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Protest overshadows Arkansas' Drug War discussion

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Heated words Monday night in Van Buren county between people attending an educational seminar and protesters set up outside the event. Organizers hoped the event could spark a community discussion about the War on Drugs and how much it costs taxpayers in Arkansas, but only a handful of people came to hear the presentation.

"We have a chance, here in Arkansas, to make a difference but you cannot educate those who do not want to be educated," said event sponsor Robert Reed. "This is an educational event, it appears to me a whole lot of folks don't want to get educated. They've got an opinion and they're going to stick with it."

Reed rented the auditorium for the seminar and bought in keynote speaker Terry Nelson, Executive Vice Chairman of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

"We're police officers, judges, FBI & DEA agents that believe the War on Drugs has failed," said Nelson who, after more than 30 years on the front lines of the drug war, supports legalized regulation and control of all drugs in order to take criminal drug gangs and cartels out of the equation.

"We're not endorsing or condoning the use of drugs at all," added Nelson. "What we're saying is the current policy has failed us, and you don't continue a policy that's costing us $70 Billion a year, that policy needs to end yesterday."

But only a handful of people got to hear Nelson's presentation Monday thanks in large part to the protesters outside the auditorium who outnumbered attendees.

"There's no way that they can regulate it, we can't even regulate pharmaceutical pills much less regulate all the drugs. So that's my feeling and we're opposed and we protest this situation," said Lucas Emberton, who filed his paperwork earlier in the day to run for Van Buren County Sheriff in the coming election. "This is a dry county, we don't even sell alcohol here and they're coming into our Clinton public school to try to put on an event to propose legalization of all drugs, we don't even sell alcohol here so why would we want to legalize everything else?"

"It's because they've had 40 years of propaganda, it's hard for them to get their head around it," said Nelson, who believes legalizing drugs would have a similar effect on society to what repealing alcohol prohibition did in 1933. "It would probably continue, just as we continue to drink responsibly today, some of us. My drug of choice is Johnny Walker, it's not a plug for Johnny Walker but I do use drugs and that's my drug."

Reed, meanwhile, was disappointed that more people didn't get a chance to hear Nelson's presentation.

"We have a United Nations-sanctioned professional here that's got over 30 years in the trenches doing this, and we've got people outside going 'if you go inside you're for drugs', that's not the point, it's education," added Reed. "This is not a pro-drug rally, this is not s pro-pot rally, it's not a pro-meth rally, it's not putting heroin vending machines on the corners. It's to educate the citizens of Arkansas on the cost of the War on Drugs."

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