07/01/08 - Cliff Thornton

Cliff Thornton of Efficacy discusses the political implications of the drug war + Russ Bellville of NORML's audio stash opinion piece & Loretta Nall discusses Alabama's justice system

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Guest: 
Cliff Thornton
Organization: 
Efficacy-online.org
Download: Audio icon COL_070108.mp3
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Century of Lies, July 1, 2008

The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.
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Dean Becker: Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. Today we’re going to have an extended interview with a gentleman from Connecticut, a gentleman who ran for governor. His name is Cliff Thornton. We’ll have a report from Loretta Nall about the goings-on of the justice system in Alabama. But first up, it’s time for happy birthday greetings!

The following was written by Mr. Russ Bellville who creates the audio stash for NORML.org.
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The Drug Enforcement Administration was created by President Richard Nixon through an executive order on July 1, 1973 in order to establish a single unified command to combat an all out global war on the drug menace. At its outset the DEA had 1,470 special agents and a budget of less than $75 million dollars. Furthermore, in 1974, the DEA had 43 foreign offices in 31 countries. Today the DEA has 5,235 special agents, a budget of more than $2.3 billion dollars, and 86 foreign offices in 62 countries.

So, the DEA turns 35 today. That deserves a special celebration. Time to play ‘Rate the DEA.’

Today, the DEA has twice the offices in twice the countries with four times the manpower than when it started 35 years ago. In 1973 the DEA had $0.075 billion to work with. Today you have $2.3 billion. That’s an increase of 3,067 percent or a greater than 30-fold increase. Just what have the American people received for this $31.4 billion 35-year investment?

Are there 35 times fewer drugs now? That’s hard to say since nobody is out there taking official inventories of illegal drugs but judging by the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s figures that show drug seizures from 1989 to 2003 it seems that there are plenty of drugs out there. In that time frame marijuana and heroin seized by law enforcement about doubled and cocaine remained steady.

According to the ONDCP’s report on the price and purity of drugs, 1981 to 2003, cocaine is one fifth as expensive, crack is about one third as expensive, heroin is one sixth as expensive and meth is half as expensive. However, the safest of all recreational drugs, marijuana, did double in price.

Ok. So there are more cheaper drugs that are easier to get but surely they’ve got to be less potent. According to the survey previously mentioned, cocaine is about 50% more pure, crack’s purity hasn’t changed much, heroin is three times more pure, meth purity is about the same and according to the recently released report from the drug czar’s office marijuana potency doubled from 1985 to 2007.

Wow. After 35 years of escalating DEA budgets we’ve got cheaper, more powerful, more plentiful drugs.
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I’ve edited out a lot of Russ’s piece but he closes it with:
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Bigger budgets, more drugs, more arrests, more deaths, more seizures, more potency, more agents, more users. For their 35th anniversary perhaps they should change their name to the ‘Drug Encouragement Administration.’
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Thank you Mr. Russ Bellville.

All right. And with that I want to go ahead and bring in our guest, Mr. Cliff Thornton. Are you with us, sir?

Cliff Thornton: Yes, sir, Dean. I’m here.

Dean Becker: Cliff, quite an anniversary, is it not? Thirty-five years of DEA and what have we wrought?

Cliff Thornton: Yes. There are two questions that I always ask the audience when I’m speaking before a group of people and the first one is: Do you think what we’re doing with the war on drugs is working? And the second one is: Do you think people are ever going to stop using these illegal drugs?

The overwhelming response is ‘no.’ And before we can go anywhere else we have to answer those questions in their entirety. And that promotes a very vigorous conversation amongst the audience. What I like to do is, rather than lecture, I like to engage the audience and let them come up with their own solutions. And it seems to work very well.

Dean Becker: Just this morning I gave a guest lecture at the University of Houston to a psychology class and I handed out a little piece of paper to each of the students and I had two questions on the little ticket: What is the number one success of the drug war? And the second question is: What is your greatest fear if drugs were legal? And I’m going to kind of dip into that as we go forward here. Kinda ties in with what you’re talking about there. If people just examine what’s going on before their eyes they tend to have a different concept of what’s going on than just kind of going along to get along. Thirty-five years of the DEA, and if we reach back to the Harrison Narcotics Act, 93 years of drug war and it’s just not succeeding.

This morning I looked at the Houston Chronicle to see what drug-related stories there were. There was one about John McCain is visiting Colombia and Mexico this week and calling for more drug war. Cliff, you ran for governor and you’ve had access and conversations with many other politicians in this regard. Why can none of them ever speak up? Why can none of them ever call for an end to the drug war and to destroy the cartels? Your thoughts?

Cliff Thornton: There’s a couple of things that I think we should realize. The drug money that is taken from the drug sales, a lot of this money, somehow, some way, gets back to the coffers of the people that are running for office and they’re not going to come out against the drug war. Secondly, the fear of the politicians is that if they propose something like legalizing drugs, they fear that they would not get elected. And it makes a lot of sense to me because the people, the general populace, first and foremost are not well, what I call well-educated and they don’t seem to want to be educated on the particular subject. But we don’t realize, as a country, that this drug war, as I’ve said many times, many ways, is sucking this country dry. We can start to look at our health system, our education system and economic system and see that for the past almost a century, that drug prohibition has been a steady drain on the money to utilize things like education, health care and our economic system. So we’re heading down the road of catastrophe. The United States is really an accident waiting to happen.

Dean Becker: Cliff, if I could get you to speak more directly in the phone. Now we have, over the lifetime of this drug war the good friends at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition indicate that we’ve spent more than a trillion dollars. In that same time frame the terrorists, the cartels, the parmilitaries, the gangs, the street corner vendors have made ten trillion dollars and it just seems totally lacking in logic, does it not, that we continue down this same failed road. I tried to glean from these students today, at that class, why do they continue to believe in this in any regard and there really wasn’t a solid answer. What has been the response that you receive? What is the basis? Why do people cling to this idea that it’s going to work.

Cliff Thornton: People don’t cling to the idea that it’s going to work. Like I said earlier on, the very first thing I ask those two questions. Do you think the drug war is working and do you think people are ever going to stop using these illegal drugs? And overwhelmingly the response is ‘no’ and those people that say ‘yes,’ the people in the audience, I let them do my bidding, they tell them one reason or another why it can’t end. But when it gets down to the real hardcore stepping up to the plate those people that agree with me on both questions, they’re not willing to put forth the effort to end this drug war for fear of some type of ostracization. You’ve got to understand that people fear for their personal welfare when they go up or against the drug war. Because the drug war is a money maker, not only for the drug cartels and drug dealers but it’s also a money maker for people who build prisons, people who have made their living off of prosecuting drug dealers and drug cartels. But yet and still, it’s like Sanho Tree says over and over again, the drug war is like the balloon effect. You stop it one place and it pops up in another. And that’s been going on all of my life. So things are not going to change until we get a politician that has the gumption and the wherewithal to take this to the next level. It’s not going to happen at the UN. It’s not going to happen at the federal level. It is only going to happen at the state level. During the run for governor what I found is that seventy percent of the people in the state legislature are for some type of regulation and control or bringing drugs within the law. However, of that seventy percent only thirty percent of them within the state legislature are going to actively pursue changing of the drug laws, such as voting and promoting the medical marijuana thing. But, see, where we have to go to really show that the drug war, it can be controlled, is to put in things like heroin and cocaine and meth and ecstasy type maintenance centers that have been proven to be effective all over the world. And at this present time, at the Columbia University in New York, they are running those type of programs and hopefully they won’t be sabotaged by the governmental authorities.

Dean Becker: Well, you know there is the unintended consequences. From my perspective this drug war creates more death, more disease, more crime, more addiction. And it also creates international fiascos. I mean we have this situation in Afghanistan where we’re partnering with their government and yet human rights are being denied, women being denied education, the ability to drive, any and all of that stuff. We have in Colombia, where union officials are being killed by the dozens and yet we’re teaming up with them to ‘squelch’ the flow of drugs and in Mexico journalists are being gunned down. Police and military being gunned down. The unintended consequences, as you said earlier, impact every aspect of our lives, right?

Cliff Thornton: That is correct, without a doubt. The drug war is two degrees from everything in society. There is no subject that you can bring up that you can’t directly or indirectly connect it to the drug war through economic reasons. The humanitarian side of it, the people are not going to act until it hits them in their pocket economically. You see this type of gas crises, that we use for our cars, we’re going through in this country and people are up in arms with that. Somehow, someway, you’re going to have to show the people how they’re affected economically and slowly but surely -- in the state of Connecticut there has been a surplus of funds for the last four or five years but now we’re slowly but surely entering into that deficit process and it can be directly attributed to the spiraling costs of incarceration within our prison system. Connecticut has a population of about 3.5 million people. And we spend, every year, anywhere from 600 to 800 million dollars a year just on the operations of our prison system. Now that $600 million would be a tremendous boost to giving health care to every single individual in the state of Connecticut. But people don’t want to look at that for what it is. And it’s going to take time but things are going to change really drastically in the next four years to push us into looking at, seriously, how we’re going to regulate, not just marijuana, but all of these drugs.

Dean Becker: Well, you know, in response to my question there to that class, ‘what is your greatest fear if drugs were legal?’ one of them indicated that organizations such as Hamas would increase their profits but, the truth be told, it would take away, it would kill their cash cow, right?

Cliff Thornton: Right. See, people don’t understand. In 1996 the UN said that world terrorist organizations derive thirty percent of their funds from the sale and distribution of illegal drugs. Now, you’ve got to look at that and really understand what’s going on. Thirty percent of their revenue, for world terrorist organizations, comes from the sale of illegal drugs. Now, most of the time they put these drugs on the market, garner the money, and then they buy arms. These arms that they buy, once they have what they need from these arms then they put them back on the market to reap even bigger prices. So, instead of that thirty percent, perhaps it’s up to forty five to maybe fifty percent of their revenue derived from terrorist organizations through the sale of illegal drugs. So, we have been really stupid on crime, not smart on crime, for the past four decades. It is a huge mess, Dean, and I don’t foresee within the near future that the drug war is going to be successful. Because in order for it to be totally successful we would have to have a police officer on every single corner and every single country store in rural America. And what people have to understand is that we have to ring this country with border guards, not only around the Mexican border but also the Canadian border. But what that means, nothing comes in but, obviously, nothing is going to go out so we’re not going to put up with that either. So we’re doomed, the drug war is doomed to failure. But this is the big thing for me: Drug dealers and drug cartels tell you readily they can afford to lose eighty percent of their product and still make a huge profit. That is astounding.

Dean Becker: And when you get right down to it I don’t think they’ve ever had more than about a fifteen percent interdiction rate over the life of the drug war so...

Cliff Thornton: That is, you’re absolutely correct. You’re absolutely correct so we have been in a downward spiral and as the drug war fails more the more this country goes downhill. It’s plain and simple. I’ve watched my native Hartford go downhill for the past four to five decades and right at the core of this decline is the drug war. In some areas, you have in Connecticut in some areas, you have three out of six young people, their parents are in prison or have served time in prison for drug related charges. That is astounding. And, see, now you gotta think about ‘what is the domino effect on those particular children?’ That means that when the parents were out of the home they’re not going to be well attended to. That means that they’re not going to do well in school. That means that, if they don’t do well in school, they’re not going to be able to secure a job to support themselves. And what that means is that somewhere, someway, through eighteen to twenty-five, they’re going to be somewhere within the criminal justice system with over seventy-five percent of them being there with drug related charges. And you know that is the truth. When you look at Connecticut, some 22,000 in our prison system and another 52,000 that are on probation, parole or halfway houses, seventy percent of those people are there for drug related charges. And it plays out in state after state after state.

Dean Becker: It’s horrendous, the ongoing repercussions of this. Once again, we’re speaking with Mr. Cliff Thornton of Efficacy-Online.org. Cliff, we’ve got just a couple of minutes here and I want to kind of give you the floor, if you will. Tell us what progress you have seen in your state and especially following your run for governor. What differences are coming about in Connecticut?

Cliff Thornton: Well, what we’ve done is, and I ran on the Green Party and it was basically a symbolic gesture. To be honest, I knew I didn’t have a chance to win but what I did know is that I had cultivated relationships with the media, not only radio and TV but also the press. And we got a lot of press running for office. And what I knew was going to happen is that by giving the exposure to the Green Party and highlighting the war on drugs, because during my run for governor I never led with the drug war because I always knew it would come up. What we found by running this full gubernatorial slate in the last two cycles we have gotten four people elected to city council positions who are drug reformers and we’ve got a slew, maybe fourteen to fifteen constables elected in the state of Connecticut that are all drug reformers. So, slowly but surely, we are putting in people who are definitely in favor of drug policy reform where we didn’t have any at all. And just recently Sylvester Salcedo, the Coast Guard Captain who gave his medals back to President Clinton for not going along, saying the drug war is a bad failure, he has thrown his hat into the ring and is running for state rep in the Bridgeport area.

Dean Becker: We had Mr. Salcedo as a guest a few weeks back and he certainly gets it. He is a member of my favorite organization, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and, you know, I look at these little slips I got from the students and so many of them are off base. ‘What would happen if drugs were legal?’ Children would have more access. When the truth of it is, it is the policy of prohibition and this multi-level marketing organization, the black market, that ensures children have the easiest access of all, right?

Cliff Thornton: That is correct. Under prohibition you have no control so therefore our children have unlimited access to all of these drugs. Because the first drug they go for, usually, is cannabis. And once they get access to cannabis the person that’s dealing cannabis obviously knows people who are dealing the other drugs. So they have unlimited access. Time and time again, poll after poll after poll, people that are fourteen to sixteen say regularly over and over again cannabis is much easier to get than alcohol or cigarettes. And we’re talking in the eighty to eighty-five percentile.

Dean Becker: Now, we have, I think America is responsible. Kind of, it is our moral mandate to the whole world and through the UN convention on drugs we insist that other countries around the world follow suit, we even pay them bribes if they will do their part, and yet there is no substance to that moral posturing, is there?

Cliff Thornton: No, there isn’t. You’ll find over and over again that this policy doesn’t work. Just this past April I was in Europe attending the UN conference and attending a lot of the sessions there and one of the surprising things that I saw was that looking at China, and looking at all the countries in the world...

Dean Becker: We’ve got just a few seconds here, Cliff.

Cliff Thornton: OK. The highest consumption is cannabis and that’s the drug of choice. But China’s different. The drug of choice in China is heroin. They are about ready to go into one of those, the hugest heroin epidemic the world has ever seen.

Dean Becker: Well, all right. Once again, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Cliff Thornton of Efficacy-Online.org. Cliff, thank you so much.

Cliff Thornton: Thank you, Dean.

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Loretta Nall: This is Loretta Nall in Alabama and I do just about a little bit of everything in drug policy reform. I do Alabamans for Compassionate Care, which is medical marijuana, I also do a little something called Court Watch where we monitor the judicial system for corruption for unequal treatment based on who you are, for judges breaking the rules an laws, I work on anything and everything drug policy reform-related. I do a lot of lobbying in the legislature. I’m just a Jill of all trades, I guess, when it comes to drug policy reform.

Dean Becker: Indeed you are. Many of our listeners will recall you used to do a fairly regular series of reports for us. She ran for governor in the state of Alabama. And talking about monitoring the judicial system, there’s a story you’ve been following rather closely lately here about a judge’s son who was caught with some drugs. Tell us about that.

Loretta Nall: I’m from, originally from a little town in Alabama called Ashland. It’s pretty tiny and everybody knows everybody and back in March the Circuit Court Judge’s son -- his name is John Alexander Rochester -- was caught at the Ashland City Park trafficking in cocaine, first degree possession of marijuana, possession of methamphetamine, distribution charges, he was caught selling at the park basically, where all the little kids play on the toy monster truck and the tractor. And he was arrested, taken to jail. He spent twenty days in the Clay County jail and he was bonded out by his mother for a paltry $20,000 and whisked away to treatment in Mississippi. And we’re all really upset about it. The people up here that know about it, I’ve gotten six case action summaries on the Rochester case, and the bond in the case which just amounts to pocket change, especially for a really rich family who can afford to pay a little more to get their kid out of jail. I’ve got five other case action summaries from cases heard by the same judge who set the bond. Their bonds were just incredibly high. The maximum in some, way over the maximum recommended in others, and what’s really upsetting about this is that the judge who set the bonds is the District Court Judge in that circuit, he’s subordinate to the Circuit Court Judge which is the father of the guy who’s been arrested and it’s just really, really off. It’s really strange, well, it’s not strange. It’s just that no media has been reporting on it. There’s been a complete media blackout basically. I talked to the newspaper in Clay County today, they did finally write me back. They claimed they did write a story on it but that their internet site wasn’t up and running at that time and nobody knows where he is. Last I heard he was in treatment in Mississippi and he’s awaiting, you know, the grand jury to reconvene in the fall of this year.

Dean Becker: This kind of follows on the heels of stories like John Ashcroft’s nephew getting caught with marijuana and getting off rather lightly.

Loretta Nall: There’s a number of them here in Alabama. There’s Senator Richard Shelby, he’s a U.S. senator in Washington. His son was caught coming back from Heathrow to Atlanta in 1998 with 13.8 grams of hash. And the customs agents just took his hash and fined him 500 bucks. And Richard Shelby is an ardent drug warrior, I mean he’s, lock ‘em up and throw away the key, death penalty for traffickers, nothing, you can’t get anything positive out of him when you contact him. We’ve got a U.S. representative, Spencer Bachus, his son got involved in some drug related stuff and got in a little trouble, well actually, didn’t get into trouble because there’s people who helped him out. And it’s, you know, very common. They get to bury their trials and tribulations with drugs while everybody else gets their name plastered all over the five o’clock news and drug through the home town paper. It’s really sad. Well, it’s not sad, it’s infuriating. It’s absolutely infuriating.

Dean Becker: Not to mention, Loretta, the fact that little folks like us, perhaps, and you, you’re a prime example for a miniscule amount and the headaches you had to endure for years.

Loretta Nall: Well, as you know, I went through almost five years of fighting the courts on, basically, being arrested for writing a pro-drug policy reform letter to the editor. And I still say that what they claimed to have found here, they didn’t find here. They brought it with them. So, yeah, it’s really crazy when you look at -- well, you know, my brother, I have been in that courtroom many times throughout the course of my life. I’ve got a brother that’s been in and out of prison because he’s an alcoholic. In fact, Judge Rochester has sentenced him on two different occasions to two ten-year prison sentences. I’m not going to say that he didn’t need some correction but prison certainly wasn’t what he needed. And I’ve been in there, I went to church with a kid who got five years in prison from Judge Rochester for possession of one Xanax. This kid had no prior criminal record. I’m sitting there one day when my brother was there for a hearing and I saw Rochester hand down a five-year sentence to a truck driver for personal possession of methamphetamine, sent him straight to Kilby prison from the courtroom. And he’s the guy who likes to line everybody up against the wall and get a sample of their bodily fluids before he gets around to that pesky trial by jury. He does everything he can to avoid it. And when lawyers ask him, you know, ‘can I get my client to be bonded out, to go to treatment?’ He’ll say ‘there’s a substance abuse program in prison. It’s called the SAP program.’ So he doesn’t really believe in letting other people’s kids get out and go to treatment while they’re waiting for trial to come up but his kid did, no problem, after twenty days.

Dean Becker: Well, Loretta, is there a website you’d like to share with my listeners.

Loretta Nall: Oh yeah. NallForGovernor.blogspot.com. And they can keep up with all the latest on this case and any other cases that I’m working on in Alabama.

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Dean Becker: Well, speaking of the international complications of this I urge you to listen to this week’s Cultural Baggage. Our guest will be Professor Arnold Trebach, author of ‘Fatal Distraction: The War on Drugs in the Age of Islamic Terrorism.’

And I remind you that there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, no common sense, in fact no embrace of reality. We’ve been duped! The drug lords run both sides of this equation. Please do your part to end the madness.

Visit our website, EndProhibition.Org.

Prohibido istac evilesco.

For the Drug Truth Network this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net