Cultural Baggage, May 28, 2008
Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.
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 phamaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Today we're going to hear from our long-lost friend, Mr. Terry Nelson. We'll also get the Poppygate Report from Glenn Greenway and we'll hear from Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project.
This is the Cultural Baggage Show and we're going to bring in our guest who just returned from Iraq, Mr. Terry Nelson. Hello, sir.
Terry Nelson: Hello, Dean. How are you today?
Dean Becker: I'm so glad to hear your voice and know that you made it back alive and well. I used to introduce the show with, you know, this is your segment of the show, by saying 'Terry Nelson spent 32 years working for the U.S. government as a customs, border and air interdiction officer' but I'm going to have to change that. It's now 33 years. And what was your title in Iraq, sir?
Terry Nelson: I was a border enforcement advisor working with the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement to set up their new border patrols.
Dean Becker: I have always enjoyed your segments as have many people around the country, and, Terry, you have served our nation. You have observed over the years the implementation, or lack thereof, of this drug war. But you're a spokesman for LEAP as well, right, sir?
Terry Nelson: That's correct. I'm a spokesman for LEAP, which stands for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. There's about 800 of us that are actual cops, judges, etc. and about a 10,000 men member force supporters.
Dean Becker: You know, we have very desperate situations in Afghanistan, in Mexico, in Colombia--these wars, these very real wars over drug supply remain quite powerful, do they not?
Terry Nelson: Yes, they are. Unlike some of the wars these could be won rather easily, we believe, by just a simple process of legalization of the drugs and then a regulation and control set-up.
Dean Becker: Over the years I've spoken to churches and to university groups and classes, even a high school one time. Spoke to the Libertarian convention. But last night was my first time to speak to any of the Rotary-type clubs, the fraternal groups. I spoke to a Lion's club here in Houston. There were, I think, there were fifteen people and they all ranged, I think, in age from 70 to about 85 years of age. And I was astounded at the end, I kind of took a poll. How many of you, after hearing this discussion, think the drug war has merit, that it needs to continue? And only one person, kind of hesitating, raised his hand but he was just kind of afraid that more people would use, was his thought. Do you get a similar response?
Terry Nelson: Yes. Generally speaking, probably higher than ninety percent of the people agree with you. They may not want to go with legalization but they know the drug war is not working, it has been lost, and they're just afraid. They're afraid of change, as so many people are. And the devil we do versus the one we don't know. But the only way you can ever make any progress is through legalization with a, implement a regulation and control system because forty-odd years and all we've seen is, the only thing they've accomplished is putting our kids in prison. And that's about it.
Dean Becker: Tell us about some of the experience you had south of our borders.
Terry Nelson: Quite good experiences. I had a lot of fun, at taxpayers' expense I'll have to admit. You know, we talk about drug busts up here in America and what's big and what's not big. On the 14th of January, 2005, one of the last arrests I was involved with, my team busted 14 metric tons, which is almost 30,000 pounds of cocaine, in one bust and it didn't make a difference in the price in the United States, so certainly, some police officer putting his life on the line, busting somebody down in some alley for a gram of coke is not going to win the war.
Dean Becker: And we have that type situation certainly in Houston, certainly in Texas, and in many states across America where just a minor amount somehow qualifies you as a drug dealer. Or having a stack of baggies next to your stash makes you a dealer. And we've really gone off track, have we not?
Terry Nelson: I believe we have. Here, a while back, I was looking up the DEA laws on marijuana plants and from one to a hundred is a felony, is a felony for ten years in prison and over a hundred is twenty years in prison. Well, from one to a hundred--ten years in prison? This seems way out of line to me.
Dean Becker: Terry, you have, I think, one of the widest ranging perspectives perhaps in our group of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. You've seen first-hand what goes on south of our borders. You've also observed within our borders the ramifications of this policy. And, you mentioned earlier, it's never done anything besides just kind of pretend that it's doing some good, right?
Terry Nelson: That's my belief. Actually it does more harm than good, which is what makes it a bad policy. We're never going to win it the way we're doing it. We need to change the rules and start trying to help people instead of hurt them.
Dean Becker: Terry, if you would, tell us a little bit more about your experience as a border guard.
Terry Nelson: Well, I started out working in El Paso with, so that was with immigration and I went over to start working narcotics in the Florida Keys back in the mid-eighties. Worked down there, the Don Johnson type, Miami Vice type work for almost three years. And then I decided I'd get married so I got married and quit that one. Started over, and then I went over to Air and Marine Operations and that's when we started working primarily in Central and South America, working the Air Bridge Denial Program. It was a lot of fun at first but then after while all, you couldn't see any progress and more and more of us talked about decriminalization is maybe the answer but the more we thought about that, that we realized that wouldn't work either because it still leaves the criminal element in it. And the only way we could really make it work would be to take the criminals out and the only way to take the criminal out is like we did with Prohibition, when we repealed Prohibition, is just legalize it and the criminals go away and we'll deal with it as a medical problem instead of a criminal problem. And, ironically, by legalizing the drugs--about probably 70 to 80 percent of the crime associated with it would also go away.
Dean Becker: It's hard to pin it down. To put an exact number on that. But even if it's not a drug possession charge many of the people in our prisons are there for a, I'll say, a life style that revolved around the drug trade. Whether that's burglary to support their habit or in some other fashion. They get convicted because, well, because this drug war exists.
Terry Nelson: Well, it's a quick profit. And it's hard to tell someone--no one thinks they're going to get caught when they start a criminal enterprise. Everyone thinks they're going to be the one guy that doesn't get caught, and fortunately, they usually do. Especially the longer you stay at it. Ironically, of the 2.2 million people in prison, 1.8 million of them are in prison for non-violent drug offenses. And I always thought that prison was a place for violent people that couldn't live in society. And another irony of it is that almost 800,000 of those are in there for non-violent marijuana possession laws. So that's just, it's crazy. It's way out of control.
Dean Becker: Well, it is. You know, I was out in California, I guess, six or eight weeks ago and I was traveling with a medical marijuana patient. And the gentleman needs it. I mean, I'll just say it. He would smoke about once every hour on the road and as we came about a hundred miles into Texas, suddenly everything on I-10 was diverted off to a border checkpoint. We waited in line, coming up to the station, and a gentleman came up with a dog and the dog damned near jumped in the truck with us. They found a little bit of marijuana. I had to throw it in a trash-can and then they didn't search the rest of the car because they knew he was a medical patient and they just didn't want to deal with this situation. And we went on down the road with considerably more than we threw away. And, I guess, Terry, those agents understood the situations. Those agents saw no need to arrest this man and lock him up. Why can't we get their bosses to understand that situation?
Terry Nelson: The problem is their bosses aren't in charge of policy in America. Their bosses are like, as they said to me one time when I raised the question at a meeting, I was told with a finger in my face that, 'Agent Nelson, you don't make policy. You carry it out.' And that's the deal with the officers. They're carrying out the policy. The policy is made by our elected officials. They are the ones that are going to have to change it. Many, many border patrol, or even police officers out there, have compassion for people and they understand. They live in communities where people smoke and people do lots of things that aren't legal but they don't hurt anyone else and they just leave it alone. They don't want to bother with drugs and that's why the country--the threshold for federal prosecution is 500 pounds anyway so I'm sure you didn't have that much.
Dean Becker: [laughter] No, nowhere near that. But, yeah, it was just, I guess, an example of, kind of, had we been in the City of Houston or another town in America we probably would have gone to prison but it was just such a nuisance to them that they didn't even really care, right?
Terry Nelson: Or if you had been in a small town somewhere in the center part of Texas and they wanted to increase their local funds by seizing your assets, yes, it would have been a big difference.
Dean Becker: Well, sure. Take the truck and whatever is in it.
Terry Nelson: Yep. And then let you plead guilty to a lesser charge and they sell your truck and put it in the county coffers. Kind of like illegal taxation in my book.
Dean Becker: These forfeiture laws have been set up to, well, rip-off so many people for basically just having money in their pocket sometimes, right?
Terry Nelson: I can't prove this but I believe there has been cases started just for the fact of trying to seize valuable property and maybe even getting the job done and knowing that the case was weak but that the person wouldn't come back and fight it because they didn't want you looking any deeper at them. It's just wrong. When they came out with the zero-tolerance law I was working down in Florida. And at that time if someone had come on your two million dollar yacht with a cigarette, with a marijuana joint in their package of cigarettes, hidden, and you didn't know it, and you all had gone out boating that day and the Coast Guard had stopped you and found it, they could have seized your yacht. Well, now, we just know that's wrong and we know they probably wouldn't have done it because people who can afford a three million dollar yacht can also afford good lawyers. But say it's Julio with a shrimp boat or Juan with a lobster boat, they would've seized it and that would have been that and then the guy would have lost his livelihood.
Dean Becker: Once again, we're talking with Mr. Terry Nelson, a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and who just returned from his duty in Iraq as a border enforcement advisor. Terry, quick summary: How did you see things, are they better able to seal their borders at this time?
Terry Nelson: Over in Iraq, probably getting better but you're never going to be able to seal the borders and I tried to explain that to them. Because their borders are even more barren than ours out there. There's mine-fields everywhere, of course, along the border with Iran, between Iran and Iraq, because of a ten year war that was fought back in the 80s. But, no, you just try to teach them and show them how to do it with compassion and not worry about the small things and try to deal with the bigger issues. Because you're never going to seal the border. The Zagros Mountains are basically the border and, well, look how many people you've had looking for one individual in the mountains over by Pakistan. You can't do it.
So the issue is not to even try and regulate the amount of stuff that comes across and try your best to control it and don't get wrapped around the idea of prohibiting things from crossing the border. Since we're talking about drug things, I looked up the number of estimated drug addicts is Iraq and, my goodness, can you believe it's almost 10,000 people addicted--wait a minute, there's 27 million people in the country so that's not even one tenth of one percent. So there's not a drug problem there, per se. Of course we hear a lot of talk about 'You have to keep the drugs out of the country.' Well, fine. Why don't we worry about guns and explosives instead of worrying about drugs for crying out loud. It's a lot bigger issue with me because I don't think a load of drugs is going to kill some Marine but I can guarantee you a bomb will.
Dean Becker: We do need to change our focus. I agree with you, sir. Well, Terry, you have, I think, a unique perspective in the way you present your knowledge, in the way you share it with folks in the organizations you speak to. Kind of give us a summary.
Terry Nelson: Well, first I try to talk to them about the word 'legalization.' And I say please don't be frightened by the word. It doesn't mean encourage and it doesn't even mean approval. It certainly doesn't mean drug use would ever be compulsory. It's simply a word to describe a different policy, you know, a different way of dealing with the drug problem. We currently use mainly education coupled with prohibition and prosecution and, to my way of thinking, it'd be education coupled with personal liberty, you know, tolerance and compassion and even support for those who have become addicted.
Prohibition isn't working and the problems with society are too important to ignore. And when you go and you say things like this to a Rotary group or Lions group they see that you're not coming at it from, you're not approving of drug use or you don't want people to be addicted. You want to fix the problem. And we, as law enforcement officers, we deal with the crime and violence issue of it and we want to stop the crime and violence and quit putting people in prison for non-violent consensual crimes and then deal with the people who do become addicted as a medical issue instead of a criminal one. And when you talk to people and lay it out like that almost everyone agrees with you.
We work major conventions all over the United States and in the high 80s percentage of the people who come by our booth agree with us. And only about 13 percent disagree and the rest of them are uncommitted. So the people out there understand that this isn't working and is not the way to do it but the government just will not give on this. We see some cracks in the armor, there's not much. So we need to really get on them and make them change it.
Dean Becker: Well, you know, Terry--I don't know if you got a chance to hear--I mentioned earlier that now two and three weeks ago I brought the District Attorney candidates for Harris County in here. And I wanted to share a couple of thoughts with you. I asked Clarence Bradford, former Chief of Police here, how many law enforcement officers would it take to end the drug war here in Houston? He says 'There's no way in the world we can ever hire enough officers to stop the drug war here in Houston.' I just wanted to kind of get your thoughts, your feedback to that.
Terry Nelson: He's correct. You're never going to arrest your way out of this war. Just like we're never going to kill our way out of the other wars we're in. I mean, there has to be other solutions. And we believe there is a better solution for that. You know, I was reading somewhere yesterday something like 84 million people have been arrested in 40 years for the use of drugs. Now they call it 'abuse' instead of use but it's use of drugs. Well, there's only 300 million people in America. So, I mean, and somewhere it's been said that 114 million people have used drugs so if we arrest everybody that's used drugs then we got half the population in jail and the other half guarding them. It's not going to happen.
People have to understand that and all we're doing is the police are catching the low-hanging fruit and leaving the people that are stealing cars, burglarizing houses. Stolen cars result in about 5 billion dollars a year loss to our economy, to the people paying additional fees and stuff. And there's only 13 percent of car thieves that are ever caught. The same applies to burglaries. Burglaries, you know, create total havoc and invasion of your privacy but only 12 to 13 percent of burglars are ever caught. Let's focus on crimes against people instead of crimes against the government, which is all, prohibition is all about.
Dean Becker: I wanted to share with you former Judge Pat Lykos. She came on my show two weeks ago and I was astounded by this response from her. I was asking her 'What can we do?' She was talking about 'We need to go after the traffickers,' and I said 'Well, if by traffickers I hope you don't mean the guy with the little bag in his pocket or even a couple of kilos in his trunk. Let's go after the guys with the boatloads, let's go after the guys with the airplane loads,' and she says 'What we have to do is go after the bankers who are laundering the money for the those with the boatloads and we have to go after the politicians that allow this to happen.' Your thoughts there, sir?
Terry Nelson: It currently is estimated that the dope trade is about seven percent of our GNP, untaxed and unregulated. So why don't we just, why don't we legalize it, tax it and regulate it and use the money for education and treatment versus incarceration? I tried to show, the last five years I worked our team was responsible for getting almost 230,000 pounds of cocaine. The last year I worked we got the USIC, the United States Interdiction Committee, award for interdiction. I mean, when you're catching and prohibiting this amount of drugs from getting into the country, yet the supply remains basically the same, the price is cheaper, you're not going to win.
And we spent billions of dollars in Colombia eradicating the drugs. Less than a year ago the Vice President of Colombia came out and said cocaine production was up 25% in the last two years in his country. So now, they're producing almost two million pounds of cocaine in Colombia and, for those of you who do the math, that's three grams for every man, woman and child in America. We're not going to stop it that way. I mean, we've been doing it for too many years, it's not working and now, the person who used to be in charge in Colombia has been sent to Afghanistan to help them with an eradication program which Karzai won't go for right now, so it didn't work in Colombia so let's try it in Afghanistan to see if we can kill a few more people. It's just stupid. It has to stop.
And, when President Bush first came in the office, he gave a speech and he said that the way to fight terrorism is to cut off the money, which is similar to what you just said. Well, the way to fight drugs is to cut off the money. Cut off the money supply and the drug dealers and the violence with it will go away. Then we deal with it in a more humane way.
Dean Becker: In the meantime Osama Bin Laden's cash cow grows ever fatter. Well, Terry, we're going to have to end it for now but hopefully starting next week we can get back to our weekly reports from you?
Terry Nelson: Well, Dean, I'm looking forward to it and thank you for this opportunity.
Dean Becker: You bet, Terry. I'm so glad you're back in one piece and we will certainly continue this in future discussions. Once again, we've been speaking with Mr. Terry Nelson.
It's time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects!
[Really horrible deadly side effects]
Times up! The answer, 5-Meo-DMT, Piedra, Love Stone, Jamaican Stone or Chinese rock. From Bufo Aleverius--the skin of the toad. The doctor's say the safest and surest way is not to eat it or lick it and sure as hell not to smoke it but simply to sniff it.
Otherwise you could wind up dead.
Dean Becker: Poppygate. Bizarre news about the U.S. policy on controlling heroin, featuring Glenn Greenway.
Glenn Greenway: Listeners know the score. Afghanistan, nearly opium free as recently as 2001, is, after seven years of American occupation, the world's quintessential opium source. More than ninety percent of the world's heroin now originates in Afghanistan. The terribly impoverished country's economy hinges on the illegal sale of narcotics, being both the largest source of both employment and foreign investment.
The situation there is, by any standard, terrible. Suicide assassinations, kidnapping and U.S. bombing raids continue to escalate in the near complete security vacuum. The rights of women, the spread of democracy, the health and well-being of the people have, in no way, significantly improved after years of U.S. and NATO military intervention and occupation. Food prices are skyrocketing, hunger is rising and the U.S. response is now to build a gargantuan prison on the former Soviet base, now the U.S. base at Bagram, forty miles north of Kabul.
According to the New York Times hundreds of Afghans and other detainees are currently being housed in wire-mesh pens surrounded by coils of razor wire and are exposed to asbestos and heavy-metals. The new prison will house as many as 1,100 hundred men in 6 to 10 football field sized Quonset huts.
New reports from the U.N. indicate that CIA, U.S. Special Forces, and other unknown agencies are now participating in death squads assisting in inter-tribal violence as warlords continue to wage war against their fellows Afghans.
Finally, this week marks the 20-year anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, after their disastrous invasion and occupation of the country in the 1980's. So far, we're doing no better than the mighty Russian Bear and in many ways, most notably including narcotics, doing much worse.
This is Glenn Greenway reporting for the Drug Truth Network.
Bruce Mirken: I am Bruce Mirken and I am Communications Director for the Marijuana Policy Project which is the largest organization in the U.S. devoted entirely to the reform of our marijuana laws.
Dean Becker: Bruce, I see just an ongoing series of reports from states around this country where legislative bodies are looking at crafting marijuana laws, as well as state initiatives and so forth. People are busy. People are looking at this situation, right?
Bruce Mirken: Well, all sorts of stuff is going on, you know, some good, some not-so-good, but there's certainly plenty of activity. We've got, of course, an initiative heading for the ballot in Michigan, a medical marijuana bill just introduced today in Ohio, on the downside we didn't get it passed in Minnesota this year even though it looked like we had a fighting chance, but they ultimately did not bring it to a vote on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives. Which I think you've just got to attribute to political skittishness in an election year and it's disturbing that politicians still feel, wrongly, that this is a controversial issue that's going to get them in trouble. But that feeling is still out there and it's hard to fight.
Dean Becker: That kind of leads me to my next question. I mean, it is usually the influence of-quote-law enforcement that sways those representative's opinions and yet, in California, we have quite the opposite tact being taken, I think, in regards to support for Prop 215. Tell us about that effort.
Bruce Mirken: Well, you know, it's an interesting thing going on here in California. As your listeners may know, we've had a medical marijuana law for a dozen years. The feds have come in and, at times, raided and arrested patients and caregivers, sometimes, unfortunately, with the assistance and support of local police and there's a measure in the legislature now, it just passed out of committee and will go to the floor of the state assembly that would bar local resources and local law enforcement from assisting the feds in these medical marijuana raids. And, I'll tell you, I'm encouraged that we got out of committee and we're going to get a floor vote. It's not going to be easy to pass because law enforcement is going to come out, they've already started to come out, against it. They don't like anything that clips their wings and elected officials are afraid of being seen as anti-cop, anti-law enforcement. So this is not going to be easy but we do have a chance.
Dean Becker: I was out there in L.A. last Fall and I heard about a DEA raid going on at the Healing Arts dispensary, went down there and filmed it and saw that it was a whole group of 18 or 20 L.A. police officers were in effect standing guard while the DEA stole the marijuana and medicine. It's just not going over very well in California, is it?
Bruce Mirken: Well, certainly in a lot of communities it's not. The L.A. City Council was pretty upset at what was going on. Now, there is a distinction that needs to be made here because the local folks can't stop the feds from coming in so there may be a legitimate traffic control or crowd control function for local police. None of us may like it but that may in fact be a legitimate thing for them to do. That's very different from actually assisting in busting people who are obeying California law. Or we know that it's happened in some cases that local police or local prosecutors have actually called in the feds, say 'Hey, we can't do anything about it. Would you come bust these guys?' And that's simply outrageous and should not happen.
Dean Becker: And that's what this revision for Prop 215 is to prevent, right?
Bruce Mirken: Right. That's the goal of it is to stop this sort of local collaboration with federal attempts to undermine and undo our state laws. And hopefully, hopefully we'll be able to get that passed this year.
Dean Becker: All right. Now, Bruce, you know I admire you guys. I admire the progress that you just keep carving out, you know, two steps forward, one step back, but making progress. Tell folks where they can learn more about the work you do at the Marijuana Policy Project.
Bruce Mirken: Sure. You can always find us on the web at www.MPP.Org. And please look us up. Sign up for email alerts and get involved. We can only keep doing this if people get involved and become part of the struggle.
Dean Becker: And I want to close this show with the thought that until you get involved it will definitely remain a struggle.
And as always I remind you that because of drug prohibition you don't know what's 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 produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.
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