Cultural Baggage, June 23, 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.
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Dean Becker: Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Today we'll hear from Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance, Paul Armentano of NORML, Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project, Randy Credico of the William Kuntsler Foundation, Terry Nelson of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Doug McVay brings us Drug War Facts, Glenn Greenway brings us the Poppygate Report and this is Bill Maher:
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Bill Maher: I mean it is such a triumph of fear and ignorance over fact and logic that the drug that kills nobody is the illegal one. How would you explain that to an alien who came down?
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Paul Armentano: This is Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML and the NORML Foundation, Washington, D.C. There's so many things we can say about how this now annual tradition of the Drug Czar and Nora Volkow, the head of NIDA, parading the latest annual percentages of THC content in marijuana and claiming that because these percentages are rising somehow marijuana is more dangerous than it was in the past. As listeners to your show are well aware, THC, the psychoactive, or I should say the primary psychoactive, ingredient in marijuana is non-toxic. It cannot cause fatal overdose. So regardless of whether the THC content in marijuana is five percent or regardless if it's ten percent, the bottom line is we're talking about an exceptionally safe drug that one will not die or overdose from taking too much of. The bottom line is higher potency marijuana simply means people smoke less. And if the Drug Czar was really concerned about the potential adverse effects of high quantities of THC then he would be most concerned about the fact that doctors can prescribe a legal FDA medication known as Marinol that is one hundred percent THC, a level of potency that the plant marijuana will never reach.

Dean Becker: Well, I think it was Nora Volkow who said that it had reached a level and I think I've got the quote right here, of 'acute toxicity.' Your thoughts on that?

Paul Armentano: It's simply a false statement. Nora Volkow knows that. She's not an ignorant woman but clearly she is willing to put politics before science when it comes to this issue. You know, whether, when we're talking about alcohol people have all sorts of choices of different potencies of alcohol, they can consume wine, they can consume beer, they can consume hard liquor, they can even in some case consume grain alcohol if they wish to. Generally consumers gravitate toward the lower or more mildly potent intoxicants. It is beer and wine sales that drive the alcohol industry, not the sales of Bicardi 151, not the sales of Everclear grain alcohol. This is the same concept with marijuana. Most users enjoy and gravitate toward relatively low-potent marijuana. In fact, there was a study that was just published a couple weeks ago that we reported on that found that cannabis consumers in the Netherlands, where they can purchase marijuana from a legal market and where the potency of marijuana is actually known and advertised to the consumer, the consumer gravitates not toward the highest potency available but actually toward a relatively mild potent form of marijuana. And that's not surprising at all. Like I said, individuals who engage in the use of alcohol do exactly the same thing.
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Dean Becker: A few days back I saw a story on the Huffington Post about Randy Credico. He's the director of the William Moses Kuntsler Fund for Racial Justice and he was busted on the streets of New York for trying to stop a marijuana bust.

Randy Credico: Right now we have a project focusing on what's called Stops and Frisks here in New York City which is a racist policy by the NYPD in which hundreds of thousands of young poor Blacks and Latinos mostly are stopped and frisked every year. And we are also focusing on the racist policies of the NYPD as it applies to [unintelligible] kids and to the legal system on pot charges and other drug charges.

Dean Becker: Now I've heard it said it New York City, it's across the country but New York City in particular, it is a means to generate overtime for many of these law enforcement officials. Is that correct?

Randy Credico: Well, for the law enforcement officers it is. You know, I mean they've use a loophole where they'll make arrests late in the afternoon or late at night before their shift comes to an end and then they'll take these kids down there and instead of giving them just appearance tickets they will arrest them, even though, particularly on pot charges, for smoking pot it's only a hundred dollar fine. Be like taking somebody in on a parking ticket, it's got the same ramifications. The driving force is not just the overtime but also the fact that someone gets upgraded from beat officer to undercover agent to detective, they get their detective shield that they spent a year and a half or two years, this kind of undercover work.

And that's all they focus on are quality-of-life pot charges and for the last six or seven years I've been warning kids not to smoke pot in the neighborhood. I tell them where they should go because they will get arrested. These units are in full force here, they're starving for arrests. And they want to meet a quota so, if you stand on this block which looks like off the beaten path street since it's a smaller street in New York City you're going to get arrested because it's not. There are more arrests, I think, on this street than any street in the city. They just kind of wait, it's like shooting fish in a barrel. And so I warned the kids not to smoke. Many times they'll just go up to these guys if they look like they're poor and Black or Latino and just like go thorough their clothing to see if they can find some pot and then they'll say that the pot was in the open. They're not allowed to do that but they do it anyway.

But the other day when I warned two kids off they got arrested anyway. And the following day the guy on patrol who headed that unit that came up to me and when he saw me said 'If you do that again, if you warn people, tip them off, we're going to arrest you.' And I said 'go ahead, make my day.' So the following week I was in front of this building here and I went on the stoop and I saw, you know, five cops out there, two on bikes, and two or three cars out there arresting kids for smoking pot, maybe two kids. And they were Black and I don't know if they were actually burning the pot or what and I said something. I said 'Come on, Man. You guys are driving the wrong direction on this street.' You know, I said 'This has got to be a murder, right, because you've got five cops out there.' And they said 'You're under arrest.' They were waiting for that. And I knew it was eventually going to happen and they took me to the Sixth Precinct. So I was taken to the local precinct and charged with disorderly conduct, two charges, and one count of resisting arrest. And I don't know where any of those three charges stem from.

Dean Becker: It happens a lot in New York City but it happens across America everyday as well. That people...

Randy Credico: Yeah, it's cops everywhere. This is like, this is with the crap that you see on, in syndication, that show 'Cops' where you got a bunch of thugs who are under-trained, who are not sensitive, who are just basically what, you read the days of slavery, it reminds you a lot of slave catchers or in Missouri they were called 'Border Ruffians', you know, that would scare off abolitionists. That's what these guys are. They've got that mentality. They're bull-headed, they come from the suburbs, they're White. There's a couple of Blacks in there, just, they're the Clarence Thomases with badges, but mostly White. And they're scary, many of them are on steroids and it's a real dangerous situation. I think that we're going to get to the point where it's going to be a huge critical mass here.
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Dean Becker: You are listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio.
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Bill Piper: I'm Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which is working for alternatives to the War on Drugs.

Dean Becker: Bill, there are several stories I want to get to, but there are a couple of things happening in Congress in the next couple of days dealing with the mechanism of drug war. Why don't you tell us about those two hearings, if you will?

Bill Piper: Sure. Tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee is considering legislation that would basically rubber stamp the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program, a federal program that provides hundreds of millions of dollars a year to law enforcement. So it's kind of on a fast track. Twenty criminal justice and civil rights groups issued a letter today urging Congress not to reauthorize the program unless it reforms it. We're hoping that this Judiciary Committee will pass some good amendments tomorrow. To at least incorporate some better oversight and accountability into the program.

And then on Thursday the Joint Economic Committee, which is a joint committee of, that includes both House and Senate members, is having a hearing that's going to take a cost-benefit analysis of U.S. drug policy. And that's being led by Senator Webb, a democrat from Virginia, who last year had a similar hearing that took a look at the impact of over-incarceration in America, not just the economic cost but the cost to families, and kind of the human cost overall. And that hearing made national news. And what came out of that was a surprise to him and what surprised a lot of members was that when they asked every panelist 'why are so many people in jail?' the answer was always, well, largely because of our punitive drug policies.

Dean Becker: Well, I want to back up and first talk about the grants program, the Byrne grants. And there's two movies coming out, I think, later this year dealing with the ramifications of those Byrne grants, how they fund the drug task forces and lead to bigotry and just injustices in many cities across this country. And these movies deal with the cities of Tulia and Hearne, Texas, where it just ran amuck. Am I right?

Bill Piper: Yes. There's definitely a film coming out called 'American Violet' which stars oscar-nominated actors Alfre Woodard and Michael O'Keefe that's based loosely on the Hearne scandal where basically every year the local Byrne's funded narcotics task force would essentially raid the houses of African-Americans and arrest people solely on the uncorroborated word of confidential informants. They eventually didn't have any evidence other than the word of these informants. And the ACLU and a bunch of other groups got involved and what they basically found was that this thing had been going on for fifteen years, really had nothing to do with fighting drugs and everything to do with just running Blacks out of the town.

The counties that made up the task force basically reached a settlement where they agreed to give, I think, an undisclosed amount to some of the victims of the discrimination. But, then Lionsgate Films is doing something on Tulia, Texas with Halle Berry starring in it next year. But the Tulia scandal is probably the most notorious Byrne funded scandal, it's the most well known, made a lot of national news, the New York Times wrote on it a lot. A lot of columnists wrote on it. I think it was on Sixty Minutes at least once, possibly more. And it was very similar to Hearne in which you had an informant, basically a small town woke up one day and fifteen percent of their Black population had been arrested on drug charges.

And it was all on the word of an undercover informant which later turned out that this undercover officer had a history of racism and a history of lying and basically went from law enforcement operation to law enforcement operation. And the first couple of people to go to trial pled innocent, went to trial because the only evidence against them was this one man's word. There were no audio tapes, no video tapes, no other witnesses, they didn't find drugs, money or guns in their houses. He claimed that he wrote the times and places of where he bought the drugs on his arm in ink pen and the first couple of Black defendants to go to trial got enormously long sentences for allegedly selling cocaine, in some cases 80, 90, 100 years.

So at that point all the other defendants started taking plea bargains and even the plea bargains weren't good deals, they were 20, 25, 30 years and people were like 'Better than a hundred years. I'm not going to get any justice in this town.' And, long story short, after a lot of work by a lot of activists, the Drug Policy Alliance, ACLU of Texas, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a lot of groups working on this for years, the cases began to unravel, the number of people that were in prison that were finally able to prove that they weren't actually in Tulia, Texas at the time that they were alleged to have committed the crime.

And it all unraveled and Texas Governor Rick Perry, republican, eventually pardoned dozens of people that were in prison. Which is good. That's the good news. The bad news is that most of these people had already served four years in prison. And they eventually went on to sue. So you've got two major motion pictures coming out in the near future that focus on scandals that were basically bred by the Byrne Grant program and unfortunately it looks like Congress is on the verge of just rubber stamping this program again for five more years without reforming it, without adding any kind of accountability standards. And that's just unfortunate.

Dean Becker: Indeed it is. I want to throw in the mix there that the Drug Policy Forum of Texas also sponsored a major march in Austin along with the Friends of Justice from Tulia, which...

Bill Piper: Yeah, that's right. What was interesting, you see a lot of scandals in which the ACLU or the Drug Policy Alliance will weigh in, do some media, do some action alerts, but this was really a homegrown effort in Tulia, within Hearne and around the state of people living in the communities, in some case people that, families, families of the victims, families of people incarcerated. In some cases other people who got together, who rallied in those cities, who went to the Texas State Legislature, and they really became a political force in a way that we really haven't seen in a lot of other states and that it became so much of a force I think is a good model to look at.

It really shows that you can make a difference, that you can actually impact the system if you organize. And not only did this lead to people being pardoned and released from prison but the Texas Legislature passed a lot of reforms. The republicans control the Texas State Legislature. So the Legislature banned racial profiling, basically eliminated the Byrne funded task forces, and shifted all the Byrne money to treatment, they enacted treatment instead of incarceration measure and then, probably most notably, a groundbreaking law that prohibits anyone in Texas from being convicted of a drug law offense solely on the uncorroborated testimony of an undercover informant, basically under Texas law you have to have more than just the word of an informant before you can send someone to jail.

And that's, obviously, so common sense, it's startling to believe that people can go to jail with no evidence other than the word of someone else but unfortunately that's the way it is around the country, and even still in Texas. It only applies to informants. It doesn't apply to undercover officers or snitches or other people but--and all of that was the work of local and state officials being, basically pressured by Texas constituents.

It was just a remarkable thing to watch. You almost don't see anything like that. I think the closest thing would be what's going on in New York, with the Rockefeller drug laws where the families of incarcerated people in the New York prisons have gotten together and have become such a political force that the Legislature's been forced to reform the mandatory minimums there several times since 2004 and are about to do it again. At least one district attorney has lost in an election because of a bad position on drug policies because he supported mandatory minimums. Several state senators have lost their seats in part because they refuse to consider reform. And so when people get together and really organize things can get done.

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It's time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects!

Horrible side effects including death.

Time's up: The answer! From Amgen and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals--Enbrel for arthritis.
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Dean Becker: Poppygate. Bizarre news about the U.S. policy on controlling heroin, featuring Glenn Greenway.

Afghanistan is currently the world's only genuine narco-state, currently turning out 93% of the world's heroin, 900 or more tons annually that affords over one half of the impoverished, war-torn country's Gross Domestic Product. Annual output has increased 4,400 percent since the U.S. invasion in 2001. This is common knowledge.

Somewhat less commonly known is that, according to the UN, the country is also the world's largest cannabis producer. In that regard, 260 U.S. tons of hashish went up in smoke last week in Afghanistan thanks to three 1,000 pound bombs delivered by British Harrier jets. The hashish bombing was credited to the DEA, NATO, DOD, the U.S. State Department and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. It was said to be the largest drug seizure in history. The hashish was buried in trenches underneath an area about the size of two soccer fields.

The UK's second biggest-selling newspaper, the Daily Mail offers this curious metamorphic tidbit: "Officials believe the area was turning dried cannabis leaves into heroin."

In related news, the same officials say the project to turn sow's ears into silk purses is coming along swimmingly and, by the way, those same officials would also like you to know that the drug war is bang-up success.

This is Glenn Greenway reporting for the Drug Truth Network.
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This is Terry Nelson speaking on behalf of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Another tragic consequence of the war on drugs happened in Montreal, Canada. As reported by the Globe and Mail a police officer was killed and another wounded during a pre-dawn drug raid. It appears that the police had a warrant that was later invalidated and conducted the raid on a suspected cocaine stash house. The officers battered down the door and the owner of the home, allegedly believing he was suffering a home invasion, opened fire with a weapon that he had a permit to carry. After the smoke had cleared, one police officer was dead and both wife of the homeowner and another officer were wounded.

Last week the homeowner was cleared of murder charges but will now face charges of possessing two unregistered guns. So the police broke into the man's home using a warrant that was later invalidated due to lack of substantial evidence for it to have been issued in the first place. It appears that since they could not pin a cocaine smuggling rap on him they decided to charge him with the much lesser charge of owning unregistered firearms. During the confusion of the raid, ironically, one officer bumped into another and she accidentally shot the dying officer in the back. Another round struck the homeowner's wife in the arm. In addition, other officers mistakenly thought the gunfire was coming from a different bedroom and fired fifteen rounds through that door.

This bedroom was occupied by the homeowner's fifteen year old son. Fortunately he was not struck in the barrage. If this sounds like a tragic comedy of errors it because that's what it was. The officers were wearing black ninja type uniforms with 'police' written on the bullet proof vests. However, it is reported that a flap on the vest actually concealed the word 'police.' The result is one officer is dead, another wounded and a family traumatized for what? A very small amount of cocaine and two unregistered guns?

What's it coming to? Government's can storm into a home in the dark brandishing weapons and expect the occupants to maybe surrender? I know that if someone breaks down the door of my home he had better be wearing a clearly marked police uniform and screaming 'police' at the top of his lungs or I will also assume that it's a bad guy coming to hurt me or my family.

We absolutely must stop this madness called the War on Drugs. It makes sense to establish a system of legal regulation and control and then legalize all drugs. The revenue from the collected taxes on legal drugs could then go to medically treat problem users. We all want a better future for ourselves and our children.

This is Terry Nelson of www.LEAP.cc signing off.
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Doug McVay:

Lies, damn lies, and crime statistics.

The US government released some reports recently on crime and punishment in America. More than ever before, experts are concerned that the true story on crime is being concealed.

First, the FBI released its preliminary 2007 crime figures. Why an enforcement agency like the FBI instead of a numbercruncher like the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics is doing statistical analysis in the first place is a good question. Why in this modern age these preliminary numbers are delayed until halfway through the year is another good question. Beyond those, the really big question is how good are these figures?

Concerns have been raised about the quality of crime data in cities around the country. This sounds like an accounting problem, but it's a lot more than that. In Houston, for example, police are accused of misreporting and thus miscounting murders. One could argue this is merely an innovative way to bring a department's clearance rate in line yet ultimately it represents a betrayal of the victims, their loved ones and families.

Houston is not the first city in the US to lie about crime. The city of Philadelphia had similarly abused rape victims for years until the local newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, broke the story. The Broward County, Florida sheriff's office was rocked by a similar scandal a few years ago. The state of Illinois refuses to use nationally accepted guidelines for reporting crime so the FBI won't even accept their numbers for publication.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org.
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Bruce Mirken: I am Bruce Mirken and I am Director of Communications at the Marijuana Policy Project.

Dean Becker: Bruce, you guys are trying to bring focus to bear on a yearly situation I guess it is. Why don't you describe what's going on in the U.S. Congress?

Bruce Mirken: Well, sure. Around this time every year Congress considers the appropriations bill that funds the Justice Department, our good friends who oversee the DEA, and every year for the last several years Congress Maurice Hinchey of New York and Dana Rohrabacher of California have introduced an amendment basically telling the DEA that they can't spend any of their money to attack state medical marijuana laws. And that amendment, called the Hinchey/Rohrabacher amendment, is going to be proposed again this year. We don't have an exact date yet. It depends on when the bill gets to the floor of the house but it could be as soon as late June but it could well be into July soon but likely in the next several weeks. It's time to start thinking about it.

Dean Becker: What can folks do in that regard?

Bruce Mirken: The most important thing that you could do is let your member of Congress know that it's time for the federal government to stop attacking these state medical marijuana laws and let states work it out themselves because there's simply no reason to be arresting sick and suffering people when states, through the vote of the people or their legislature, decided to protect them. You can go online at our website which is www.MPP.org and we have an online action system that makes it very simple to contact your representative.

You can also, of course, write or call yourself. But make your voice heard. And I might mention that if your representative in Congress happens to be a democrat you might remind them that their presidential nominee-in-waiting, Barack Obama, has said that the feds should leave medical marijuana states alone. So it's really time for the majority in the House of Representatives to step up to the plate and do what's right.
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Dean Becker: Before we go I want to send a special welcome to the newest affiliate to the Drug Truth Network, 102.3 FM in Nimbin, Australia.

All right, my friends. I hope you enjoyed today's very diverse Cultural Baggage and that you'll take time to stop and think about why does this drug war continue. Why does it get more bizarre? And I hope you come to the conclusion it's because you remain silent in this regard. You fear the inquisitors.

And, as always, I remind you that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.
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To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net