Cultural Baggage, October 18, 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.
A hundred years, a hundred years, a hundred years, a hundred years...
You can hear the drug war blow a hundred years...
Dean Becker: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. My name is Dean Becker. I want to report that Laura our oft times engineer is not with us today. She has had to take her mom to the hospital. I want to send my hopes for a quick speedy recovery there. This is the first time for our new engineer, Luke Jones. He is no longer the boy wonder of Pacifica, he is now a young man who contributes regularly to the nightly news for the mothership of the Drug Truth Network.
Today we are going to have Mr. Sanho Tree visit with us via the telephone and we are going to give you the opportunity to speak with him about his recent trip and one of many trips to Colombia to investigate what is going on down there. But first up I have a couple of segments for you that I want to share and we will be back here in just a little bit with Mr. Sanho Tree.
Dean Becker: Massachusetts is trying to put forward a bill that would actually legalize marijuana just like they are trying to do in California. Here to talk about it is uh attorney who works with Massachusetts NORML, Mr. Dick Evans who prepared this document which has been submitted to their legislature. Hello Mr. Evans.
Dick Evans: Hey Dean, it is a privilege to be on your program here.
Dean Becker: Well, thank you sir. Now I encounter a lot of people that say you know I am making sense, the drug war is a failure but what are we going to do in its place and you have at least covered one of those bases in dealing with the subject of retail or legal marijuana. You want to summarize?
Dick Evans: Let's... I am just a small time lawyer and what I did was exercise a private citizen's right of citizen petition whereby any private citizen may request of an elected senator or representative that he or she introduce a bill in the legislature.
But when a bill comes before the legislature and says on the front of it it is a petition of Mr. Jones or at the request of Mr. Jones. Then that is a red flag which means that the bill need not be taken too seriously and we got it filed actually on both the house and the senate side as a petition bills. Remember it has got that red flag on it. But that means we are entitled to a hearing. We are entitled to a respectful hearing.
And here is the big news. Here is the breaking news – is that we had our hearing. The committee treated us very respectfully. They asked good questions. There was a serious sober exchange between elected legislators, senators and reps and legalization advocates - people directly challenging prohibition and urging the repeal of marijuana prohibition and substitution with a system of regulation and taxation and licensing along the lines we regulate wine, that sort of thing. That is what the bill does.
But the big news is the fact that that exchange occurred. They asked questions. They took it seriously. There were no winks and smirks or puns or giggles or snickers, nothing. It was serious discussion about a serious subject. And I would like to think it may be a quiet little development that helped push the way forward better.
Dean Becker: And it is just going to take some bold politicians willing to take the next step, right?
Dick Evans: You know we need a politician well with some hutzpah you might say. It's the remarkable thing is last November in Massachusetts sixty-five percent of the voters supported the decrim law which is now the law of the land. And the police chiefs and all the people who make a living on prohibition of course they were apoplectic before the election especially after the election. Cities and towns have been sort of trying to pass local ordinances tightening up here and there. The attorney general Martha Copely has been very supportive in trying to overturn the intent of the decrim initiative and now she is running for Ted Kennedy's seat in the senate.
Seems to me that the problem before us is it's the nine hundred pound gorilla in the corner you know or as some would say a naked emperor in the corner. You know you have to start with a fact that no one can deny and that fact is that marijuana has become inextricably embedded in our culture. It is ubiquitous and it is ineradicable. Ubiquitous is a big word that means everywhere and ineradicable, incapable of being eradicated.
Now that is the starting point for discussion. If there is anybody who takes issue with that, if there is anybody who takes issue with that or challenges those facts it seems to me that he or she has a moral obligation to come forward and tell us how much more money is going to have to be thrown at marijuana prohibition before we can make marijuana go away. And where is that money going to come from?
Dean Becker: And these people who object to these laws and as you say the towns and counties I suppose trying to nuance their ability to continue doing this same thing... well they are wanting to break the law.
Dick Evans: Look at the bigger picture. We are really talking about whether to repeal prohibition or not you know. That is what is before us as a people. And I would like to think it's before policy makers. And that is sort of the point I was trying to make a minute ago. Is because if you accept those facts of marijuana is ubiquitous and ineradicable then those of us who want to see the laws change have an obligation just like the others do have an obligation to talk about or to describe and explain how we can curb abuse how we can protect the public health and safety and how we can eliminate the crime and violence associated with illicit drug trade.
It was sort of a sense trying to respond to that duty that I and a room full of people, wonderful diverse group of people who emerged from no where to fill the hearing room and the revenue committee in the Massachusetts legislature the other day. We fully dominated the scene there.
Only one person spoke in opposition to legalization and he was a long time anti drug crusader from Worster who everybody knows and you know no one pays any attention to anyway. The previous time I did this twenty-eight years ago the room was full of all the anti drug mad mothers against pot and such and the people with the funny hats and badges you know. None of them were there.
Dean Becker: Well they don't have a leg left to stand on. I tell you what folks we have been speaking with Mr. Dick Evans an attorney filed a petitioner's bill, was it?
Dick Evans: A bill called an act to regulate and tax the cannabis industry. Can I put a plug in here for the website here, Dean?
Dean Becker: Yeah this is where I was wanting to go you bet.
Dick Evans: Go dub dub dub can tax reg dot com. C-A-N-T-A-X-R-E-G dot com. It stands for cannabis taxation and regulation.
We are the plant police. With each arrest we bring peace. We fight eternal war so you can have a [ ]. Yes we are the plant police.
Dean Becker: The following segment comes to us courtesy of KIRO-TV in Washington State. The voice is that of our illustrious drug czar Mr. Gil Kerlikowski.
Gil Kerlikowski: ...I wish I would have been clear in the beginning about saying the differentiation between smoked marijuana and then whether or not marijuana itself has any medicinal benefit which is still a question being answered by science. There a number of different mechanisms. There are people that ingest. There are people that use vaporizers. There is a wide array.
But the question that was being addressed in the Institute of Medicine [ ] report was about smoked marijuana and then about whether or not the properties of marijuana had any benefit, individual chemicals within marijuana. So the smoked marijuana they answered pretty clearly that it doesn't have a benefit. The question of whether or not there are any properties within cannabis or marijuana itself that may have a benefit was a question that we are waiting for science to answer.
Dean Becker: After hearing this ridiculous statement from our drug czar I decided to call upon the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Mr. Paul Armentano.
Dean Becker: Well Paul, we just heard a comment from our drug czar Mr. Kerlikowski about the lack of medicinal properties in cannabis. Your thoughts?
Paul Armentano: Well, first and foremost, when I have a medical question you know the drug czar's comments just reaffirmed why I don't call a law enforcement officer. I actually speak with a physician.
His interpretation of the Institute of Medicine's 1990 report is false. The IoM report clearly stated that in fact inhaled cannabis did have medical value that is why following the publication of that report there were several placebo controlled clinical trials that took place at several universities in California assessing the therapeutic value of smoked cannabis.
And those studies did find that inhaled marijuana very clearly demonstrated efficacy and safety compared to placebo in a number of conditions including HIV AIDS wasting and neuropathic pain. You know once again the drug czar has put his foot in his mouth and demonstrated to the national public why we do not want law enforcement officers in our medicine cabinets.
Dean Becker: Well I could not have said it better and that is why I called on you. Mr. Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Paul, send them off with your website and a closing thought in this regard.
Paul Armentano: Sure I would encourage people to visit NORML online at www.norml.org and while they are there if they want to learn more about both the therapeutic properties in marijuana as well as the efficacy of smoked marijuana, they should look up a publication known as Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids. It is booklet that I wrote and update every year that reviews about two hundred clinical and pre-clinical studies assessing the medical value of marijuana all of which has been published since the year 2000. Perhaps the drug czar ought to get himself a copy.
It's time to play Name That Drug by Its Side Effects!
Physical stimulation, appetite suppression, the prevention of altitude sickness through increased oxygen supply.
The answer: As is so obvious in the lives of millions of Bolivians, coca, mother coca.
Dean Becker: Alright my friends. We have with us on line Mr. Sanho Tree, he of the Institute for Policy Studies and there in Washington DC who has recently returned from another trip to Colombia. Are you with us Sanho?
Sanho Tree: Yes I am Dean, good evening.
Dean Becker: Thank you Sanho, thank you for being with us. It's um I don't know. I hear all kinds of things from those in government those in law enforcement about what is going on down in Colombia. Give us a summary of what you saw, please.
Sanho Tree: Well you know it is a disaster. It always has been and continues to be. The press releases however from the state department you know every year it is a great success. You know it is hard to think of a drug war press release that doesn't declare success. It's really quite astounding.
It has very real world implications for instance. The Russian drug czar came to Washington last month and basically demanded the US start fumigating poppy crops in Afghanistan because Russia has a huge heroin problem. And he said look it worked so well in Colombia why don't you do this in Afghanistan? He doesn't understand it. That is meant for congressional consumption, it is not meant to be believed by anybody those press releases right.
Dean Becker: Yes, yes and speaking of which I had the opportunity now I guess three weeks back I was down in El Paso and in Ciudad, Juarez attending a drug conference sponsored by University of Texas El Paso and one of those who spoke there was Anthony Placido. He is the assistant administrator and chief if intelligence for the DEA. And Sanho I want you to listen to this little clip from him and then I want to get your response.
Sanho Tree: Sure.
Anthony Placido: The reason that we have drug policy, the reason that we are talking about all of this is not because somebody once upon a time came up with an idea that we need to get tough. Just say no. Is that these drugs are destroying people's lives. They are destroying societies and families and in the worst case they are undermining civilization.
Dean Becker: Now, your response, Sanho Tree.
Sanho Tree: Well, we could say the same thing about alcohol, or tobacco for that matter but we don't have wars against them. We have public health responses. And we have been able to significantly reduce for instance the use of tobacco in this country without putting a single person behind bars. So I mean it is typical of the DEA. They set up enough straw men in their arguments to start a scarecrow army. So it is more of the same basically.
Dean Becker: Well I think that you could actually just substitute the word prohibition for the word drugs in his statement and get a little closer to the truth, right?
Sanho Tree: Mhmm.
Dean Becker: That's the point that you know there are those who just absolutely refuse to look at this in a new light and I hesitate to say it, it might be because their mortgage payment depends on it. You thoughts, Mr. Tree.
Sanho Tree: Well, you know people's loyalties, particularly in Washington, are to their budget first and the country second. And public health is way down the list. But that is the nature of the game in Washington. It's not just the drug war, it's you know any big bureaucracy you can think about. Whether it is your local university or big hospital or whatever you know people's loyalties are to job security first and foremost.
Dean Becker: And you know here as I indicated earlier, in the next half hour our listeners will get a chance to call in and ask their questions or present concerns to Sanho and I.
But speaking of Mr. Anthony Placido chief of intelligence for the DEA here's another little clip from him dealing with Colombia and then I want to go further in to your recent trip but I want you to respond to what he has got to say here.
Anthony Placido: Many argue that plan Colombia was a dismal failure that we spent millions of dollars and cocaine is still coming out of Colombia. Well I share a different view of that um. Fifteen years ago if somebody had told me that the Colombia National Police would be a model of law enforcement in the hemisphere I would have probably been belly laughing on the floor. They are today.
Dean Becker: Is there any truth to that? Are they the best law enforcement in the western hemisphere?
Sanho Tree: They have improved marginally but prohibition is an equal opportunity corruptor. You can go throughout Colombia whether it is Colombia National Police or military or for that matter the president's office or congress. You have got dozens and dozens of members of congress, supporters of President Arribe the current you know pro US pro Bush president behind bars right now. Imagine if thirty percent of the US congress was behind bars right now.
Dean Becker: It's a good thought.
Sanho Tree: It is a phenomenal statistic and that is because of their corruption and involvement in what is called the para-politics scandal. That is to say the paramilitary death squads, the drug traffickers have so influenced politics in Colombia that you can't swing a cat without hitting some pillar of paramilitary influence in politics, in the banking sector, in agricultural subsidies, you name it.
Dean Becker: It is just it is equal opportunity corruptor. That is what it is, yeah. Now I want to talk about this and I you know that trip I made in to Juarez a couple of weeks back. I was amazed that there were and I think these were police officers. I was told that the dark blue uniforms indicate police.
And there were police officers of each major street corner with a machine gun back in the alleyways and you know the nearby parks there were you know platoons with machine guns. Is the, I have heard Colombia is much the same way. Has that improved down there?
Sanho Tree: Well, you are never quite sure which side they are looking for in the case of Mexico in particular. Um and in Colombia there is lots of militarized police to be sure but they are also in the midst of a four and half decade long civil war but what is Mexico's excuse?
Dean Becker: Right.
Sanho Tree: And yet our politicians continue to say it is a shared responsibility. We have to train therefore all these Mexican law enforcement and military personnel um who you know we have no way of guaranteeing their loyalty and we don't know which side they work for.
Dean Becker: Well then tell me about your involvement with the people. I mean did you go again with Witness for Peace?
Sanho Tree: Yes, I am on the board for Witness for Peace. It is a terrific organization. I suggest people check it out, it's www.witnessforpeace.org. And we have a number of trips going in to Colombia, Bolivia occasionally, a lot to Mexico and Nicaragua and Cuba and you can see what the effects of US policy are first hand for yourself.
Dean Becker: I had the opportunity got to go with them on a trip to Bolivia now some three four years back and it was an eye opener. It really motivated me to get more involved in exposing what is going on south of our borders and what our policy is creating. Let's talk about what our policy does to the average farmer in Colombia.
Sanho Tree: Yeah well it's if you are talking about the farmers who grow illicit crops, coca and in some cases opium poppies um these are people who live in very marginalized areas. They are very far from any kind of infrastructure that you and I would take for granted. We walk outside of our homes today and we see paved roads, electricity, running water, schools, police. You can walk three days in much of rural Colombia and not see any of that.
And so these people grow these illicit crops because they don't have other economic alternatives. It is simply too difficult to get hundreds or thousands of kilos of fruits and vegetables to any kind of market to sell at a profit and so therefore growing illicit crops like coca and poppies make good economic sense because the end product weighs maybe a kilo at most. And you can transport that very easily you know either on foot or on horse or donkey or motorcycle. You don't need roads. You don't need trucks to do that sort of thing.
Dean Becker: Now when we were in Bolivia we got the chance to tour the prison in Cochabamba I believe it was...
Sanho Tree: Yeah.
Dean Becker: And it was just whew god what a horror that was. I still think of the situation the condition that those people live under and many of them were there not for possession of cocaine or even precursors necessarily but for things like toilet paper, having too much filtration equipment could garner you a trip to this hell hole. Is it as bad insofar as the uh prison overcrowding and so forth in Colombia?
Sanho Tree: Uh certainly the prisons are very, very crowded and very depressing. They are much more grim than the ones we saw in Bolivia if you can believe that.
Dean Becker: Oh my gosh.
Sanho Tree: Um and I will say this in defense of Bolivian prisons. A lot of these people are behind bars in Bolivia because of US imposed law particularly law 1008 which is their the big anti narcotics law that the US embassy basically you know forced on them about over a decade ago.
And a lot of those people don't need to be there. They are there for possession of things like you said like toilet paper, having too much gasoline, which is a precursor chemical make coca paste, or even having a box of Arm and Hammer baking soda. Most of your listeners right now have a box in the refrigerator. That is enough to get you thrown in to prison in Bolivia based on US imposed law.
And so these prison officials know that these people don't need to be there um they are there for trumped up charges to please the gringos and as a result one of them said to me, one of the associate directors of prison in the country said to me, he said, look these are our family members, these are people in our community. They are going to come out in a couple of years and we want them to remain sane and healthy productive members of society. They are not violent people. They haven't done a lot of crime based on ill will and so we want to keep them as healthy and as whole and as human as possible.
So they encourage visits by family members. Children can stay there overnight. I never felt so safe in a prison as I did in Bolivia. I would never feel so safe in a US prison for instance. We treat people like animals in our prisons. Which is the total opposite of Bolivia even though they live in such medieval surroundings in terms of the infrastructure. These are impoverished poor decrepit prisons but these people are much more human.
Dean Becker: Indeed. The true horror that I remember was I went back there in Cochabamba back to a prisoner's cell and the cell was actually half a cell. It had been shortened at the four foot mark so they could stair step two cells I guess in the same area. And it was so claustrophobic and just damn scary. I mean the biggest panic I have felt in my adult life I think. It was just horrible.
Sanho Tree: And yet the people we met were actually quite nice.
Dean Becker: Making toys and just open and friendly and wanting to somehow get through this situation.
Sanho Tree: Yep.
Dean Becker: It was very as you say very positive talking to the prisoners. But um now as you know traveled through all these countries, Cuba, Mexico, central and South America the one thing you do run into is a I don't know a common thread that much of these horror are inflicted by our demand that these people participate in our drug war, right?
Sanho Tree: Yeah. Well it is our demand for drugs and our demand that they comply with our war on drugs. So you can forgive them for being kind of confused. Wait a minute you gringos that are driving the demand for this and punishing us as well for our ability, our willingness to supply your demand.
Dean Becker: It it it's a horrible situation. I see the phone lines are lighting up. We will be taking your calls here in a few minutes for Mr. Sanho Tree. If you are waiting to talk with him please hold on I guess we'll get to you. I appreciate your intent.
Sanho when we went to Bolivia we got a chance to speak with a justice minister and Christian minister and a lot of people with some stature in the community. Did you get to do that in Colombia and what did you find?
Sanho Tree: Yeah. I meet with mayors you know high ranking military people, the US embassy. And with the exception of the US embassy you know most of them were very critical of the drug war including high ranking military people who told me most of this drug war is costing us a great deal in terms of hearts and minds in terms of resources and it is not getting us anything in return. And it is simply not helping them fight the civil war in Colombia as well.
Dean Becker: No, no.
Sanho Tree: ...peasant farmers in to the arms of the guerillas and the paramilitary so there is not a whole lot of love for the drug war and even within the US embassy you know opinions are divided. I can't get much more in to that but...
Dean Becker: Yeah, yeah. And and and that's...
Sanho Tree: ...they are civil servants.
Dean Becker: That's the case. I hope some of them once they retire might join with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition or something. That's the case that so many people begin to understand this just like general Westmoreland did with the Vietnam war and so on, that people begin to have their doubts but they keep taking the paycheck and it's uh that's got to change I think before we can actually end then madness. Your thoughts on that, Sanho.
Sanho Tree: Yeah. There are two classes of people who take the paycheck, so to speak. There are those who are in charge of making policies who are heads of bureaucracies who have the ability and the obligation to speak out. And then there are the low level people who are in the Foreign Service in the civil service who do not make policy. It is not their job to make policy. It is their job to salute and carry out policies.
And as a lawyer would if it took you up as a client, they would give you their level best just as they give the US government their level best during business hours. After these official meetings they will come out and tell you what they really think but those are people who are not in the position of making policy.
Those who are in a position of making policy, those are the people who I think are particularly should be held responsible for this debacle because they are more interested very often I believe in preserving their budgets, their careers, their career advancement, getting closer to their retirement. Very few bureaucrats ever got promoted for shrinking the size of the bureaucracy. They always say things are a success and they deserve more money the following year.
Dean Becker: Well, Sanho we are going to have to take a break here in just a minute. We will take listener calls but I wanted to in this half hour before for you to give your website and uh where folks can learn more about your work.
Sanho Tree: Sure. It is www.ips-dc.org and just click on drug policy.
Dean Becker: Alright. Well my friends we are speaking with Mr. Sanho Tree. Have him back in the next half hour which is next on many of the Drug Truth Network programs. You are listening to Cultural Baggage. He will be our guest to take your calls on the Century of Lies show. Our number where you can call from anywhere in North America toll free is 1 877 9 420 420 and locally you can call 713 526 5738. Um we'll repeat that number for you here again in just a minute.
I wanted to let you know that next week on both the Cultural Baggage and Century of Lies show we will have first I'll get to interview Tony Newman of the Drug Policy Alliance and then he'll take your questions on the Century of Lies show. And once again I remind you 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.