Cultural Baggage April 4, 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'

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.

Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. You know the drug war is grinding to a halt. Though it's kind of like an avalanche, you never know when it quite through. But we're approaching, I'm not going to say fast approaching, but we're approaching the end of this madness.

We got a great show for you today. We're going to be hearing from Mr. Scott Bullock from Institute for Justice. We've got a report from Allison Holcom from Washington State, a little segment we lifted from ABC news as well as from BBC news. But, let's begin.

My name is Scott Bullock. I'm senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, a non-profit public interest law firm. Located just outside of Washington D.C.

Dean Becker: Well Scott, I'm looking at y'all website and I see something that catches my attention, that the Institute for Justice litigates nationwide on behalf of individuals who's rights are being violated by Government. Is that a good summation of your work?

Mr. Scott Bullock: That's a very good summation of our work. We are a nationwide organization. We're located just outside of Washington. We have four state chapters and we're really suing governments throughout the country who violate Fundamental Constitutional Liberties.

Dean Becker: Now Scott, I'm looking at a couple of the top stories. One deals with the First Amendment, the other with property rights, economic liberty and the top of the page here, it's talking about Policing for Profit. That's a new book release as well, is it not?

Mr. Scott Bullock: That's right. We, just this week, released a study that really is the first Nation wide survey that looks at the abuse of 'Civil Asset Forfeiture'. Civil forfeiture is a concept that some people are familiar with. But if they're not and you tell them about it, their shocked. Because under 'Civil Forfeiture', police and prosecutors can take your property away from you, without so much as charging you with a crime.

In over forty states and at the federal level, police and prosecutors can than profit from the proceeds and property that forfeit from you. We think Civil Forfeiture Laws really represent one of the most serious assaults on Private Property Rights in the Nation, today.

Dean Becker: Now Scott, I'm sure that's used in conjunction or nexus, if you will, to other crimes.
Like burglary perhaps, or other criminal activities. But the predominant use of this is in regards to suspicion, of drug possession. Correct?

Mr. Scott Bullock: Oh, no question about it. It is often times tied to the drug war. But it's not only related to that. They seize people's cars for DWI's. For soliciting prostitutes and other types of crimes, because Civil Forfeiture laws are written very broadly and one of the major problems with them, is that property can be seized merely on the suspicion that you are doing something wrong and one of the primary things that governments seize now, is cash.

If the police officer suspects that you have a 'larger than normal' amount of cash on you or in your vehicle, they can seize that saying, 'I suspect you of being a drug dealer or engaging in money laundering and then once that property is seized, the burden is on 'you' to try to get the property back.

So it's really, as we call it, this upside down world where rather than the criminal context, where the burden is on the Government to pursue you and prove that you're guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In Civil Forfeiture, the opposite is true. The burden is on the individual to try to prove they're or their properties, innocence.

Dean Becker: Guilty till proven innocent. Yes, sir. Now, you guys have summarized the activates in all the various states, in this regard, and given grades, if you will, on their use of this policy. Correct?

Mr. Scott Bullock: Yeah, that's right and unfortunately only three states received a final grade of B or higher and thirty-five states received a D or an F for their laws alone. So this is a nationwide problem and unfortunately most states and at the federal level, do not have adequate protections for property owners.

Dean Becker: Now I realize that probably every state has some impact in this regard, but it is mostly South of the Mason-Dixon Line where most of the deviation from our prior standards occurs, right?

Mr. Scott Bullock: Yeah, some of the worst abusers are in the South. But we also have states like Michigan that very aggressively forfeit proceeds and this is not a very good track record nationwide. One of the things that the report points out and one of the things that needs to be reformed is that, even in states, for instance like North Carolina, that have pretty good Civil Forfeiture Laws, that do not allow the police and prosecutors to profit from forfeiture activities. What often times agencies will do there, is pass off forfeiture prosecutions to the Federal Government.

Then the Federal Government will prosecute the forfeiture actions and under federal law, the money goes right back to law enforcement. Up to eighty percent can go right back to local police and prosecutors. So this is really an end run around the wishes of the citizens, of a particular state, and it's one of the things that we look at very carefully in the report and call on the law to be changed to make sure that even if a state does have good laws, that they're not permitted to bypass state procedures and go to the Federal Government.

Dean Becker: You know Scott, I see and hear the stories coming out of Texas and Louisiana, in particular. Where they set up, in essence, a 'speed trap' to trap, and it's oft times black motorists, who are just going cross country on I-10. Your thought, in that regard?

Mr. Scott Bullock: Yeah, there's been horrible abuses of Civil Forfeiture Laws where peoples', often times, currency/cash is taken, without ever charging them with a crime and then, because the property amounts often times are small, people just kind of throw in the towel and don't even fight it. Because they feel like, 'I don't have the time and the effort to work my way through this system, hire a lawyer to try to fight for me, when they might only be seizing seven hundred dollars or fifteen hundred dollars or two thousand dollars.

That's the way a lot of these forfeiture's play out. This isn't the taking of the 'big drug dealers mansion'. This is taking a used car from somebody. It's taking fifteen hundred dollars or two thousand dollars in cash from folks. So it does disproportionately affect lower income people. Often times minority groups and it's one of the many ways that this power is abused.

Dean Becker: Can you give us an idea of the magnitude of the dollars involved in all this?

Mr. Scott Bullock: It's exploded over the years and Civil Forfeiture was really kind of a backwater of the law, until the 1980's, when the Federal Government and a lot of State Governments put this profit incentive into the law. Before that, if there was a forfeiture proceeding, the money went to typically the general revenue account of the state, where most fines and other fees that the Government charges go to, and then elected officials decide how the money is spent.

But once they took this, 'Law enforcement can eat what they kill' approach, that is when you saw forfeiture skyrocket. It just gives you one example when the law was changed in 1986 at the federal level, the Assets Forfeiture Fund at the Department of Justice had seventy-eight million dollars in it. Today, even with some reforms passed in 2000, it did provide some greater protection for property owners. The property incentive wasn't changed at that time and now that same fund has over a billion dollars in it.

Dean Becker: I remember a quote from Karen Tandy. I think she was being nominated for Drug Czar and she was quoted as saying, “That the DEA, with the capture of two billion dollars during the time she was involved, had almost paid for itself.” Your thoughts?

Mr. Scott Bullock: Yeah. I think some people, who are involved in this business, don't really see any problems with it. They don't really see the fact that 'incentives matter' and that if you give people incentives to go out and take as much property as possible, they're going to respond accordingly. So it shouldn't be surprising then, that a lot of law enforcement effort is directed, not at capturing the bad guy, stopping violent crime.

But it goes toward, “How are we going to pay ourselves?” “How are we going to fund our agencies?” “How are we going to improve our work lives?” Or in some states, “How are we going to pay our salaries?” So that is really a perversion of law enforcement priorities. Away from what their goal should be. Which is 'The fair and impartial administration of justice'.

Dean Becker: Scott, as on of the coauthors of the book, “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture“, what was your focus? What did you bring to the book?

Mr. Scott Bullock: What I really focused on was the analysis of the law itself. I'm a lawyer and I would not trust myself to do some of the pretty sophisticated statistical analysis that's in the report. So, I focused on the legal analysis and then we had three criminal justice researchers, all whom are professors and have PHD's, look at the numbers and really do an analysis that showed that not only can you see, almost on an intuitive basis as to why police might prosecute and do this for profit, but they actually demonstrate this through a very careful look at the data that's available.

What they really found was, that when laws make Civil Forfeiture easier and more profitable, law enforcement engages in more of it, and that's just not an assertion. This is the first study that puts some real numbers behind that and I think some really solid research. What we see this as, is really the inauguration of a campaign that we're going to have, that's going to manifest itself in a number of different ways. Through litigation. Through public awareness. Through further research. Through grassroots organizing. Hopefully through legislative change that will change the laws in a very significant way, throughout the country, to stop forfeiture abuse.

We're going to file lawsuits. As I said, we're going to work with folks to try to change the law in various jurisdictions, throughout the country. So we hope to use this really, as the launching pad for a nationwide campaign, to try to stop these abuses.

Dean Becker: Scott, this comes at a time when the Nation, the States, the County, every municipality is hurting for money. I even heard the other day that they're 'lowering the bar', if you will, no longer allowing people to drive five miles over the limit. They need that money, anyway they can and without your hopeful interference with their continuing this effort, it's bound to get worse. Right?

Mr. Scott Bullock: Right, and I think that's all the more reason to make sure protections for property owners are in place. Because the incentives to take property from folks are going to be even stronger and we don't have 'an end justifies the means' approach in this country. Or at least we should not have and people should not lose their property without being convicted of a crime and law enforcement shouldn't be able to profit from other people's property.

We're not talking about criminal forfeiture here. If somebody's convicted of a crime and you show, for instance, that someone frauded investors and used that money to buy mansions and yachts and things like that, than sure. Nobody's going to be opposed to the use of criminal forfeiture.

But that's where forfeiture should be confined to. It should be confined to people who are convicted of crime, in a court of law. It should not be used as a civil action against folks who may never even be charged with any type of wrongdoing.

Dean Becker: We've been speaking with Mr. Scott Bullock of the Institute for Justice. The book we were speaking of, is also available on line. Is it not?

Mr. Scott Bullock: Yes, that's right. You can get the report at our website.

Dean Becker: Scott, I want to thank you for being with us. I'm going to call upon you and your associates as this year unfolds. There's much more we need to talk about. Please sir, keep up the great work.

Mr. Scott Bullock: Thank you, so much. We'll certainly keep in touch.

Dean Becker: Alright. Bye-bye.

It's time to play: "Name That Drug - By It's Side Effects!"

Shortness of breath, slow heartbeat, weight gain, fatigue, hypotension, dizziness, may mask the symptoms of low blood sugar. Stopping therapy abruptly has led to chest pain and heart attacks.


Time's Up! Talk about dependence! The answer: From GlaxoSmithKline:

Coreg! For hypertension, heart failure and heart attack!

This is Allison Holcom. I'm the Policy Director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

Dean Becker: Allison, there are so many stories relating to drug policy and giving us a better understanding about this process itself and there's one that's unfolding there in Washington State. A legitimate patient, fired, for the use of Medical Marijuana. Could you tell us about that story, please?

Ms. Allison Holcom: Actually the employee who's fired is using a pseudonym. She's going by the name Jane Roe and what had happened in her case is that she applied for a Customer Service position that involved answering telephone calls and emails and during the hiring process, she disclosed to the employer that she was a duly authorized qualifying patient under Washington's Medical Use of Marijuana Act and she provided the employer with a copy of her authorization from her physician and the company proceeded to hire her.

As part of the hiring process they require a pre-employment drug screening test and she provided that. She proceeded to begin working for the company, Tele Tech Customer Management, for a full week without incident. A week after she began working her drug test came back positive for THC and as a result solely of that test, she was fired.

The position that she held did not implicate any public safety concerns and there was no complaint that she was unable to perform her job functions properly. In other words, she was fired solely for the fact that she was engaging in the medical use of marijuana, not on site. This was at home in the privacy of her own home. She never used Medical Marijuana while she was at work.

Dean Becker: Allison this, to me, indicates an understanding. At least perhaps by the hiring authority, the HR if you will, and it indicates a policy that's perhaps founded in best intentions. But for which really provides no leeway.

Ms. Allison Holcom: I think that's absolutely right, Dean. The reality is, is that we know that we don't want employers to have to deal with impaired workers. No one is suggesting that an employee who is actually impaired by their medical use of marijuana, should have any greater rights than somebody's ability to function is impaired by their use of Oxycontin or another prescription medication.

The only way that we can explain this employers response, is that they just have a blanket policy that says that, 'Well, marijuana use still remains illegal under Federal law. Despite the fact that the Obama Administration has issued a written policy, indicating that the Federal Government really doesn't have any interest in asserting itself into matters involving people incompliance with State Medical Marijuana laws.

Nevertheless, this employer had a knee-jerk reaction and showed no flexibility around the drug policy that had been adopted, in whatever year it had. So really what this does is, it puts patients in the position of having to decide whether or not to follow the advice of their physicians and avail themselves of a treatment that has been authorized under state law.

Whether to decide to do that, to seek that relief. Or to be employed, to have a job and in this economy, that's certainly a position that I don't think any Washington voters want our employee's to be in. Our patients to be in and I'm sure that they didn't think that this is the kind of thing that could happen, when they passed initiative 692 in 1998.

Dean Becker: We're speaking with Allison Holcom of the ACLU, there in Washington State. Allison, I want to relay a quick story to you. I worked as an accountant, auditor, project analyst for about twenty-five years, in the oil and gas industry and I was working contract for a major gas supplier, here in Houston. They liked my work. At that time I was working IT department and they wanted to hire me fulltime. I was thrilled.

They sent me, that very day - sadly, for a urine test and I failed it, miserably. I was found out, if you will, about three weeks later, once I was entrenched and the day they kicked me out of the building, was one of the most heart wrenching moments of my life, to be honest with you.

Now they called me back, another contract division, to come back and do Gas Accounting, some three months later and I said, “Have you checked with your HR department?” They said, “Why do you ask?” and I said, “Because I was caught for marijuana use three, months ago.” He called the HR department, he cleared it with them and they hired me at a substantial premium, I might add, to go to work on that Gas Accounting desk. It is so hypocritical.

Ms. Allison Holcom: It is. Absolutely. What we're talking about here is discriminating against a class of people and in your case, I don't know if your use was medical or not but if it's not, do we really care whether or not somebody enjoys a marijuana cigarette after work, as their form of relaxation vs. a martini?

If their use of that intoxicant, versus the other, isn't impairing their ability to perform their work, we're not only hurting the employee, but we're hurting the employers. Like your employer who recognize a valuable employee, that was an important asset to the company, and brought you back. It's really a lose/lose situation from the employer and employee, when we have these types of policies in place.

Dean Becker: Alright. Allison, if you will, please share your website with the listeners.

Ms. Allison Holcom: Thank you, Dean. Our website is:

The following interview comes to us courtesy of ABC Television.

David Chalian: We're joined by Gil Kerlikowske, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Otherwise in this town, know as the drug Czar. Thank you very much for being here. I do want to begin, we were talking about one piece that the president is selling the healthcare bill today on small businesses. But another piece that follows under your purview is this idea of substance abuse and how this healthcare bill can actually help people with substance abuse problems. How does that work?

Gil Kerlikowske: Helps a lot in two ways. One is that it expands to thirty-two million more American into healthcare. The other fact that taking the young people up through the age of twenty-six, and certainly that's an age group that, in my field, is one that needs all the help that they can get. You have to also remember that a lot of these folks that can use this help, are already costing the tax payers money. In criminal justice cost, the fact that they have an untreated illness, or the fact that they're not getting an early intervention. So we see a lot of positive benefits out of this healthcare bill.

Rick Klein: What is your office and HHS and other agencies going to be doing to try to let people know about the services that are available?

Gil Kerlikowske: We got to engage very early on whether it was with Dr. Emanuel, other people involved and people up on the hill to make sure that not only were the substance abuse issues addressed, but also mental health. One of the provisions requires that the Surgeon General 'chair' the National Prevention Council and my position, I would be on that council and substance abuse is a big part of the council.

David Chalian: You said twenty-six year olds. The expansion of Medicaid hit's a universe of people as well that have a history of substance abuse problems and who not previously had access.

Gil Kerlikowske: Exactly and also, they might not even realize that they have a problem. It's a large pool of people that actually meet the diagnostic criteria for substance abuse difficulties. But because they don't have access to a health care professional, they don't do it and when they don't get the intervention or the treatment early, later on it doesn't take as well, it costs more money. This has a lot of positives.

Rick Klein: When you took office a little more than a year ago, you made some headlines, at the time, by saying you wanted to end the concept of a war on drugs. What have you done over the past year to move toward that? What's been different about how your office operates; how the administration operates, that moves toward that goal?

Gil Kerlikowske: I think the real goal will come out when the president releases the National Drug Controls strategy, which should be within the next couple weeks. As you mentioned earlier, he's got a lot on his mind. But it's important to look at this not just as a criminal justice problem or just a public safety problem, this is really also a huge public health problem. If we all join forces in looking at it from that concept, I really believe we have the potential to do a better job.

David Chalian: Why the change in rhetoric? Why was that an important component to stop this concept of a war?

Gil Kerlikowske: I think the most important part was one, besides the fact that it's been around for forty years and not a lot of people site it as a success, is that the war analogy really limits your tools. Essentially in war, you have the tool of force. If we look at it as a public safety and a public health problem, we bring a lot more people into this.

Rick Klein: I want to ask you specifically. One of the areas you've talked about this is marijuana and with the federal governments role in this. California's got a ballot initiative that would legalize pot in the state. How will your office and how will the Government react to something like that, in terms of enforcement of Federal laws?

Gil Kerlikowske: One, the Controlled Substances Act is one that's enforced by the Federal Government. Marijuana is a violation of that federal act. But since it hasn't passed, right now it would be improper to speculate on what the role is. But the Federal Government does and continues to enforce the Controlled Substances Act.

David Chalian: What their saying, if indeed then the Federal Government is at odds with something that say does, we could envision that going to courts, right?

Gil Kerlikowske: You could envision a lot of different things.

Rick Klein: As a general matter though, the policy, and correct me if I'm wrong, with regard to Marijuana in particular, it's been tried to de-emphasis some of the prosecutions around this. Is that correct?

Gil Kerlikowske: Well, it's a separate issue. Medical Marijuana, which exists in fourteen or fifteen states, essentially the Attorney General's guidelines to those US attorneys in those states said, 'Look. You have finite resources. Make sure you use your resources for the most significant traffickers'. But frankly as a police chief, I did the same thing.

David Chalian: I want to ask you before we go, about you being a police chief, Buffalo, Seattle and the idea of a community policing pro. that you are. How did those skills apply to this job that you're doing for the Federal Government in the terms of the war on drugs or non war on drugs?

Gil Kerlikowske: Well, what I think is that I never really heard my colleagues, Sheriffs and Police Chiefs talk about a war on drugs. So for me, it's a little bit like 'Nixon going to China'. I can actually talk about prevention and treatment and it's pretty hard to paint me as being either 'soft on crime' or 'soft on drugs'. This is actually about being 'smart on drugs'.

Rick Klein: Very, very briefly. Mexico. Is there anything that should be done in terms as US policy, that can alleviate some of the violence and perhaps reduce the number of drugs that are crossing our border?

Gil Kerlikowske: I just came back from my third trip. I think Mexico, President Calderon, is unbelievably courageous for taking this issue on. The United States Government is helping in every way that they possibly can to support him. Clearly these are sovereign issues within that country. But we need to be supportive because as we know, the cartels exist throughout the United States.

David Chalian: Gil Kerlikowske, thank you very much for being here today. Appreciate it.

Gil Kerlikowske: Thank you.

Rick Klein: Thank you.

I only wish I had the chance to ask Gil Kerlikowske, 'Why the Hell these cartel funded gangs exist in America?”

The following comes to us courtesy of the BBC. It was recorded in British Columbia at the Vancouver Heroin Injection Site.

This is Insite, which is a supervised injection site. It's the only one in the whole of America. Over a million injections have taken place here. No one has died and that's a million injections that have taken place off of the street. But most importantly, it brings people into the human family. It's safer. It's more respectful and here there are nurses and people that can help with medical issues. Or if you want to go to detox or treatment, we have that available right above us, right upstairs.

Patient: I've been down here only for seven years. I was homeless for three. I just got a place. If you were to ask me whether or not I would want my life to change? Yeah. I wish I never would have ever stuck a needle in my arm. I still hope that tomorrow, that I will have the strength to make it upstairs one more time, to detox.

Young man: OK, let's say drug prohibition does support terrorism.

Dean: ...and murder

Young man: ...and murder

Dean: Torture

Young man: ...and torture.

Dean: Corruption, bribery...

Young man: ...and whatever.

Dean: What's your point?

Young man: Change the law.

Dean: I gotcha. Make it cheap. More available. Everywhere. Like soda or cheesy puffs.

Young man: Exactly.

Dean: Cocaine at the playground. Crack stands at the Laundromat. Heroin at the mini-mart.

Young man: Like that?

Stoner: Face it old man. That's what we've got now.

Dean: Exactly!

Please remember, because of 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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