NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Federal Judge Whitman Knapp Urges Thinking About Decriminalization, New York Law Journal


April 1993

A widely publicized speech and subsequent statements by senior federal judge Whitman Knapp suggesting serious consideration of drug decriminalization were showcased in the New York Law Journal (Deborah Pines, "Knapp Urges 'Serious' Thought to Decriminalization of Drugs," New York Law Journal, 3/26/93, p. 1).

In the remarks in which Knapp declared his disillusionment with the current punitive approach to drugs he said, "I don't think you can find a federal, or indeed a state, judge who will deny a sense of utter futility in presiding over drug prosecutions. ... I'm not a social scientist. I don't know the answer. I simply know this: We'll get nowhere with this problem unless we banish from our minds the stubborn belief that we can ultimately win this war by the simple device of spending more money and sacrificing more troops."

Knapp, 84, was appointed to the Federal bench in the Southern District of New York in 1972 by President Richard Nixon. In a speech to members and guests of the Merchants Club in Manhattan this March, he compared the war on drugs to the Vietnam war, joking that by comparison, the Vietnam War was "a brilliant success." Knapp called on the Clinton Administration to reconsider the entire punitive approach to stemming drug abuse.

He cited growing support for legalization from prominent people, including Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman. In his comments, however, Knapp stopped short of calling for legalization or decriminalization of drugs. United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokesman Nicholas Alleva of that agency's New York office called any support for decriminalization or legalization misplaced, arguing that "no study has shown there would be less criminal activity" as a result.