12/15/17 Nick Novello

Sheriff John Urqhart of Seattle, Nick Novello working Dallas patrolman, Mark Mauer of Sentencing Project & Heather Fazio Dir of Texans For Responsible Marijuana Policy

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TRANSCRIPT

CULTURAL BAGGAGE

DECEMBER 15, 2017

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hi, this is Dean, thanks for joining us on Cultural Baggage. Today, you're going to hear from Heather Fazio with Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. We'll hear from the sheriff, working sheriff of Seattle, John Urquhart. We'll hear from Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project. But first up:

It was right at three years ago when I interviewed then police chief of Houston, Texas, Charles McClelland, and he declared the drug war to be a miserable failure. That, I think, started the ball rolling. We now have the current police chief, sheriff, and district attorney who think much the same way. And up in Dallas, we have a gentleman, I think with more than 30 years of service to his community, who is much in the same vein. I want to introduce our next guest, Officer Nick Novello. Hello, Nick.

NICK NOVELLO: How you tonight?

DEAN BECKER: I'm good, sir. You know, it's -- it was a very touchy subject, a third rail, people just didn't talk about the drug war much in years past, but it's gaining traction now, right?

NICK NOVELLO: That's correct. I mean, we all see it's a dismal failure. I've been speaking to this for some years now, but, let me qualify that. I'm simply echoing the words of Michael Botticelli, the ex-Drug Czar. There's so many people.

Let me say this, it's so important for context here, or backdrop. Last year, October 2016, Terrance Cunningham, the chief of the international police chiefs association, the largest in the world, apologized to minority America, and his words were chilling on the one hand because he said words to the effect that, we police have done some really bad, unspeakable things because of some of the bad laws on the books.

And he stopped there. A lot of people celebrated that. I would have preferred that he be more specific. I believe he was alluding to the drug war. I can tell you firsthand that I speak to people constantly that are doing ten, 15, and 20 years in prison for a usable amount of narcotics. Now, here's a problem. What do you say to that guy when he gets out, after 15 years for possession of marijuana, when in multiple states today, people are becoming millionaires for the same behavior? How do we begin to reconcile this?

DEAN BECKER: That's a heck of a question there, Nick, I must say. You know, and it really does boil down to logic and common sense. It, we haven't changed anybody's attitudes or perspectives, or use of cannabis, certainly, it's -- it's America's drug these days, isn't it?

NICK NOVELLO: Well, it really is, but, you know, the problem, and I speak to this, and I am still a working officer, it means the world to me that I speak to it as a working officer. You see a man like attorney general Sessions, who says cannabis has absolutely no medicinal value --

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

NICK NOVELLO: -- and it's extremely addictive, and then you see the very patent held by the United States government, and that patent definitively states that cannabis successfully treats all manner of diseases: cancers, Crohn's disease, epilepsy, so where's the disconnect?

And let's speak to that for a moment, because, it's a troubling thing to say that we've monetized the system, the criminal justice system and the pharmaceutical industry. It's really not so much about healing people, or putting someone in jail and then rehabilitating that person. It's all about the monetization of it. When you have private prisons, like we have in Texas and other states, and the stock holders are guaranteed returns on their investments, there's something absolutely heinous about that. But that's where we are right now.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, you bet ya, you bet ya. You know, Nick, I think about my band of brothers, I'm a member of a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, we've got I think a hundred and something thousand members and supporters worldwide now. And it's just facing the reality of this, that it's just not worked, that we've squandered billions of dollars arrested tens of millions of people, and it's just getting worse. Isn't it?

NICK NOVELLO: It certainly is. I want to give you a quick little anecdote, and it's very troubling. I said this to people midyear, in the summer, after this bill, and I'm referring to House Bill 81, you might be familiar with that bill. House Bill 81 here in Texas. The state legislature was mostly in support of this bill, it sought to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis and what have you. It was a big step.

So, what am I saying here? Now, this is so important, and I say this, we have no real representative government in Texas. And let me qualify that. When House Bill 81 is favored by the majority of the voting public, and the state legislators are behind it, and one man keeps that bill from coming to the floor for a vote, one man, and then you have the nerve to boast that the system works?

What we're really admitting to is that the system as set up in Texas circumvents the will of the people, because it took one man to commit an act that resulted in a time constraint being violated, so we had a time constraint more important than a matter of life and death. And that's what we've got.

And it's really sad, when one man, it took one man to circumvent the will of the people with House Bill 81.

DEAN BECKER: I've talked to several folks about that, that in the US Congress, the Texas congress, I guess legislatures across the country, there are just a handful of people that are stalling progress.

NICK NOVELLO: This is correct. This is correct.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Nick, I understand you spoke at a recent NORML gathering, there in Dallas, and you talked about, they're bringing forward a new circumstance, if you will, whereby you don't get arrested, you get a ticket, but they can still sentence you to prison if they want to. Let's talk about that.

NICK NOVELLO: You know, I recall well, obviously I spoke downtown, I'm very adamantly opposed to this because this is -- it doesn't mitigate someone being caught with cannabis. Now, the argument is that it will keep police on the streets, it's a lot fairer toward the person caught with maybe two ounces, three ounces.

Let me say this, number one, that the officers I speak to, and I'm still a working officer, it's very cumbersome and very time consuming to interface with someone who has two or three ounces, number one. Number two, and my biggest argument, it's still the continuation of the criminalization of those we've sworn to protect, and to nurture as they grow.

You know, think about it this way: Obama and Bush are celebrated for their candor. Oh my goodness, they admitted to having smoked. No big deal. Wow, they're so honest. But, let me catch your young person, especially if that young person is black or brown, and I'm going to incarcerate them in the name of justice.

Now, my question to the general public is this: how is it that Botticelli, Hillary has said it, Steve -- Rick Perry, the ex-governor, has said the war on drugs is perverse. How is it that we are still tasked with doing that which many in Washington have called perverse? The only explanation for that is again, it's been monetized.

In Dallas, these citations will lead to an income stream that will feed the parks, and the bridges, and what have you, so number one, my argument, if we have to do anything along those lines, it should be a small civil sanction, and then those moneys should be used for treatment facilities and educational programs.

But in that we use those moneys to line people's pockets, and to put them into hundreds of millions of dollars in park programs? It's perverse and incentivizes the criminalization of those we've sworn to protect.

DEAN BECKER: You know it. You know it. I, it's what drives me, and I hear it drives you as well, Nick.

I want to remind you once again that we're speaking with Dallas police patrolman Nick Novello.

I know that here in Houston we've had about five thousand kids, because they're mostly kids out there getting caught with weed, that got that ticket, that took that course, and paid a fine, if they were working, but they didn't have that record, they face no criminalization. It's a better way we've got going here in Houston, don't you think?

NICK NOVELLO: Oh, by all means. You know, I never would have applauded the, again, the criminalization part of this thing, but I would have at least said, you know what? It's so obvious that they're wanting to work with the young, they've given them a way to work themselves towards having no criminal record.

And, you know, and I say this, and it means the world to me to say it, because it's so sick to me, that we're willing to get programs in place where we're going to play basketball with your kids on Friday, we're going to start a chess tournament, so we can play chess with your kids some, some night during the week. But don't let us catch your kids with a joint, because then, everything's off, and we're going to criminalize your young child and we know that criminalization, well, who says it well? Jack Cole, the founder of LEAP, says in America, you can survive an addiction, but you cannot survive a conviction. You can't. You're immediately stigmatized.

And let me be blunt. We have a caste system in America. It's unacknowledged for the most part, but the experiential reality here is if you have a conviction, you have to admit to that during application for work, housing, education, and that's it. You may as well have leprosy, the way I see it. Do you -- can you speak to that for a moment?

DEAN BECKER: No, I agree with you. There are so many, so many add-ons that are piled onto people that use drugs, or thought to use drugs. There's the urine tests, there's the ostracisation [sic], you're not a good person if you do drugs. Tell you the truth, I'm wearing a shirt today that reads "Nice People Use Drugs". I'm one of them. I've been smoking pot for a little over 50 years. I've had a very successful career, healthy kids, grandkids. It has not deprived me of a good life. Your thought there, sir.

NICK NOVELLO: Oh, well, I agree with you. Fully agree with you. You know, for me, when I met Tim Timmins, and Tim Timmins was, and he's passed now, but he was a quadriplegic, I met him, he had a grin on his face, and he looked me in the eye and he said, Nick, I've got a question for you as law enforcement officer. If I use cannabis to arrest my body tremors, which bring me great pain, am I a criminal? And then he grinned at me.

And, I mean, I had this -- an astounding epiphany, and let me tell you this, that epiphany was buttressed by officers. I've been doing the job for 35 years. I know officers who used to go to jail constantly with young people, and older people. As they grew older, they realized their sons and daughters, in some instances, had addictions. Serious drug problems. Well, of course, they didn't go through the system. They couldn't put their own loved ones through the system, but they put other people's loved ones through the system.

DEAN BECKER: Sure.

NICK NOVELLO: Now, however you speak to that, I'm going to call that for what it is. It's hypocrisy.

DEAN BECKER: You dang right. You dang right.

NICK NOVELLO: It's the epitome of hypocrisy. So for me, my touchstone is, when I speak to someone and they begin to build an argument, a polemic, for the necessity of the drug war, I ask them this, let's personalize this. It's your mother, your father, someone you are absolutely in love with, who has an addiction problem. Invariably the response comes back, no. The very best in medical treatment and the best lawyers, Nick, I can't have them criminalized.

Well, and you can criminalize everybody else's kids? Particularly those who live in inner city America? Who've been victims, and I use that word, victims, of an overzealous policing function, and I'm going to say this, I really don't care who likes what I say and doesn't like. To me, after 35 years of doing this and having my finger on the pulse, the policing function in America has largely been a tool to control black and brown and poor whites.

Because there's no way you can tell me that a guy who's in keeping with the law in California, for medicinal cannabis purposes, and even if he smokes recreationally, the fact that's his choice, but he's in keeping with the law, he's got his documentation, he comes to Texas, and he's fully documented, he's got his oils, he's in his 60s, he's coming to Texas because his granddaughter's terribly ill, and what happens? He's picked up here and charged with a felony.

Now, what type of a problem am I describing here? One where we take a law, and a law is only as good as its application, only as just in that we democratize it and it's the same law for everyone. Well, we know, in America today, we don't have such a law. We have catch as catch can, you're going to be criminalized in Texas, you're going to be smiled at in California. In other places you may receive a small civil sanction, and that breeds contempt, absolute contempt, for the criminal justice system.

DEAN BECKER: Wow. Very profound words. Folks, we've been speaking with Mister Nick Novello, a working Dallas police officer. Nick, I want to thank you. Do you have some closing thoughts, is there a website you might want to share?

NICK NOVELLO: Well, I would simply, you know, the only thing I ask folks to do is follow me on Facebook, because it, you know, the department's trying to fire me now, and that's fine. That's fine. This is not my story. They can do what they want to do, they're trying to fire me, and if I get fired and lose my job, that's okeh. I expected that might happen. It's part of what this is all about.

You know, for me, this is not my story. This is a story of those who already are victims of the system. A story of those out here looking for work, educated, have done quite well for themselves, subsequent to the arrest, but are only finding out now that again, they wear that scarlet letter, call it whatever you want to call it -- big D, or whatever. But, they realize now, my god, even though this is a 12 year old marijuana conviction, it's still held against me.

So, what I'm saying, and I'm going to say this, we are -- we are at a place where we have no reference points. We are at a place where we're so far past the point of viable damage control that we've got to come out of the blocks with new solutions, and we'd better do that very quickly, before we find it almost untenable to police our culture, and that's my last thought.

TOMMY CHONG: Hey, this is Tommy Chong, for the Cultural Baggage show, telling everybody out there, don't let free speech go up in smoke, man.

MARC MAUER: I'm Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project in Washington, and we're engaged in research and policy advocacy around the incarceration issues, sentencing, drug policy, and racial disparity, and essentially trying to support the movement to challenge mass incarceration.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Marc, you've been at this for quite some time. We talked 8 or 10 years ago, and you're still at it.

MARC MAUER: Yeah. I'm still at it, and you know, we've, despite all the sort of chaos in the world of politics these days, there's been quite a bit of momentum for reform in criminal justice and drug policy, particularly over the last decade.

I think that, you know, many Americans now recognize, often through personal experience, someone close to them's had a drug or alcohol problem, and now recognize that putting people with substance abuse problems in a prison cell for five years doesn't really get at the problem, and that our problem of over-incarceration, sending too many people to prison for too long a period of time, that message is coming across.

And so we're seeing, you know, increasing bipartisan support for reforms. We still have a very long way to go, but the climate has been changing in some encouraging ways.

DEAN BECKER: Yes. You know, Marc, the fact is, just this week, the Baker Institute, the drug policy group, issued an issue brief talking about how the Houston area law enforcement is for drug reform. And that's becoming, if not the norm, it's certainly expanding in those who feel that way. Your thought, please.

MARC MAUER: Yeah, it's certainly true. I mean, you can start and look at, you know, certainly public support for legalizing marijuana, or medical marijuana, you know, that issue's really sweeping the country now. We see, you know, within the court system, you know, literally several thousand drug courts now, with the idea of diverting people to treatment rather than incarceration.

You know, not all these efforts have been a hundred percent successful, well, we wouldn't expect that, anyway, but I think it's an indication, both among the public and policy makers and practitioners, that, you know, just sounding tough on crime doesn't get us very far, but if we can address the underlying contributors to crime and substance abuse, then we can start to make some progress there.

And I think that's -- we've seen, you know, a good deal of shift in that direction over the last decade or so.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. It is my hope, Marc, that on this program I'm going to be interviewing a working Dallas policeman, who is calling or, you know, a revamp of our drug laws, getting a lot of flack from his department as he does so.

MARC MAUER: Well, I think you can talk to police officers, you know, they often get frustrated, they keep saying, well, we're arresting the same people over and over again, not much good is coming from it, and it's not surprising, because, you know, we process them through the court system and the prison system, you know. To the extent that there's treatment available, in most jurisdictions it's pretty modest treatment, not the kind of thing we would want if it was our son or daughter who had a drug problem.

And, so it's not surprising that they come back to the community and they've got issues, and, you know, the same deficits in terms of connections to the world of work and education still plaguing them. So I think even law enforcement people, leaders in corrections, not all, but significant numbers, recognize that we're fooling ourselves if we think that arresting and prosecuting them over and over again is going to start to make a difference. You know, we need a different approach there.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, we do, certainly, Marc. Well, we're speaking with Mister Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project, and, well, just as compelled as I am, I think, to delve into this and make a difference. We're making some progress, aren't we, Marc?

MARC MAUER: Yeah, well, we are. You know, the prison population in the United States, which exploded for more than three decades, you know, in the last half dozen years there's actually some modest declines nationally. There's also about a half dozen states that have reduced their prison population twenty to thirty percent. California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and a couple of others. So that's, you know, not a trivial shift. It's a pretty substantial change.

And, you know, they've done it in a variety of ways. A fair amount of it is diverting people convicted of a drug offense into the community, into treatment or some other kind of supervision.

In some cases, California was the result of a Supreme Court decision, is now not incarcerating people in state prisons who were convicted of certain low level property or drug crimes. Instead, they're held at a county level. Some are in jail, many of them are in the community under supervision, but they're avoiding all the harms that come with long term incarceration in a state prison, and then of course the cost that goes along with that as well.

So, so it does make a difference, and we're starting to see some shifts there.

DEAN BECKER: And I think a lot of officials are starting to recognize, realize, that giving these people that black mark, that record, that will stain them for life, will diminish their capacity for having a full life and that's just not the right way to go. Your thought there, Marc Mauer.

MARC MAUER: Well, that's true, and, you know, a felony record has always been a barrier to, you know, opportunity, you know, it's harmful in gaining employment and other services, but in recent decades, you know, many policymakers have erected even more significant barriers, so Congress in 1996 adopted a felony drug ban whereby if you're convicted of a drug felony you can be denied access to welfare benefits or food stamps.

We see barriers to higher education, if you have a drug felony. In many states, you know, you lose the right to vote for a period of time for any kind of felony conviction or in some states even a prior felony conviction you could have served your sentence on 30 years ago, but if you live in the state of Florida, you're still going to be disenfranchised.

And, you know, these don't -- these don't help anybody re-enter the community. Treating people as second class citizens doesn't make us any safer, it just means that we have more people struggling to make it, and, you know, that's not a good outcome for anyone.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know, folks like us, I think, in the beginning, or I was, very much in favor of this treatment over incarceration, because in many ways it's still better than going to prison. But the fact of the matter is, many of these treatment centers are nothing more than slave centers where people work 8 or 10 hours a day for no pay, and supposedly getting educated, you know, to remain drug free. Yet they're plucking chickens or something. What's your thought in that regard?

MARC MAUER: Yeah, well, you know, and treatment center is a very broad concept, and you're absolutely right, there are some that are money making operations and not providing, you know, high quality treatment, and really taking advantage of people's circumstances. There are other treatment centers that, you know, are addressing people's needs, know their life circumstances, trying to respond to that.

So I think it's really the job of both policymakers and citizens to ensure and have oversight into any of these initiatives. If, you know, our court officials say they've got a drug diversion program that can avoid prison, you know, we should applaud them for that, but then we should say, well, let's take a look at what that looks like, what's your success rate, what's the kind of treatment that you're offering, to make sure that their good intentions are carried out in ways that actually will help people, not just burden them even further.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Now, we were talking about officials and people recognizing need for change. Let's jump to the federal level, specifically the US Attorney General level. It seems like a huge roadblock. Your thought there, Marc.

MARC MAUER: Yeah, well, it's -- it's been very disappointing that Jeff Sessions has been appointed attorney general. He's been a hardliner his whole career on criminal justice issues, and it's exactly what he's done since taking office. Just in the first couple of months he was there, he first overturned an Obama era policy shift was going to downplay the role of private prison contracting in the federal system, he reversed that and says he's happy to keep contracting with them.

He directed his US Attorneys to seek the highest provable charge in any case they had, whereas Eric Holder as Attorney General had instructed his prosecutors to seek justice, which might involve harsh punishment in some cases, and might involve diversion from prison in other cases, but to seek justice. Sessions very much countered that.

He seems to be serious about reinvigorating the drug war. He's making inaccurate statements about immigration and crime. So it is a real disturbing turn. Fortunately, I think there is a growing response in opposition to some of these initiatives, but it's really up to all of us to keep the pressure on so that we don't derail the progress that's been made in recent years.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we've been speaking with Mister Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project. Marc, I want you to put on your swami hat and give us a projection for next year. Do you see anything you could share?

MARC MAUER: Well, it's certainly difficult these days to predict more than about 48 hours in advance or so. It's a pretty strange situation. You know, I think, well we know more and more is the intersection of a lot of issues, so, for example, you know, the tax legislation going through Congress is likely to contribute to inequality, is likely to contribute to fewer people having access to healthcare. You know, those are criminal justice issues, and life issues, you know, the more people are hurting for resources, the more stress and strain there is, that's not a good outcome for public safety.

So, you know, we need to be engaged on all these kinds of issues. Certainly on the issue of immigration, the DACA program, and will the Dreamers, you know, be able to maintain and contribute to our society is a major item that's coming up, and, you know, we'll see how that plays out in the next couple of months or so.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, we've been speaking with Mister Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project. Marc, give you a chance to share your closing thoughts and maybe your website.

MARC MAUER: Yeah, our website is SentencingProject.org. As I said, we have a difficult climate right now, but we are encouraged. There's a growing movement to challenge mass incarceration, we see young people and others in every state around the country really engage on mass incarceration now. And I think that's the hope for the future and the hope for the immediate future as well.

And, you know, we need to build on that energy, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, all those kinds of things, and if we can keep doing that, I think we'll ultimately prevail.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Headache, unexplained muscle pain or weakness, allergic reactions, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and or throat, difficulty in breathing, rash, hives, joint pain, liver problems, nausea, inflammation of the pancreas and gall bladder. Time's up! The answer: Vytorin, from Merck Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals, a Singapore company, LLC, for high cholesterol.

Well, it seems about once a year, I get a chance to speak to a gentleman I've admired for years now, a man who has stood tall for common sense and, you know, reality itself, a gentleman who's been the sheriff now of Seattle, up there in King County, Washington, for several years now, a man who I greatly respect and admire. I'm glad to have him as our next guest, Sheriff John Urquhart. How are you, sir?

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: I'm just fine, thank you for the kind comments, Dean. Much appreciated.

DEAN BECKER: Well, sir, and the fact of the matter is, you were one of the trailblazers, one of those who was willing to speak about the drug war, and one of my real dilemmas I've had, I guess since I started these Drug Truth Network programs, is that there's nobody from the DEA or the, you know, believers in the drug war willing to come on this show to defend the policy. Your response to that, sir.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Well, I think that's probably true. You know, I think police work in general is a fairly conservative group of people, especially when it comes to speaking out against the status quo. You know, by the same token, there are lots of police chiefs, lots of sheriffs, who are pretty quick to say that the war on drugs hasn't worked, and, but then by the same token, they don't offer any alternatives to what we've been doing. Basically what they'll say is, yeah, the drug war hasn't worked, doesn't work, is not going to work, but we need to keep doing things the way we have been all along.

And I think that's pretty disingenuous, at the end of the day.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir, now, you're city of Seattle has again been a trailblazer, was quick to legalize medical, and work towards recreational, they call it, marijuana. And I think in so doing, the sky did not fall. The world did not end. And that --

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: You took the words right out of my mouth. As you know, I get questioned about that all the time. How's this whole thing worked out since medical marijuana, or recreational marijuana, was legalized in 2012? And the first things that I will say is that, well, guess what, the sky didn't fall. You know, we don't have more DUI crashes and deaths, we don't have more teenagers using marijuana, in fact we've actually had less.

And to put it into perspective, again, it was on the ballot in 2012. It passed in the state of Washington at about a 55 percent majority, and it passed in King County, my county, at 63 percent.

DEAN BECKER: Wow.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: So, any time you can get something as life changing or as society changing as that to be able to pass at that kind of a percentage, I think it says a lot about the people of King County, and what their expectations are.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Now, that, I think, gave courage and impetus to my fair city of Houston, or Harris County, here, the district attorney earlier this year put forward what she calls the Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program, and in so doing I think she did everything she could under, in regards to state law. You no longer get a, if you've got four ounces or less, they'll write you a ticket. You take a class, you never have a record, it doesn't go to the DA's filing or the police filing. You get a fresh start.

And, well, it was through the efforts of folks in Seattle to prove the sky didn't fall that made this possible here in Texas. And it's happening across the country, very incrementally, way too slowly from my perspective, but your thought in that.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Well, I think, you know, what you're talking about in Harris County is decriminalization. They're taking the criminal penalties out of possession of marijuana, because they can't totally legalize it, most likely, without a vote of the people of Texas, and frankly I don't know if that would pass or not. But I think your district attorney there is certainly forward thinking in whatever she has done, that's a good first step. That's what needs to be done.

We have got to quit locking people up for possession of marijuana. And of course, that's what we've done for 70-some years, and it's time to put a stop to that. So, I'm heartened to hear that that's happening, in a state -- especially a state like Texas, which is, again, a pretty red state at the end of the day.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir, but again, my county, Harris County, Houston, did not elect one Republican this, in the 2016 election, so, there's --

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Well, I'll be darned.

DEAN BECKER: -- there's blue here in the state of Texas as well.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: I thought that was just in Austin, Dean, I'm surprised, but, congratulations.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you, sir. Now, the one thing I was going to bring up, you talked about the slow progress, and, if Texas could vote, if the, I think if people of Texas could vote, I think we would legalize. And I think even if our state legislature was allowed to vote, I've heard rumblings from several politicians that they just quash the effort. It never gets a hearing, there is no vote, but that there -- it would be close, but there's a chance that it could pass, even here in Texas. Your thought there, sir.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Well, I think that's great. Again, I'm operating up here in the corner of the country, I'm operating on a stereotype of Texas, and I apologize for that. That's, I think that's good.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Obviously, from my standpoint. Now I'm -- remember, I'm not a Republican or a Democrat, the office of sheriff in, at least in King County, here, is nonpartisan, so I don't have a political party. I'm not backed necessarily by either party. But, most sheriff's offices across the country are -- is partisan, so.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. Now, there's a new, oh, I don't know, awakening, or push coming forward, for these safe consumption room type situations, like you have in your neighbor to the north there in Vancouver, where they have the Insite facility, which, it enables drug users to come in and safely use their drugs and if they were to overdose, the nursing staff is there on hand to bring them back. They've never had one death occur there. And it's -- it's gaining traction in your city of Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Ithaca, New York, and my fair city of Houston, Texas. What's your thought in regards to these safe injection sites, sir?

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Safe injection sites, safe consumption sites, depending on what you call them. Dean, you've got to remember, I've been a cop for 40 years, and most, or not most, but a certain part of that time, a large part of my service as a police officer has been a narcotics detective. You know, I've arrested people for, in the old days, for possession of marijuana, I've arrested a tremendous number of people for possession or use of hard drugs, including heroin. So this is a huge change for me to wrap my head around.

So my first gut reaction, when I heard about it, and even my gut reaction today, this morning, is that I'm against it. I'm against, I have a huge problem with safe consumption sites. My problem now is not that they're a bad idea, my problem is that it's the only idea. You know, we shouldn't, in this country, especially in this part of the country, where I live, that's such a tech haven, we shouldn't have to have places to go, government run, not funded, but government run, to shoot up heroin. We shouldn't have that.

But I look outside my window, and my office is in downtown Seattle, and in a sketchy part of Seattle at that, where the courthouse is, people are dying in doorways. People are dying from heroin overdoses in alleys, a half a block from my office. We shouldn't have that, either. We should have -- we should have treatment on demand, but we don't. And until we do, how do we keep people from dying? How do we keep people from dying in these alleys? And I think a safe consumption site is the only solution to that problem right now, as much as it goes against my grain, my 40 years as a police officer, I think we have to do that.

But I will also say, Dean, that they are hugely, hugely controversial, even in Seattle, even as progressive as Seattle and King County is, they are hugely controversial, and to this day, we still don't have one that's opened up. And we're not particularly close at this point, even though the city fathers and mothers have said that's what they want to do, as well as the county folks, as well.

DEAN BECKER: I interrupt to remind you, we're speaking with the sheriff of Seattle, King County, Washington, John Urquhart.

We have situations that the drug war has created, this belief system that has carried now for nigh onto a hundred years, and I like to use the term, it's like a quasi-religion, that people just believe it because their daddies did and it's the right thing, and information and facts be damned. And, I'm not challenging what you just said, I'm just trying to say that, it's time to reassess what the heck we're up to. Right?

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Oh, I couldn't agree with you more, and that's what I've said all along. You know, quit telling me that the war on drugs hasn't worked and then don't offer any solutions. That's really what we're talking about, is nobody is offering any solutions.

The only solution I've heard to a safe consumption site is, well, we need to have treatment. We need to get people into treatment. Well, yes, we do, but clearly we don't have the money to do that. Nobody, no politician is stepping up to the plate to offer the money to do that. So how do we keep people from dying? And the way we keep people from dying, one of the ways, is to have a safe consumption site.

And, it's such an emotional subject that people don't think clearly about it, and they won't agree. Now, King County has, gosh, probably 25 different cities within King County. These are incorporated cities, that are -- range in size from very small to fifty or 60,000 people. The city of Seattle is 570,000 people. There's 2.2 million people that live in King County. But I think we're up -- I've lost count, but five or six or seven or eight of these cities have passed an ordinance outlawing safe consumption sites.

These suburban cities will not have them. So, pretty much what that leaves is the city of Seattle, which I think is fine. I mean, that's where the biggest problem is, and where the biggest demand would be for a safe consumption site. But even Seattle has not stepped up to the plate yet and opened one of these safe consumption sites, because they are so controversial.

So we're going to have to see how this all plays out. I don't -- I just don't know, and there was a move to put a state, something on the state ballot to outlaw them, and I don't think that's happened yet, so we'll have to see.

DEAN BECKER: Well, we even have a situation here in Texas where, you know, we don't have a vote or referendum, we don't have the option to, you know, bring forward a bill to legalize marijuana or safe consumption sites, or anything, because the, I think it's like 25 years ago, the legislature passed a bill making such referendums illegal, or impossible.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: No.

DEAN BECKER: Because of the potential, I guess, to legalize marijuana, was the thought back then.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Sure.

DEAN BECKER: Which brings me to another concept. I know you're not a scientist or a doctor, but, you know, you mentioned earlier, there's less teen use, and I think there's fewer car crashes now that marijuana has been legalized, and it is showing at least for some folks the ability to help them get off of or at least diminish their use of the opioids.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Sure.

DEAN BECKER: And I guess what I'm wanting to lead to here, sir, is that, common sense will win out in the long run. I, I didn't --

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: God, I hope so. I hope so. It's the only thing that keeps me going.

DEAN BECKER: I, you know we talk about the overdose deaths, and what is the cure, the solution. The nation of Portugal decriminalized all drugs, marijuana, hard drugs, everything, for I think it's a five day user supply you can have without being arrested. And, I guess the question, sir, is, you know, they have diminished their opioid deaths by fifty percent, the number of users has gone down by that same number, and I guess, it comes back to that quasi-religion, we can't challenge what we've done forever because our daddies did it, even though it would save lives, save money, give us more police time to go after the violent folks. I hope there's a question there, did you follow me, sir?

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Well, I know exactly -- I get that. You talk about the anti-drug religion, and, you know, religion is, there's a lot of emotion in religion. Good, bad, or indifferent, I mean, that's just the way it is, and I think your analogy is spot on, because there, in the whole war on drugs or the talk about drugs, or legalization, just drugs in general, illicit, illegal drugs in general, there's a tremendous amount of emotion involved.

And when you have emotion involved, especially when you talk about drugs, you don't have a lot of clarity, you don't have necessarily a lot of common sense involved, and, I think that's what's going on, and that's why we've had such a pushback, such a gut level, gut reaction to these safe consumption sites in King County, because of the emotion.

So then if you throw in legalizing hard drugs, and there are proponents out there, I'm not one of those at this point, because I don't think society is ready, I don't want to dilute my message, then it just, you know, people aren't -- they're not just not going to agree, there would be too much pushback, and no politician, certainly in this country, I don't think, much less in King County, is going to want to put their career on the line by advocating that.

Portugal's a different -- is a different situation. It's a small country. I don't know what their -- how, what their politics are, or their political system is, necessarily, but it's much easier to do that in Poland -- er, in Portugal or perhaps in Great Britain or wherever, than it is here. And so I don't see that coming down the pike anytime soon. My advice always is, one step at a time. Be patient.

I, you know, Dean, I like to think back to 15 years ago. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think, 15 years ago, that we would even be talking about safe consumption sites. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think, in my lifetime, that marijuana would be legalized. I knew that it would be eventually, but not in my lifetime.

Never in my lifetime did I dream that we'd have gay marriage. Marriage equality. I knew it would happen, I just didn't think it would happen in my lifetime. And I never thought that we'd have a woman president, or close to a woman president, in my lifetime, although I know it would happen eventually. So I think we're making much faster progress, socially, than I ever anticipated. And that's a good thing. So --

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: -- I'm certainly not going to throw it out the window, that it will never happen, but it's going to be a while. But we're -- I think we're making fast progress, faster than I ever -- I don't think it's, I don't really think it's evolutionary progress that we are making. I think in many cases, it's revolutionary progress, and that's a good thing.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. I'm looking here at your biography. You're just almost a year older than me. And I have kind of a similar, or 180 degree thing, that I wanted to get all this stuff done before I die.

Once again, we're speaking with the sheriff of Seattle, King County, Washington, Sheriff John Urquhart.

I've invested, jeez, I don't even know, thirty thousand, forty thousand hours into this, investigating it, interviewing the top dogs that will talk to me. And I feel I've got a pretty good education on this, and it grieves my soul that in essence, and again, we're making progress, but I like to use the phrase incrementalism is a killer, because it --

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: People are dying.

DEAN BECKER: People are dying, yes sir. Let's see. Oh, I wanted to come back to the thought, I'm going to Portugal, and to Switzerland, next March. I hope to interview some experts over there and find out, you know, how it works, or what makes it work over there. I want to ask you about the federal obstinance, the fact that we have those few people, you know, like I mentioned in Texas, just a couple of top dogs prevent any vote from being taken, and the same holds true in the US Congress, and now in the Trump administration as well. Your thought about that federal obstinance.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Well, let me name drop a little bit here. Jeff Sessions was in town, god, it's probably been two months ago now, and he had a meet and greet with several police chiefs and sheriffs from the local area. There was probably 20 of us there that met with him. And as these things tend to go, you know, we get 20 minutes with the attorney general, and it's all smiles and shaking hands, and photo ops, and there's really no tough questions.

But he did entertain questions. And then it was my turn. And, what I told him is that he'd be happy to know that in King County, we are following the Cole Memo to the letter, but marijuana legalization in the state of Washington is working very well, and my wish was that the federal government, and his Department of Justice, would keep their hands off of what we are doing, and just let us continue to do what's been working well for us, because, as we've said, the sky hasn't fallen.

DEAN BECKER: Right.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: I thought the guy was going to come over the table at me. He was furious. I mean, he got red, he pounded on the table. He did not like my comments, he did not like my question. It was really pretty illustrative, I think, of his view on marijuana in general, and marijuana legalization. And of course I loved it, I thought it was absolutely hilarious. And --

DEAN BECKER: I do too.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: And, at the end of the meeting, the -- this was run by our local US Attorney, and I went up to her and said, hey, you know, I'm sorry for upsetting the apple cart here, and she says no, no, no, no, no, he needed to hear that. He needed to hear what we think about out here, and she, you know, she works for him. She's dependent on him for -- and she's only temporary at this point.

But, she was -- she thought it was good. She was glad that I brought that up, and that I told him what we thought in the state of Washington, or at least in the western district of Washington. So, we are not -- my hope is, that the Trump administration and Jeff Sessions in particular is going to be so tied up with this Russia thing, and everything else that's going on, that they will leave us alone in the state of Washington, and hopefully in Texas as well.

But Washington, Colorado, the other states that have legalized marijuana, just, my message to the feds is, keep your hands off.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: You know, the Republicans love to talk about state rights, until they don't like what we're doing, but it was very illustrative, I think, of his view on all of this.

DEAN BECKER: You know, coming back to the, the nexus, the impetus, you know, what you guys have done in Seattle, and other west coast cities, has given license, if you will, to, you know, my DA and others around the country to nuance their drug laws, and, it has also given impetus to a Dallas cop, I just had a recent interview with, who has come out for legalizing marijuana, who's come out for basically ending the drug war. He's still wearing the badge, he's getting a lot of flack from his department, but he is speaking from his conscience, I think. Your response to that, sir.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Well, good for him. If you talk to him again, give him my congratulations. But it doesn't -- I mean, the cop on the street, I mean, that's all well and good, but it needs to come from the leaders in the organization. If it's a sheriff, an elected sheriff, if it's a police chief, an appointed police chief, they're the ones that need to speak out. I mean, they're the ones that need to grow a set and really let the people know what's right and what works and what doesn't work. That's what's critical.

And too many of my peer -- my peer sheriffs and my peer police chiefs are afraid to do that. Police chiefs are dependent upon their job, because they have to reflect the mayor and the city council. Sheriffs are elected, they have a little bit more latitude, but, be critical thinkers. Be critical thinkers. Look and see what works and what doesn't work, and where you think society should go.

You know, we have a saying in the police business, and that's that we're the cops and you're not, don't tell us how to do our job. And that's a terrible, terrible, terrible way to be a police chief, or sheriff. We need to reflect society, and if society thinks this is the right way to go, and we can certainly give them our view, but if society thinks that's the right way to go, which they clearly do in King County, that's what we should be doing, and we need to take that leadership position. This is all about leadership, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: And, that's what I think should happen. For whatever that's worth.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. I know your time is short. I've got just a couple more questions for you here, sir. I think it was 32 years, what is it, 7 months and five days ago, I quit drinking alcohol, my drug of destruction. And, I admit it on air, well, not every week, but quite often, I smoke about half a joint of marijuana every day to just help disturb those -- to help disrupt those compulsions, if you will, to get high. And it seems to be working for me. And I wanted to ask you, sir. You see the statistics, you hear the stories. Which is the bigger problem, which is more deadly, which deserves more police oversight?

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: Well, Dean, you and I have something in common. I quit drinking last night. But, you never know what's going to happen tonight. What I will say, Dean, is in my 40 years, 43 years almost, as a police officer, I don't think I have ever unbuckled some, a dead person's seat belt to pull them out of a car because they were high on marijuana, but I can't count the number of times I've done that for somebody that had been drinking.

I can't count the number of accidents that I've investigated, or been at, where alcohol was involved. I can't count the number of times that I've gone to a domestic violence call, where a woman or a man has gotten beaten up by their drunk spouse or significant other. That doesn't happen with marijuana.

If, you know, I don't want anybody that I know, or that I care about, to be negatively affected by marijuana, or alcohol for that matter. But if it's going to happen, it's going to happen with alcohol long before it will ever happen with marijuana. Alcohol is the killer, marijuana isn't.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you for that, sir. Friends, once again, we've been talking with the sheriff of Seattle, King County, Washington, Mister John Urquhart. John, I want to thank you once again for your openness, your honesty, and your willingness to come on air with me. Any closing thoughts you'd like to relay, sir?

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: You know, let me leave you with one closing thought, Dean. For god knows how long -- 70 years? I don't know -- We've heard from the federal government and others that marijuana was a gateway drug. It was a gateway to heroin. Right?

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: That's what we've heard.

DEAN BECKER: Oh yeah.

SHERIFF JOHN URQUHART: We still hear that today, in some areas. But it turns out that marijuana wasn't the gateway. Big pharma has been the gateway drug to heroin abuse. Big pharma. The drug companies. And we need to realize that, and they need to be held accountable for what they have done to this country.

HEATHER FAZIO: Well, I'm Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which is the nation's largest, most successful nonprofit focused exclusively on marijuana policy. I've been working on our efforts here in Texas since 2014, and I'm especially proud of the work that we've done to build our coalition, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, which encompasses organizations that have been involved in this for a long time, like NORML, and groups like the ACLU, but then also bringing into the fold some newer and more conservative organizations, like the Republican Liberty Caucus, and Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.

We're also working with the Tenth Amendment Center, which is a state's rights organization. Working to bring people together on an issue upon which they agree, and in a time where we are so very divided when it comes to politics. This is really refreshing, to have an issue that, its time has come, and people are willing to work together to advance the cause of liberty at the Texas House and Texas Senate.

DEAN BECKER: You know, Heather, it's not just Texas. Around the country, Ohio, Oklahoma, other states are moving in this same direction, or trying to open the dialogue, or trying to make that change possible, and you're going to have some hands on workshops for those who are interested in doing their part, are you not?

HEATHER FAZIO: Well, one of the biggest objectives that I have with my work is empowering and mobilizing the folks who agree with us that prohibition has failed by every measure, and we have an opportunity to advance more sensible policies. And so part of this project, which is a series of advocacy training events, advocacy workshops, the objective is to find individuals who have personal or professional experience, and help them to share that information with lawmakers.

The number one best opportunity we have is building personal relationships with lawmakers, helping them to really humanize this issue. This isn't just about people wanting to get high. This is about freedom. This is about accountability when it comes to government. This is about humane policies when it comes to access to medicine for those who are sick and dying. And it's about accountable government. It's about good policy.

And that's what we're going to be doing at our workshops, helping people to understand what the political process looks like; what our role as active citizens can be during that process and how to effectively communicate the message; what are the best arguments when it comes to talking to lawmakers about marijuana law reform; and how do we get comfortable enough to feel confident in making that phone call to your senator's office, or scheduling a visit with your representative, to talk about your personal or professional experience.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and this is a big state, and it's a big project. I'm going to read down the list here, you're going to be in Midland January 16, and then from there to Amarillo, Arlington, Nacogdoches, Beaumont, Houston, Corpus, Brownsville, and San Antonio. If folks want to get involved, they can see the whole outline of these get togethers on your website. Please, share that with them.

HEATHER FAZIO: www.TexasMarijuanaPolicy.org is our coalition website, up on the top menu bar you'll see advocacy workshops, and you'll be able to see all the dates and times where we'll be traveling the state in January, to bring the good word to folks around the state, because, you know, we know that the vast majority of Texans support reform. Now it's a matter of mobilization and being effective advocates with lawmakers. So looking forward to meeting lots of great new people, and keeping the momentum up so that we are successful during the next legislative session.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. If you're working in another state and you'd like to bring focus to bear on your efforts, please get in touch with me: dean@drugtruth.net.

And again Iremind you, because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.

Dean Becker Wants YOU to Call the Drug Czar