Cultural Baggage, July 2, 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 phamaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
Dean Becker: Let us celebrate day 34,499 of being led to salvation by our dear drug czars. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I'm so glad you could be with us. We'll have several segments for you at the end of the program but first up we're going to bring forward Professor Arnold Trebach, one of the founding members of the American University Institute on Drugs, Crime and Justice. He also helped found the Drug Policy Foundation. He's written many great books, 'The Heroin Solution,' 'The Great Drug War,' 'Legalize It: Debating America's Drug Policy,' and I believe his latest 'Fatal Distraction: The War on Drugs in the Age of Islamic Terror.' Professor Trebach, are you with us, sir?
Professor Trebach: I certainly am. It's good to hear your voice.
Dean Becker: And it's so good to have you with us again, sir. I do appreciate it. We had a brief discussion this morning on the phone and I was talking about how every newspaper across America is carrying stories that demonstrate the problems we have created with this drug war in Afghanistan, Mexico, Colombia and elsewhere. Am I right, sir?
Professor Trebach: Let's put it this way. I started looking at the drug issue almost forty years ago now and when I suggested there were other ways of looking at it I was treated as a very strange person. Now I find in that arena I meet with a lot of agreement where ever I go. In other words, the need for fundamental change. And, by the way, I've progressed to the point where I believe that the fundamental change ought to involve legalization. Not weepy half-way measures such as decriminalization. I believe the drugs should be available like alcohol and tobacco. And I don't recommend anybody use alcohol and tobacco.
Dean Becker: [laughter] Very well put, sir. There's even a kind of a flip side to this story. It was announced, I believe, just yesterday that in the Netherlands that they're now banning tobacco and people are crying about the fact they can't get their tobacco but they can smoke marijuana in the bars. Your thoughts on that, sir?
Professor Trebach: Oh, I think it's crazy. You know, the Netherlands is one of the best places for drug policy and they're pretty darn sensible. By the way, despite everything you've heard, no drug that's illegal in the U.S. is legal in Holland. They simply don't enforce the laws. But if they're going ahead and ban tobacco I think it's a pretty stupid move.
Dean Becker: Yes, sir. One of the stories that I saw, they were talking about they now have encountered some red tape which may delay the four hundred million dollars they've allocated this year for the Mexican drug war. Do you think that money will ever do us any good?
Professor Trebach: You know, it's a big question. On that I have issues. In other words, my basic approach is that the drugs ought to be legalized and we should be figuring out ways to come up with better methods of controlling the newly legal drugs and for treating people who get in trouble. And we should downplay the whole idea of war. However, wherever we turn we find that some very bad people are tied into the drug trade and I do support any measures to bring them to justice or to stop them doing what they're doing. So that's my dilemma here. If we are indeed helping to get organized gangs I think that's a good idea. On the other hand I have no illusions about the long term effect of that.
Dean Becker: Right. As a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition it's our contention that if we want to destroy these cartels and paramilitary forces the best way to do it is to, as you indicated, legalize drugs and pull the rug right out from under them.
Professor Trebach: Oh, we'd defund them. What is interesting is that I'm convinced that they would go into, many of them, many of the real bad ones, would go into other lines of illegal work. They're criminals. What amazes me is to hear, when we were talking about tobacco, that there are gangs who specialize in transporting cigarettes, large amounts of cigarettes, from those states that have low taxes to states that have higher taxes. Same thing on gasoline. So there are a lot of people out there who are just plain criminals but there's no doubt in my mind, and I've said this for years, that if the drugs were available under controlled circumstances as with alcohol and to an extent like tobacco, the money funding these really bad folks, the money that allows them to arm themselves like armies, would disappear from this arena.
Dean Becker: Another story that was in today's paper, they're talking about they've found torture videos produced by the Mexican police. I guess I've heard too often that these Mexican police are tied in with the cartels.
Professor Trebach: Look. There are lots of stories about really bad police forces and army types of people doing bad things in other countries. In this country, while we do have a SWAT team mentality in some places, in general I'm very supportive of the police groups I've encountered and I've studied in terms of their approach to dealing with the people they arrest. The real problem is that there is some bad apples, and I've reported on the bad apples, as a federal official and as a scholar and they do have a bad impact. But for the most part I view American police as doing a fairly decent job in an impossible situation.
Dean Becker: And I agree with you, sir. I'm not bad-mouthing the whole barrel. I'm just saying there are enough bad apples that it gives a bad reputation to those who are truly protecting and serving.
Once again, we're speaking with Professor Arnold Trebach. His latest book, 'Fatal Distraction: the War on Drugs in the Age of Islamic Terror.' Professor, another story that caught my attention this morning was that McCain is now going to Colombia talking about drug control efforts, maybe a free trade agreement and so forth. And that situation in Colombia, as well as in Mexico, where they're shooting journalists and cops and whatever. In Colombia they're killing labor organizers. And another story that pops up, 'Nato Officials: More aircraft needed in Afghanistan' and here our allies are actually producing the opium and heroin that's addicting our children. How do we get back on track, sir?
Professor Trebach: Well, OK. This will take another three days...
Dean Becker: [laughter]
Professor Trebach: [laughter] Just a few points.
Dean Becker: All right.
Professor Trebach: Again, I support strong military and police action against people who are acting like armies and killing people. That's the first point. But the second point is that there is no way to get around the fact that we must come up with a way of providing these drugs legally. I mean, Afghanistan is a perfect example that you mentioned. There have been attempts to provide a legal system for allowing people in Afghanistan to grow the drugs and to sell them legally and a lot of people have proposed that, people on the ground there, who've gone there. So there are sensible approaches being suggested but we generally, we generally do not support them. Now, the federal government doesn't and the leading politicians do not. So I think, for me, I've taken another approach and it's an approach which is very unpopular among the liberal groups that support changing the drug laws and the liberal groups that really want to see change in most respects and that is to point out that Islamic terror is a greater threat than any drug in the world. And it may be that we approach this indirectly and say we just can't spend any more effort going after marijuana when there are people in this country and around the world who'd gladly slaughter us in a second. So it may be that we're just going to have to do an end run around the drug war and say 'You know something? We don't have the resources to carry on a drug war and deal with the issue of Islamic terror.' And I should add, I don't think that dealing with Islamic terror should always be a military operation. I'm saying it should call upon our best minds to come up with methods for dealing with it. And that the drugs don't deserve much attention at all.
Dean Becker: It is ironic, hypocritical when alcohol and tobacco kill about 500,000 Americans every year all hard drugs combined, and the government really doesn't let the stats out, but some few thousands per year. It just seems we have lost track of reality at times, does it not?
Professor Trebach: Well, we've lost track of reality for decades on that score. Going back purely to the issue of the drug war is that because of arguments that many people have put forward, some of which I've written about, I've worked on when I set up the Drug Policy Foundation, we are having an impact so that new approaches are being tried. Short of legalization but they are trying to come up with methods of helping people in trouble with drugs of all kinds and to tone down the emphasis on the drug war. So that is happening to a point in this country and I'm pleased to see it.
Dean Becker: There's an editorial in today's New York Times, 'Not Winning the War on Drugs.' They go on to talk about...
Professor Trebach: Oh, really?
Dean Becker: Yes, sir. They go on to talk about how the, perhaps there is less cocaine in America, maybe the price is rising, but that has a lot more to do with the falling of the dollar and the European demand more than anything else. They talk about the need for more treatment, more education and so forth. It isn't exactly what I'd call a LEAP endorsement of the end of drug war...
Professor Trebach: That's not bad. By the way, you've caught me on Cape Cod at my summer house and I religiously avoid getting the New York Times here.
Dean Becker: [laughter]
Professor Trebach: Because I feel I should read it. So I haven't seen it. Thank you for telling me about that. And that's an example though of an optimistic statement. I agree with you. It doesn't go as far as we should but at least the 'Old Grey Lady', the New York Times, can come out and say 'Hey, it's not working. We ought to consider other things.' That's good. That shows that we're having some impact. I think that's an example of a good thing that is happening.
Dean Becker: I would agree with you, sir. I mean, yeah, this drug war has been an incremental thing. It's slowly got to this horrible state and I suppose it's going to be incremental in reversing that trend, right?
Professor Trebach: Oh, yeah. I think that it's going to be slow and I think, as they say, I think we're going to 'back into' a more sensible policy in part because of a statement, a modest statement like that from the New York Times. That's helpful. But also when we start to realize that we really -- our whole civilization is threatened by Islamic terror and we don't know what to do about that. That is, I know what to do about the drugs, OK? I have, after many years, I think I have a great idea, not a great idea but a sensible idea of how to deal with them. I've written about them in many books including this last one. I'm not sure how to deal with Islamic terror and yet one thing I think we have to do is mention it, because many of my friends, the Dean of our School of International Service looked at my book at AU, American University when I was there and said 'Well, it's an interesting book but you're going to scare the heck out of everybody.' I mentioned Islamic terror in the same sentence. Many people in our country view that as bigoted, as not politically correct and, in general, our policy towards dealing with this enormous threat, the people who brought you 9/11, we're not sure how to deal with them. That's -- if we start spending attention and money thinking about that, developing new approaches to dealing with it, building up special forces, building up psychological approaches I think the drug war may slip way into the background and that's my hope. That's why I call the drug war a 'Fatal Distraction.'
Dean Becker: And indeed it is, sir. It has been a distraction, it's been overlooked by too many of the political candidates over the years but there is some hope that, well, some indications that more and more people are stepping forward and speaking about the subject, if not calling for its end. I think if, all we have to do is open the dialog and it will correct itself. Right, sir?
Professor Trebach: Yeah. I have faith in this country. The older I get the more American I get, pugnaciously so. And I really believe that we, this country, is a light on the hill to civilization even though most of my friends who support my views on drugs don't agree with me. I think we have a history of working our way through issues and coming out the other end. If nothing else, look, we've nominated a Black man, or a biracial man, for the presidency and the odds are he's going to get it. You don't find any other country acting in that fashion and very likely, you know, a woman would have won that prize. So that's an example of the fact that we may blunder around a bit but the better part of our side comes out. I'm not saying I'm going to vote for Barack Obama. I think he's a great guy but I'm not sure. My only point is that the fact that we could do that when no other country could is remarkable and he said it. In no other country could a guy with his background be in the position, he's practically at the door of the oval office I believe. If we can do that we can deal with the drug issue.
Dean Becker: I thank you so much for being with us, Professor Trebach. It's always interesting and educational. Please share your website with my listeners before we go.
Professor Trebach: It's www.Trebach.com.
Dean Becker: All right. Professor Trebach, thank you so much.
Professor Trebach: My pleasure.
It's time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects!
Horrible side effects.
Time's up: The answer! From Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals--Spireva 'To breathe easier.'
Terry Nelson: This is Terry Nelson speaking on behalf of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. As some of you know, in May I returned from a year tour of duty in Iraq. I won't bore you with tales of daring events in Iraq but I do wish to draw a comparison with something that happened recently here in the United States. I read an article in the Chicago Sun Times posted on June 17 entitled 'Police Blockade Makes Residents Feel Like Prisoners.' According to the Sun Times the Rolling Meadows housing project apparently has crime, violence and drug issues that the police have decided to approach by building concrete barricades around the area and setting up a road block to check residents in and out of the single guarded outlet. This approach was used somewhat successfully in Sadr City in Baghdad, a city of about two million people. But that was a war zone. But in Chicago, still part of America, land of the free, the two thousand plus inhabitants of the Rolling Meadows are in fact in a prison type environment yet they have not been tried or convicted in any court other than the court of the police chief's mind. The idea is absurd and the fact that it's condoned is because of the war on drugs mentality. And it's sad for Chicago and America. I really don't think it's right.
This is a result of what prohibition does. In an effort to sustain the war on drugs police are restricting citizens and in effect locking people up without due process of law. I know the frustrations that police feel. They are tasked with enforcing an unenforceable law and the police chief is facing tremendous political pressure to arrest drug users and dealers. But the issue is that the problem is caused by prohibitionist laws and not by the innocent people who live in that project. After more than four decades of the war on drugs with few signs of success and many signs of failure you would think that the government would be open to discussing a way to fix the problem instead of sustaining it. Is it not enough to overpopulate our prisons which we do with a vengence. Now it seems we want to incarcerate whole neighborhoods. Why? This is America, a place of freedom and hope and not a war zone.
LEAP does not promote nor condone drug abuse. LEAP believes that the drug trafficking causes so much crime and violence and unintended consequences that the approach must be to regulate and control them. Let's put the money into education, research and treatment instead of jails and prisons. We all want a better future for ourselves and our children.
This is Terry Nelson at www.LEAP.cc signing off.
Dean Becker: Poppygate. Bizarre news about the U.S. policy on controlling heroin, featuring Glenn Greenway.
Glenn Greenway: The 2008 UN World Drug Report was released last week and indicated that the U.S. client state Afghanistan has once again set new records for opium cultivation and heroin production. Last year the country's poppy fields yielded enough raw opium to produce at least 900 U.S. tons of heroin, about 3 and a half pounds of pure product per minute.
Last year poppy cultivation increased another 17 percent to nearly one half million acres, an area equal to 750 square miles. CBS News analysts equated this with a one mile wide poppy patch spreading from Philadelphia to Chicago.
The new UN report states that the Taliban earned between two and four hundred million dollars from the illegal trade last year alone and that more than one half of Afghanistan's economy is now based on the sale of narcotics. Afghanistan's opium bonanza has doubled global opium production since 2005.
Afghan opium production far outpaces world demand. The UN Drug Czar, Antonio Maria Costa, estimates 'there will be two or three thousand tons of extra supply this year.'
A new article by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting quotes an Afghan smuggler based along the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan: "We trade a kilogram of heroin for ten Kalakovs." (Kalakov is the local name for late model Russian made Kalashnikov assault rifles such as the AK-74) The smuggler continues: "After that, we sell them to smugglers from Helmand and Kandahar either for cash or for more heroin.”
This is Glenn Greenway reporting for the Drug Truth Network.
This is an opinion piece from Bruce Mirkin of the Marijuana Policy Project.
Bruce Mirkin: The United States has some of the world's most punitive drug policies and has led the cheering section for tough "war on drugs" policies worldwide, but a new international study suggests that those policies have been a crashing failure. A World Health Organization survey of 17 countries, conducted by some of the world's leading substance abuse researchers, found that we have the highest rates of marijuana and cocaine use.
The numbers are startling. In the United States, 42.4 percent admitted having used marijuana. The only other nation that came close was New Zealand, another bastion of get-tough policies, at 41.9 percent. No one else was even close. The results for cocaine use were similar, with the United States leading the world by a large margin.
This study is important because it's the first time a respected international group has surveyed drug use around the world, using the same questions and procedure everywhere. While many countries have their own drug use surveys, the questions and methodology vary, and comparisons between countries are difficult. This new study eliminates that problem.
Some of the most striking numbers are from the Netherlands, where adults are permitted to possess a small of marijuana and purchase it from regulated businesses. Some U.S. officials have claimed that these Dutch policies have created some sort of decadent cesspool of drug abuse, but the new study demolishes such assertions: In the Netherlands, only 19.8 percent have used marijuana, less than half the U.S. figure.
Even more striking is what the researchers found when they asked young adults when they had started using marijuana. Again, the United States led the world, with 20.2 percent trying marijuana by age 15. No other country was even close, and in the Netherlands, just 7 percent used marijuana by 15 -- roughly one-third of the U.S. figure.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy tried to dismiss the study, Bloomberg News reported:
Trying to find a link between drug use and drug enforcement doesn't make sense, said Tom Riley, spokesman for the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington. "The U.S. has high crime rates but we spend a lot on law enforcement and prison,'' Riley said yesterday in a telephone interview. "Should we spend less? We're just a different kind of country. We have higher drug use rates, a higher crime rate, many things that go with a highly free and mobile society."
Funny, ONDCP takes precisely the opposite line whenever a state considers liberalizing its marijuana laws. In a March press release, deputy Drug Czar Scott Burns railed against a New Hampshire proposal to decriminalize marijuana, saying such a move "sends the wrong message to New Hampshire's youth, students, parents, public health officials and the law enforcement community," and would lead to "more drugs, drug users and drug dealers on their streets and communities."
Back in 2002, denouncing a proposed marijuana law reform in Nevada, ONDCP distributed a list of talking points to prosecutors specifically slamming the "extremely dubious" Dutch system of regulated sales, saying, "Increased availability of marijuana leads to increased use of marijuana and other drugs."
In fact, ONCDP's latest excuse for the failure of U.S. drug policies -- that enforcement and penalties don't really have much effect on rates of use -- is probably just about right. But it also dynamites any justification for our current marijuana laws. The WHO researchers put it this way:
"The U.S., which has been driving much of the world's drug research and drug policy agenda, stands out with higher levels of use of alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis, despite punitive illegal drug policies. ... The Netherlands, with a less criminally punitive approach to cannabis use than the US, has experienced lower levels of use, particularly among younger adults. Clearly, by itself, a punitive policy towards possession and use accounts for limited variation in nation level rates of illegal drug use."
For this we arrest 830,000 Americans a year on marijuana charges?
This is Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. Find us online at www.MPP.org.
Dean Becker: The following comes to us from the Guardian newspaper in the UK.
Dutch coffee shops, long considered as synonymous with the Netherlands as tulips or attacking football, face a new challenge from today when a ban on smoking tobacco in restaurants and cafes comes into effect.
The owners claim the law, which will allow customers to light up potent tobacco-free pure cannabis joints but ban milder spliffs in which tobacco is mixed with cannabis, threatens to put hundreds of them out of business.
As most patrons prefer milder joints in which cannabis is mixed with tobacco, and only 18% favour much stronger, pure cannabis spliffs, the fear is that the days of the coffee shops could be numbered.
The catering industry said 1,600 coffee shops across the country were up for sale because their owners were convinced their businesses were doomed.
Wilhelm, who has run his cafe since 1985, said the law was in danger of "tearing the heart out" of Amsterdam's social life. "The focus of the De Tweede Kamer has always been social contact," he added. "They'll destroy that with what I see as a ridiculous law."
Mark Jacobsen, chairman of the BCD, a nationwide association of coffee shop owners, said proper implementation of the law would require inspectors to check each cannabis joint for tobacco content.
"It's absurd. In other countries they look to see whether you have marijuana in your cigarette, here they'll look to see if you've got cigarette in your marijuana."
Dean Becker: We're flat out of time. Join us on next week's Century of Lies. Our guest will be ABC reporter John Stossel.
And as always I remind you that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag, so please be careful.
To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.
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