Transcript

Cultural Baggage / August 29, 2010

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!”

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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.

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Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies today. (Obviously the host is confused, this is the Cultural Baggage show.) We’ll hear from Jamie Felner with Human Rights Watch. Paul Armentano with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. We’ll hear a new cannabis recipe from Sandy Moriarty of Oaksterdam University and we’ll hear from Mr. Nick Novello, a working Dallas cop. First up, Jaime Felner.

Jaime Felner: I’m Jaime Felner, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch.

Dean Becker: Jamie, you recently had a piece that was in the Huffington Post, A Drug Abuse Policy That Fails Everyone. Will you summarize that for the listeners, please?

Jaime Felner: Sure. The United States has spent about $521 billion dollars over the last forty years in an effort to curtail the use and sale of illegal drugs and that war on drugs has been a bust. In fact, there’s been a new national poll that shows 65% of Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, who think that this effort has been a failure.

We have – anybody who wants drugs can get them easily and without paying – it means that there hasn’t been much change in price. Drug gangs remain brutal and violent, particularly south of the border but there’s violence still in this country that’s been fed by the quest for the incredible profits that can come from the drug business and those are profits come because drugs are illegal.

The war on drugs has shredded the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, eviscerated the Eight Amendment of prohibition on cruel punishment. The courts are swamped with hundreds of thousands of low-level drug cases in which rapid-fire plea-bargains pass for justice. It has been a disaster in every way you want to look and it’s been particularly devastating because the burdens of the war have been felt primarily in black American communities.

The racial disparities in the war on drugs have been astonishing, actually the people who put together The Wire, which I think was one of the best TV shows ever and also probably the best depiction of the Drug War in urban America. The guys who wrote that said that the battle against drugs in the United States is really a battle on – a war on poor Americans of color.

So, we know for example that Blacks and Whites engage in drug offenses at the roughly similar rates but Black men enter state prison on drug charges at more than ten times the rate of white men. Blacks are arrested anywhere from 3-to-5 times – rates 3-to-5 times higher than those of Whites.

Black communities essentially are the fronts of the Drug War and this has continued and unfortunately, I don’t think that the Administration of President Obama has shown much of an inclination to do anything about it.

Dean Becker: The fact is, that if these rates of arrest were in the opposite direction, that Whites were being arrested at ten times the rate of Blacks this would certainly have drawn more attention, more redirection by this point.

Jaime Felner: Absolutely. Absolutely and in fact, Dean, not only that, I think there’s no question that if the problem of drugs had been seen as really a problem of White Americans, the country would have followed a very different path. It would have followed a public health path, in fact, way back with President Nixon when there was concern about heroin, they, in fact, were pursuing primarily a sort of a public health approach.

That changed in the eighties when discussions about drugs or the frenzy, I should say, it wasn’t discussions because they weren’t rational but concern about drugs became really a code for talking about concern about black, urban America.

So, you have a really toxic mix of White fears and racism and the sort of after-effects of all the civil rights efforts combined with some very genuine concerns about crack cocaine. Most of those concerns have been proved, you know, there were a lot of myths about crack that we slowly learned that it doesn’t lead to all of the harms that we thought.

Nevertheless, there were people genuinely concerned but this underlying it and being manipulated for political purposes, I mean the Republicans were very clear that this is what they were doing to get Southern votes. They were playing “talking drugs but playing the race card” and that hasn’t changed.

Dean Becker: No that has not changed. What was the topic on the Austin American Statesman?

Jaime Felner: Just a couple of week ago, the Fair Sentencing Act was signed by President Obama which finally reduced the infamous 100-to-1 disparity for sentences – between the federal sentences between crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

That legislation which was enacted in the eighties at the height if the crack cocaine hysteria and I think that’s the only fair way to discuss it to – excuse me – the only fair way to call it, a sort of hysteria and frenzy in all the newspapers and in Congress.

Under that legislation crack cocaine became the only drug for which simple possession got you mandatory five years. No other drug got you such a federal sentence, five years for simple possession. Under that legislation it took 100 times as much powder cocaine to get the same sentence, as you would for crack. So, you have dramatically more punitive sentences for crack.

And guess who was primarily arrested and prosecuted for federal crack cocaine offenses? Black Americans.

Eighty percent of the federal crack cocaine defendants were Black. So Blacks were bearing the brunt of these uniquely punitive sentences. President Obama signed legislation that reduces the 100-to-1 ratio to 18-to-1.

Now it should have been reduced to nothing. They should be sentenced the same but this was a political move because there’s some diehards in Congress who still insist that crack be punished more heavily but still, the 18-to-1 is a huge step forward and it got rid of the simple possession mandatory minimum.

So, this is a very important step. Unfortunately, although it has been hailed by many as a major advance to ending racial disparities of the war on drugs and although Human Rights Watch also welcomes and celebrates it, it’s impact is almost more symbolic than real.

Most drug offenders in the United States are prosecuted in state courts, under state law and this 100-to-1 disparity never – doesn’t exist in the State system. So you have about 1.8 million arrests – drug arrests every year, only 25,000 federal drug cases a year. So, you can see just from that, that most cases are in state court and this legislation, as welcome as it is, won’t have any impact on those.

President Obama has not really signaled any intentions or plans to really go after the fundamental – what’s driving racial disparities of the war on drugs. That’s at the local level. Where are the police are putting their law enforcement efforts? They’re putting them in minority communities.

If you go into minority communities, you’re going to be arresting minorities and that starts the whole – you know – more and more disproportionate numbers of minorities are arrested and disproportionate numbers are convicted. Disproportionate numbers get sent to prison and it builds and feeds on itself. So, that we have today, as I said ten times – the black men are sent to prison at tens times the rate of white men on drug charges.

Dean Becker: One again we’ve been speaking with Jamie Feldner. She’s with Human Rights Watch. Jamie, what’s so seldom, if ever focused upon is the fact that to make eight grams of crack cocaine, you only need one gram of powder cocaine. So, the actual drug content is even more disparate than this new 18-to-1.

Jaime Felner: Well and you know, crack is made from powder. If you really were serious about it, as you were just saying, if you were really serious about going after crack you would be much – come down much harder on those who are selling powder because without powder you can’t make crack.

There was a belief, it was an erroneous belief because in absolute numbers there are far more white users of crack – were then and still are – white users of crack than black but crack became seen in the public mind as a black drug and I don’t think you can fairly understand the harsher – historically harsher federal sentences for crack without understanding that connection in the public mind between crack and black Americans.

Dean Becker: Jamie, I look at it like this, all of these politicians have avoided this topic as a proverbial third rail for decades, if not generations now. I see the potential for any politician to say, “I want to destroy the cartels. I want to eliminate the reason for most of these gangs. Take away children’s access”. It’s on down the line a win/win/win for any politician who can wrap their mind around the concept. What’s your closing thoughts, please?

Jaime Felner: I think we need a fundamental change in the paradigm. We have been trying for four decades to use an “arrest and lock em’ up” approach to address the use and sale of drugs and what we’ve gotten from it is many dead bodies on both sides of the border and many lives blighted by the criminal justice system and by drugs.

We need a change in policy that focuses more on public health – takes a public health and harm reduction approach and one, which in so doing will also better respect human rights, not just because we won’t have this sort of egregious violation by the police but also because there is a human right to health.

The current policy leaves Americans as devastated by the police, law enforcement and federal law enforcement as the are by drugs. So, that’s a loss/loss for everybody.

Dean Becker: Alright, Jamie Felner, website please for Human Rights [Watch]?

Jaime Felner: hrw.org

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(Game show music)

It’s time to play: Name That Drug By It’s Side Effects

Unexplained rapid weight gain, trouble breathing, unusual fatigue, fast pounding heartbeat, changes in menstrual cycles, dark urine, persistent nausea, vomiting, chills, cold sweat, dizziness, drowsiness, shaking, confusion and fruity breath odor.

(gong)

Time’s up!

The answer: Avandia for diabetics, approved by the FDA.

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Paul Armentano: I am Paul Armentano Deputy Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Dean Becker: Well, there’s so much news happening these days in the field of marijuana understanding and examination of the policy itself and potential moves away from our Draconian policies, are there not?

Paul Armentano: This is really one of the most exciting times for marijuana law reform, not just in recent memory, but arguably ever. We have greater public support now for marijuana legalization for adults than at any time in our nation’s history.

There are more campaigns underway, whether it’s the legalization campain in California, or other efforts that are taking place nationwide.

The American public has recognized that marijuana prohibition is a failure and they want to pursue commonsense alternatives to this failed criminal policy and you’re seeing varieties of those alternatives, cropping up in grassroots campaigns all over this country.

Dean Becker: Paul, then there is the archaic clinging to the beliefs of old. A recent indication is the “Statement of the Six Past US Drug Czars.” Do you want to talk about that effort by them?

Paul Armentano: The current Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske, teamed up with five former United States Drug Czars for a Pen and Opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times opposing Proposition 19.

Proposition 19, of course, is the California statewide ballot measure that seeks to legalize the adult personal use and possession of marijuana in private and it also seeks to allow local governments the option to regulate the commercial production and retail sales of marijuana for adults.

Now, it should not come to any surprise that the Drug Czar opposes this measure. Actually, by federal law, anyone holding the position of Drug Czar, is bound legally to have to publicly oppose these sort of measures, as it is in his job description that the Drug Czar must actively oppose any effort or even any study that would seek to legalize any substance that is currently classified as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, such as marijuana.

So, while it no surprise to the Drug Czar actively taking this position, it of course is frustrating for those of us working as reformers on this issue to have to take time to constantly rebut the lies that are put out by this office.

This LA Times Op-Ed was chocked full of them. One of my personal favorites being that Proposition 19 in unnecessary because, in fact, law enforcement do not spend any of their time, right now, currently going after or arresting minor marijuana offenders. Of course, the national FBI data that we record year in and year out continues to belie that notion.

Upton Sinclair wrote many years ago that, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.” Clearly, that principle applies to the Drug Czar. In fact, it’s more so that his job depends him not understanding it, his job actually requires him to not understand it.

So, that’s the situation we’re in and that’s the situation that we’re so often dealing with when we are entering these sort of debates with those who benefit from the current prohibition. Whether they be members of law enforcement, whether they be unions involved in the prison guard industry, whether they are representatives of the drug testing industry or whether they are representatives from the drug treatment industry that basically gets so many of their clients now funneled from the criminal justice system. These, of course, are people who have been arrested for minor drug violations and are sentenced to treatment as an alternative to incarceration.

So, we see so many of these different interest groups benefiting from prohibition. It hurts their bottom line to acknowledge that there are commonsense alternatives out there and that is so often why we find ourselves in this uphill battle. Fortunately, we’ve seen this major shift recently in public opinion, so things are changing.

Dean Becker: Speaking of that shift in public opinion, your organization the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has been instrumental in bringing about that renewed perception, if you will. You guys are having a conference coming up in September. Tell us about it, please.

Paul Armentano: Sure. NORML will be holding its 39th Annual National Conference this September in Portland. Oregon. The dates for the conference are September 9th through September 11th. That’s a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Thursday and Friday will be the general plenary sessions and Saturday will be a day devoted specifically to issues surrounding medical cannabis.

I can let people know that a couple of our keynote speakers this year include Gary Johnson, the former Republication Governor of New Mexico, who now is a Presidential Candidate and has been an outspoken critic of the war on drugs.

Rick Steves will also be speaking as a stand-alone speaker at this year’s conference and many of your listeners will know him as the best selling author and former PBS travel host. Rick is a very eloquent and articulate speaker on this issue and he’s really dedicated to reforming America’s archaic marijuana laws.

Dean Becker: The gathering of hundreds of people from and around the country and some from around the world, gives us a chance to share ideas, gives us a chance to beter understand the progress made by others and to incorporate it into our efforts. Paul, thank you so much for being with us.

Paul Armentano: Thank you for having me.

Dean Becker: You can learn much more at: norml.org

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Sandy Moriarty: This is Sandy from Oaksterdam University. I’d love to share with you my recipe for the hit of the summer. This will be the most delicious desert or salad you could ever make.

Now, what we do is take some really nice, strong bud. So we want about an eighth of an ounce or a quarter of an ounce of bud. In a saucepan, take a cup of water and a cup of sugar and simmer it for about three to five minutes until the syrup itself blends, the sugar and the water, blends to create a delicious syrup.

Then place the buds in the syrup, sauté them for about twenty minutes until all the trichomes have melted off of the buds and cling to the lipids in the simple syrup that we just created.

Once your simple syrup is completed, strain the buds out of the syrup to where you just have a beautiful, green colored sauce. It’s thicker. It’s not quite a sauce but thicker than a liquid. It’s a syrup.

So, therefore, you take this syrup and put it in the refrigerator and chill it. This will also thicken it up and this process, it will thicken it up a little bit more to where it’s not quite as thick as maple syrup but thick enough.

So, then you take this syrup and pour it over the most delicious fruit salad you can possibly make. Watermelon itself is very porous and it absorbs the mixture right away. While this cannabis fruit salad just walks away with it. It’s just out of this world. It’s very refreshing and the taste is just so delicious.

Then, as far as the potency of the buds, you can feel the medicine and enjoy that nice calming feeling or if you would want to get a little bit more of an impact, that’s where you would be able to control it through the strength of your buds.

So, enjoy your fruit salad. Greetings from sunny California and this is Sandy Moriarty signing off from Oaksterdam University, Cooking 101. I want to remind all of you that I start my cooking classes November 6th and I’m looking forward to it.

The first class we’re going to teach is for “Dizzy Birds”, the first show that we had. So, I’ll look forward to any of you that are going to be in Oakland. Come by and visit. Great to talk to you and Dean, you have a great day. I look forward until the next time we talk. Take care, Thanks! Happy cooking!

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It doesn’t seem so strange anymore to have current and former cops speaking out for the need to change these laws and here to talk about to us, a representative from MedCan University, based in Texas. Mr. Nick Novello. Are you with us, sir?

Nick Novello: Yes, I am. I am a working police officer in Dallas but I am speaking to you as a citizen exercising his first amendment rights as a spokesperson for LEAP.

Dean Becker: Nick, I wanted to get your changing perception over the years in regards to marijuana.

Nick Novello: I’ve been in police work for the last twenty-eight years and I was approached a couple of months ago by Dante Picazo, who was the founder and CEO of MedCan University.

He asked me to put together an argument against the use of medicinal cannabis. I began to research the topic and honestly, Dean, the more I researched the more I came to the conclusion that the thoughts that I had held about cannabis for the last twenty-eight years were wrong and misplaced.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve embraced, that cannabis because of its medicinal qualities. There’s so many different cannabinoids in cannabis that have strong medicinal applications. I had the privilege, just tonight, in meeting Tim Timmons and it was a pleasure to speak with him and he shared with me how the use of cannabis has helped to prolong his life. He is in extreme pain most of the time except for the use of cannabis, which really does arrest that pain and allows him to sleep. It was a real pleasure and privilege to meet him tonight.

Dean Becker: In the meantime MedCan University is holding a seminar up in Dallas, next month. Do you want to tell a little bit about that and perhaps your involvement with that seminar?

Nick Novello: I’ve been asked to do a LEAP presentation, which I’ll be more than happy to do. MedCan is very instrumental in introducing a bill to the Texas House, so that obviously we can get this thing passed and people who have a dire need for medical cannabis can access it in the state of Texas.

We need to stop putting these people who commit a nonviolent act – we need to stop criminalizing that conduct. It‘s my absolute conviction and that’s the principal reason I am a LEAP spokesperson.

Dean Becker: Alright folks, well we’ve been speaking with Mr. Nick Novello, a working Dallas policeman. Nick, I want to alert folks that seminar’s going to happen in Dallas, September 18th and 19th and they can learn more by visiting: medcanuniversity.com

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This is the Abolitionist Moment:

Fear engendered by any mechanism possible is what gives the Drug War life. The biggest fear of all is the unknown. The minority report’s opinion is that if drugs were made legal for adults that children would have easier access. The Christian right’s thought is that if drugs were made legal by Pfizer or Merck that more overdoses would occur.

The cops are concerned that if syringes were made freely available to addicts that nobody would quit using. The State Department thinks that if they push harder against the drug smuggling and raise the price of cocaine that the cartels will crumble.

Fear gives life to the black market, which thrives by selling contaminated drugs to our children. The cartels suffer from selling their drugs at high prices, just as Chevron suffered when selling their gasoline for $4 a gallon.

America is the lead horse, pulling this Drug War wagon and encouraging the rest of the world via their “silver or lead” approach. Those who stand for Drug War are the best friends the drug lords could ever hope for.

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Alright, I find time for one more report!

Howard Wooldridge: I’m Howard Wooldridge an advocate for COPS, Citizens Opposing Prohibition here in Washington D.C., advocating the repeal of federal prohibition.

I was for eighteen years a police officer in Lansing, Michigan being a detective. I’ve been in Washington D.C. now for the last five years, trying to get this Drug War over.

Dean Becker: You’re headed to California for another endeavor. Tell us about it, please.

Howard Wooldridge: Well sir, probably most of your listeners know this, about California’s Prop 19, while would regulate, control and tax cannabis. On the November 2nd ballot, Misty and I leave tomorrow morning bright and early. Truck and trailer this time, we’re not going to ride across America, to do a weekend to influence a few votes to get people to pass this initiative, which would be of course, the first in the nation to really stick a finger in the eye of the Federal Government, saying, “You can have your federal prohibition but the people in California will do it their way.”

Dean Becker: As you indicated Howard, you rode that horse you rode the horse, Misty, not once, but twice in trying to expose the horrors of this Drug War, did you not?

Howard Wooldridge: Yeah, we rode in 2003 from Georgia to Oregon and in 2005, we rode from Los Angeles to downtown New York City, Battery Park, a Paul Revere ride gone crazy.

Dean Becker: Now, and let’s tell folks a little about what happens on these rides. You’re wearing a shirt that says – well, what’s the shirt going to say his time, Howard?

Howard Wooldridge: Well, the shirt’s going to say what it said last time, “COPS say legalize pot. Ask me why.” We had mostly fantastic encounters along the way. We had a couple of people threaten to go home and get their guns and shoot me but the overwhelming amount of contact was very positive. People wished us well and Godspeed on our journey.

America is waking up faster and faster to the failure of policy and the need to take the radical step of going back to where we were a hundred years ago and put these drugs in the control of the government, much like alcohol and tobacco.

Dean Becker: Give it back to Merck and Walgreen’s, right?

Howard Wooldridge: Yes, exactly and if you have a drug problem one day, see a doctor. How complicated can it be?

Dean Becker: Yup. Ok, Howard, if folks want to learn more about this effort, point them where they should go on the web.

Howard Wooldridge: On the web, go to citizensopposingprohibition.org and learn a little bit more about it. Check the vision statement and if you too want to really get out there every day and push this thing you can buy the web, you can buy a T-shirt off that thing. You can have COPS, moms, dads, Dean, Howard, Susan, say, “legalize pot, ask me why” and you will be amazed at the overwhelming positive response you’ll get everywhere you go.

Dean Becker: I would also recommend a visit to justsaynow.com.

Well that’s it for this edition of Cultural Baggage. Be sure to check out the new Century of Lies show when our guest will be Russ Jones a former federal agent. And once again, I remind you, because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.

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To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs are archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.