Cultural Baggage, September 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.


Dean Becker: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I am reporting from San Francisco but it's been quite a week. I spent the first half of the week in El Paso and in Ciudad, Juarez, the most violent city on the planet attending the conference dealing with the war on drugs recognizing the forty year anniversary of its existence promulgated by one Richard M. Nixon. I am in San Francisco attending the convention for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. And we will have much about that subject on this week's Century of Lies but first up, let us go to El Paso and see what is going on with the cartels.


Dean Becker: Alright, I am here with Craig Reinarman. I am going to let him introduce himself further and tell us a little bit about the work he does.

Craig Reinarman: Yeah, I am a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I teach sociology and legal studies and I have been involved on and off for, I don't know, thirty years or so in doing research on drug issues, drug problems, drug policy.

Dean Becker: Now as I understand, you have gone to Europe. You have been in Amsterdam. You have observed the comparison if you will of what happened there through their policies. Perhaps you could do a comparison to what we have done here in America.

Craig Reinarman: Well, let's see, how to do this succinctly. Yeah I have lived in Amsterdam part of the year, every year, for the last almost twenty years. And their system works quite well. You can't jump to the inference that it would work exactly the same way here. But it is certainly worth a try given all the extraordinary expense and the exceptional and consistent failure of US drug policies we have heard all about at this conference.

You can't dismiss it. It is the one place on the globe that has managed to – it is in effect to say, we will find room within existing UN drug treaties, international drug control laws to do what we think is best for our society. and that included the beginning in 1976 with decriminalization, de facto decriminalization of cannabis. And a few years after that, they developed a system of coffee shops, regulated sale. Small amounts of cannabis products, hashish and marijuana to adults.

They quite tightly regulate it so that if a coffee shop is a nuisance to the neighbors or if anyone is detected selling something other than cannabis they are quickly closed down by the police. They have to meet all health and safety regulations. They are not allowed to advertise and promote the use of their product.

But nonetheless despite having several hundred of these coffee shops in a fairly small country, two hundred now in Amsterdam alone, the percentage of the general population who use cannabis in the Netherlands is markedly lower than it is in the united states where you can still go to prison for using it.

Dean Becker: Now, we hear some comments made at this conference that one it's not going to be an overnight fix if we were to legalize and secondarily that the cartels are criminals and they will just find some other crime to commit if we were to legalize it. Your thoughts in that regard.

Craig Reinarman: Well, you know organized crime is going to be a problem anywhere you have any kind of lapse in law and anywhere there is big money to be made. There are going to be people who try to get around it. Look what has happened on Wall Street. I mean you could say that the damage that they have done, the rape and pillage of America's pensioners was all done quite legally or most of it done quite legally.

So the line between criminal activity and non criminal activity that's damaging is much blurrier than we like to think. So you know to loop back to your point: are they going to find a way back in? Those people are going to be criminal no matter what but you can use the law and public policy to minimize the damage and to assert some sort of regulatory control over it.

So now the Dutch still haven't solved the problem, what they call the back door problem. And the way the Dutch parliamentarians describe it is it is perfectly legal for people to walk in the front door of a coffee shop and buy cannabis for their own personal use but it is not legal for the person who owns the coffee shop to bring it in the back door.

So they strictly limit how much of a total supply you can have on hand and so forth. And even there, there are some people, large grow operations that are still illegal and criminalized. And the people who muscle in on that because it is so profitable are very often organized criminal organizations.

So just as we saw in the United States with alcohol prohibition really created organized crime as we know it, so drug prohibition has helped to create another kind of organized crime and it is drug cartels that are wreaking havoc along the northern border with Mexico's border with the United States. So it's not like this is a cure all that solves all the problems automatically overnight. But there is way less problem with organized crime in the Netherlands than there is in the United States or Mexico for that matter.

Dean Becker: OK and final question. And I am a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. I speak to you know Lion's Clubs, people seventy, eighty, ninety years old. And even they are starting to get it.

One of the things I hear said at this conference is you know what is the answer and I want to postulate that it is for people to stand up, speak about what they know to alert their elected officials that they know the truth of this matter and that it is OK to move from this center of gravity if you will. Your thoughts on that, what will it take?

Craig Reinarman: I think that is exactly right. That is very good advice. You could say it a number of different ways. but the idea that it's paradoxical because we think of our political leaders as leaders but on the issues that are... the so called third rail issues like drug control, you have had more or less a century, really two centuries if you count the temperance crusade against drink in the nineteenth century.

Two hundred years of almost relentless propaganda demonizing these substances and it gives them far more power than they actually have. So voters are scared. The politics of fear is a sort of vote generating machine really so politicians are going to be loathe to give that up. Nobody ever lost a vote or a dollar of campaign contributions by coming out tough on drugs.

The only way that is going to change and here the leaders really are the followers is if their constituencies tell them, look, you are wrong about this drug policy stuff. There is no evidence supporting it anymore and we want to tell you that we support some serious alternatives to that.

And if politicians somehow start to get the message that it is safe to voice first criticism of the existing system and then begin to pose alternatives and that they won't pay a political price for that if the constituencies and the folks back home in their districts will persuade them that there is in fact a price to be paid if they don't support reform. At that point you will start to sees some politicians move.

Before that there is just too much in it for them. They have got a scapegoat they can blame for all the other problems that they are not doing that well on. You know they have got a ready made issue that is going to sound like motherhood, apple pie and baseball that they going to be able to get votes on. And until the public civil society and their electors make it clear that not only is it safe to say the drug war isn't working and we need to try alternatives but it in fact we will punish you electorally if you don't, at that point you will begin to see the political leaders leading again.


Dean Becker: Alright, you are listening to the Cultural Baggage show on the Drug truth Network. We are tuning into some interviews I conducted earlier this week at the drug war conference in El Paso and Ciudad, Juarez. This conference was sponsored by University of Texas at El Paso. And out next guest is director of Chicano studies at that university.


Dean Becker: OK, I am here with Dennis Bixler y Marquez, doctor and director of chicano studies here at UTEP. Dennis, it has been very productive, very informative conference thus far. What is your perception?

Dennis Bixler y Marquez: I am very pleased with the conference. It is a very significant step especially in a border community to begin the dialogue on drug policy in the United States. The fact that the violence of the border is beginning to spill over makes it a wake up call for the United States and it has to come to grips with the effects on you know the war on drugs and the trafficking that it has on not only on those who participate but on innocent civilians who are dying.

Dean Becker: Now, it is often, well heck it is nearly always overlooked the fact that in cities like Houston, the southeast part, there is a lot of chicano gang warfare, if you will. A lot of people being shot dead late at night in apartments over squabbling over drug payments and so forth and this may not be in under direct orders from the king pins in mexico but fulfilling their obligations is part of it, right?

Dennis Bixler y Marquez: Well absolutely. These are turfs that have been allocated like you would allocate a franchise and these turfs have to be defended over drugs or other issues as well but largely they play a distribution role as well. In fact the distribution is under even greater control by the cartels.

Dean Becker: Now, I heard one of the questions in one of the panels today said where are the border czar? Where is the drug czar, who both had indicated they would be at this conference? Why do you think they did not show up?

Dennis Bixler y Marquez: I would assume that because it is indeed an interesting step on the dialogue of drug policy in which issues such as decriminalization are likely to be prominently featured that they are afraid that the federal agencies which are in charge of the war on drugs would in fact be associated or be perceived as endorsing such a policy. Hence their reticence to be part of that and be in many ways subject to question by the press which is well represented in this particular conference.

Dean Becker: You and I had a rather lengthy discussion before we began this interview and it is my contention that you know there is just no justification for this to continue this drug war when aspirin and Tylenol kill about as many people as these contaminated drugs made by cartels and sold by gangsters. What do you think is the logic? What is the glue that holds this all together for so long?

Dennis Bixler y Marquez: Well, there is certainly a fear element about what drugs do to a population in concentrating on only certain types of drugs while ignoring other some which have been legalized such as alcohol or others that are prescription or over the counter medications that are abused and have a deleterious effect on the population.

I think we are beginning to come to grips with how to through this type of dialogue at the conference to properly evaluate and manage if you please the access to drugs in the country so that it does not have the negative it has had so far in the population. Incarceration rates, the cost of the drugs in terms of only the actual law enforcement expenditures but then on the health side also has really skyrocketed and those factors have to be addressed and considered in any future policies.

Dean Becker: As a you know gringo, I came to El Paso and this morning in the newspaper is talking about the cartels are finding new ways to wage this drug war. It seems we have been doing the same thing for decades expecting that one direction, that one initiative was going to get it done. But they are going to adapt, are they not, around our efforts to trying to stop them?

Dennis Bixler y Marquez: They are highly adaptive. They only have the adapt in terms of location moving from one part of the border to another but also penetrating by air so that wherever we marshal resources to stop the flow of drugs, they seem to move their operations elsewhere. In the process often affecting communities in other parts of the world that only on the border, we see attempts now by underground, by air, by sea for which we have not had sufficient resources to you know to stop. And we also see for example the immigration flow affected that is the immigrants of now often being used, forced, conscripted if you please into becoming mules who carry drugs and they are out front in case somebody is going to catch them. And while these used to be very much independent corridors of human flows, now they are pretty much being co-opted, like appropriated by the drug traffickers. So even someone just coming to the United States illegally faces a likelihood that they will be somewhere along the line part of the drug trafficking and not by choice.

Dean Becker: I have even heard stories of one of the new maneuvers that the cartels do is to kidnap the wife and children of an individual in mexico and say drive this across the border if you want to see your family. It's barbaric, is it not?

Dennis Bixler y Marquez: Well it certainly is and there is even a category of people who are not aware they are carrying anything who maybe went across to buy food or some other good or obtain medical services and drug traffickers putting something in the parking lots inside their cars and then just waiting for them on this side to unload. So it's amazing that some of them have been caught but you have to wonder how many people never even knew that they actually smuggled something because they were used as unwitting mules.

And law enforcement has recognized that some of these people were used – that they were not part and parcel of the drug trafficking business. But there is some tremendously ingenious ways that people come up with to bypass our interdiction efforts.

Dean Becker: Well Dr. Bixler y Marquez, I want to thank you and UT El Paso for the courage, the commitment, the intellect to put together this conference.

Dennis Bixler y Marquez: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure.


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

Body odor, headaches, thinning hairline, decreased sex drive, depression, mood disturbances, agitation, high blood pressure, severe anxiety and rage, kidney or liver disease, suicidal thoughts, rape, murder and war. Beware nearly fifty percent of the earth's population produces large amounts of this drug and seeks to inject it into the remaining population.

Time's up!

The answer: Testosterone, it's in the bag.


Dean Becker: Alright you are listening to the Cultural Baggage program on the Drug Truth Network, Pacifica radio and on dozens of independent college and pirate stations all across North America. We are tuning in to the recent conference on the war on drugs held in El Paso and the most violent city in the world, Ciudad, Juarez, Mexico.


Dean Becker: Alright, I am here with John Burnett of National Public Radio. John, you eluded to a couple of things today here at the conference that caught my ear. One is that we are all subject to what our editors want us to report on, right?

John Burnett: Yes and no. I mean they come up with story ideas and they have favorite attachments to story themes. Speaking personally, I am a very independent reporter.

Dean Becker: Well, yeah, I agree with that. But I guess the point is that in the main, reporters are kind of constrained on what they can focus upon. I mean Terry Nelson presented some ideas that you know would cripple the cartels but that is hardly ever even brought forward in most of the mainstream media. Your thoughts on that.

John Burnett: You know, I think there is something to that. That I think that sometimes it is hard to get out of kind of the known universe of story ideas and to question the fundamental groundwork of what is going on here. You know to really go back and look at the forest instead of the trees and what's going on with US drug policy and should we question this. And that might be scary for some metro editors but I can't tell you which ones.

Dean Becker: Well and just in the last week The Observer, The New York Times, The Washington Post have all put some pretty powerful stories forward dealing with perhaps the need to end prohibition. Are we at a cusp? Is this a turning point?

John Burnett: No, I don't think it is a turning point. I think there is more openness to discuss a broader range of ideas. And that is a good thing because that is what is supposed to happen in the first amendment and the marketplace of ideas. And that is part of what this conference is about. So I guess that it's a good thing that we can talk about this more and you are finding it from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NPR and on down. I wish more officials at the administration level were discussing it too.

Dean Becker: Well, I am running a series called Throwing Down the Gauntlet where I am going after every elected official and every bureaucrat in my chain of command...

John Burnett: Chasing them...

Dean Becker: Chasing them and they all refuse. They are cowards in this regard. It makes me wonder if you know perhaps they are either...

John Burnett: Pragmatists I think more than cowards because they know that this is a hammer that conservatives use in elections that if you are soft on drugs –it has been that way for thirty years. There is going to be a conservative contender who is going to come after you and say you know you're, you want to legalize pot. You want to peddle pot to our kids. I mean like that is the easiest sound bite you can get. And so that is the reality of American politics.


Dean Becker: OK. We are here with Juan Carlos Hidalgo who works with the Cato Institute in Washington DC. Juan we have been here in El Paso attending this drugs conference put on by UT El Paso. Lot of different agendas, lot of different thoughts being put forward. What is your perception? What have you heard? Perhaps what do you agree or disagree with?

Juan Carlos Hidalgo: Well, many takes on the war on drugs. I think that there is a shared concerned about the failure of the current US approach to this war on drugs. Prohibition is sending people to jail because of consuming drugs, because of trafficking. And I think that that is a step in the right direction.

We are finally having the discussion in the US. Certainly it will take a lot of talk. It will take a lot of discussion to come by a common agenda and a common set of policies to in order to flexibilize drug policy in the United States. But I think I am positive about the discussion. I am positive about that we are finally engaging each other and questioning openly the wisdom of this war on drugs.

Dean Becker: And again I mean I the representative from the DEA was talking about poison. He was talking about the need to continue down this same road. There are those who are firmly entrenched in maintaining this policy. But what is your thoughts? I mean is he being out gunned by the other participants?

Juan Carlos Hidalgo: Oh definitely. When we have a multi billion dollar agency that is tasked with fighting something, with fighting drugs in this case, well of course they want to continue the same policy. Of course they want to continue the same approach because otherwise they would be out of jobs.

I think that it was quite disappointing to listen to the representative from the DEA. Instead of misleading approaches, instead of even lies that his presentation was based on. It is unfortunate that the government, whether it is the Obama administration or the Bush administration, all the previous administrations that have supported the war on drugs.

It is unfortunate and discouraging that they don't want to listen and they seem to believe their own lies. But I think that as most – as long as we continue creating, making noise, and we continue to challenge this policy, the war on drugs, they are going to have a tougher time defending the same old and tired wisdom of the war on drugs.


Dean Becker: I am now with Superior Court Judge James P. Grey. Hello, sir.

James P. Grey: Well it is always nice to be back with you and to discuss these issues openly, honestly, fully and to figure out what we can do to decrease the harm that will be present and will always be present as a result of these drugs being in our communities.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. And here we are a mile and a half away from barbarism, from murder on a daily basis down in Mexico. Your thoughts, sir.

James P. Grey: Well, it's not barbarism but it is the logical result of huge amounts of drug money and the corruption and the violence that they result in and if you look at what is happening, it is our drug money that is doing it. And we are looking at the people of Mexico so arrogantly, so self righteously saying they should do more to resolve our drug problem and it is really disgusting if you think of it in that way. And that is the way it should be thought of.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. This conference has impressed me with the openness, the free dialogue that discusses the ugly parameters of this situation. But what's missing are the border czar and the drug czar. I wonder why they are not here.

James P. Grey: Well that is always the case because the government has instituted a not only a prohibition on drugs but more disgustingly a prohibition on discussion. They don't appear.

I have been asked to be involved in numbers of debates, probably fifteen in the last couple of years and they simply cannot find anyone to take the other side to the degree that they will ask me if I know people that will take the other side and uphold our nations present drug policy. It is a pretty sad situation when you can't find people in favor of the status quo who will actually discuss it in the light of day.

Politicians are really good at follower-ship. They will follow where the vote are and many of my fellow judges, many mayors, chiefs of police, city council people, et cetera understand the drug issue just as much as I do but as they tell me and they are right, they need political cover. They need to be able to know just because they talk sensibly they will not be kicked out of office. So it is up to us to spread that word and to give them that political cover and then we will have them leading the charge for change.

Dean Becker: You know sir the average individual is kind of constrained if you will by virtue of the fact that the tentacles of the drug war machine prevent them from speaking up at work or in church or at school or in you know many situations they might run into. There is just no venue other than I would surmise contacting their elected officials. It is just time for them to do that, isn't it?

James P. Grey: We have just listened to a really disturbing forum here in El Paso among the folks in the media who are saying that there is an enormous chilling effect – intimidation – because they get death threats, particularly in Mexico but even to a lesser degree here I the United States. So they are concerned about violence against themselves and heard them say, I have a family. I am really worried about the safety of my family.

So these are things that we are so in trouble with not because of drugs. It almost has nothing to do with drugs. It has everything to do with drug money and that we can address. Because our country today is facing two problems and they are severe problems. One is drugs and I don't mean to minimize the drug problems but the second is drug money and that we really can virtually eliminate and then we will be far, far ahead of the game. At that point then we can all put our heads together and our finances and address the drug problems.

Dean Becker: Coming back to the thought fear. People think that these criminals will just find another, better way to create their violence but it doesn't mean we should just back away and give them this forever, right?

James P. Grey: One thing that we need to focus on is that when we finally came to our senses and repealed alcohol prohibition, homicides went down the first year by forty percent. And I am convinced that the same phenomenon will occur when we finally come to our senses and repeal drug prohibition.

Now what are these people going to do? Are they going to go into the numbers racket, the kidnapping business, you know prostitution. Those are pretty all well taken at the moment. But I heard one lady who is a friend of mine actually who is on her second marriage and she came in with the best reason that I have ever heard not to repeal drug prohibition which was: she has two stepsons who are adults who are selling marijuana and she is afraid that if we were to change away from this policy that they would come home and live with her. And I have no response for that. She is probably right.


Dean Becker: Thank you sir.


Dean Becker: Alright. Be sure to join us on this week's Century of Lies. We'll have many guests from the convention of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws out in San Francisco, including an interview with Assemblyman Tom Ammiano who wants to legalize marijuana. And as always I remind you once again 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.