Don't Cry for Norm Stamper

Stamper lives on an idyllic Orcas Island retreat
The 10-year anniversary of the WTO meeting in Seattle brings inevitable reflections on the career of then Police Chief Norm Stamper. The typical story line, repeated in the Seattle Times yesterday and today, is that the disastrous affair led Stamper to leave law enforcement, which is true. Seems like it's the best thing that could have happened to him.

Today, Stamper is a globe-trotting guru for the drug legalization movement. "I'm loving it," he says, talking by phone from his 10-acre Orcas Island retreat, complete with trout pond and apple orchard. "I have the freedom to do what I want, to say what I want."

What he wants to say at the moment is that the war on drugs has been a failure, leading him in 2005 to join a national group of current and former law enforcement officers called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. As the most prominent member, he has been in hot demand. In October, he spent three weeks in Australia, hosted by the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation. He talked to parliament members there about drug law reform efforts, met with local police officers and gave university lectures.

Earlier in the year, he was flown to Minnesota by the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington DC-based group, to testify before that state's legislature on a medical marijuana bill. "We worked the halls," he says, and against all expectations, the bill passed--although it was ultimately vetoed by Governor Tim Pawlenty.

All in all, he reckons he's had about 400 speaking engagements since joining LEAP (Details of his schedule can be found on his Website). He says the publicity has helped sell his 2005 memoir Breaking Rank. He doesn't keep track of sales figures, but guesses it's in the 10,000 to 15,000 range. (See an excerpt here and our cover profile about him here.) He also recently started writing for the Huffington Post.

"Why Can't Norm Stamper Be Drug Czar?" asked a blogger for the libertarian publication Reason in a February post. (To see his scathing criticism of current drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, the man who followed Stamper as Seattle's police chief, see this SW piece.)

In his spare time, Stamper dallies in drama. In September, at a community theater on Orcas Island called The Grange, he starred in the two-person play Brilliant Traces, by Cindy Lou Johnson. With parallels to his own life, he played a man who retreats to a remote cabin in Alaska.

Has it all made him rich? No. "I'm living off my pension and a line of credit," he says. But at least he's not a "hired gun," he figures. And while he admits to a "pity party" after the WTO debacle, he says he's put that well behind him.

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