02/16/18 Rick Steves

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Benefits of Drug War? Travel Guru Rick Steves, Eric Sterling of Criminal Justice Policy Foundation & LEAP, Eugene Oscapella Canadian Barrister & Superior Court Judge James P Gray find no benefit whatsoever.

Share on Facebook Share on stumbleupon digg it Share on reddit Share on del.icio.us



FEBRUARY 16, 2018


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 folks, this is Dean Becker. Thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. I'm really proud of this program. We've got some outstanding spokesmen for the end of drug prohibition. Let us begin.

Well, folks, we're going to speak to a gentleman who's on capitol hill there in DC, he's around a bunch of folks, some speaking some bad things, but I'm proud to be once again speaking with the travel writer and television host, Mister Rick Steves. Seems he's there to brief Congress on marijuana policy. How're you doing, Rick?

RICK STEVES: I'm doing great, Dean, thank you.

DEAN BECKER: Rick, I am agitated. This Jeff Sessions is a lying gentleman, I'll just stop there. He is repeating hundred year old hysteria as if it had merit and worth. Am I correct, sir?

RICK STEVES: Well, I've been talking in states around the country lately about the wisdom of stopping the prohibition on marijuana, and the established, the political establishment is still talking like it's 2010, before we knew what would happen, and it was understandable back then that they would be nervous and not knowing, maybe the sky will fall and the whole world would change if we legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana.

But now we've done it. We've done it in Colorado, we've done it in my state, Washington, and the track record is there. The numbers are in. And, very clearly, use does not go up, even among adults. Teen use certainly does not go up. DUIs don't go up, road safety is not changed, you know, crime doesn't go up. The thing that goes up is civil liberties and tax revenue, because we're taking a thriving black market and making it a highly regulated and highly taxed legal market.

And, you know, our opposition cherrypicks all sorts of statistics to try to discredit the idea that we should take the crime out of the marijuana equation, but really, the test is for the governors and the Congresspeople representing the states like Washington and Colorado, and nearly all of them now, after five or six years of experience, are in favor of our law. Even people who were not in favor of it before, they realized it's just flat-out smart.

Use does not go up, crime does not go up, and in my state, Washington, our governor is arresting 8,000 fewer people a year, and he's enjoying three hundred million dollars of tax revenue he wouldn't have had otherwise. And it's not because more people are smoking pot, because more people are not smoking pot. It's just taking the thriving black market that once rivaled apples in our state and turned it into that highly regulated and taxed legal market.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and that's the whole point, isn't it, Rick, that if you actually control these supposedly controlled substances, you get a better result. Right?

RICK STEVES: Well, it's just kind of common sense, really. And a lot of people will think of excuses to be regressive on this issue, but their assumption is that use will go up, or that nobody is smoking pot and if you legalize it everybody's going to be smoking it.

The fact is, there's not a huge reservoir of decent people that would love to ruin their lives smoking pot if only it was legal. Anybody who wants to smoke pot does, and in criminal states, they do it as a criminal activity, and in legal states they do it as a legal activity. And in my state, people who enjoy using recreational marijuana occasionally, they don't have to buy it from a criminal on the street who's got a vested interest in selling something more profitable and more addictive.

They buy it from a little retail store. You step into the store, it's kind of like going into an Apple store, it's just very sleek and professional, and highly regulated, and in our state, the retail outlets are very, very shipshape, because they want to be compliant with the laws one hundred percent so they can do their banking.

See, they have a huge interest in taking care of their brand, in dealing with -- understanding what they're selling and making sure that it's pure and safe, and also in obeying the very strict laws put out by our legislature, because they need to be a hundred percent compliant in order to be able to use the local banks.

And consequently in our state it's a very, very clean industry, and of course we're learning every year and making it better and better. But more and more states are learning from our experience now, and are recognizing that the federal prohibition against marijuana in the United States of America is counterproductive, racist, wrong minded, and sort of something that needs to be taken down.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, I agree with you, sir. Friends, once again, we're speaking with travel writer, television host Rick Steves. Rick, as I understand it, later today, you're going to be at the Rayburn Building there in DC giving a talk in this regard, hoping to influence a few Congressmen to change their perspective. Tell us how that's going to go forward.

RICK STEVES: Yeah. Well, I did the same thing just an hour ago here, with the Senators and their staff, and later this afternoon we're going to meet with House of Representatives and their staff, and, you know, there' s a lot of Congresspeople that are curious about this.

This is a rising tide of sensibility in our country, and people on both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats, are realizing that, you know, this is not pro-marijuana. This is respect for law enforcement, this is fiscal responsibility, this is civil liberties, this is states' rights, this is tackling a very racist problem by take -- you know, people, whether they're rightwingers or leftwingers, they know that rich white guys don't get arrested, poor people and black people get arrested.

There are 70,000 Americans in jail today for nonviolent marijuana offenses. That's just a travesty, and I can promise you not very many of them are wealthy white guys like me. These are poor people and black people, and they're in jail. Even nowadays in our country, you know, we're arresting six or seven hundred thousand people a year. It's just a horrible and expensive thing.

And once again, you know, the governors of Colorado and Washington, where we have legalized, taxed, and regulated now for four or five years, they were not in favor of this when they recognized the will of their people. They supported the will of their people, and now, five years later, the governor of Washington and the governor of Colorado are supporting the law that their people brought in because it is flat-out smart.

The truth is on our side. There's a rising tide of sensibility in this country, and more and more representatives are learning that the will of the people is pretty wise in this case.

DEAN BECKER: Tens of millions of witches arrested,
Thousands have died from our black market drugs.
Orphans of prisoners will be our next harvest,
In the name of god we will ever march on.

From 1979 to 1989, Eric E. Sterling served as assistant counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives. He helped write several federal laws concerning firearms, pornography, money laundering, organized crime, and most notably drugs.

He played a central role in Congress's enactment of the infamous mandatory minimum drug sentences back in 1986. He was the principal aide in developing the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, and the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of '86 and '88. And with that, I want to welcome my friend Eric Sterling. How are you, sir.

ERIC STERLING: Hello, Dean. It's good to join you and your listeners again today.

DEAN BECKER: Eric, I'm agitated today. I'm just wanting to get people with knowledge, people with credentials, to respond to the like of US Attorney Jeff Sessions and his, I don't know, declaring pot smokers to be bad people and that it has no benefit, and then we have this new, you know, Trump administration drug policy coming forward at this time, and I just wanted to get your response to both of those situations, and I'll just turn it over to you for a minute, sir.

ERIC STERLING: Okeh. I mean, I wouldn't despair as much as you are. The -- we haven't seen a rallying to Jeff Sessions greenlight to US Attorneys to begin curbing the medical cannabis or the recreational cannabis programs in the various states. There have been few announcements that have suggested that US Attorneys are now feeling emboldened. It's not to say that there haven't been a few, but my perception is that within the Justice Department, the reaction was, like, really? This is where you're taking us? This is not the leadership we're looking for.

We're in a very, very different place than we were just ten years ago, and certainly in the days when Jeff Sessions was a federal prosecutor in the 1980s. It's certainly the case that Sessions is out of touch and out of date.

But, he is a weak attorney general. He's not strongly supported by the president. And I don't think he's getting strong support from the Congress. The many separate pieces of legislation addressing marijuana law reform in -- in so many ways, are a much better sign off where the country and the federal government are headed.

I think what we're facing is a hiccup, and it would be very, very difficult for US Attorneys to begin bringing cases and try to take them to juries and find juries that are -- would go along with, particularly in the case of marijuana, with the kind of hysteria that took place fifteen and twenty years ago and more.

The other thing is that the budget itself is being roundly criticized. The, you know, the drug policy that is coming forward is schizophrenic. The recommendations for example of Governor Christie's committee to look at the problem of opioids generally came up with some good ideas. They may have been ignored by Trump, but that is more a reflection on Trump as opposed to where the center of policy making is taking place.

One has to recognize that there are always swings in the way in which the government operates, but I think right now the force of history is with us. I think that when I see the language that's being used about how to respond to the enormous increase in deaths in connection with opioids, we're seeing responses of harm reduction, and the handfuls of responses that are proposing to go back to the failed crackdown strategies are not being strongly supported.

So I remain optimistic, even in the face of speeches and efforts, you know, that are, as we would say, backward looking.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I would agree with the backward looking, that's for sure. You know, it occurs to me, Eric, that, you know, even in my state of Texas, we just got the first, the legal CBD sale just last week. It took years to actually have that accomplished. Not to say that it's, you know, rounded the corner just yet, but it's an indication that if, even in Texas, the legislators and the governor can agree to change their attitude towards cannabis, even a little bit, perhaps there's more sunshine in our future. Your thought there.

ERIC STERLING: Well, you know, in the 2016 election, when Trump was being elected, you know, the voters in Arkansas were also voting for medical cannabis. It's important to be realistic, and one can be either too optimistic or too pessimistic. I think that there are grounds for optimism.

When I -- you know, when I watch what legislators are doing, you know, when the city of Philadelphia and the district attorney say we want to have supervised consumption spaces, when the district attorney joins on, this is a sign that, you know, that the folks who have been our most ardent opponents to reform are getting the message that the strategies that rely upon stigma and enforcement are not strategies that make sense in the public health realm.

Those are the kinds of things that groups like the Drug Policy Alliance have been talking about for 30 years and the message is getting through.

DEAN BECKER: Right. No, you're absolutely right. Thanks for calming me down, Eric, you know, I want to say this. Eric Sterling, he's a man that I greatly admire, another man I've tried to follow in his footsteps whenever possible.

ERIC STERLING: Well, thank you.

DEAN BECKER: Back in 1989, Eric founded the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation to speak out against the negative consequences of some of the laws that he helped write. And, Eric, I just want to say this, that I thank you for your commitment, for being, for standing tall, for giving me the perspective, the courage to do what I do, because, you know, back when I started this, it was a scary situation, being right here in what I open the show with, the gulag filling station of planet earth.

Houston has changed. My DA has changed. Our local officials, the sheriff, the police chief, the commissioners, the mayor, they have all changed, in small part to what I have done, but in general to what all of us have done over these last fifteen, sixteen years, to just stand tall and dare anybody to try to prove us wrong, because there is no real benefit to this prohibition, is there, sir?

ERIC STERLING: No. No, the -- prohibition as a philosophy is, of how to organize a society's response to drugs, is flawed because it misunderstands what the central objective is.

The central objective of the drug policy should be to minimize the suffering of drug users, to minimize the suffering of their families, and when you -- when you approach it from the perspective, you know, that the drug user is everywhere in society, the drug user is somebody's sister and somebody's mother and somebody's kid, that -- we're increasingly sort of recognizing we don't want these folks to suffer. We don't want their families to suffer.

And once you say that's my objective, well, arresting people creates enormous suffering. You know, nobody says let's arrest the diabetic who's not taking his or her medicine, let's arrest the cardiac patient who's not complying with diet or exercise. Nobody thinks that the criminal justice system has a role in behavior that may be harmful and self-destructive and expensive to society. Nobody does.

And we're -- we are moving ahead in moving away from, you know, attitudes about drug users that have their origin in racism, in the racial identification of drug users, in their foreignness, in their Asian-ness, in their deviance. Prohibition is really a vestige of a very backward way of thinking about the society.

It's deeply ingrained because people have not had the opportunity to learn other ways of thinking about drugs until the last few years. And this is increasingly becoming widespread.

The role of groups like LEAP, speaking to Rotary Clubs, the role of DPA, the role of NORML and MPP, the role of folks involved in medical cannabis like ASA, the role of the criminal justice reformers like Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the sense of, that minor drug offenders should not be punished harshly. There is a dramatically increasing recognition that out of control drug use is magnified by prohibition, and that the philosophy of harm reduction is the best way for minimizing suffering and improving public safety and public health.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. Well friends, we've been speaking with Mister Eric Sterling, he's called upon to advise local and state governments on drug policy to this day. He was the assistant counsel to the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, very instrumental in helping to craft or at least to present these new drug laws back in the '80s. And he heads up the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. I urge you to check out that website, that's CJPF.org.

Also, keep in mind, Mister Eric Sterling and I are both speakers for the group Law Enforcement Action Partnership, out there on the web at LEAP.cc.

Monsters and demons
Using powders and potions
Must be stopped
No matter the cost.

Kneel down and pray
For the new inquisition
Pray for success
Of the new dark age.

All this
In the name of god.

The following story out of Ohio courtesy WXIX.

TRICIA MACKE: That's Councilman Dan Picard, and he is so frustrated at the gushing cost off Narcan rescues that he has suggested that the EMTs maybe stop responding to the overdose calls, especially the repeat offenders. He's recommending that rescued addicts make a mandatory court appearance and do community service to pay back what they cost the town, and if they don't show up, there would be no repeat rescue. He does admit that jail is not the answer.

DAN PICARD: That doesn't resolve the drug issue. What it does though, I hope, is that it scares these people from coming to Middletown and doing drugs. Because I want the word to get out, don't come to Middletown and do drugs. If you're going to come to Middletown and buy your drugs, you'd better get out of town, because if you have an overdose, we might not come.

TRICIA MACKE: Sheriff Richard Jones is the Butler County sheriff and he joins me from Hamilton, Ohio. Sheriff, thank you so much for being on tonight. There are polarized opinions about what this councilman has to say. On the one hand, how could we treat addicts who are sick like this? And on the other hand, how on earth are we supposed to b bankrupt ourselves looking after these addicts? How do you weigh in?

RICHARD JONES: Hey, I weigh in with the councilman. When I go out and I talk to people, people are fed up. Law enforcement, they're stretched. The whole country is stretched. We, the police officers, I won't allow my officers to use Narcan. Most police departments in this area do not, and throughout the United States.

It's unsafe, to be down on your knees, issuing the Narcan, [uintelligible], these people don't want you to be there, they don't want you to take their drugs, and some departments that do use it, a few around this area, maybe other counties over, in Ohio, they won't use it unless there's more than one officer there. It's unsafe, and it, and we're having people die and the jails are full, the police are busy.

The dispatching takes away from people having heart attacks, car crashes, and these, I've had three babies born in my jail to heroin users, and the last one was born in a toilet, and any politician that tells you we're winning this, they're lying to you. We are losing. There's no cure. A substitute drug, maybe, that's what they recommend, they spend 80 percent of the money on treatment and they spend 20 percent on education, trying to get people not to do it.

The councilman is rightfully so frustrated, and people in the public, when I go out, people that would shock you, they have the same belief, they don't believe that these people should be administered this Narcan. Some of them are two, three, four, five times, and it's through the entire country.

It's, and we're losing. And so the councilman's frustration, I agree with him, don't know that, at least brings it to discussion. There's been so many drug groups and meetings of the Governor Kasich, the attorney general's, we don't even go to them anymore. All it is is a soundbyte. Nobody knows, nothing gets done.

TRICIA MACKE: Sheriff Jones, let me ask you this. Let me ask you this. I hear it, in your voice, and I'm hearing it, I'm hearing it in a lot of voices, there is anger and frustration and it doesn't sound right to say let them die. It just doesn't sound humane, it doesn't sound American. But at the same time I can see these people in these small towns saying Don't cut my kid's kindergarten so we can save all these people with Narcan, sometimes five, six, seven different times for the same person.

But in Ohio, you've got that duty to act. That's the law. You can't pick and choose between the patients. How do you get around that?

RICHARD JONES: No, you can't. It is the law. The, we don't make the law, we enforce the law, and the paramedics and the medical people are going to continue to use this, but it, it's totally out of control, they're sticking these needles in their arm, and they're just, our jails are full, we have more women in our jail now because they're on this stuff.

They have -- they have heroin parties now that, they have designated Narcan people at the heroin parties to revive the people that, with the Narcan, that are at these parties so they don't die.

RICHARD "CHEECH" MARIN: This is America. You get to criticize the government in this country.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects!

ALEX TREBEK: A 2009 study recommended treating heroin addicts with diacetylmorphine, the active ingredient in this?

DEAN BECKER: Time’s up! The answer, from a recent edition of Jeopardy:


KAREN: What is heroin?


DEAN BECKER: Well, today we're going to hear the thoughts of some experts in the US and I thought it only fair that we reach northward a bit to hear the thoughts of a barrister, a Canadian attorney, I guess you call it, a man who has spent about thirty-something years trying to delve into and clarify this situation about the drug war, and he's now working to -- he's now presenting seminars explaining the issues relating to Canada's move to legalize and regulate cannabis, and I'm proud to welcome back an old friend of the Drug Truth Network, Eugene Oscapella. Hey, Eugene.

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Hello, Dean, it's a delight to speak to you again.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, it's so nice to hear your voice, you know. I, the heck of it is, you know, the US has its own interpretation of what drug laws and drugs are, and the same applies up in Canada. You guys are going to legalize, but, you're not fully legalizing, are you?

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Well, what we've done is we've carved out a sort of a regulatory regime out of the broad prohibitionist framework of the drug laws, so it's sort of like we had a moment of clear thought amidst a sea of reefer madness, but what's going to happen, theoretically on July First, it may take a bit longer than that because we have -- we actually have fourteen jurisdictions involved in doing this at once, it's not like -- it's not liek a single state initiative, there are multiple provinces and territories, and the federal government involved.

So it may take a bit longer than that, but it will be legal for adults 18 and in some cases 19, depending on the province, to possess small quantities of cannabis, to produce small quantities of cannabis, to share small quantities of cannabis, with no criminal penalty, with no penalty of any sort.

And we're setting up a model for distributing cannabis. In some cases it will be done through state run boards, in other cases you'll be able to get it over the internet, and in some other provinces you'll be buying it from a private company, in the same way that the system for sale of liquor in Canada operates on these bases as well.

DEAN BECKER: And, you know, and, I, oh, progress is good, I'm all for it, but there still remains this lingering reefer madness, because, why are people limited to the amount they can have or possess? You can have a trunk full of Jim Beam, but, you know, you're limited to the amount of cannabis, and, you and I know the answer to that, there is no rational purpose for this design. But, it -- it is --


DEAN BECKER: -- it's a lingering reefer madness, is it not, Eugene?

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Well, it is, but in a sense, I know we're going to have move slowly on this because, as you know, I mean, we've both had, you know, decades upon decades upon decades of propaganda and misleading information about drugs such as cannabis, and it takes, you know, they're starting off a bit cautiously here, I think because the public needs to see, or the public that, the part of the public that is worried about cannabis legalization needs to see that the sky will not fall when it's legalized.

And then, I think, things will ease off at that point. And we saw the same thing with alcohol in Canada, that, you know, the rules around purchase and consumption of alcohol and where you can consume it have eased up over time. We started fairly strict, and then it gradually became, you know, less -- more flexible, except of course in the area of drinking and driving, or using drugs and driving.

Essentially, what will probably happen with cannabis is the strictures will be relaxed, and at some point people are going to realize that cannabis is a far, far less problematic drug than alcohol.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And I think that's -- the point is being proven in Washington, in California now, and, what is it, seven other states and Washington, DC, where marijuana has been legal, and it hasn't created a new paradigm and a new batch of problems. In fact, it's disproven some of the -- it's disproving much of the reefer madness thoughts over time. Your thought there.

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Well, and, you know, let's remember that this, as we both know, people use drugs for a reason, so, if -- if you didn't use cannabis before this, probably no particular reason where you're going -- why you're going to start now. I mean, you know, some people will, you know, might choose to experiment with it because it's legal, but, I mean, most people who were going to use it are already using it.

And, you know, I don't think we're going to see a great uptick in rates of use of cannabis. And even if there were an increase, it would be safer to use because you'll have a product of known quality, known potency, it will be labeled and packaged appropriately, it will, you know, it's going to be a much safer product to use, and hopefully there will be some honest education that goes with this, because that, as you know, has been one of the big pieces that's been missing, is honest education about cannabis, and other drugs for that matter.

DEAN BECKER: All right, friends, once again we're speaking with Mister Eugene Oscapella, a barrister up there in Ottawa, Canada, an expert in cannabis policy, and drug policy, over the years. And, maybe this is not your focus, your forte these days, but, you guys are having a massive opioid crisis as well.

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Oh, absolutely, yeah.

DEAN BECKER: And, I guess I'd like to -- what I talk about most often is, we're empowering terrorists, we're enriching barbarous cartels, we're giving reason for these gangs to exist, and we're creating a situation where these drugs are made by untrained chemists and cut with all kinds of adulterants, and nobody knows what in the hell they're buying. We couldn't have a worse situation if we tried. Am I right, Eugene?

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: You're quite right. On top of that, we have to also look at the role of pharmaceutical companies, of course, in creating the demand for a lot of these opioids in the first place, and then, when people run out of their prescriptions or can't afford them anymore, they end up turning to the black market. So it's a whole series -- a whole series of factors that, that come together to create an extremely problematic situation, because we're losing -- we're losing far more people to opiate overdose in Canada, many times more than we are to things like homicide, for example.

So, you know, we're going to lose several thousand people to, you know, drug overdoses from things like fentanyl and, you know, some of the Oxycontin drugs, whereas we, you know, we have less than 600 murders a year in Canada, so, I mean, in terms of lives lost, it's a huge, huge issue.

But what it's doing in Canada, it's actually creating a new sort of dynamic for the discussion, because it's effecting middle class people much more than, than the other drug problems did, and you're finding, you know, suburban couples, you know, supposedly, you know, in quotes "respectable suburban couples" who are taking pills that they think are one thing and they turn out to be laced with fentanyl and they're dying and they're leaving three kids orphaned.

And that is changing the discussion about how to deal with this. I think people have realized that criminal law isn't really solving the problem, and as you say, it's financing criminal organizations and terrorist groups around the world, the whole trade in illicit drugs.

So, we're starting to have more of a discussion about, well, how do we prevent this from happening? How do we avoid these things happening? And a lot of people have concluded that criminal law isn't the right way.

DEAN BECKER: No, I agree with you, sir. You know, and your mention of the middle class family taking pills that turn out to be other than what they thought they were purchasing. I close my show with the thought that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag, and I tell folks to be careful. And this is true no matter how poor or rich you are.

Two cases come to mind. Prince thought he was buying legal Oxycontin, they were counterfeit. Same holds true for Tom Petty. We lost two great guitarists, due to this prohibition. It -- it has no legs to stand on, this prohibition is -- it deserves an open public debate, does it not? As to its capabilities.

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: And we may be getting that. We may be getting that, I'm hoping that the same thing is happening in the United States that is starting to happen in Canada, which is a more honest discussion about drugs, because, as, you know, we're seeing in these overdose deaths and things like that, we really need to have that, that talk, because we can't let people keep dying.

And, as you know, Dean, I teach a course in drug policy at the University of Ottawa, and I talk to my students about that pill. You don't know what's in that pill. You can get it from your best friend, you can, it might be your lifelong best friend or whatever, but they don't know what's in that pill either.

And, it's one of the problems is, we've created this very dangerous black market in products of unknown quality and unknown potency, and, you know, it's killing us.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Now, another item that's starting to gain traction here in the US is safe injection facilities. As I understand it, San Francisco hopefully in July will open up the first American, US facility. Philadelphia's talking about it, Seattle's talking about, even my city of Houston is talking about it. How's that working out for you guys?

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Well, we had, under the -- we started, we had our first legal safe injection site in Canada in 2003. The Conservative government that came into power in 2006 was very much against these things and fought tooth and nail against them. And threw every roadblock possible in their way, despite a Supreme Court of Canada judgment unanimously saying, you know, you have an obligation to keep them open.

But, the government that was elected in 2015, the Liberal government under Justin Trudeau, has said that, look, we recognize that these are legitimate vehicles for harm reduction, and particularly now with these overdose, you know, the very significantly increased risks of overdoses, these are life saving measures.

So we're seeing supervised injection sites open up in major cities across Canada. And, one of them in Vancouver is actually also supplying, essentially supplying heroin to users in that environment. Most of our supervised injection sites don't provide the drug itself, they actually, you have to bring your own drugs, so we still have that problem of people coming in with a product of unknown quality.

But, the one in Vancouver is supplying the drug, so people are getting a safer drug, which, you know, and critics will say, well, look here, you're condoning it, you're condoning drug use, you're wasting public resources on it, but, by saving lives and by saving the medical -- we're saving huge medical costs and lives by providing this, by providing the drugs for people who are going to use it.

And of course the ultimate goal is to get them to stop using, or to stop using in a harmful way, but in the short term, if they are using, we want to keep them alive and as healthy as possible.

DEAN BECKER: Right, and it also brings up another thought, that, you know, these prohibited drugs are extremely expensive, in most instances. They demand that a person come up with, you know, maybe hundreds of dollars every day to pay for that, and what they're doing at that site you're talking about there in, I guess it's Vancouver.


DEAN BECKER: Where they're giving the heroin away, or giving a dose to keep that person alive and functional, and as I understand it, once people have that fix, they're back to normal. They can go look for a job, they can speak coherently, they can have a better day, so to speak. And, at its heart, that heroin, on the black market, may cost hundreds of dollars for a little bag, whereas if it's bought legally, made by a pharmaceutical house, it actually costs more like pennies per dose, because it's just not that expensive, it is the prohibition that gives it such --

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Exactly. It's not -- it's not inherently expensive to produce, it's just expensive to buy, if it's only available under the prohibitionist model. And so, so, you know, people are thinking, well, you're spending hundreds of dollars a day to give heroin to addicts, well no, you're not, you're actually spending much, much, much less than that, and you're saving huge healthcare costs as a result as well, and a lot of human pain, and we're talking about, you know, saving lives.

And I've spoken at conferences with people who are long time, heavily dependent heroin users, and if they get a clean, safe supply of the drug, if they don't have an underlying mental health issue or something like that, they can function quite normally in society. They can go back to their families, they can re-establish family and community relations. Many of them can hold jobs.

It's the criminalization of these drugs that in many cases drives people to the, you know, margins of our society, whereas if these drugs were not criminalized, as was the case, you know, just over a hundred years ago in Canada, and in the United States, you could get these drugs legally, and you might have a dependency on them, but you could function normally in society.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And it was at, I don't know, the start of the twentieth century, the end of the nineteenth, Bayer invented heroin, sold it on the grocer's shelf next to Bayer aspirin at the very same price. We, we have created, we've magnified this problem beyond recognition, right?

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Exactly. Well, as so many of our colleagues have said, you know, we took a public health issue and turned it into a criminal justice issue with disastrous consequences.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed we have. Well, friends, I'm going to have to stay in touch with Eugene, I haven't talked to him quite a while, and he's just been an ally and a friend to the Drug Truth Network, a man who understands, who has delved deeply into this, and has great acumen about what we do, how we move forward. Eugene, is there a website you might want to share with the listeners?

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Well, there's, oh, there's so many websites. I always, I mean, I look at the Drug Policy Alliance website, which has terrific material, and a lot of information about solid activism. You know, the Canadian situation is our own, there's the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, which is our, you know, current version of, a Canadian version of the Drug Policy Alliance. If people are interested in finding out what's happening in Canada, there's some very good information there.

But Dean, I really congratulate you on keeping this argument, this debate, going for all these years, and likewise, it's been too long since we've seen each other. So I'm looking forward to our next opportunity to get together.

DEAN BECKER: Well, real good, sir, and just hang on a minute, I'm probably done with it, editing, prior to this moment. I'm kind of stumbling today, I'm going to have to edit on me a lot. I'm --


DEAN BECKER: I'm just -- again, I am just so aggravated, that the truth is writ so large, and all of these people that benefit from cannabis, or through other harm reduction measures, it's all anecdotal, it can't be counted, it doesn't matter in the overall scheme of things, compared to the quote "need" for this prohibition. It just drives me mad.

EUGENE OSCAPELLA: Yeah. Oh, no, it, you know, this is, it's been a -- I've been working in this for thirty years, as I'm sure you have, it's one of the great frustrations that logic and rationality have very little to do with this, and, you know, we see it in politics all the time, that political decisions take precedence over clear, rational, and, you know, socially useful actions.

DEAN BECKER: The following report was produced on the road by the challenger to Ted Cruz's Senate seat, US Congressman Beto O'Rourke.

REPRESENTATIVE BETO O'ROURKE: After more than 45 years of the failed war on drugs, where we've achieved almost none of our goals, where the profits are still going to the criminals, the cartels, and the kingpins, where marijuana today is just as available in high schools and increasingly in middle schools as it was 45 years ago, when this first started, finally, the people of this country, many states across the union, are taking the right steps for more rational, humane, compassionate policy when it comes to drugs, especially marijuana.

So you have to wonder why at this point the Trump administration and attorney general Jeff Sessions would begin to reverse course and prevent states from enacting their own marijuana laws at the behest of their own citizens. We've absolutely got to end the federal prohibition on marijuana, to allow any state, including Texas, to make its own decisions.

It's part of the urgency behind this Senate race, and we can take the lead on this issue in the United States, and it's part of what I'm asking you to do right now by getting in touch with your member of Congress, your US Senator, to let them know that you want them to end this war on drugs once and for all.

Thank you for your support.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I hear Jeff Sessions, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, he comes out talking about how marijuana's hell more deadly than plutonium almost, he thinks it's not good medicine, that people who take it are bad people, and on down the line, we've got this horrible opioid epidemic killing tens of thousands of people, and president Trump doesn't seem to get it, that going after people with a paddy wagon is not the answer.

Here to talk about this situation is a gentleman who I greatly admire, a man who gave me the courage and the fortitude to get on the airwaves for the last 16 plus years, a man who's written several books, but the one that truly caught my attention is Why The Drug Laws Have Failed And What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment Of The War On Drugs, my friend, Superior Court Judge James P. Gray. How are you, sir.

JUDGE JAMES GRAY: Dean, I'm just great, thank you. Life is good, and we are truly blessed.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I think we're blessed with the truth, sir, and that seems to be the problem, the aberration, that too many people are embracing propaganda, hundred year old hysteria, clinging to the fear of drugs well beyond that which should be necessary. Am I right, sir?

JUDGE JAMES GRAY: Well, Dean, you said it, and it's a four letter F word, fear, and people trade on it. We go to war because people are put into fear, hobgoblins, druggies, all that sort of stuff. It is the function of government, number one, to protect us from encroachment of government, that's what the founders believed sincerely, and secondly, to cause honest, truthful information to be put into the marketplace.

And we have affirmatively squelched any research with regard to marijuana, certainly the benefits of marijuana, since the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act back in the early 1930s. And only now are we starting to research it.

The federal government does not want that to happen, because honestly, and this is just me, they know that about 85 percent of everybody in our country that uses any form of presently illicit drug combined uses only marijuana, and if they were to somehow regulate and control marijuana for adults, and lose that out of their whole drug war propaganda, everybody else in the country using every other illicit drug combined would not justify this colossal bureaucracy we have to fight the war on drugs.

So they don't want anybody to even hint of anything that might be remotely good about cannabis. I mean, hemp, for heaven's sake, you know, you can get as much hemp as you can by smoking a napkin, depending on what napkin you have, but, you know, there's no, there's no mind altering properties in it, but it's a viable industrial product. Why does the federal government care? Same reason I just gave.

Medical marijuana, we have truly sick people that are coming down the narcotics ladder, they're getting away from opioids and stuff, and using marijuana instead, reducing their seizures and all that sort of stuff. It's the -- it's the stepping stone theory in reverse. But the federal government does not want us to know the truth, and it's hypocrisy.

One more thing, as I'm getting as angry as you are. If you want some hypocrisy, the schedule one drug right now is marijuana. Literally means has no medicinal value whatsoever, which is simply untrue. But, the artificial marijuana, Marinol, is a schedule two drug. It can be prescribed by medical doctors, it does then ostensibly have medical uses.

Now wait a minute, you can't have it both ways. The natural substance has no value, but the artificial does? How was this ever allowed to be happening, and that is, pharmaceutical companies cannot make money off a plant. So, they have however flexed their political muscles because they can make money off the artificial stuff.

So they have, in effect, lobbied and used their political muscle, to have Marinol be able to be prescribed. It's hypocrisy beyond belief, and people like you, Dean, are the ones who are in the front lines finding, or fighting it, and thank you.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and, following in your footsteps, sir. But, you know, the heck of it is, is we still have right now, in office, the US attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, is spouting on a daily basis that marijuana has no benefit, that good people don't use it, and that we should, you know, go after these people pell mell like we have for the last fifty or a hundred years. Your thought there, sir.

JUDGE JAMES GRAY: You know, I was on the O'Reilly Factor a couple of times, and one time, just recently, had been appointed and affirmed the head of the DEA, Asa Hutchinson, so, I told him, because I knew we had very little time, Mister Hutchinson, first of all I'm sorry that you've been appointed because you're reaffirming everything that doesn't work, but secondly, don't you feel it's more appropriate for the Surgeon General to make a decision as to which drug should be on the controlled substances list and where than a police officer?

I mean, it's a medical decision, shouldn't the Surgeon General make the decision? He agreed, and I'll say the same thing with regard to Mister Sessions. You know, I don't know how he has arrived at these erroneous opinions, but he's a police officer. We should make medical decisions be made by medical professionals, not the police officers. Let's just start with that. Otherwise, again, he's just doubling down on pretty much everything that's gone wrong in the last number of decades.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and you talk about doubling down, that seems to be what the Trump budget is wanting to do. They want a huge increase in drug enforcement and interdiction funding, and a smaller increase I guess for treatment and prevention, but it's, it's once again throwing our money in the wrong direction. Am I right?

JUDGE JAMES GRAY: Well, indeed you are. We just take heart. I read in the newspaper today that UCLA, which is my alma mater by the way, is starting to research the benefits of cannabis. And other institutions are as well. The truth will prevail. That light at the end of the tunnel is now in view. More states than not, something like 29, 30 states have legalized or regulated and control marijuana either medically or recreationally. The people are understanding. They're getting it. They're not putting up with this fear any longer.

And, drug prohibition is on its way out, Dean, but my god, think of the harm we're doing in the meantime.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, yes, and, you know, I should tell the listeners out there that Judge Gray does a regular issue of two paragraphs for liberty, and yesterday's The World Wide War On Drugs Disaster he put out, and it talks about what happens through this belief in drug war. It is, and I'm just going to capture a couple of his thoughts, that the US now leads the world in the incarceration of our own people.

This is a major loss of our civil liberties. All illicit drugs are now available, and I'm going to throw in here, they're made by untrained chemists and cut with god only knows what. We're giving reason for these juvenile street gangs to prosper. It just goes on and on, all of the failures of the drug war, and Judge Gray, if I may say, all of these failures seemingly get turned on their head and used as justification for more drug war. Your thought there, sir.

JUDGE JAMES GRAY: It's money, Dean. It's just simply money and power. One you didn't say, but a phrase I use, which is completely accurate, is that drug prohibition is the golden goose of terrorism. Pretty much every terrorist organization around the world gets its primary source of funding from the sale of illicit drugs.

You know, we couldn't do it worse if we tried. And, the rest of the world will heave a sigh of relief when we finally start repealing marijuana prohibition. They will follow along, they are, and they're leading the way in some ways too with regard to these other various mind altering, sometimes addicting substances, which we all know can be harmful, but they're present anyway, as I -- as I said, and it's true, we can't even keep these substances out of prison, for heaven's sake, how do you expect to keep them off the streets and sidewalks of our cities.

So, let's recognize that they're there, let's recognize they will bring harms, and adopt programs that will reduce those harms. And most of the harms, just like Governor Gary Johnson said, when I was running for vice president with him as president in 2012, about ten percent of all of these harms are drug harms. And let's not minimize them, that they're true, but 90 percent are drug money harms. Just ask Mexico, you know, with the beheadings and the corruption and all that goes with it.

It's just, again, we couldn't do it worse if we tried, Dean. And we just need to speak louder and more forcefully, because people are coming along. They're beginning to get it.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. You know, I think of a lost opportunity, you know, my goal, probably the single goal I have in life, is to do an interview with the next drug czar, because, well, for 16 years, I've been falling on my face, failed to do so, but the fact of the matter is, they cannot defend this policy. It is totally impossible, and they just get the carte blanche, the media just covers what they say as if it were gospel. But in an open public venue, they have nothing to stand on, do they, sir?

JUDGE JAMES GRAY: Nothing good. All of those things and more. I actually applied to be the drug czar, Dean, you could have interviewed me, but somehow it didn't work. But they should. You know, we need to recognize reality, and to understand that putting people in jail for having, for example, if you're mentally ill and you're self-medicating to stave off your demons, putting these mentally fragile people in jail is just a horrendous thing to do. It doesn't help public safety at all.

It's just, it's so misguided, and I saw this on the bench, you know, I was a judge for 25 years. That's what drove me, back in 1992, actually, to hold a press conference, because I just had to get this word out to other people. And I've never used any form of illicit substance, I'm not particularly interested in doing it, so I thought, well, who better than me? And, to some degree, it's worked, but I guaranteed people, guaranteed people back in 1992 that by the year 2000 we will have a materially different drug policy in our country. And I believed it, and boy was I wrong. But, we're getting there now.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and it is slow, incremental, I agree with you sir. It just seems that now they want to increase the funding for the anti-drug media campaign once again, just say no like Nancy Reagan said, or crack the egg into a frying pan and this is your brain on drugs, stuff, it's been shown that that has a potential of doing just the opposite, of enticing our children to try these drugs, because they're being demonized so bad that, hell, it must have some good to it. Your response there, Judge Gray.

JUDGE JAMES GRAY: Well, I saw an interview with the minister of health in Holland, and he said, accurately, that they have only half the marijuana usage in their country per capita as we do in the United States. He went on to say, you know why? Because we have succeeded in making pot boring. And of course that's devoutly to be wished, as Shakespeare would say, but we glamorize it, and also glamorize it by having that enormous profit potential, and they're, have people sell drugs to you, me, and our children.

So, again, just because we're having this discussion does not at all mean that we condone drug abuse, not whatsoever. Nor with alcohol, or anything else. But, we're doing it wrong, and it's just money. It's money and power, and we've been paying those -- paying those consequences a long time without even looking at the country of Mexico, for example, where they have these beheadings and this corruption and this violence, having nothing to do with drugs at all. Nothing. It's all drug money that causes those things.

And by the way, it's our drug money that does this. It makes me extremely unhappy.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, we've been speaking with now-retired Superior Court Judge James P. Gray, the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed And What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment Of The War On Drugs, and I want to give him a chance to close this out, his thoughts, to you the listeners, what you can do to help change this equation. Judge Gray, your thoughts, sir.

JUDGE JAMES GRAY: Well, do not under-emphasize the power of a letter to anybody that you can vote for, a mayor, a member of the legislature, whatever. Your voice does count. Letters to the editor. Anytime you see something in your newspaper or online that's just all wet, don't accept it. Challenge it.

We can do this. There are really, really good people that are -- that are there with us, trying to repeal this disastrous policy of drug prohibition, to the degree that some of the very best people I've ever met in my life I've met because of my involvement in trying to repeal this drug prohibition, and one of them I'm talking to on the phone right now, Dean Becker, so, you're well advised to listen to this man. He is a crusader for all the right reasons. I'm proud to have been speaking with you for the last few minutes, Dean, and bless you, and go get 'em.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Judge Gray.

JUDGE JAMES GRAY: Take care, be well.

DEAN BECKER: All right sir, you too. Bye bye.

JUDGE JAMES GRAY: You bet. See you. Bye.

DEAN BECKER: In that we are always fair, here are the closing thoughts of AG Sessions.

JEFFERSON BEAUREGARD SESSIONS III: We think a lot of this is starting with marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: And in response I can only say, a lot of it is ending, thanks to marijuana. Thirty two years without a drink of alcohol, thanks to my drug of salvation, cannabis, and again I remind you, because of prohibition, nobody knows 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. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network. Archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. And we are all still tap dancing on the edge an abyss.

Dean Becker Wants YOU to Call the Drug Czar