Cultural Baggage January 3, 2009
Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.
It's not only inhumane it is really fundamentally Un-American... “NO MORE” “DRUG WAR” “NO MORE” “DRUG WAR” “NO MORE” “DRUG WAR” “NO MORE” “DRUG WAR”
My Name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs - legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
Dean Becker: Hello my friends. I hope 2010 has started well for you and yours. This is the Cultural Baggage program. My name is Dean Becker. Today we are going to hear from Mr. Phil Smith from Stop the Drug War, reporter for the Drug War Chronicle. And he is going to give his top ten list of stories about drug reform for the year 2009.
Phil Smith: This is Phil Smith of the Drug War Chronicle. As 2009 winds down to an end it is time to take a look back at the year on drugs. With the arrival of a highly popular - at least at first - president Barack Obama and Democratic Party control of the levers of power in congress the drug reform gridlock that characterized the Bush years is giving way to real change in Washington albeit not nearly quickly enough. A number of this years top ten domestic drug stories had to do with the new atmosphere in Washington where they have led and where they might lead, but not all of them. Drug reform isn't just made in Washington. Under our federal system the fifty states and the District of Columbia have at least some of the [ ] the courses on drug policy reforms. In some areas actions in the state legislatures have reflected trends for better or worse broad enough to earn top ten status. And Washington and the various state houses not withstanding movement on drug reform not limited to the political class. Legions of activists now in at least their second decade of serious reform work amassed media that seems to have awakened from its dogmatic slumber about marijuana, a crumbling economy and a bloody drug war within earshot of the southwestern border have all impacted the national conversation about drug reform and are all pushing politicians from city councilmen to state legislatures, legislators to US senators to rethink drug prohibition.
Here are the Drug War Chronicles top ten domestic drug policy stories of 2009.
Number one has to be marijuana going mainstream. It has been big news all year long. We'll talk about that in a few minutes.
Number two, medical marijuana. The feds butt out and the floodgates begin to swing open.
Number three, Reforms in the New York's Rockefeller drug laws and other sentencing reforms in other states as well.
Number four, Swatting SWAT. For the first time we had legislation in a state aimed at reigning in aggressive police squads. And then America finally notices the drug war across the border.
And then we have a handful of federal stories. Congress ends the ban on needle exchange funding and butts out of DC affairs allowing the district to implement its medical marijuana law. We have progress on two bills that will lead to questioning of the drug war out of Senator Webb's National Criminal Justice Commission Act and Representative Elliot Engel's Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act.
And finally we have progress on ending the crack powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Bills are moving the congress.
Dean, what leaps out at you about this list?
Dean Becker: Well, I like the choice of the word leap of course but I think it's the fact that we have all seen this incremental shift if you will. But there is as you indicated much more that needs to be done. I even hear some rumblings and grumblings from some black radio hosts about the fact that Obama is not quite measuring up to what he indicated would do. What is your thought? Is Washington waking up or is it still just the same hopeless morass.
Phil Smith: No, I think we are seeing real progress this year. I have to say it's because the democrats control all of the levers of power now. I think the clearest indication of that and the one that has actually happened is the removal of the federal funding ban on needle exchange programs. People have been working on this for eleven years and got absolutely nowhere when republicans were in power. This year, thanks to congressional leaders, less so president Obama, thanks to congressional leaders who worked hard to get this through the appropriations process we got it done. And Obama signed it.
Dean Becker: I want to go back to the first of your top ten if you will, the marijuana goes mainstream. And I mean it truly has. It has gone national and international and widespread across all broadcast mediums, right?
Phil Smith: Oh absolutely. I think you can look back at the very beginning of the year with the Michael Phelps bong photo non-scandal. This broke early in the year. The Olympic champion swimmer holding a bong and despite all the hubbub the primary reaction seems to have been, so what? Before this year there had never been nationwide majority support for marijuana legalization. Now there is. In February there was a Zogby poll that showed forty-four percent for legalization. In April, Rasmussen had support for taxation and regulation at forty-one percent. Washington Post poll found forty-six percent supporting legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Also in April for the first time a national poll showed majority support for legalization when Zogby had fifty-two percent saying marijuana should be legal, taxed and regulated. July a CBS poll had forty-one percent. In October Gallup had it at forty-four percent. That was the highest ever in a Gallup poll. And just a few weeks ago an Angus Reid poll reported fifty-three percent nationwide support for legalization. Legalizing pot may not have clear majority support just yet but it is on the cusp.
Where it is going to be especially exciting next year is California. We are going to have a legalization initiative on the ballot in November. I don't know if it is going to win. It is going to be close I think, I fear. California polling is slightly higher than national polling. We are seeing polls like fifty-three percent, fifty-six percent, fifty-eight percent. However those are generic polls when it gets down to the actual language of the actual initiative that will actually be on the ballot will probably lose a few points. So it is going to be a very close race in California. I look forward to covering it.
Dean Becker: The second of your top ten may have led people to change their stance in regards to the number one and that is the feds are no longer going to butt their way into the medical marijuana issue. It enables those who are sitting on the fence to maybe change their position, right?
Phil Smith: I don't have to tell you what went on in the Bush years, all the raids of medical marijuana providers and patients and the prosecutions and imprisonments of them. But during the campaign Obama and actually all the Democratic Party candidates said they would end that practice of raiding medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal. And the Obama administration has lived up to its word. Early on in the spring attorney general Holder made a statement. In October it became official Justice Department policy that they were not going to interfere. And yes, that is important but that is the send a huge signal to people thinking about whether medical marijuana should be legal in their states. And it removes an argument of the opponents of medical marijuana – sort of hit a critical argument when people would say, oh we can't legalize it because the patients wouldn't be protected from the feds. And what I think is some real world impact of that not only in California where the raids have largely but not completely ceased. There is still some cooperation between recalcitrant local authorities and the DEA in a couple of areas. But what we are seeing in Colorado and now in Michigan is sort of an expansion of medical marijuana industry infrastructure like there is already in California. So we are seeing grow shops. We are seeing facilities like Oaksterdam University – educational facilities opening up in Colorado and Michigan. We are seeing dispensaries mushrooming in Colorado. We are getting the whole doctors specializing in medical marijuana recommendation phenomena in Colorado as well. So I think the stance of the federal government has really provided some breathing space for medical marijuana to expand.
Dean Becker: We must drug test welfare and unemployment recipients. It is just another government expense that is going to accomplish what?
Phil Smith: Well it's a good question and I am happy to report that while bills to that nature were filed in several states, none of them went anywhere. You know, why should people getting government money not be drug tested. I have to be drug tested for my job, that is a common response. We as citizens have rights against our government that we don't have against the right to be protected from our government that we don't have with our employers. Sorry guys. I mean if you get drug tested at your job I guess maybe you need to organize around that if you oppose that. But not try to inflict your misery on other people. So these bills went nowhere.
I have to say that Michigan passed a law like this a few years ago. It was the only state to do so. And that law was thrown out as being unconstitutional - a violation of the fourth amendment right to be free from unwarranted searches and seizures. But that doesn't stop these yahoos in the state legislatures and various places like Missouri and West Virginia and Oklahoma, there is one other, Kansas, from filing these bills. But at least they are getting slapped down.
Dean Becker: You know I recently did a an interview with a Philippe Lucas of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society and a city councilman as well up there now. And he was talking about the fact that Harper, the conservatives if you will of the Canadian government want to adopt our mandatory minimum laws and yet the US is starting to walk away from that, are they not? ..the Rockefeller drug laws. Tell us more about that.
Phil Smith: The Rockefeller drug laws have been in effect since 1970s. They were very draconian. I mean they have like twenty-five year sentences, fifteen year sentences for possession of relatively small amounts of drugs. There had been an ongoing effort to try to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws. There was a partial reform in 2006 I think it was that brought some relief to the people doing the most serious time. But it brought no relief to the people in the middle group who are doing you know up to fifteen years. And this year the democratic state legislature and the democratic governor got together and got another reform through that addresses those that middle group of prisoners. It will result in probably about fifteen hundred people being able to apply for sentence cuts and walking out a little early. However it still leaves about eleven thousand Rockefeller drug law offenders behind bars. So it is not a complete repeal. It is a partial reform. There is still more that needs to be done but it is a big step in the right direction. It also shifts power in sentencing away from prosecutors and back to judges, which is a good thing. It allows for a little judicial discretion. New York is not the only state where things like that are going on. New Jersey just this month passed a bill that would remove some offenses from mandatory minimum status for people who get caught within five hundred or a thousand feet of a school, you know these drug free zone laws.
There are other states that have seen similar reforms. One that is really worth noting next door to you in Louisiana where under an old law people caught in possession of heroin could be sentenced to life in prison without parole. They changed that law a few years ago but they never did anything about the people who were still sitting in prison for the rest of their lives. So you had this bizarre circumstance where someone who had been busted in 1970 with a little bit of heroin is sitting in prison and he is watching people busted under the new law come to prison, do their time and leave and he is still sitting there. Well finally they passed the heroin lifer bill this year that will allow them to apply for parole. That is a belated step in the right direction.
Dean Becker: I want to jump down to a topic that touches your heart and mine that it's just good to know that quote America finally notices the drug war across the river. Your thoughts on that.
Phil Smith: Well, it became inescapable this year. Of course congress and the white house had been paying attention in previous years. They got together last year and passed a one point four billion dollar three year anti drug assistance package most of which is aimed at Mexico, about three hundred million dollars of that is going to Central American countries. But the violence has just increased and increased and increased ever since president Calderon sicked the army on the cartels three years ago this month. I mean it went up from two thousand people dead in 2007 to about six thousand dead in 2008 and this year it is about nine thousand dead, excuse me, I think it about eight thousand dead. And it is interesting the way that our awareness of what is going on in Mexico is having an impact on the policy debate here in the US. The Mexican drug war is becoming an argument in favor of marijuana legalization.
Of course what we didn't see is any sort of progressive response in terms of policy. What we are getting is more better drug war. So I don't expect anything good to happen on the Mexican drug war issue. I expect it to worsen, the violence to worsen and of course with very little impact on the drugs flowing north or the guns and cash flowing south.
Dean Becker: We are speaking with Mr. Phil Smith of stopthedrugwar.org. He is a reporter for the Drug War Chronicle. We are reviewing the top ten drug reform stories of the year 2009. Questioning the drug war. Two congressional bills. Give us a little more indications what that one is about.
Phil Smith: We have two separate efforts going on. The first and I think the most significant is Virginia senator Jim Webb's bill to create a national criminal justice commission which would call for a top to bottom review of a broad range of criminal justice issues ranging from sentencing to drug laws to gangs and beyond with an emphasis on what works and what doesn't. Webb has been a very strong critic of our mass incarceration policies. He has held hearings on the cost of mass incarceration and all the economic costs of drug policy. And I think this bill if it gets passed has the potential to get at the roots of our flawed national drug policy. Now the other bill that I refer to in this section is the western hemisphere drug policy commission act by New York representative Elliot Engel and it has already passed the house. And it would set up a commission to examine US eradication interdiction and other policies in the western hemisphere. Engel is no anti prohibitionist. He would like to see a more efficient drug war. But any honest commission assessing US drug policy in the Americas is likely to come up with findings that subvert drug war orthodoxy so I think this is also an important step.
Dean Becker: Now the last one we are going to have time for is the crack powder cocaine sentencing disparity. And again, no real progress but more discussion which may lead to that progress, right?
Phil Smith: Well, I don't think it is fair to say there is no real progress. We have had a bill in the house that would address the disparity by simply removing all references to crack cocaine and treat everyone under the cocaine sentencing regulations. That bill has passed one house committee so it's alive and well.
On the senate side, Senator Durbin has just introduced complimentary legislation that would so the same thing. I mean, it's basically the same bill so it is moving slowly. I expect it to pass next year. You talked early on about some of the black commentators complaining about Obama not having done enough. If they can get this bill passed and Obama signs it I think the black community will sit up and take notice.
Dean Becker: Yes, because some ninety percent of those sentenced for crack are non white, right?
Phil Smith: Yeah it's clearly a racist bill. Perhaps you can be generous and say perhaps it wasn't written with racist goals in mind but we have seen from day one in the past twenty years just exactly how it was applied and it's been applied in a racist fashion and I don't care how innocent your motives were when you wrote the bill when it works out like this. It's a piece of racist crap and needs to be done away with.
Dean Becker: Indeed it does. Well once again I thank you for joining us. We have been speaking with Mr. Phil Smith of stopthedrugwar.org. Fine reporter for the Drug War Chronicles and Phil, they can check out this whole story and thousands of others online, can they not? Point them to your website.
Phil Smith: That's right, just got to www.stopthedrugwar.org. Also on the website right now is our top ten international drug policy stories. Maybe that is a topic for another week, Dean.
It's time to play Name that Drug by Its Side Effects!
Responsible for countless overdose deaths, uncounted diseases, international graft, greed and corruption, stilted science and immense unchristian moral postulations of fiction as fact.
And this drug is the United States immoral, improper, bigoted, unscientific and plain effing evil addcition to drug war. All approved by the FDA, absolved by the American Medical Association and persecuted by congress, the cops and in obeyance to the needs of the bankers, the pharmaceutical houses and the international drug cartels. Five hundred fifty billion dollars a year can be very addicting.
Dean Becker: And as we start the New Year I think it important to let the new listeners know what Dean Becker and the Drug Truth Network is all about. The following was recorded at the Seattle Hemp Fest.
Dean Becker: I am former law enforcement official as well. I worked for the US government guarding nuclear weapons mostly. I strapped on a gun, wore the badge, swore to uphold the constitution. I'm still trying to uphold the constitution. If I may reiterate a little bit about LEAP. I think we are now approaching nine thousand members worldwide. We are current and former police officers, police chiefs, wardens, prosecutors, judges, few senators, members of the European parliament, the former attorney general of Colombia. I also produce nine radio programs each week about the harms of the drug war: seven three minute pieces I call the 420 Drug War News, two half hour shows, Cultural Baggage, Century of Lies. I interview these same judges, congressmen, wardens, authors, scientists, doctors; any and everybody willing to talk about the subject. We are currently on more than fifty radio stations in the US and Canada. I think Bellingham is the closest one to here that carries our shows.
And what is the objective of LEAP? We want to curtail death, disease, crime and addiction. Complications, spin off, blowback that are higher not because drugs exist but because the drug prohibition exists. It creates all these problems that these people in authority, the DA that wants to build a bigger jail, the congressman that wants to build more prisons. They use this blowback and saying, oh my god people are making this methamphetamine. They are using Draino and batteries and ammonia to make this crack and they are selling it to our kids. Well, why are these people making it? Because of prohibition. And why are they selling it to their kids? Because of prohibition. And why are people dying and getting the diseases? Because of prohibition.
There is no justification for this drug war. Aspirin and Tylenol kill more people than all hard drugs combined. We have been duped. We have been fed a bag of lies. We have eaten this quasi religious bull crap for nigh unto ninety-three years. And who do we go to for an opinion? If there is a drug bust or little Johnny dies on the street corner, who do they go to? The district attorney for his opinion. Who do they go to, you know? The police chief. They go to these people who want to perpetuate this forever because it is how they make their mortgage payments.
Now much of what I say I think most LEAP members would agree with me, but I am saying this as my opinion because I think the drug lords run both sides of this equation. Over the lifetime of this drug war we have given one trillion dollars, a trillion dollars – I'll tell you how much money that is here in a minute, it's hard to envision – but a trillion dollars to law enforcement. Stop that flow! Protect little Johnny. Keep our neighborhoods safe and of course it has gotten worse and worse and worse.
But over that same ninety-two year time frame, we have given ten trillion dollars to the terrorists, to the dangerous cartels and we have created the reason for which most of these violent street gangs exist through this drug war. It's the reason children have access. It's it's the problem itself but they use it as justification to ask for more money whether they succeed, whether they fail, they always need more money. A lot of damn money wasted that could be built on our infrastructure, could be going to school, could towards health services for the people of this nation. We have flushed a trillion dollars down the toilet.
Now you take the trillion we have given to law enforcement, you take the ten trillion we have given to the criminals and you start loading it on to trains - freight cars sixty-two feet long, eight feet wide, ten feet high. You can get about nine billion dollars in a freight car – hundred dollar bills. But if you take the money we have wasted on this drug war and you fill that train, it's nine miles long. Full of hundred dollar bills that we have wasted in this effort.
I am all for medical marijuana. I am a medical marijuana patient. I am a religious, sacramental cannabis minister. I am a former cop. I do the radio. I stand before the people of power in my home town, Houston, the gulag filling station of planet earth. We send more people to prison than most of the other states in this nation. Our jails are overflowing, people sleeping on the floors. Our prisons are crowded; they are shipping them to other states. And why? Because they might be black or Hispanic. They might have an empty bag or an empty pipe. But they are the moral leaders think they are doing god's work by robbing our community of these dollars and the focus of the police efforts. Our violent crime rate is rising. Why? Because they are chasing down high school Harry for a bag of some plant product. We have to stand up for truth, for reality, what is before our eyes. We have to become full citizens of this nation. We have to participate. We have to demand a change. We have to no longer believe in their quasi religion of drug war.
I want to claim the moral high ground. I want to stop funding Osama Bin Laden. I want to destroy the cartels. I want to eliminate the violent gangs that plague our neighborhood and entice our children to lives of crime and addiction. Why do these people exist? Why do they have their power? Because of the US policy of drug prohibition. You are the answer. The day we stand en masse and we write those letters to the editor. They can't print all of them but they can damn sure read them. They can understand you're concerned, your knowledge, your awareness of this problem and that you are no longer going to take this madness. What we have to realize is that the mechanism of the drug war through its longevity was certified as appropriate to use in the war on terror. But why is it certified. What makes it legitimate? Our silence? When we don't speak up against what we see as absolute bull crap, when we allow this to devour generations of our children and we all do the duty pledge, well it must be the right moral thing to do. Sorry, Johnny has got to spend ten years behind bars but he will come out a better person I think. And of course it's all a lie. Just like with the drug war they used an untrustworthy snitch, Mr. [ ] to justify this invasion, right? Long term sentences are justified. Take people's children. Take their house, take their car, their cash, their worldly goods, their rights, their future. Take it! They're unconditionally exterminable. They're drug users. And yet George Bush if it be said is a walking billboard for success after drug use. It is all a lie. Stand for your rights, do something. Make the change happen.
Dean Becker: Alright my friends, here's hoping that 2010 is a year of great progress but you know it's going to take some effort fro you to get it done. And as always, I remind you that because of prohibition, you don't know what is in that bag. Please be careful.
To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.
This show is produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT Houston.
Tap dancing on the edge of the abyss...