she can understand the mistaken good intentions of some prohibition supporters who believe that ending prohibition would make drugs more available to kids. But the data shows otherwise – decriminalization in countries like Portugal and the Netherlands has led to adolescent drug use at far lower rates than those in the US. Joanne explains, “the very fact that using drugs is illegal gives them the aura of forbidden fruit; it makes young people feel they are being cool when they use drugs." She believes that legalizing drugs will take away the mystique attached to breaking the rules… using drugs won't be cool any more. Some people will always have drug abuse problems regardless of the law, but regulating drugs can minimize the harm by allowing people to get help instead of giving them a lifelong criminal record. “Alcohol addiction is a problem for many people, yet banning alcohol back in the days of Prohibition just made things worse,” Joanne points out. Joanne has spent a lifetime as a public servant in criminal justice. While an NYPD officer, she was also involved in developing the first sex crimes unit in the country, a model that was widely replicated. In 1997 she ran for District Attorney of Westchester County, New York; and from 1998 to 2011 she was an Assistant Professor at Mercy College where she taught Criminal Justice.

She received her BA and JD from Fordham University.

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