Cultural Baggage, May 14, 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: America leads the world in its incarceration rate. Texas leads America. And Houston, Harris County, leads Texas by far. The following discussion about the situation in Texas should serve as an example for others around North America of how far wrong the drug war can go.
You are listening to the Cultural Baggage Show. We have in studio Judge Pat Lycos. She is running on the Republican ticket for District Attorney here, of Harris County. With that I want to welcome you to the studio, Ma'am.
Judge Lycos: Thank you. I'm delighted to accept your invitation.
Dean Becker: As I told Mr. Bradford last week, I am a former law enforcement official, I'm a member of a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and we think the drug war is an absolute fiasco. We work together to bring it to an end.
Judge Lycos: What agency were you with?
Dean Becker: I was in the U.S. Air Force Security Police, mostly guarded nuclear weapons, but I wore the badge and the gun and swore to uphold the Constitution and I think by ending the drug war I'm still working to support the Constitution.
Judge Lycos: Thank you for serving our country.
Dean Becker: Thank you, Ma'am. I know there's a House Bill, 2391, which allows for each district attorney to chose whether they will arrest and jail those who commit a myriad of crimes, minor theft or graffiti, bad checks at under $500, and to stop arresting those with less than four ounces of marijuana. Will you take advantage of House Bill 2391? Will you support citations?
Judge Lycos: Right now, the City of Houston has the option of arresting or issuing citations for offenses, for instance thefts under $50. And I'd like to do an analyses of that to see whether there's a problem of people appearing in court. So, no, I have not made a decision on it.
Dean Becker: Ok, I appreciate that. We have...
Judge Lycos: And also the officers have a discretion too.
Dean Becker: Well, there are many times I've heard that they catch kids with a small bag of pot, they'll pour it in the gutter and give them a talking-to and let them go and I think that's the best solution of all. Personally, I think whether it's a seed or an ounce or a pound or a ton it's just not law enforcement's business dealing with marijuana. But that's another matter, one for the Legislature to discuss. We have had over the last several years some situations where grand juries were put together as friends of the judge or of the district attorney, where people have been excluded from trial juries because of their church affiliation or otherwise. How will you handle that? Will we kind of shake up the way we select our juries?
Judge Lycos: Well, fortunately I have a record on grand juries and under our law the grand jury must be representative of the community. And if you look at the grand juries, and incidentally the grand juries are impaneled by judges, they're not selected by the district attorney's office, and if you look at the grand juries that I impanel they cover all demographics, all geographical areas of Harris County. They're young, they're old, they're male, they're female. All ethnicities and occupations. And that's what the statute intended. Now, if you're talking about selecting a jury, then of course it will be selected according to the law.
Dean Becker: Right. Now, there have been spin-off situations on many of these jury selections over the years, but we won't get into that. Now, our previous district attorney, Chuck Rosenthal, resigned a few months back claiming that he had major problems with impaired judgment because of his drug use and I wonder if you see the irony in that and the hypocrisy.
Judge Lycos: You know, Mr. Rosenthal is gone and he has a family so I don't want to dump on him. But certainly it's a serious issue when someone is impaired by pharmaceuticals, whether they're prescribed or the use is illicit.
Dean Becker: Right. I guess to me, he sent thousands, if not tens of thousands of people to prison for their impaired judgment. I see it as totally hypocritical. Now, there's about a dozen states across America that have passed laws that allow patients to use medical marijuana if recommended by their doctor and about six weeks ago a jury in Amarillo, Texas, declared a man suffering from hepatitis C innocent, I think it was kind of a jury nullification because they understood that it is medicine. How much priority will you give to prosecuting medicinal users who have a doctor's recommendation?
Judge Lycos: I don't know that there are many users here in Harris County that have a doctor's recommendation and that's something that the medical establishment needs to address. Is there another medium by which some sort of palliative can be administered other than using what is now an illicit substance?
Dean Becker: I don't know how much of my shows or even the intro to today's show, but I had a gentleman, his name is Dr. Donald Tashkin, he's one of the lead scientists for NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and he even admitted that much of the hysteria, much of the reasoning, quote-morals behind the marijuana laws is just not based in science. I guess, again, I'll drop that. Now, marijuana has been used by more than 100 million Americans, about half the population, and there are cities across America, I think some dozen plus now, that have passed laws directing their police forces to make enforcement of the marijuana laws the lowest law enforcement priority. Here in Texas and Houston we have no referendum, no means to place such a measure on the ballot. But the will and the focus of the D.A. and the mayor could make a difference in this regard. What do you think about that?
Judge Lycos: I think it's sort of surreal that on one hand we want to ban tobacco and then legalize marijuana. You've got to admit that that is stunning. Secondly, community sentiment does play a large part in enforcement and, as you mentioned, a verdict over in the panhandle of Texas. The law's the law and, you know, how it's applied--there are all sorts of mechanisms that we can use, one of them is deferred prosecution. Others are diversions from our jail. There's a whole panoply of remedies out there and measures that can be implemented. The important thing is that addiction is bad. And we need to address it and the more treatment we can provide then the better off society will be. I don't think any society wants their people intoxicated regardless of what the source is.
Dean Becker: All right, I'll leave it there. This is a more system-wide question. You've observed the situation, implementation of the drug war here in Houston. We now lead the world in our incarceration rate, primarily for drug charges, primarily young black and hispanics, for minor amounts. I guess the question I want to get to, have we made any progress in the drug war in the last five years.
Judge Lycos: I think the greatest progress in the drug war would be made on establishing social controls and changing the minds and the thoughts of the people. No, I don't think the drug war has been a success. I think we need to go after the money. We need to go after the bad guys. We need to go after those banks and other institutions that are laundering the money. The politicians who may aid and abet this evil trade. I see these, I see the dispensing of drugs in our minority community as sabotage and bigotry and they've destroyed neighborhoods.
Dean Becker: I can't argue with that at all. I think it is a huge conspiracy and I appreciate you mentioning the bankers. They are the ones who benefit most, garnering up to 85% of the profits of the drug sales here in America. And it's them and the media they control and maybe the politicians they control that help keep this all in place. Well, if elected and maybe working in combination with the mayor or state legislators et-cetera, do you think we can make some progress in that regard, into squelching the profiteering, if you will, and/or the harms of the drug war. What can we do in the next five?
Judge Lycos: Oh, there's a lot the district attorney can do. The district attorney is the top law enforcement official in Harris County, Texas. And we need to focus on the kingpins, the really bad guys and bad girls, if you will. And you have to have sophisticated investigations. And this business about sweeping up people with crack pipe residue and so forth, what I'd like to do, and really this is a two-fold question--imagine yourself living in a neighborhood and you have children and you have these people lounging around smoking whatever they're smoking, drugs or whatever, and the children have to step over them, evade them and so forth, it's a quality of life issue. We cannot let that exist in our neighborhoods. We have to have a decent, healthy atmosphere. And so that cannot go on. On the other hand, we spent nine million dollars last year sending inmates to another state when we can divert these people from the jail and put them into treatment centers. Just think of what we could do with that nine million dollars.
Dean Becker: We could help a lot of neighborhoods.
Judge Lycos: You're an educated man and you understand that dangerous drugs change the brain, irreparably.
Dean Becker: Well, I might have to disagree with that, at least in part. They certainly can hurt the brain permanently, but I think done in moderation most of them are relatively safe. I'll bring this up: back in 1913, before the Harrison Narcotics Act, Bayer Heroin sold on the grocer's shelf right next to Bayer Aspirin. Back then, as now, Aspirin kills more people than does heroin, so I think we've lost focus of...
Judge Lycos: But I might remind you that the British controlled China with opium.
Dean Becker: Well, yes.
Judge Lycos: So there are two sides to that story.
Dean Becker: There is, but again, when I can grow opium poppies in my backyard and I can bypass the pharmacy and the pharmaceutical companies I think I'm taking away their profits. And I think it has been a charade that has been perpetrated on us, that we've been fed these lies over the years. About two months ago CBS Houston aired a report that looked at the situation where the U.S. leads the world in its incarceration rate, Texas just took over from California leading the nation and Harris County is leading the world. As you said, our jails are overflowing, there's talk of new prisons, our police force is understaffed as are our jails. I read a report the other day, it's estimated that cops in Texas spend more than one million man/hours digging through ashtrays, under car seats and car trunks looking for that elusive bag of pot or whatever other drugs. Don't we have a better use for these law enforcement officers like solving the increasing number of unsolved violent crimes.
Judge Lycos: Well, you're assuming that I'm accepting this research as accurate.
Dean Becker: Well, OK, but say it's 100,000, say it's a thousand, don't we have a better use?
Judge Lycos: There are more efficient ways to use our resources in law enforcement. One of the things that I intend to do as district attorney is to form a cooperative type project, if you will, because our agencies are operating as silos, and sharing the data--you know we have international organized crime here and they're involved in human trafficking, drugs, auto theft, burglary, you name it. Very serious crimes. And by sharing of data and information then we can go after them and not just the low-level offenders.
Dean Becker: All right. I like that. And I liked what you said earlier about going after the traffickers because it's not the guy with an ounce or a pound, a kilo or even ten kilos. It's the people with the boatloads and the airplanes full that are the problem and, go ahead...
Judge Lycos: And one of the things that users need to understand is that that money that they pay out to a pusher is responsible for the assassinations in Mexico. So, their conduct has these consequences too. There are two sides to that story.
Dean Becker: Yes, Ma'am. And I want to interject this thought about those two sides. One is we have the option of regulating, taxing, and actually controlling these controlled substances for adults, or changing the mindset of hundreds of millions of users worldwide and the millions of growers and traffickers. It seems a whole lot simpler to me to tax and regulate and control.
Judge Lycos: Well, when I was a youngster, the social controls--you didn't have the drug use. It's just only when I became a teenager that it was this 'Tune in, turn on and drop out.' And then you've seen the epidemic. So the thought process has changed. The social controls, and you know the social controls are the strongest of all. Yeah. And we should maximize that. Why inject poison in your body?
Dean Becker: For many people, it is some, sort of, post traumatic stress, abuse as a child, abuse in a war, abuse in the community that leads people to seek solace and refuge through drugs, whether it be alcohol or marijuana or ecstasy.
Judge Lycos: You know a lot of our people who are homeless are people who have mental disabilities and they need treatment. And they're in and out of our jails, they're in and out of our emergency rooms. They don't need to be self-medicating with cocaine. They need to have drugs that address their disease because it is a disease.
Dean Becker: Yes, Ma'am. I want to alert the listeners, you are listening to the Cultural Baggage Show right here on KPFT Houston. We have in studio with us Judge Pat Lycos, the Republican candidate for district attorney here in Harris County.
Judge, we have, we talked about it, how the impact of this drug war in the poorer neighborhoods, how it has impacted them, and I see the situation out in San Diego--75 fraternity/sorority people arrested for selling drugs. They said it was just wide open, no one cared, it was just going on without any worries. If we busted every white kid, every college kid that's selling drugs right now, we would probably end the drug war because it seems to be a pretend situation where it's a black and Hispanic problem. But it's the whites that are the majority users. Your thoughts?
Judge Lycos: I think you have to have an even handed application of the law and of enforcement.
Dean Becker: Yes, Ma'am. OK. There's a big flap in San Antonio where a clergyman and some of his associates are giving out new syringes in exchange for old ones. The D.A. there has threatened to prosecute them, was it the State Attorney General says 'Yeah, it was probably OK to do it.' The legislature and the governor wanted this pilot program. I can point you to hundreds of Houston and Harris County health officials who would desperately like for Texas to become the fiftieth state to allow syringe exchanges.
Judge Lycos: Can we take that step by step?
Dean Becker: Yes, Ma'am.
Judge Lycos: OK. I've read the statute. And the statute, it's a pilot project that would authorize Bexar County as part of a health initiative to reduce HIV and hepatitis and other diseases. However, there is nothing in that statute that exempts people from being prosecuted for possession or distribution of narcotics paraphernalia. So first of all, you have a statute that is not well-written, if you will. And anything that's vague and ambiguous creates a problem. And now you also have, and people will say 'Well, you're putting the imprimatur of the state and you want to give people the means with which to inject themselves with poison, with drugs that they have no idea what's contained in those substances...' It really is a moral dilemma and a quandary. And there's a serious issue as to whether this project and the statute, the way that it's written, it does I think violate the law, both state and federal law. So that has to be reappraised and reexamined.
Dean Becker: Again, we would save millions of dollars per year in decreased numbers of Hep C and HIV encountered and again, the quandary you were speaking of, the fact is we have the choice of either allowing them to use these contaminated needles over and over again or giving them ones that will not perpetuate the cycle of disease.
Judge Lycos: But how do you know that they're not going to use those over and over again?
Dean Becker: Well, it's been shown that in those areas where they allow it for needle exchange the number of HIV cases has actually gone down.
You and I are finding points of agreement. I find similar responses when I talk to state reps or other judges or authority figures, but somehow it always ends up being a bunch of finger pointing. The legislators don't enforce the law and the D.A.'s don't write the laws and the cops don't prioritize the law...
Judge Lycos: I hope you don't think that I'm finger pointing or I'm evading your questions.
Dean Becker: No, Ma'am. I guess my point is though, is that when we say the legislature writes the laws and you have to enforce those laws, can't you reason with them, can't you talk to them, you're creating problems for our communities, you're filling our jails, your system is not benefiting our community?
Judge Lycos: Certainly the elected district attorney has the opportunity to testify before the legislature regarding legislation. And one of our great needs now is to have a revision of our mental health laws so that we can reach out and help those who are incapable of helping themselves. You know, the de-institutionalization of our mental institutions in the late seventies has been an absolute humanitarian disaster. I think you will concede that.
Dean Becker: Right. Do we have Reagan to thank for that one, I believe it was, he kind of set out...
Judge Lycos: No he did not. That was a liberal idea and...with good intentions.
Dean Becker: Hell's paved with good intentions.
Judge Lycos: Absolutely. And the unintended consequences of that, and of course these institutions were never replaced with anything on a local level.
Dean Becker: No. Just jails.
Judge Lycos: Well, and you fought the jails and you fought the criminal justice system but, in reality, they're the only ones dealing with these people.
Dean Becker: No, look, I'm not saying that the jailers are bad, that the cops are bad, any one person is bad. I'm saying the mindset, the moral posturing wrapped around this drug war is totally off base. It's cost us a trillion dollars to fund the drug war and we've given ten trillion to the terrorists, cartels and gangs.
Judge Lycos: Which drugs would you legalize?
Dean Becker: I'd legalize them all.
Judge Lycos: OK.
Dean Becker: I would. I want methamphetamines at Walgreens for adults. I want to judge people by their actions, not the contents of their pockets.
Judge Lycos: Are you aware of the effects of methamphetamine?
Dean Becker: Yes, Ma'am. I was addicted to it for three years. I was able to quit when I learned my first son was going to be born. I am aware. It has its perils. I'm not saying I want people to do them. I'm not saying I want people to shoot up heroin. I'm just saying, we need to judge people by their actions.
Judge Lycos: You may not know but I worked my way through undergraduate school and law school as a Houston police officer. And I will never forget arresting this young girl for assault. And she was about half my size. She turned me every way but loose. I'm not kidding you. It took about six people to get her under control. And she was on PCP. Now we've got enough violence in our society, that's why I ask you, what drugs do you intend to see legalized and if you do legalize drugs then the bad guys, the cartels, are going to come out with designer drugs. You know, more and better...I mean where does it stop?
Dean Becker: (laughter) I think it stops when people's actions, like that girl half your size, her actions deserve her having a trip to jail. Not necessarily the contents of her pocket. You know, we have, over the years the morals of society changes and there are lots of archaic laws on the books. I wanted to talk about a couple of them. And this is something that our friend here at KPFT works on, vibrators are illegal in the state of Texas. You must ask permission to ask someone else's garbage in the state of Texas.
Judge Lycos: (laughter)
Dean Becker: And in Houston, the sale of limburger cheese is prohibited on Sunday. Now, we have, these drug laws were crafted from thin air about a hundred years ago. Mexicans on marijuana were stealing white men's jobs. Chinamen on opium might rape white women. Blacks on cocaine, you couldn't bring them down with a .32, they had to use a .38. It has no rationale to it. As I said, even today, Aspirin and Tylenol kill more than all hard drugs combined. Don't we need to refocus our moral mindset?
Judge Lycos: I think we need to reform our moral mindset but perhaps not in the way you are inferring. I think we have a toxic culture today. I mean, when you see the glorification of aberrant behavior, when you see the degradation of young girls and women in our popular entertainment industry, the video games that glorify the murder of women and police officers, gratuitous violence--yeah, we need a whole mindset change. And all of this, if you look at every great civilization, it's been presaged its decline by this sort of thinking that the aberrant is normal.
You know, there's only one thing in this world that no one can give you and no one can take away from you but you can throw away and that's your honor. And we need to start electing people who have honor.
Dean Becker: Now, as has been demonstrated too horrifically, the criminal justice system is so overloaded and often out of control, the jail overcrowding, the lack of sufficient medical care, and it's led to the repeated abuse of juveniles under county and state control. The drug war eats up hundreds of millions of our tax dollars, thus depriving services in other areas. What will you do to solve the problems of abuse of these juvenile offenders?
Judge Lycos: One of the things that we need to do is review the number of children who are detained and look for alternatives. We have so many children who are abused and who are neglected, I think you will concede that. And we have no facilities to put them in. One of the things we may have to consider is to build group homes where the siblings can be together in some semblance of a family atmosphere. There are all sorts of alternatives to prevent crime, to help reach out to young people, to help give them some sense of normality, if you will, to set them on the right path and I think it's our duty to do that.
Dean Becker: I asked this of...
Judge Lycos: Oh, may I say one other thing?
Dean Becker: Yes, Ma'am. Please.
Judge Lycos: The way we're going to finance this is when we go after the money in the drug trade and seize the assets, forfeitures there, then we're going to use that money to finance these various initiatives to reach out and to prevent crime and to help the youngsters, to help the mentally ill.
Dean Becker: I can certainly agree with that premise if we're talking about the people with the boatloads and the planeloads et cetera, not the guy with the kilo in the trunk.
How many officers would it take to arrest every drug dealer in Houston?
Judge Lycos: I don't know.
Dean Becker: You think it's possible?
Judge Lycos: Well, first of all, you have to define your term 'drug dealer.' Are you talking about somebody on the street?
Dean Becker: Well, everybody from the boatload to the crack rock.
Judge Lycos: Well, first of all, it takes brain power to go after these drug czars and their accomplices. And that's where we need to start, you need to have a strategy, you need to have coordination, you need to have brain power and you need to have the will. We need to cut the head off the snake.
Dean Becker: I like what I'm hear...When will we win the war on drugs? Do you have any idea?
Judge Lycos: Yes. When we have many fewer people who resort to the use of toxic materials like that who poison themselves. You know, we had an actor, not too long ago, a youngster who was all in organic food and the environment...
Dean Becker: Was it Heath Ledger?
Judge Lycos: No, it was River Phoenix.
Dean Becker: Oh yes, yes.
Judge Lycos: ...And he ends up dying of a drug overdose. I don't understand how you can eat tofu and then turn around and inject something in your veins and you have no clue as to what's in there.
Dean Becker: And that's part of the problem, Ma'am, is that--I close my program with that thought--that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag so please be careful. And that's the point. We had a situation here, three years ago, I believe, this summer where a shipment of cocaine came in, went from the traffickers to the distributors. The distributors sold it on Thursday and Friday evenings and by Saturday morning there were fourteen young people dead here in Houston because the product was not cocaine, it was some 85% heroin and they went home and did their quote-normal dose and it killed them. And it is the policy of prohibition that made those deaths happen.
Judge, we have just a minute left. I want to turn it over to you. You can relay your thoughts to the voters out there and I do so much appreciate you coming here.
Judge Lycos: I appreciate this opportunity. I tell you what, I'm very, very concerned about drug abuse and we have more and more young people using pharmaceuticals where they're raiding their parents' medicine cabinet or their grandparents' medicine cabinet and they pour them all in a bowl and they have no clue as to what's in there. How have we come to this as a society?
Dean Becker: It's a valid point. The 'pharm-parties', you're absolutely right. The truth be told, right now methadone is killing three times as many people as is heroin. We need to re-look at this situation.
Judge Lycos: I agree with you. Methadone is a racket.
Dean Becker: (laughter) Thank you. I like that. Once again, friends, we've been speaking with Judge Pat Lycos, she's running for the District Attorney of Harris County on the Republican ballot. And, Judge, I thank you so much for coming in and being our guest. In order to be fair to Mr. Bradford I've given you thirty minutes here but I do so much appreciate you being our guest.
Judge Lycos: I appreciate this, invite me back. You ask me a question, I'm going to respond to it. And I pledge to you that I intend to be the District Attorney of all the people of Harris County and I'm tough but I'm fair.
This is Dean Becker, hoping you enjoyed our discussion with Judge Pat Lycos and that you'll join us next week when our guest will be Dr. Mitch Earleywine, author of the brand-new book, “Parent's Guide to Marijuana.” And, as always, 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.
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