How do people become involved in the cannabis community? It turns out everyone has a unique personal journey. Each week, cannabis professionals, activists, and others will tell their stories in their own words. This essay comes from Brian Gaughan, a speaker with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) , a former police officer and paramedic. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

I spent more than a decade working as a cop. As a police officer, I disrupted people's lives, I cost them their jobs, I broke up families, I bankrupted people; I was responsible for them being locked in a cage, often for non-violent offenses, and often for something as simple as possessing a plant. It's nothing I'm proud of. In fact, I am deeply ashamed of my actions to this very day. Looking back, I see that almost every single one of these regrettable actions I can trace back to one single cause: The War on Drugs.

Part of my career was spent working undercover making narcotics arrests. It was during this time that my perception began to evolve 180 degrees. I wasn't a soldier in some valiant war to save humanity by battling drugs. Instead I came to the realization that it was not a "war on drugs" but a war on people.

I did want to help folks, so I quit my job in law enforcement and became a paramedic with the fire department for the next 23 years. Being in that position, it became apparent to me that drug abuse should be treated for what it really is: a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.

Many police officers oppose the War on Drugs

In 2010, I attended the National NORML Conference in Portland, Oregon. As I wandered the exhibition hall, I was shocked to see a booth set up by an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). The booth was staffed by retired Maryland State Police Major Neill Franklin, a fellow narcotics officer who held the same views on drug prohibition that I did.

In speaking to Neill, I learned that there were many law enforcement officers out there who disagree with the way the drug war has harmed the profession of policing, turning us from protectors of society to aggressors. Neill explained that LEAP had a speaker's bureau staffed with current and former criminal justice professionals who speak out about the misguided War on Drugs from personal experience. I was fascinated that a group with more than 150,000 supporters shared my views.

I knew then and there that I wanted to join LEAP; I wanted to be part of this exciting organization, and I wanted to help spread the message: the dangers of drug prohibition far exceed the dangers of drug usage. I find it not only interesting, but extremely rewarding to meet with people from all types of backgrounds, organizations, and clubs, including politicians, cops, and concerned parents to explain the philosophy of LEAP.

I still have a good share of regret for the harm I know that I personally caused during my time as an enforcer in the War on Drugs. I view the time I spend educating people about LEAP and its beliefs as a small way for me to repay my community for the harm that I know I have caused. LEAP is a great organization, and I urge everyone interested in marijuana legalization and drug policy reform to support this important organization.

LEAP speaker Brian Gaughan lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Founded on March 16, 2002, LEAP is a nonprofit organization made up of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities who are speaking out about the failures of our existing drug policies. They have speakers across North America. To book a speaker click HERE.