Cultural Baggage January 17, 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.
Dean Becker: Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Last week we had a failure to communicate. I think it was mostly my fault. But we do have with us today former superior court judge David A. Nichols who is now retired. He was based, still based I should say, in Washington State. He is currently a member a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. And with that let's go ahead and welcome our guest, Judge David Nichols. Hello sir.
David Nichols: How do you do?
Dean Becker: Welcome, thank you for joining us on our program. David if you would tell the folks a bit about your life experience.
David Nichols: Well I grew up on the east coast and I moved out to the state of Washington when I was twenty-eight with my wife and a couple of children to go to law school at the University of Washington and then got a job up north of Seattle in Bellingham.
And then was fortunate enough to get elected to the superior court in 1985 where I was on the bench for twenty, twenty years. So that's basically my life experience professionally. And now I am a full time artist and then I am doing this speaking for LEAP as you mentioned already.
Dean Becker: Yes sir.
David Nichols: Very concerned about where this whole war on drugs issue.
Dean Becker: Well if the caliber of your art speaks to your character sir, you're a mighty fine individual, I'll just put it that way. I did have a chance to look at your artwork online. And perhaps you could tell the folks a bit later where they could view some of that. Beautiful landscapes for the most part and very well done sir.
David Nichols: Thank you.
Dean Becker: David I want to talk about, you have been retired now what, right at five years?
David Nichols: Yeah.
Dean Becker: And five years ago things were not as obvious, not as glaring, this need for change. But in the five years since you've retired it's I think amazing the amount of progress and discovery that's going on about this drug war. You want to summarize what you have witnessed?
David Nichols: Well you know Dean I got back a while ago from the Drug Policy Alliance big conference in Albuquerque. And you could just feel the current in the air. And when you read the paper on a daily basis now you're seeing deliberative bodies, legislatures, all municipal government, everybody is being driven by the economy now to take another look at this.
And you know I'm just getting much more hopeful all the time that the insanity of this so called war on drugs is beginning to sink in but it's being driven by economics. The governments simply cannot afford any more to wage this war.
Dean Becker: It's a luxury we can no longer afford, right?
David Nichols: Yeah, I mean from every point of view: overcrowded prisons, over laden police forces that need to devote their attention to violent crime; you know all kinds of social services that are deeply rooted in the war on drugs. The parole staffs, the supervisory staffs, the courts... I can tell you the courts are just getting totally bogged down with having to deal with these drug cases.
Dean Becker: Right and it over burdens the system. It creates situation where the court appointed attorneys really don't have any time to effectively you know provide support for those accused of drug crimes and too often they are just kind of fed into the machine.
David Nichols: Exactly. That's one of that's what happened to me as I was dealing on the drug calendar week after week, not the drug calendar but the criminal calendar that we all we judges here have to hear in turn. And we just did literally hundreds of guilty pleas for plead down little delivery cases to possession to avoid jail time. People were paying these big fines in to the prosecutor's drug fund and houses were being seized and cars were being seized and families broken up and you know I just got disgusted with it, absolutely disgusted.
Dean Becker: Well it boils down to you can almost say OK I'll go along with it if it would achieve some desired result, if it would do something that it's purported to accomplish but it never has even approached a quote success, has it?
David Nichols: Well no. And I don't know if Texas has the same law but we have a civil procedure implemented in order to deter drug trafficking and possession which allows the municipality to seize anything that is arguably related to the drug trade without really any sort of a recourse. Once you are convicted of drug crime, they can come in and take the house, they take the car.
I mean it's not only the cartels airplanes they are taking but they're taking the livelihood, the way of life away from mostly poor people just wholesale. There's nothing left but for these people to go on welfare and it breaks up families. And you know people are... if you're Hispanic you're sent back to your home country and it breaks up... I mean it's just a horrendous thing to watch.
Dean Becker: It is. Now I want to talk about the most egregious example I have seen of that forfeiture situation being implemented and that was right here in Texas. A gentleman won the lotto, some two to three million dollars I think it was. And for some through some logic the state was able to quote prove that was a drug profit dollar that he used to buy that lotto ticket. And they took his millions back. That's how extreme it gets.
David Nichols: Well you know since I have gotten more involved in all these issues and gotten away from strictly what happens in court, where I was under a duty to follow the law. You know I wasn't really free to free wheel and give my opinion although I did in editorials and so forth. But all that got me was having all these drug cases referred to my colleagues instead of me which was not didn't make them very happy.
But the more you see what the effect of this overkill is on society and the way encourages corruption and violence and misery and a failure to treat addiction properly. I mean the list goes on and on Dean. It's just really very, very frightening what's happening. And it's just getting worse and worse.
Dean Becker: Well you spoke of some of the writings you've done. I am looking at an article here in your bio, New judges perspective on the trial jury: Some changes whose time may have come. Was that dealing with the drug war?
David Nichols: No that was more on how to try a case better. I don't know if there's anything in my bio. I have written a number of articles for the local newspaper and I could get those to you. But one of them was reprinted in the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
And it was basically just saying what I have been saying to you, that this we have got to get this discussion going. Now that was about five years ago and the message then to everybody was we we have to bring this out in the open and discuss it. So far it has been a verboten topic to all politicians to even talk about. Well thank goodness we seem to be beyond that now. Everybody is talking about it.
Dean Becker: I I think in many of our more intelligent states that is true. There are several in the south and elsewhere that for some reason it's just still the third rail, the verboten topic, the situation that isn't addressed in any fashion.
David Nichols: Well I think we're a long way from a politician being able to come out and pound a desk like Kruschev with your shoe and say we got to get rid of this war on drugs. But but the politicians are saying, look we have to cut costs. If you're in California, you're about to go bankrupt. And if your prison system is costing you billions of dollars every year to house people who don't need to be in prison, you're going to look at that.
But I don't know if you have thought much about this but I have been thinking a lot about the vested interest that you have to overcome in order to get anywhere on this issue. There are a lot of people who do not want to see the war on drugs end. And it has nothing to do with your philosophical stance.
Dean Becker: No.
David Nichols: That maybe you think the criminal justice system is not a good way to handle a public health problem. That's your philosophical stance. But if you're the prison guard union in California, you're going to try to block any legislation that would tend to close the prisons down because that's your livelihood.
Dean Becker: Right and in California in particular I don't remember the exact ratios but in the last twenty years it's gone from the point where the prison costs were a fraction of what they were spending on education and now the reverse is true, that the education system gets a fraction of what they spend on the prisons.
David Nichols: Yeah and you know the state of California is not about to build new prisons, nor is the state of Washington. And the governor has already starting to talk about well we have to we have to get a lot of these low danger offenders out of the system.
And of course my my plea which I think is way more rational and that's the plea of LEAP is for heaven's sake; let's turn to the public health model. Let's treat addiction and the other with education and with clinics and all the rest and let's let the state regulate all the drugs.
Dean Becker: Well you know...
David Nichols: Let's take the money out of it.
Dean Becker: A neighbor to Washington state up Canada just in the last couple of days came up with a new ruling from their high court saying that the government could not shut down their insight drug injection facility, that it was a you know public health concern and that the police had no business trying to control that situation.
David Nichols: Yeah. Well I just I just think and maybe you agree with me that it's one thing to end the criminal sanctions for these things. I think that's a probably a first step we have to take. We are trying to do that in Washington now is to decriminalize the possession of marijuana but ultimately we have to take the profit out of this because the corruption and violence that's increasing all the time.
And we're all aware of what's happening in Mexico. I mean Ciudad, Juarez had twenty-six hundred murders last year and some of those were caused by the military that they turned out to try to get after the cartels. It was just violence gone absolutely unchecked, both the good guys, so called, and the bad guys.
Dean Becker: Well there's too much money, too much potential, too much actuality of bribery, corruption just you know destruction of quote justice system, right.
David Nichols: Well look at that guy they just took down in mexico. He has been boiling his opponents in lye. And he killed an unknown number of people. And the vacuum that his arrest has created has already started the new wave of violence to take over. I mean it's just insanity Dean.
Dean Becker: It is, it is. My friends we're talking with retired judge David A. Nichols out of Bellingham, Washington. He's currently a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Dave I want to ask you, have you had a chance to speak with some of your associates who may still be on the bench or district attorneys that you know outside of the courtroom? I mean is it beginning to change across the board? Are more people willing to talk about the need for change?
David Nichols: Well when I give talks it's getting so I am preaching to the choir. I rarely see anyone in the audience, law enforcement or anybody else who doesn't think we are on an insane path here. They just don't know how to get out of it. And the trouble with talking with my ex colleagues and the prosecutors and so forth is that they kind of have a job mandate. They are supposed to follow the law. And as until the law changes it's very difficult for them to do anything other than what they are sworn to do.
So sitting judges have a really tough time of it. I when I was passing down sentences on a lot of guilty pleas and so forth there was nothing really I could do about it. I couldn't just sit there and say, well I'm not even going to convict this person. You know the judicial conduct commission would have been after me in a heartbeat.
Unfortunately the prosecutors have a mindset that they are doing god's work. And I think to some extent that's legitimate when you're talking about serious crime that hurts other people and so forth. But to say you're doing god's work when you're breaking up families over minute amounts of marijuana and so forth it's just it's just strange. It's just not human.
Dean Becker: There are instances a push back if you will that's starting. You know you were talking about it earlier that's beginning to swell around the country. The New York mandatory minimums have been at least adjusted. New Jersey decided just this week they are no longer going to tack on the selling in school zone or at least leave it to the judge's discretion how to handle it. That it's not going to be a mandatory thing. That's at least a bit logical, right?
David Nichols: Yeah they are talking about that. I I don't know really how that's going to work because it really doesn't solve the problem exactly. You know our local sheriff has a jail that has fifty or a hundred more people than it's supposed to have in it. And what he does is he comes in the back door of the judge's office with a list of people he says you know these people have been in our jail for a while and they're good citizens and is it alright with you if I let them out.
And we always say to the sheriff, look we don't, we gave you an order to keep that person in jail for eight months. Short of good time, that's what you're supposed to do. But if your system allows you to open up the back door of your jail and let these people out, you do what you have to do. But don't put us in a position where we have to basically say the order we issued is uneffective. That's the bind that people get in.
Dean Becker: Well I hear the stories of like those celebrities that get busted in Los Angeles and they put them in jail at a quarter to midnight and let them out at you know quarter past midnight and call that two days minimum sentence because they are so overwhelmed, so overcrowded.
We have kind of the antithesis in Texas and probably many other states where people get arrested for minor amounts of drugs. They sit behind bars for months if they can't afford bail or an attorney and you know oft times they go to trial and they're convicted and sentenced to less time than they spent waiting for trial.
David Nichols: Well see from my perspective what my whole career was based on respect for the law. I believed in the law. I worked with people who believed in the law and respected it. The trouble with this kind of a war so to speak is that the bulk of the populace now does not respect the law. And so if you you know if you have to pick it's causing a disease to spread throughout the legal community.
If I break probation and I get arrested in [ ] county and I am taken before a judge and I'm put back in jail, I am told to go over to the jail. And you know what the jail will tell me? I'm sorry Dave, we don't have room for you now, come back in two weeks and we'll see if we have abed. So that's what's happening to the judge's order that said I had to serve three days in jail because I messed up my probation. I am told to go home and come back later. And I might be told to go home again and come back later. I mean there's a, it builds a disrespect for everything that ultimately becomes a disease that spreads.
Dean Becker: And well then there's kind of a two sided coin of disrespect going on here. One is as you're saying the the just the overwhelmed situation creates one half of it. And the other is that for many people, many communities, that they witness a drug crime or they witness a violent crime. And because of the power of the gangs that are perhaps over running their neighborhood they can't speak up at all even against these violent crimes for fear of retribution. We're losing all kinds of respect for law enforcement when they cant even protect those who otherwise might want to help. Your thoughts on that.
David Nichols: Oh yeah, you're absolutely right. And you know the inner cities are just now plagued with gangs that are making their money off of a lot of things but drugs is one of them. They're terrorizing their communities.
You know it just to me it's ironic. You get you get a Bill Cosby who very sensibly says to the young black community, look finish your education. Don't have a child unless you're ready to raise it. If you've had a child, come back and pay for it, be a man.
And what's happening is we are imprisoning over one in four of every young black man is in prison for something like that, something unbelievable. They learned the drug culture and the gang culture and they came, they come out. How a, how is is the black young black male community supposed to learn to function in the world we have given them? You know it just makes no sense.
Dean Becker: Well sure, we we as you were alluding to, we we forbid them housing, credit, education and a job and how are they in fact supposed to thrive and do well and support those they otherwise would be able to do?
David Nichols: Yeah, they are going to take the unbelievable risks of peddling drugs and the risks of as you well know the risks of a young black man just as an example of a segment of society. The odds of a young black man growing in to adulthood are not very good these days. The chances are that he is going to be killed or imprisoned for a long period of time. That's not very good for our society.
Dean Becker: No and we talk about protecting our society but this is doing nothing to enhance the future for all of us really.
David Nichols: No and we're encouraging this behavior because we are allowing this trade to thrive. And the more we try to put our thumb in the dike and stop the dam from bursting, the more cracks appear in the dam. I mean it's just counterproductive, hugely counterproductive.
Dean Becker: Indeed it is. Once again folks we are speaking with David A. Nichols. He is a retired superior court judge based in Bellingham, Washington. You know the fact is you know Washington State, California are both talking about legalizing marijuana. There are other states across the country that you never would have thought before are starting to look at it. New Jersey just legalized it this past week, Virginia is talking about it and even Alabama is beginning to consider it. Isn't it time for those in the know, those who are aware of this problem to speak up, to do a little more to help begin sway the opinion across this country?
David Nichols: Well that's what I would call a rhetorical question.
Dean Becker: Well OK but I again I I I...
David Nichols: My goodness it's long overdue. And I am hopeful that we'll begin to learn from states like New Jersey who now are going to regulate and tax marijuana how we do it. And I hope that the some of the money we have diverting to this war will be diverted into the public health sector and get people clean needles and get people the treatment they need.
You know most of the people Dean who in the inner city who have these drugs are comorbid people. They have got mental health issues, they have got diabetes, they have got... yeah they end up in our emergency rooms of our hospitals and cost us zillions of dollars to take care of them. And hopefully when more of this involved in the public health model and out of the criminal justice system we'll begin to learn how to do that and people will feel more comfortable with the legalization concept. They feel pretty uncomfortable with it now.
Dean Becker: Right and I think the good folks at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition have been very instrumental in helping to sway or to redirect the public opinion because you know cops who have spent time in the trenches of the drug war gotten mud on their boots up to their knees and who know the dang truth of this are garnering respect and understanding, right?
David Nichols: Well yeah because they you know to some extent I have been there because I have had to sentence and deal with so many of these cases. But I'm not like the guy like Jack Cole, one of our founders, who spent thirty years as an undercover narcotics cop. And just you know he began to have, he began to be sickened, sick at heart, sick at his stomach. I mean he, he just began to believe that he he was the instrument of Satan, not... he wasn't the good guy anymore. He was the bad guy and he just couldn't stand it anymore.
Dean Becker: Right. Well that's what drives me is trying to make a better future. I think that is what we're really all about at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. We have been speaking with retired superior court judge David A. Nichols. Got thirty seconds here David but how would you like to close this out?
David Nichols: Well you invited me to tell people who could look up my art. It's real easy - www.davenicholsart.com. And just on the issue of drugs if anyone would care to communicate with me they go to that website, davenicholsart.com, my email's there. I'd be happy to have a discussion with anybody or provide any information I can.
Dean Becker: Alright. Well Dave Nichols, thank you so much. We'll be in touch as we get further in to 2010. I very much appreciate you being with us here on Cultural Baggage.
David Nichols: Well thank you much for asking me.
Dean Becker: Alright.
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How many Mexicans will have to die before Americans stop getting high?
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Kicking in the door
Kicking in the door
We shall bring salvation
Kicking in the door
This is Phil Smith of the Drug War Chronicle reporting on the marijuana legalization front. Legalization: is this the year the dam breaks? In the past week we saw failings of California police chiefs to show up Tuesday in Sacramento to explain how legalizing marijuana could be the downfall of our civilization.
Members of the California assembly public safety committee listened politely then ignored them. Voting four three to approve Assemblyman Tom Amiano's legalization bill. That is the first time a legislative committee anywhere in the US has voted to free the weed and that's historic.
Unfortunately Amiano's bill isn't going anywhere else this session. There was a Friday deadline to get it into the assembly public health committee but that didn't happen so the bill is dead for now. Amiano says he isn't certain if or when he will introduce it. He may be waiting to see if the voters make it a moot point by voting on an initiative to legalize it in November.
There are four legalization initiatives being circulated in California and at least one of them is going to be on the ballot. Medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University, has suspended signature gathering on his initiative saying they already have all the signatures they need.
Up the pacific coast a ways in Washington State on a Wednesday legislators heard testimony on a pair of bills, one that would decriminalize marijuana possession and one that would legalize marijuana. Public safety and emergency awareness committee will vote on those next week.
But as in California the legislator's efforts may be rendered moot by the voters. Activists in Seattle announced on Monday they had filed an initiative to legalize marijuana. They need to get eighty thousand ballot signatures and they have until July to do it.
There's also a legalization bill pre filed in New Hampshire, one in process in Massachusetts and Rhode Island has a committee looking into the marijuana laws. Maybe just maybe 2010 will be the year the twentieth century, the century of prohibition, finally ends. As always there's more legalization news available online. Check it out at www.stopthedrugwar.org.
Dean Becker: Alright I want to thank Phil Smith for that report. I want to thank superior court judge David Nichols for being with us. And we'll have more about the ongoing changes with the various marijuana laws and other drug reform progress around the country on this week's Century of Lies show which follows on most of the Drug Truth Network programs.
You know the judge and I we do what we can you now to educate you, to embolden you, to encourage you. But you're going to have to do the hard work. Get off the couch, pick up the phone, dial your elected representatives, do something to bring about the end of this drug war. And as always, I remind you that because of prohibition, you don't know what is in that bag. Please be careful.
To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.
This show is produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT Houston.
Tap dancing on the edge of the abyss...