By JANA J. MARTIN / The Dallas Morning News
TEXAS — About 15 people slipped behind a partitioned-off section of a downtown Fort Worth restaurant Sunday morning to hear Dallas police Officer Nick Novello and others support the legalization of marijuana.
“The war on drugs today has left carnage,” Novello said.
The seminar’s host, Medcan University, a for-profit business, is trying to build a coalition of residents in favor of legalizing marijuana use for the critically or chronically ill in Texas. The seminars, held periodically throughout Texas, cover the politics, laws and science behind the medical marijuana movement.
“We are trying to educate people,” Medcan owner and organizer Dante Picazo said.
Novello, 56, is a 29-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department and spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP, a group of current and former law enforcement members who say that existing drug policies have failed. At Sunday’s seminar, he declared his own drug war – for legalization of marijuana and other narcotics.
“Full legalization and full regulation,” Novello said.
Novello said he joined the Dallas Police Department as a park and recreation officer. In 2007, he transitioned to a “beat cop” patrolling East Dallas neighborhoods. He said he has no intention of climbing the ranks.
Picazo acknowledged that the medical marijuana issue is controversial and asked The Dallas Morning News not to name the restaurant where the seminar was held. Still, he said marijuana legalization for medical patients has the potential to generate millions and possibly, billions of dollars in tax revenue for local governments and Texas.
“We could have kids swimming in pools in the summer instead of leaving them to the drug dealers,” Picazo said, referring to some city pools in Dallas that remained closed this summer because of budget cuts.
Most political observers predict a bill to legalize medicinal marijuana would have little or no support in the Texas Legislature, which convenes in January.
This month, voters in Arizona approved a ballot proposition calling for medical marijuana legalization. Fourteen other states have legalized medical marijuana.
Those at the seminar, who paid $250 to attend, sat around a horseshoe-shaped table and hung on Novello’s every word as he spoke Sunday morning. He said legalization of narcotics could stop the destruction of individual lives needlessly ruined by unnecessary criminal convictions.
He added he would not use marijuana and wouldn’t want his kids to use it. But criminalizing the drug invites people to break the law, he said. People arrested for drugs often never escape the “criminal” label and find their lives ruined, he said.
“We can survive addiction, but not conviction,” Novello said.
Legalization, he said, also will stop the drug cartel and gangs from controlling the drug market.
“I don’t have all the answers for the war on drugs,” Novello said. “[But] gangs and drug cartel control all narcotics by default.”
Anti-legalization forces, however, insist that any message allowing drug use will only cause more health problems for users and more crime problems for society.
Dallas lawyer Brian Cuban, brother of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, also spoke on the legal ramifications of legalizing medical marijuana, which he favors.
“Legalizing one aspect [of the drug] isn’t going to change availability for people who are going to get it [if they want it],” Cuban said. “It’s not about the plant; it’s about how the kid is raised.”