Cultural Baggage December 27, 2009

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.

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Dean Becker: Welcome my friends to this edition of Cultural Baggage, the last of 2009 for most affiliates; the first of 2010 for the rest. Today we are going to take a look back at the year 2009 featuring a guest from each of the months January through June. Century of Lies will feature guests from August through December.

First up from January 14th, Fred Burton with Stratfor, the anti-terrorist organization.

Fred Burton: Well, I started out as one of the first three US counter terrorism agents back in the early eighties and my responsibilities were the Middle East. That means the investigation of any terrorist attack that occurred in the Middle East as well as any Middle Eastern terrorism group that planned or launched operations from what we called the sand box. And of course with that that lead us to groups such as Abu Nidal, the PFLP, the PFLPGC, Black September, this group of loose knit Afghans that became Al Quaida and Hezbollah which is very big into the drug trade and still is.

So it was a very interesting career and it was a fascinating time to be engaged in the counter terrorism arena. I felt that I had pretty much done all I could do. I choreographed the arrest of Ramsey Yosef the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing and came on a little heat by my own agency for that.

And as a result of that incident it was best for me to move on and now I work for a private intelligence company called Stratfor and it's a wonderful company and I write a terrorism weekly and we also put together a Mexico weekly which discusses the deteriorating violence in Mexico as well as the activities of the various narco-cartels and their encroachment into the United States.

Dean Becker: I mean you reach back to the Iran contra affair. You were involved with contacting Ollie North during the time of that brouhaha. I want to get your opinion on this. There are those who say the CIA was trading weapons for cocaine, bringing it back to the US. Did you see any indications of that?

Fred Burton: I did not personally. My portfolio were strictly the hostages that were held by Hezbollah in Lebanon and our efforts to get them out. I was part and parcel to the actual debriefing teams flying over to talk to them and so forth. So I knew nothing about the [ ] missiles being traded for hostages and so forth.

But again and looking at this from a counter terrorism perspective and I think folks don't equate the two from a homeland security aspect, when you look at what is taking place in Mexico and the violent insurgent kinds of activities that's being fueled by the drug trade and you look at just the tactics and the military control over certain areas and then the poaching into the United States of targeted assassinations and kidnappings and burglary, this is a homeland security problem that makes it a counter terrorism issue. And what I mean by that is the drug trade in itself is bad enough but if you can get in thousands of pounds of cocaine and or marijuana what kind of precursor for a weapon of mass destruction could you get in?

Dean Becker: On a more current note from the December 23rd Wall Street Journal: the brazen murder of several family members of a Mexican naval hero threatens to start a dangerous new chapter in the country's drug war in which cartels increasingly resort to terror tactics to try to force the government to back off.

Next from the February 18th Cultural Baggage show, Houston's soon to be retiring police Chief Harold Hurtt.

Harold Hurtt: You know, we know a lot of our young people get caught up in the drug culture and the gang culture and if there is appropriate diversion programs for them, I would say yes, on the first offense let's give them a chance, let's give them a chance to be successful. But beyond that I think that after they understand the criminal justice system - they already know the difference between right and wrong. We need to hold people accountable for their actions.

Dean Becker: You know, I guess it has been about a year and a half ago the CBS here locally did a story talking about Houston being the world's leading incarcerator, leading jailer. And they talked about it was predominantly for minor amounts of drugs, sometimes microscopic amounts of drugs. And we have a new district attorney, Pat Lykos.

Have you had a chance to sit down and talk with her and perhaps redefine the face of the justice system here in Houston maybe to start ticketing pot smokers as the new state law would allow and maybe to smash the crack pipes and marijuana pipes rather than making an arrest?

Harold Hurtt: Well, I have had that conversation with her and I am very much concerned in fact that she is had spoken about the not having those people prosecuted or spend some time in jail. These are not people who go to work every day like you and I. They don't have an eight to five job, they don't work the evening or the midnight shift. They are on drugs and they steal to support their habits.

If we are going to tell people when they are on drugs to go to court, OK, you get another chance, what you are doing, this is OK, go back out and break into my car. Go back out and steal copper and metal from my property. Go back and steal construction equipment. And you know, you don't have a legitimate job and that is the only way you are going to feed your habit and we approve of it. And I don't think that is what we are ready to say in the state of Texas.

Dean Becker: As I understand it, chief Hurtt is retiring January of 2010 and it should also be noted that our new district attorney, Pat Lykos, is going to stop arresting those with microscopic crack pipe amounts of hard drugs.

Next up, from the March 18th Cultural Baggage Show, Amanda Fielding the head of the Beckley Foundation in the UK.

Michael Krawitz: Michael Krawitz here reporting for Dean Becker for the Drug Truth Radio Network from Vienna, Austria at the United Nations Headquarters of the United Nations Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention and the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board. I am very pleased and honored to be here today to continue an interview that was done by Dean Becker with Lady Niedpath, Amanda Fielding from the Beckley Foundation, reporting about her work with cannabis in the Global cannabis commission report of Beckley. Lady Niedpath could you please introduce yourself and the Beckley Foundation and subsidiary bodies that you wish to talk about?

Amanda Fielding: Hello there very pleased to be here. I am founded and direct the Beckley Foundation which does research into ways in which we can improve our drug policy as well as research into the neurophysiology underlying altered states of consciousness. And I am here at the UN as a UN accredited [ ] which means one has the right to present papers and be present at discussions.

And we have been presenting here Beckley Foundation global cannabis commission report which was authored by some of the leading drug policy analysts in the world. And what the report has done is to bring together the latest scientific evidence on all issues surrounding cannabis that policy makers and indeed the public need to know to make better informed decisions.

So that the report goes into the harms of cannabis use to the user, the different ways in which it is regulated around the world and analyzes the benefits and harms of these different ways and also goes into possible alternative ways that it could be regulated in the future in order to give individual countries more freedom in which to devise policies that better respect their individual needs.

Michael Krawitz: Did you have any preconceived notions that weren't exactly what you found to be the truth about cannabis in this study?

Amanda Fielding: No I wouldn't really say that but I would say that this ten days I have been at this UN meeting is fairly depressing in a sense of the possibilities of moving forward in the ways that we regulate cannabis. There seems to be typically it wasn't mentioned in any of the declarations. I think there was one very, very minor declaration from the Japanese saying we should look into the control of hemp seeds which is a fairly side issue. Otherwise it is unmentioned.

It's basically is cannabis is the elephant in the room. It is in fact the drug which maintains the war on drugs. It consists of eighty percent of all illegal drugs used. Basically roughly now it is a hundred sixty-six million people estimated by the UN that use cannabis world wide out of an estimated two hundred million who use all illegal drugs. So that if cannabis wasn't in the system, the system would be so small it would merely represent one percent of the global population and wouldn't warrant these vast sums of money and human suffering which is involved in maintaining the war on drugs.

And I suppose one could question whether why that is why the UN is so determined not to discuss the question of cannabis at their ten yearly review of drug policy. It is fairly amazing that is has not been discussed. Mr. Costa in his introductory remarks only reference which came near cannabis was when he was saying that to look at more liberal ways of regulating drugs was rather like allowing pedophilia and selling of arms. It's not looking at whether we could investigate alternative ways of regulating how we use cannabis in order to bring down harms and protect the public health and that is the point of the report that we have made.

Dean Becker: Next we hear from Glen Greenwald not Greenway, Glen Greenwald who gave a report to the CATO institute about the success of decriminalization in Portugal. This is from the April 15th Cultural Baggage.

Glen Greenwald: Drug addiction and the behavior surrounding it is fairly universal. In fact it is certainly more similar than it is different. And if governments are able to successfully address the problem of drug addiction using decriminalization in western Europe, a culture that is certainly similar to the United States if not close to identical in every meaningful way, that is certainly very compelling evidence that it will work here. And I think if someone wants to object and say that there are differences between the two countries it is incumbent upon whoever is doing that, whoever is making that argument to say why those differences are actual impediments. Why for example a racially diverse population means that decriminalization is less likely to succeed than a country with a racially or ethnically homogenized population because I don't see any argument as to justify that claim.

Because what you can do is you can use statistical analysis in all kinds of ways. And you can say here is 2001 when decriminalization was implemented and here are some charts, some pretty graphs and bar graphs showing the problems of drug addiction have declined and HIV and hepatitis transmission related to drug addiction and drug usage has remained fairly steady and you can make statistical arguments in that way. But people believe that decriminalization will worsen drug related problems almost intuitively. So unless you can provide reasons why decriminalization is likely to improve these problems I think the ability to persuade is much less than if you can actually provide reasons.

And so when I went to Portugal that was one of the questions I had. Well let's assume that decriminalization has actually kept drug usage rates fairly steady as the Portuguese officials and experts with whom I spoke before I went there told me. And let's assume that they are actually managing those problems better than western European countries with a criminalized scheme as they also claim. I'll assume that that's true and when I get there they are going to have charts that are going to confirm those claims. So then my question became, well why? Why is it that drug decriminalization works and what I found in speaking to them was a consensus about what those reasons are and I think those reasons are intuitively compelling to someone using basic common sense.

The first issue that these drug policy makers identified as to their principle impediment pre-decriminalization of the 1990s with trying to get the drug addiction problem under control was that when you tell the population that you are going to turn them into criminals and arrest and prosecute and imprison them if they are using drugs, the last thing they are ever going to want to do is to go to the government and seek out help by identifying themselves as drug users. They become afraid of the government. A huge wall, a huge barrier is placed between the government and the citizenry as a result of criminalization for reasons that make perfect sense.

And so if you are a policy maker and you want to reach drug users to educate them about the need for harm reduction and clean needles and the availability of methadone or treatment clinics or if you want to encourage them to think about how to use drugs in a less harmful way or to seek out the help they need the last thing they are going to do is listen to you because to you to them you are their crminalizers. You are the people who may put them into prison.

And it was a huge problem for Portuguese officials who wanted to reach the population to have this wall erected between a population that feared them and therefore was unwilling to listen to them. And I think if you go to the communities in the united states that are most affected by our criminalization laws, that fear on the part of the citizenry of the government is every bit as pervasive. And the ability of the government to reach those citizens is therefore diminished if not rendered non existent.

And what decriminalization has done is it has removed the fear on the part of the citizenry of the government so that the government can now go to the citizenry and say we have these treatment options that are have been made available to you that you ought to seek out. And we want you to listen to us when we have these educational programs that talk about the dangers of drugs and drug addiction and the way in which they can be abused and the harms that come from them. And the ability of the government to communicate with its populous and to offer treatment and to access those communities has been substantially enhanced as a result of decriminalization because that barrier has been removed.

And what that has done is it has enabled all sorts of addicts and people with drug problems and people using dirty needles or other forms of reckless drug behavior to seek out government programs that enable them to reduce their drug usage or reduce the harms that come from it or to get off drugs entirely. And that is one compelling way that decriminalization actually decreases drug usage which is it enables the government to be more effective in bringing treatment options to the population.

The second way I think is even more important and even easier to understand which is as we all know if you deploy a huge police force to search for and arrest and imprison and prosecute non violent drug offenders and imprison people by the hundreds of thousands in prisons you are burning money in the prison state. You are simply throwing money towards a program a policy that is designed to do nothing but take drug users and drug addicts and put them into cages.

Once you decriminalize and you no longer arrest and prosecute and imprison drug users, enormous amounts of money are then freed up. And if it is a poor country like Portugal or a country with significant budgetary and financial constraints like the United States freeing up enormous amounts of money can create extraordinarily valuable opportunities on the part of the government to address drug problems.

You can create all kinds of potent educational campaigns. You can build treatment facilities and pay drug counselors and pay psychologists so that people who never had access to treatment before now have ample and well funded treatment programs. You save lots of money but you also provide much better services to the drug using populations and the people who want treatment can then afford it.

Portugal had virtually no ability to provide meaningful treatment in the 1990s as their program as their problems with drugs skyrocketed because they were wasting it all on trying to imprison people. It was decriminalization that freed up that money that has and you can look at the resources devoted in Portugal to treatment since 2001 that has really skyrocketed.

Now instead of being put into prison drug addicts are going to treatment centers and they are learning how to control their drug usage or to get off drugs entirely. And so I think when you look at those two aspects it is not surprising that drug usage rate have not skyrocketed the way they have in western Europe and the United States but have clearly begun to subside in some cases significantly decrease.

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It's time to play Name that Drug by Its Side Effects!

Breast enlargement, impotence, corneal opacity, deafness, anaphylactic shock, pseudomembraneous colitis, bloody diarrhea, rectal hemorrhage, myocardial infarction and death.

Time's Up!

The answer: From Bristol Meyers Squibb the answer weirdly is Asafex, for heartburn and obviously not for your ass effects. By the way the number of potential complications is more than one hundred.

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Dean Becker: Hello my friends, you are listening to a holiday special program from Cultural Baggage and the Drug Truth Network. We are tuning in to several programs during the first half of 2009 featured on the Cultural Baggage program.

Next from the May 27th show we have David Rosenbloom, new head of CASA, Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse.

David Rosenbloom: Join Together and CASA merged on May first of this year. We will continue to provide all of the news, advocacy and continuing education programs of Join Together online as part of CASA and so we believe that this is a very exciting merger that significantly strengthens our capacity to provide information and leadership to communities around the country on issues if drugs and alcohol prevention and treatment.

Dean Becker: Wonderful news. Now will it still be kind of the open forum fashion? Will drug reformers like Mr. Paul Armentano have a chance to speak on CASA like they did on Join Together?

David Rosenbloom: Join Together's editorial policy is going to remain exactly the same as it has always been. We believe that it is important to report the broad spectrum of views on drug and alcohol prevention treatment and policy. And we also believe that it is very important to provide the evidence, the scientific evidence behind various arguments. And so we both report the news as it occurs. We report the broad spectrum of views as they occur and we rely on the scientific evidence to promote advocacy for policies which we think that the scientific evidence provides sounds basis for.

Dean Becker: There are some hundred and twenty plus studies that have been conducted on just marijuana this millennium if you will and yet we have politicians and police chiefs and other officials saying, well we are going to wait till there's a study. We are going to wait until there is actual data when there is plenty of data out there, is there not?

David Rosenbloom: I think that on marijuana I have always been amused that of first of all I have been amused about what different advocacy positions on marijuana call evidence. And second cause it has always struck me that nobody in the marijuana debate seems to really want independent, neutral evidence about the various positions with respect to marijuana.

I think that so I think that it is a debate which is from my perspective kind of devoid of real evidence - lots of argument but pretty weak evidence. Pretty weak evidence that the uses of marijuana which are promoted as medical marijuana. Pretty weak evidence that it really is an effective medication in its smoked form. Lots of anecdote but very little evidence and I think that neither side really wants to do the controlled clinical trials that would be required to treat this like a medicine like all other medicines get tested. I just don't see any of that going on.

Dean Becker: It should be noted that about November first, the American Medical Association called for more studies. Next from the June 24th Cultural Baggage we hear from Moises Naim, the editor of Foreign Policy magazine.

Moises Naim: The problem is and this brings me to the legalization thing is that people are very concerned when you tell them you know lets just legalize the whole thing. Well, that is also an extreme posture that may not work and may have consequences. So I think that you said that you were a reformer and a legalizer... Well, reformer I think is the way we need to go and look and be very, very experimental and test different things and try one approach and see if it works and then try another.

No one really knows what really should be the final solution to the thing. Outright across the board legalization of all drugs to all people everywhere may have social costs that are as high as the war on drugs. So we need to find some intermediate situation, examples of like Portugal recently. There is a recent report that tracks what has been the approach in Portugal which seems to be working. Some European examples that are some of them are controversial but some have worked better than others.

Bottom line is I think what we need to abolish is the prohibition to think. And the prohibition to think about drugs and how to regulate them, how to control them is the essence of what we need to do and not just continue into this you know futile debate between prohibition and legalization.

Dean Becker: Fair enough, fair enough. As far as I understand it the Mexican legislature has passed a bill to decrim to somewhat parallel what they have done in Portugal. I think it only awaits the signature of Calderon. But he was the one that I understand that put this bill forward so I think he will be signing that. Do you think that will do anything to slow down the progress of these cartels in Mexico?

Moises Naim: The cartels are in Mexico are not essentially centered. A big deal there is not the Mexican market and is not marijuana and it is not the individual user of Mexicans. The big deal there is the massive amounts of money and merchandise related to cocaine and heroin and the passage from Andean countries to the big North American market. And so it is very telling that Calderon who has been a very courageous president that has been more than willing to take on the big cartels is also at the same time advancing legislation in this direction.

Dean Becker: I wanted to point out that Anthony Placido the assistant administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration says that sixty to seventy percent of the drug trade is in fact based on the marijuana trade.

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Dean Becker: My friends, I produce these shows for one reason. That is to motivate you, to encourage you, to embolden you to contact your legislatures, to contact your local editors of the paper and to talk to your neighbors and friends and your associates at work about the need to end the madness of drug war. Else these cartels in Mexico and Afghanistan will just get stronger and more likely to entice our kids to lives of addiction or crime. As always, I remind you once again that that because of prohibition, you don't know what is in that bag. Please be careful and have a happy new year.

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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 is produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT Houston.

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