Cultural Baggage, August 20, 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 pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. First I want to send a thank you to all the supporters of the Drug Truth Network at the mothership station during our recent pledge drive. You guys came through again.
Today we have with us another member, another speaker, for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. He had a piece published just last week in the U.S. News and World Report, the title 'Drugs are Too Dangerous not to Regulate. We should Legalize Them.' He's a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He's author of the book, 'Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District.' And with that introduction let's welcome our guest, Professor Peter Moskos.
Dr. Moskos: Hey, how are you doing?
Dean Becker: I'm well, sir, glad to have you with us. I found it invigorating to see your article in the U.S. News and World Report, a very established and mainstream publication giving the LEAP position. Tell us about that article, please, sir.
Dr. Moskos: Well, first I was happy that such an article gets the press in a mainstream magazine like U.S. News. I mean, LEAP's position and my position, LEAP is law enforcement officials, prosecutors, people involved actively in the criminal justice system who support legalizing drugs. And saying that, even, is almost a taboo subject for a lot of people but the way I like to put it is, look, I don't want a free-for-all which is what we have now, is that I want to regulate drugs because they're dangerous. I don't think they're good, I just think that the problems with the war on drugs are far worse than anything we get from the drugs themselves.
Dean Becker: This is so true on any front, any measure by which you examine the policy and its impact, ramifications, blowback, et cetera. There just doesn't seem to any logical reason for it to continue, right?
Dr. Moskos: Exactly. Which then makes me wonder why does it continue? And I like to think that talking about the issue and educating people, because there's so much propaganda put out there by prohibitionists to continue the war on drugs, we just have to counter that. Because once you talk to people it's pretty easy to convince them that we're doing now simply isn't working.
Dean Becker: Just this morning I saw a piece coming out of the British newspapers talking about that cannabis use had gone down, cocaine use had gone up during the last couple of years. And I think the use of cannabis was ten percent, the use of cocaine was two percent. And then they said 'But it's good that the findings for the children show a lesser usage rate.' But they showed once again, ten percent -- cannabis, two percent -- cocaine. It just seems there are certain few people who have a proclivity to use certain of these drugs. Your thoughts on that, sir?
Dr. Moskos: We're always going to have people who take drugs because people want to get high. And a lot of people can take drugs without great problems, especially something like marijuana. I think the important thing, when you look at countries that have liberalized drug policies and, of course, the Netherlands always come to mind, where any adult can walk into a legal store and legally buy and smoke marijuana or hash -- in a country like the Netherlands the usage rates are lower than America. By any standard, as you said, by any standard what we're doing doesn't work. We have more users, we spend more money, we have more crime and it's all because we try to ban a substance and prohibition just doesn't work.
Dean Becker: Well, this is true and then we have the problems of use and the attendant crime to pay the high black market prices leading to, I don't know how to say it, a free-for-all by most police departments to circumvent the Constitution, do illegal searches, 'testi-lie' in court and do anything to keep those drug crime rates high. Meantime the investigation and solution of more violent crimes, including rape and murder, is going down. Once again, we're just missing the boat, aren't we?
Dr. Moskos: Yeah, and I can say as a former Baltimore police officer, I, you know, I fought the war on drugs. And I wasn't 'testi-lying' and I wasn't violating the constitution, I was locking up drug dealers. I know it doesn't work. Yeah, it works in the sense that we put more people in prison, if that's the goal, and maybe for some people that is. But the drug war is just as bad now after after all the police officers, as they were before I went in there. To me, the big problem with drug dealing is the public drug dealer. If we could all just buy drugs peaceably from people we know, that's how most people buy marijuana. That's not a big problem. It's the guys on the corner who are slinging and then they're the ones who are shooting each other and you get this sort-of subculture based out of the drug trade. This is what regulation could just eliminate.
Dean Becker: Right, right. And then we have, over the last five, six, seven years in particular seen the rise of the Taliban, the resurrection of the Taliban, if you will. And it has happened because they, in essence, have been allowed to grow flowers on the mountainside and these flowers can then be turned into cash and then into weapons with which to kill our soldiers and the NATO soldiers. Your thoughts on that, sir?
Dr. Moskos: It is shameful, really, because the only reason the terrorists make money off drugs is because they're illegal. Look, the average poor farmer in Afghanistan, he doesn't want to necessarily sell to criminals. He doesn't care who he sells to, he's got to feed his family. And if the government had a market where they could sell these products that are getting grown anyway, I mean that would be better for everyone and then the money could go to the governments who are trying to fight terrorists. I mean, and the real shame, of course, is that the government, our government now tries to link the war on terrorism with the war on drugs but it's the war on drugs that creates terrorists. And that means Afghanistan's producing more drugs now after we've invaded them. I mean, if we invade countries and we can't win the war on drugs then, I mean, what hope does that give us? There is no hope. We're not going to win this. We've been doing it for almost a hundred years. We've gotta try something else.
Dean Becker: Exactly. Exactly. My friends, we're talking to Professor Peter Moskos. He's had an article published recently in U.S. News and World Report talking about drugs are too dangerous not to regulate. And he's also author of the book 'Cop in the Hood.' Peter, I want to ask you as a, one of my band of brothers, the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition group. You know, we do have to, I don't think we're sticking our necks out, but it is perceived by many that we're going over the line, especially when the politicians and the press just never delve into the reasons behind the horrors of this drug war. But I'm finding that more and more people are accepting of that need to at least investigate the need for change. Am I right?
Dr. Moskos: Yeah, I hope if I keep talking about these issues that we get some of the politicians to discuss it because still, right now, with the exception of maybe someone like Ron Paul, all the politicians pretty much walk in lockstep supporting the war on drugs. There's not votes to be gained yet in saying 'let's regulate drugs' because its still considered a crazy position. But, I mean, we regulate alcohol, we regulate cigarettes and it's now perfect but by-and-large it's more successful. I mean, we tried prohibition against alcohol and that was a horrible failure. And you just wish people would learn from these mistakes a little bit. But, I mean, I think that the trends are in the right direction. Certainly, California now has, with medicinal marijuana, I mean, that is a gateway to drug regulation and I say 'Great!' I mean because what, we can at least, let the states try it. I'm not saying, also, that, you know, that somebody's dealing heroin in your neighborhood is going to be legal but why not leave it up to the cities and states? Then we can see what works and what doesn't. That's the way we get good policy decisions. But the war on drugs isn't about policy, it's about prohibition.
Dean Becker: Exactly. Now, it's my understanding that the President of the United States could, with a stroke of his pen, basically end the drug war, at least the drug war on the American people, by moving these so-called controlled substances from Schedule I to Schedule II or III. And then the DEA would have a real job: to stop the traffickers, to stop the multi-ton shipments rather than, you know, the ongoing war against the American People. Your thoughts on that?
Dr. Moskos: Yeah, and let's also not forget all the people who die from drug overdoses. I mean, in general, people don't care much about junkies. But these are real human beings who are dying and it's a number, it's huge too, of people in America dying from overdoses, I think it's something like 30,000 in the last year people counted. And that's a lot of deaths. And this is also, addicts don't want to die, they want to get high. And the only reason they're dying is because they're buying illegal substances, they don't know what they're taking and they make mistakes. But if we could regulate usage, like we regulate pharmaceuticals, other pharmaceuticals, overdose deaths would really drop to almost zero. Because there's no reason anybody should overdose from drugs.
Dean Becker: And most people don't ever delve into the reason behind most of these overdose deaths. I see it as two points. You touched on it, the fact that they get a 'hot shot,' that they're used to buying some ten percent, twenty percent solution and suddenly a batch comes...
Dr. Moskos: That's forty percent.
Dean Becker: ...yeah, and they just take their usual dose and it kills them. And then the secondary thing is that under this policy of prohibition, if you're in a room with a friend and he looks like he's ODing you got two choices: call the police and risk a jail sentence for one or both of you in that room, or leave the room and hope he recovers.
Dr. Moskos: Yeah, and there's some interesting programs in cities, including Baltimore, and I talk about this a bit in my book 'Cop in the Hood,' where they're giving addicts Narcan, which is this sort-of amazing drug that prevents overdoses and it saves lives, without doubt. In every city it's been tried people live because of it and yet prohibitionists are against it because they're not trying to save lives. And that's the unconscionable part I find about the war on drugs. I mean we can debate issues about distribution and usage rates, I mean those are important things, but the goal should be to save lives. And if you can do that, that's by regulating drugs. I mean, how can you really be against that?
Dean Becker: Well, my phrase I use for that scenario you're talking about there is 'drug users are unconditionally ex-terminable.' And that's kind of how they're treated.
Dr. Moskos: Yeah, and you see that from politicians and also from police officers, unfortunately. I mean, police who are on the street dealing with drug problems day after day, and understandably, you know, they get frustrated. And they see the addict as the source of the problem. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Dean Becker: No, no. Not at all. Just yesterday we had another cop arrested here in my home town, accused of stealing from drug sellers.
Dr. Moskos: The temptation is there. I mean, as a police officer you are dealing with, constantly, if you're working in a drug area like I did, you've just constantly got cash and drugs from drug dealers. And, I mean, the good news is by-and-large and, you know, people who think all cops are corrupt I can't convince them. But all I can do is say that it's not part of the culture and cops don't want to risk their pension, it's just not worth it for fifty bucks here, a hundred bucks there. The pension's pretty good. And, I mean, it's the police officers' credit that they're so professional that they are able to stay clean through all this. But every single time you get a story about corruption in the police department or any kind of scandal, there is always a drug link, it always come back to drugs. And it would great if we could just remove that from the whole law enforcement equation. Let doctors deal with health problems. I mean, we don't arrest people, yet, for smoking cigarettes and that's the one drug that we've managed to reduce the usage of.
Dean Becker: Well, yes. Contained within that piece in the U.S. News and World Report you talked about, you know, that we were able to reduce the use of tobacco without having to send people to prison. And it's just logic, commonsense and a true education that will help, right?
Dr. Moskos: Yeah, and, I mean, it's education, it's taxes, I mean, the money that this could bring into the government when we need the money -- all you got to do is regulate it. I mean, yeah, I use the word legalization because you can't regulate something that's illegal. And that's where the whole system kind of breaks down. We would have more control over drugs if we legalized them. It's a little counter-intuitive but, I mean, you can look at example after example and you go 'oh yeah, of course you need regulation to control something.'
Dean Becker: Once again we're speaking with Mr. Peter Moskos who has written a book, 'Cop in the Hood,' had a piece in the U.S. News and World Report here recently and, Peter, I speak to a lot of Lions Clubs, you know, seniors. We get together and I give about a twenty minute presentation and I'm finding almost unanimous support of the need for change. Now there's still this fear that 'oh my gosh, more people will use.' Or somehow children will have better access. And I try to allay those fears but people just have this general paranoia, that what we have is better than a change. Your thoughts on that?
Dr. Moskos: I think you got your finger on the pulse there. It's this idea that we barely have things under control now and any change, and so many things spiral out of control. But I think, I mean, you've just got to use logic and there are places where this has been tried and the world hasn't ended. Via the Netherlands or California with medicinal marijuana -- none of these systems are perfect but that doesn't matter. They're better and, you know, you can keep changing and somethings work, some don't, there are better ways to do it. And that's why I do think as the ball gets rolling, momentum is going to gain and once people see 'OK. It's not so bad.' One thing I like doing when I speak to groups is say 'look, if heroin was legal tomorrow how many of you would shoot up?' And nobody raises their hand. I mean, maybe they don't admit it. But there are lots of people do or don't take drugs and it seems like the law is pretty low down on the list.
Dean Becker: Right. Right. And again, I ask that question. Of course, no one did raise their hand. But it's just that paranoia, that thought that it could get worse. It's so bad now. But they do agree we need to talk to the politicians and the newspaper editors and...
Dr. Moskos: When you look at the neighborhoods in this country that are worse damaged by the war on drugs, you know, in all honesty it couldn't get much worse. I mean, the level of violence and death and blight and despair -- it makes a lot of third world shanty towns look better. Part of the problem, too, is people say 'well, the problems over there, at least, it's not in my neighborhood yet.' But the problem doesn't have to be anywhere. And, I mean, don't we care about the people in neighborhoods that are getting killed and they're overdosing? I mean, to some extent, unfortunately the answer is maybe we don't but we certainly should.
Dean Becker: Yes. Yes. And I do feel a change is afoot. That people are becoming more and more aware of the need for that change. They just, they're still just leery.
Once again we're speaking with Professor Peter Moskos. You teach at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is that right?
Dr. Moskos: That's correct. In New York City.
Dean Becker: Tell us about the new students. What are their perceptions of this drug war?
Dr. Moskos: You know, it's interesting because at the undergraduate level I'd say the majority of my students, it's technically it's a four year liberal arts college but if they go to a school of criminal justice they've got some interest in the field. And a lot want to become police officers because in New York you have to have at least two years of college to get hired. And I like to think that at some point I'm making an impact. And it's not that I'm telling police officers not to enforce the law, the job is to enforce the law, but you don't have to one) make it a crusade -- I mean I did lots of drug dealers but I wasn't out there violating people's rights to do it. And if you put it in perspective, and I got to say at the end of my class a lot more of my students, and these are future police officers and some current police officers, have a bit more perspective on the war on drugs. I mean partly, if we could just move the clock back thirty years, I mean, drugs have been illegal for longer than that but we didn't get infatuated with them until the 70s. If we could just move the clock back we could reduce a lot of the harms. Public drug use and drug dealing should be seen as a quality of life issue and that's why I didn't have a problem as a police officer locking up drug dealers because they were obnoxious. You know, I thought if I worked in this neighborhood what would I want me to do? But if you see it for what it is, which is a health problem, when it's in public a quality of life issue, then you can start focusing on these policy levels but as long as you talk about morality or 'drugs are evil' that just gets the debate off on the wrong step.
Dean Becker: I think we have just, well, about a minute or two left and I want to give you the chance to give a pep-talk, if you will, to those other current and former law enforcement justice officials. We're a group now of more than ten thousand members and supporters. We have some hundred plus speakers who go to the Lions Clubs and the Elks Clubs and the colleges and so forth to talk about the fundamentals of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Dr. Moskos: I urge police officers listening and judges and lawyers who deal with the war on drugs to not, you don't want to risk your career, it still is dangerous, you know, it's going to be hard to rise in the ranks of a police department if you're a loud advocate for drug legalization. But still, you can join LEAP. And also, people who aren't, they become a friend of LEAP and I urge them to do that, too. This is Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. But the bigger our numbers are, and LEAP is a useful organization because it gets away from the sort of long-haired, hippie, stoner stereotype of people who want to legalize drugs. We're not drug users. And that's the important thing is we're saying 'look, it doesn't matter, it's not about people who want to get high. It's about we, as taxpayers, and what we want in our public policy.' So the pep-talk I give is, yes, let your voice be heard. Think about this issue. And don't be afraid to speak out because nothing will change until we do.
Dean Becker: Well, you know, just, I guess it's been two weeks ago, I gave a talk up in Conroe, Texas, and after it was over one of the attendees, well, I won't give his name or designation but high up in the local police department spent about twenty, thirty minutes with me out in the parking lot talking about he agreed with 99% of what I had to say. So even in a remote rural area like that...
Dr. Moskos: I think that the police, they're naturally sympathetic because police, better than anybody, know that we're not about to win the war on drugs. So when you give them an alternative which, by-and-large, they haven't heard and say 'Look. We know these problems that are happening in your area. Think about what the source of those problems is.' And that's why police are naturally sympathetic because deep down they know that the war on drugs is failing.
Dean Becker: Yeah. Indeed it is. Well, Peter, we're going to have to let you go for now. I'm going to invite you back at a future date. I very much appreciate the discussion.
Dr. Moskos: Hey, I'm always here for you. Thanks for having me on.
Dean Becker: Thank you.
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.
Did you know you could lose your college financial aid if you get convicted of a minor drug offense? According to the federal government, one third of all college students have used marijuana in the past year. Imagine the devastation to our nation's economy if all of these students got the punishment that some lawmakers think they deserve. Join Students for Sensible Drug Policy and fight back against the government's drug war attacks on our generation. Visit www.SchoolsNotPrisons.com to find out if there's a chapter at your school or how to start one.
Dean Becker: Poppygate. Bizarre news about the U.S. policy on controlling heroin, featuring Glenn Greenway.
Glenn Greenway: U.S. President Reagan famously identified the Afghan holy warriors, the muhajadeen, as 'freedom fighters' while they were battling Russian occupation in the 1980s. Now Reagan's 'freedom fighters' have killed 500 plus American occupiers using similar tactics. The remarkable New York Times reporter, Carlotta Gall, describes the aftermath of a recent attack which killed three U.S. National Guardsmen.
Quoting from the Times:
Afghan Army Captain Rahim did not see the bodies but learned from an American officer that one or more had been butchered. “Their bodies had no heads, legs or arms,” he said. A Western official in Kabul confirmed that at least one of the bodies had been cut up. “Organs were removed,” the official said.
Canada's Globe and Mail reports that the Afghan resistance earned nearly a billion dollars last year from the sale of heroin and cannabis. During the course of the U.S./Afghan war Afghan heroin production has increased exponentially each year. Simply put, the longer we stay, the more heroin the country produces. Last year Afghanistan produced nearly two million pounds of pure heroin, far more than the world consumes annually. For so-called 'strategic reasons' America and its allies have effectively done nothing to contain the illegal harvest.
This historic heroin glut has resulted in far greater availability, dramatically lower prices and escalating purity internationally. On New York's Long Island, for instance, where heroin use is reportedly skyrocketing among high school aged youth, a packet of heroin now costs less than a packet of cigarettes. Australian, Scottish, and American law enforcement all report that heroin use and overdose are surging.
Barely noticed by major media, in April, 2008, the U.S. oil giant Unocal and Afghanistan finalized plans for a major pipeline running through Afghanistan's poppy belt. Construction is theoretically set to begin in 2010.
Finally, Colombia is now considering sending troops to Afghanistan. Colombia currently has anti-narcotics advisors in the country and former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, William Wood, currently serves as chief U.S. diplomat to Afghanistan.
This is Glenn Greenway reporting for the Drug Truth Network.
Dean Becker: Terry Nelson spent thirty-three years working for the federal government busting heads and billion dollar cartels. He now does a weekly report for the Drug Truth Network and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Terry Nelson: This is Terry Nelson speaking on the behalf of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Today I want to share with you some interesting information. For anyone that uses mind-altering substances, there are many in America who think we should cut off their hand or kill them or jail them and throw away the key. I have presented at civic clubs where people have said: 'We should do what Iran does, execute them for using drugs.' And since I mentioned Iran I now share with you what is currently happening in Iran and I'm not talking about nuclear reactors.
An article in the New York Times reports that Iran's government, trying to curb addiction's huge social cost, has been more supportive of drug treatment than any other government in the Islamic world, according the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It was not always this way. After the 1979 revolution the government tried a more traditional approach, arresting drug users and putting them in jail. But two decades later they recognized that this approach had failed. A sharp increase in the crime rate and the number of people infected with HIV, both directly linked to the surge in narcotics use, persuaded the government to shift strategies. 'We have realized that an addict is a social reality,' said Muhammad-Reza Jahani, the vice president for the Committee Combating Drugs, which coordinates the government's efforts to fight drug addiction and trafficking. 'We don't want to fight addicts; we want to fight addiction. We need to manage addiction.'
Iran has a population of approximately 65 million people and an official estimate of 1.1 million addicts or approximately 1.6 percent. That is pretty much the world average and is close to the estimated average of 1.3 percent in the U.S. prior to the Harrison Drug Act of 1914 and again, just before the war on drugs began in earnest in 1982. So it appears that no matter how severe the penalties there will always be those that are addicted and therefore the best approach to this problem is similar to what the Iranians have done, and that is to treat drug addiction as a sickness instead of a crime.
LEAP recommends that the billions of dollars in savings from the justice system and proceeds from the taxes collected from legal drugs be used to provide medical treatment and pay for research into finding a cure for drug addiction.
LEAP believes that drugs are too dangerous to be left in the hands of criminals. It's time to regulate and control them. Let's put the money into research, treatment and education instead of jails and prisons. We all want a better future for ourselves and our children.
This is Terry Nelson at www.LEAP.cc signing off.
Dean Becker: Once again, that website, LEAP.cc. That's for any of you judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, whether you're working, retired or whatever, if you'd like to get involved with this effort, please get in touch with us. We'd like to put you to work. We'd at least like to count you as a supporter of our group.
I want to thank Peter Moskos, Professor Peter Moskos, works at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. My friends, the truth is out there, the truth is waiting for you to embrace it, it's waiting for you to speak it, to share it, to support it. And that's what it's really all about. We've all got to work together to make this change happen. Peter and I and Terry and all the good friends of LEAP cannot get this done by ourselves. We need your support. Be sure to join us on next week's Cultural Baggage. Our guest will be Wendy Chapkis. She's coauthor of a brand-new book, 'Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine.'
You guys can get it done working together.
If you want to get in touch with me it's firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to work with you guys and as always I remind you that 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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