Richard Kennedy | LEAP | Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

About Richard Kennedy

Retired Analyst, CIA Directorate of Intelligence/Economist

“Our current drug laws erode the progress of civil rights.”

Richard Kennedy is a PhD economist who was awarded CIA's Career Intelligence Medal in 2004, after a 31-year career as an analyst in the Directorate of Intelligence. Like the great majority of economists who have studied the war on drugs, he believes it is a failure that can't pass any kind of cost/benefit analysis.

Dick graduated from Princeton in 1963, when marijuana was essentially non-existent on campus, but found a very different world when he went back to grad school in 1969 at Rice University. He became interested in drugs purely as a public policy issue and was persuaded by "Marijuana: The New Prohibition" by Stanford law professor John Kaplan that, for cannabis at least, prohibition was just as bad a policy as it had been for alcohol in the 1920s. That conclusion was reinforced in 1972 by the report of the US National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, and by a major study from Consumers Union, "Licit and Illicit Drugs".

Forty years later most of the common fears about marijuana have been disproved and studies show that while alcohol and tobacco-related deaths claim more than 500,000 people annually in the US, the number of deaths linked to marijuana is estimated at zero, or at least so close to zero that it can't be measured. All currently illicit drugs would cause less harm to society if they were taxed and regulated--while their use would go up, alcohol and tobacco use would go down, addicts could get treatment instead of jail, drug-related violence would plummet, law enforcement could focus on more serious crimes, and government would gain an important source of revenue while the Mexican cartels would lose most of theirs.

Dick also was a civil rights worker in Mississippi for five weeks in 1964 and is distressed that the progress made since then is being eroded by the drug war. Blacks use less drugs than Whites but are many times more likely to be arrested, causing them problems in obtaining education, jobs, housing, or even voting--just what the Jim Crow laws used to do. Having been a (very small) part of both movements, Dick is struck by the similarities between the civil rights workers of the 60s and the drug reformers of today--both composed of dedicated people who saw that our country was not living up to its ideals and decided to do something about it.

Dick is also a member of the Virginia NORML Board of Directors but his personal drug use is limited to caffeine and an occasional glass of wine.

When not working for more sensible drug policies, Dick serves as secretary for the Mason Neck Lions Club and the Mason Neck Citizens Association, edits his homeowners association newsletter, and runs the "Save Mason Neck State Park" Facebook page. With both daughters now out of college, he lives on beautiful Mason Neck with wife Sallie, Bismarck--the "Canines for Cannabis" Saint Bernard--and two other dogs.

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