04/06/07 - Arthur Barnett

Judge Arthur Barnett of NAADPC, Kurt Schmoke, former mayor of Baltimore,Deborah Small of Break the Chains & Dr. Donald R. Vereen of HHS/NIDA Pt1

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Friday, April 6, 2007
Guest: 
Arthur Barnett
Organization: 
National African American Drug Policy Coalition ( NAADPC)
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April 6, 2007, Drug Truth Network, Century of Lies

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.

Hello. My name is Dean Becker and I welcome you to this edition of Century of Lies. On this program we’ll hear from Deborah Small, who heads up the Break the Chains organization. We’ll hear from Kurt Schmoke, the former mayor of Baltimore, but first up let’s listen to Judge Arthur Burnett, who heads up the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition who had their convention this past week in Washington, DC.

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Judge Burnett: Well, the particular panels that have been presented at this summit were people selected to come up with not only discussing what the problems are but coming up with practical pragmatic solutions to bring about change and to solve the problems. And so the result of this summit conference will be taken under consideration and implemented to the extent we have the resources and people to do it, to influence legislative changes as to crack cocaine versus powder cocaine, with reference to juvenile delinquency programs, to deal with rehabilitation and keeping kids out of the pipeline to prison, to bring about affirmative changes in the number of African-Americans who are ending up getting deeper and deeper into the criminal justice system. So the whole program here has been geared to future action programs where we will accomplish results so this is not just a meeting just for me but to come up with proper solutions and understand the real dynamics of the problems and how best to bring about changes to solve those problems. Of course the big issue is adequate personnel, adequate financing, educating people generally so that they can then convey attitudes and views to legislators and others to change legislative priorities as to what problems we need to address in America as opposed to problems even abroad, to solve the health care problems, the disparity problems, the disparate impact of criminal justice problems and so forth so we have a more intelligent educated voter population that will address these problems in a pragmatic and realistic fashion.

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Dean Becker: Week in, week out you hear me speak. You hear me call for the end of Prohibition and I find that many of these black leaders are not so inclined, at least not yet, though they do seem to be moving in that direction and one of the reasons they’re moving in that direction is the voice of one of their leaders, the former mayor of Baltimore, Mr. Kurt Schmoke.

I consider it quite an honor to have with us Mr. Kurt Schmoke, one of the pioneers I think in opening the dialogue on the need to change our drug laws. Mr. Schmoke, what’s your take on the proceeding thus far here at the NAADCP.

Kurt Schmoke: Well, I’m very pleased that this national coalition is having its third summit, it’s very important because there’s still a lot of public education that has to be done. I’m glad we’re here in Washington so we’ll have an opportunity to go on Capitol Hill and maybe educate a few more legislators about the fact that our drug policy continues to do great harm in communities around the country and hopefully we can move towards policies that will lessen the harm in those communities. So, it’s a struggle but I know we’re in here for the long term and hopefully we’ll start to see some enlightenment and improved policies because, as you know, it’s my view that although we need a war on drugs it should be a public health war rather than a criminal justice war, because the criminal justice war is not getting us anywhere.

Dean Becker: We hear many voices from around the country: we just heard a senator from the state of Louisiana talk about they have begun to make a difference there reducing the mandatory minimum sentencing and such. And then we hear from others who say that this is a type of bigotry that is practiced around this nation. Your thoughts on that Sir, how do we break the back of that bigotry?

Kurt Schmoke: Well, it really is just a shame that even under the current drug policy we have two different wars on drugs going on. I mean in some communities, particularly if you’re wealthy and you get in trouble with drugs, you go to treatment and then you go to recovery and it’s treated as a health problem, but if it’s low-income people it’s treated as a crime problem and so we see this terrible disparity and it ends up with our prisons having heavy disproportion of black and brown people when in fact drug use affects everybody, not just the black and brown population. My hope really was that this congressional Methamphetamine caucus would start to talk with those who were involved with other drugs and see common ground and maybe start to treat this more as a health problem because I know that the Methamphetamine caucus doesn’t want to incarcerate all the young people in the United States who’ve gotten caught up with Methamphetamine.

Dean Becker: Yes, Sir, and your city of Baltimore has undertaken some changes, has looked at this concept for a longer period of time than most. How do you see it affecting your city, what changes have been able to be brought forward?

Kurt Schmoke: Well, Baltimore still has unfortunately an ongoing problem with homicide but I’ll just give you one example. Many, many years ago, as my students remind me now, I was the mayor in the last century, but in the early 1990s we implemented a needle exchange, a sterile syringe exchange program, and what that did, it didn’t increase drug use but it did dramatically decrease the spread of AIDS in our city, particularly among the intravenous drug user community. And that had a really profound and positive impact on public health in Baltimore, so we see that these health care interventions can have a positive impact without contributing, or making people fee that we’re soft on drugs or encouraging drug use.

Dean Becker: It’s a constant battle which state leads the nation in its incarceration rate, whether it’s Louisiana or Texas or even California. In Texas they still don’t allow needle exchange. What might you say to those legislators down there?

Kurt Schmoke: Well, I would say that if they followeda science and not politics that they would allow things like needle exchange to occur. It’s a long road, in order to get our program passed I actually brought some law enforcement officials from Europe where they had great experience with this and brought them to our state legislature so our legislators could hear from guys who were tough cops that they felt that treatment and things like needle exchange were important and were actually helpful to them, not harming their ability to focus on other criminal activity.

Dean Becker: One last question for you Sir, it’s been my observation that this drug war has lasted some 35 years, 50 years, or even a hundred years if you go back to the Harrison Narcotics Act and I guess the question is, Sir. These politicians have, if you will, made their bones by being tough on crime, by being tough on drugs: How do they change 180 degrees? What would you say to them in that regard?

Kurt Schmoke: Well one thing I do point out in my own experience as a new mayor I raised this whole issue about the need to change national drug policy. Some people thought that was the end of my career: I ended up getting re-elected twice and I think that if you’re honest with people and you go to them and try to explain that if we were conducting any other war this long with these results we’d not only want to have new generals, we’d want to have a new policy. I think people will begin to understand and give the politicians some cover so that they can adopt these new and more effective policies.

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Dean Becker: I mentioned earlier in the show that many in the Black Community are not quite ready to talk about the end of Prohibition. I wanted to clarify that situation. I couldn’t think of anybody who could explain it better than Deborah Small.

Deborah, you and I see each other couple-three times a year: Drug Policy Alliance, NORML convention, various organizations and we’ve had a discussion about the fact that the Black Community doesn’t see this problem in the same way that maybe some of us who have been in the trenches longer, how we perceive it. Your thought on that?

Deborah Small: Well, that’s a bit of a complicated issue and I won’t say...I think the difference is not so much about perception because I think, in fact I know, that the Black Community understands the impact the drug war is having on the community and there’s a definite sense that the over-incarceration and the over-policing of the community is directly related to the war on drugs. I think it’s a bigger leap for a lot of people in communities of color to be engaged in a conversation about legalizing drugs, particularly in the ways in which it’s often articulated by those who have a more libertarian perspective. Quite frankly, as much as I believe that we should end drug prohibition and set up a system of regulation and control, I would not want to see us do it in the same way that we set up as system for regulation and control of alcohol and tobacco, quite frankly, because if you go into most white communities you do not see a liquor store on every other corner and you don’t see tons of billboards advertising tobacco products, but that’s what you do see in communities of color and part of that is a reflection of the lack of economic and political power to keep those things from happening. So when Black Community leaders hear white drug policy reformers talk about legalizing all they can imagine is that they’re going to have the same level of marketing and promotion of illegal drugs in their community that we’re already seeing for the legal ones.

Dean Becker: Profound point, thank you for that. And in considering that, and I think many comprehensive reformers, if you will, do talk about the need to limit or forestall any advertising for these recreational drugs and I guess what comes to mind is there’s also another perception you were talking about that the Whites cannot lead Blacks towards their thoughts, their nirvana, if you will, of ending drug prohibition. Let’s talk about that aspect. It has to come from the community itself, does it not?

Deborah Small: Yes. And that again is a both complicated and somewhat contentious issue to talk about. But I think about it this way: I believe it’s totally appropriate for people of good will who care about the injustices that are rooted in the drug war to be involved in promoting reform. And I also think it’s important for them to reach out to other communities to do it. But I think it’s inappropriate for white people to expect to be leaders of a movement that primarily affects people of color, in the same way that it would be inappropriate for men to be leaders of the women’s movement or straight people to be the leaders of the gay and lesbian movement. It’s like those things go without saying and it’s not about your level of interest or whether or not you’re racist or anti-racist. It’s like there’s a difference between being a support to something and purporting to lead it and I think one of the things that really has turned off a lot of members in the African-American community to the ways in which they’re approached and interacted with by white drug policy reformers is this kind of paternalism like “we understand this problem better than you, we don’t understand why you’re not more aggressive in fighting it and if you would just listen to us or follow us we’ll take you out of this mess.” Well, quite frankly, most people resent that message, they don’t appreciate it, they’re not receptive to it and so it continues to maintain the cleavage and the distance there is between the two communities even though we share similar goals.

I mean one of the things that I’ve tried to do with my work over the years is to really be a bridge and a liaison between different communities of people, not just blacks and whites and Hispanics, but also elected officials and academics and people in treatment and recovery because as much as you see issues between people on racial lines there’s also a big issue between people who gone through traditional twelve-step recovery and people who are harm reductionists who see themselves as being at loggerheads with each other, and so a lot of the work that we try to do is to really be a bridge and liaison and help people to understand where each other is coming from so that we can focus more on our common ground as opposed to our differences. I think that the only way that we’re going to be able to end drug prohibition in America is to really build a movement that covers the full spectrum of folks that are negatively affected but with an understanding and a sensitivity of the need to develop leadership in the communities that have been affected by the drug war and those are communities of color, and not just the African-American community-almost all prosecutions on Native American reservations for drugs is through the federal system which means that they’re subject to the federal mandatory minimums and the draconian sentences under the sentencing guideline and yet you don’t see a whole lot of participation from people in the Native American community in the drug policy movement. I think that’s something that needs to change, I think that we need to pay more attention to.

Dean Becker: Now, I know none of us has a ouija board or a crystal ball but you’ve been at this longer than I; what are you perceptions? Making progress? Where are we at?

Deborah Small: Well, I’ll be honest. I do not have an expectation that drug prohibition is going to end in my lifetime. I wish I could say differently but I really don’t. And so I see a lot of the work that we’re doing now as laying the foundation and building on work that’s been done in the past and helping prepare the next generation of advocates to be able to pass the baton onto them so that they can move the issues forward. I feel encouraged by the level of interest that I’ve seen on college campuses throughout the country to the ways in which many young people today clearly see the hypocrisies of our drug policy, that they haven’t been suckered into believing that ‘just say no’ is the appropriate response or that we can incarcerate ourselves out of the problem. So I have a lot of hope that when they assume positions of leadership in government and society that they will be at the vanguard of promoting, not just reduction of our currently harsh policies, but a real sea-change altogether because right now what most of us are doing is what I consider harm reduction work. We’re trying to reduce the harms that our punitive drug policies are causing to people at the same time that we’re educating people about the alternatives for reform. But what we really need is to eradicate Prohibition and that’s not a harm reduction approach, that’s a totally radical approach.

Dean Becker: All right, and if folks would like to learn more about your work.…

Deborah Small: Oh they can visit us at www.breakchains.org and again my name is Deborah Peterson Small.

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Dean Becker: While I was in Washington, DC at this NAADCP conference I got a chance to speak with Dr. Donald R. Vereen. He’s with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HHS, and he’s a medical officer, a special assistant for medical affairs for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Aspirin and Tylenol kill more people than do all hard drugs combined yet why do we waste hundreds of billions of dollars, why are we now leading the world in the incarceration of our own people predominantly for recreational drugs?

Dr. Vereen: Because we’re not providing treatment, we’re not recognizing that addiction is a brain disease, and we’re discriminating against those people who have that brain disease by now offering treatment. Heart disease, we can use the same technology to show that there’s something wrong with the heart and when something’s wrong with the heart your health insurance covers it. When we can show a similar pattern, same type of metabolic problems going on in the brain in the same pattern, frontal lobes and anterior temporal lobes affected in people who are addicted, doesn’t matter the substance, those people, treatment is not automatic. They end up getting into trouble and finding themselves in other institutions like the criminal justice system, not in the medical system and that why we keep pushing the research to say “hey look, the research is actually saying this.” It’s up to the leaders in this country to say ”hey, we need to apply what the research says.”

Dean Becker: And apply...I’m all for people getting treatment on demand, those that are abusing themselves or their families getting treatment forced upon them, but why do we insist upon arresting those who have plant products.….

Dr. Vereen: You’re asking someone who does research on this as a phenomenon. I’m not in the criminal justice system. And, I will say this though, the laws in this country-they’re not always perfect-but they do reflect values in the country. Now, if something is harmful, one of the ways you can do to say “Hey, this is harmful and we’re going to put things is place to decrease the harm” one of the things you can do is pass a law. The other thing you can do is talk to your kids and warn them. You know, this prevention. But the law says you’re not supposed to drink and drive. That says we value the lives of not only the people who are addicted to alcohol but also the innocent people that might get hurt because you we’re under the influence of something that we also say is OK to drink if you do it in a limit, under a set of limits, so the laws are-it isn’t one of these absolute things-the laws make it clear that, yeah, it’s OK if you can drink under a set of limits but you can’t otherwise and the only other way to try to limit that is to actually go into people’s homes and into their personal lives to dictate-we can’t do that in this country...

Dean Becker: We do that everyday. We kick in doors in the name of the drug war, Sir. And...

Dr. Vereen: That’s because they’re harmful.

Dean Becker: Alcohol is more harmful that these recreational drugs.

Dr. Vereen: If you produce the alcohol in a still that isn’t registered your door gets kicked down. So, the country has said no. The law is clear. People are free to make choices. They’re free to make choices but there are certain things that are controlled so what you’re referring to are the controlled substances. This country passed a set of laws and said, you know what, there are a bunch of medications out there but, you know what, there are some that are associated with people compulsively taking them and they can’t stop taking them.

Dean Becker: Alcohol again, Sir.…

Dr. Vereen: That’s exactly right but it’s also a part of our diet. So people should be free to be able to use it responsibly. At what point...what policy would you put in place to be able to allow for freedom and then to make sure that there’s a certain level of public safety? There’s a balance here.

Dean Becker: If I dare say, we talked about Nora Volkow and her six-percent approximate of methamphetamine users...

Dr. Vereen: (unintelligible)...epidemiology.…(unintelligible)

Dean Becker: The other ninety-four percent have not committed a crime, have not done anything....

Dr. Vereen: But nobody’s going after them, we don’t know who they are so why are you raising the ninety-four percent? You don’t know who they are.

Dean Becker: Of the several hundred thousand arrests each year involving methamphetamine.…

Dr. Vereen: We find out about it after the fact. They’re arrested. They broke the law. They were robbing somebody, they broke into somebody’s house, they got caught. When they’re tested, if you noticed in the last presentation, the folks who are in some sort of criminal justice supervision, they get tested because they want to know what the relationship is between these people’s criminal behavior, stuff that everyone would agree is against the law, and their drug use. Now, nobody’s said that the drug use caused what they did, we know that it’s associated and it’s associated a number of different ways. When people are addicted and they’re compulsively using drugs some of Dr. Volkow’s own research makes it clear that people loose the ability to think and make appropriate judgments.

Dean Becker: Again, alcohol, Sir.

Dr. Vereen: So does alcohol. That’s exactly right. That’s when alcohol is a drug. But the vast majority of people in this country who use alcohol don’t abuse it.

Dean Becker: And I would dare say the same would hold true for methamphetamine or even use of opiates.…

Dr. Vereen: But you know what? It’s hard for us to be able to answer the following question: which is more addictive than something else?

Dean Becker: And again, why do we want to punish people who are using a product that might become addictive?

Dr. Vereen: It’s associated with the compulsive use that we know is associated with a high rate of crime...

Dean Becker: Again, to pay for their drugs they commit crimes, I agree.

Dr. Vereen: We see it with people who are addicted to alcohol and that’s why you have a DUI, you have problems with an alcohol problem at work or somewhere-social services are called because they want to know that ‘are the kids OK?’

Dean Becker: Right.

Dr. Vereen: So there is intrusion with alcohol as well when it surfaces.

Dean Becker: But not just for possession. I would dare say that.…

Dr. Vereen: Because it’s not illegal. They’ve set the bar and this is debatable: is the bar set at the right place? Is the bar set at the right place? These medications, meth is a form of amphetamine. It has legitimate medical uses under control. The problem is if you’re using it not under supervision you have a, you face a very high risk of becoming addicted. It has a bad health outcome. And it’s the same with alcohol except that it’s part of our diet. It’s like eating too much butter, we don’t break into people’s houses to stop them from eating butter. That’s because it doesn’t cause people to get high, yeah they can compulsively eat the butter over and over again, that happens in some people and they have a disease, Nora Volkow’s helping our institute lead the way on compulsive eating because the same brain structure are involved. That’s what it all boils down to, these chemicals have an effect on the brain that’s associated with behavior that is dangerous to others at times. And so this is a way of trying to prevent that so certain laws have been put in place, certain roadblocks have been put in place to say ‘you know, we can’t sanction that.’

Dean Becker: I’m a member of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. We believe that by ending Prohibition we will immediately curtail the instances of death, disease, crime and addiction. Your thoughts on that?

Dr. Vereen: But...but...there is no Prohibition right now. I had a glass and a half of wine last night, there is no Prohibition.

Dean Becker: No, I meant of these recreational drugs, Sir.

Dr. Vereen: Well then we send the wrong signal and one of the things that I think you leave out of the equation, if you think this is the quote-unquote ‘answer’ is the fact that availability has to factored in. The things that are most abused by kids are the things that are available. Meth is only at the eight percent level because it’s not as easy to get as marijuana, it’s not as easy to get as alcohol, it’s not as easy to get as tobacco. And those are the things that kids abuse the most and isn’t it ironic that alcohol and tobacco continue to be legal but what, what contributes to some of the highest mortality rates and highest health care costs in this country, we’re talking cirrhosis of the liver, we’re talking the G.I. problems that are associated with alcohol use, a lot of heart disease, a lot of myocardiopathies are related to alcohol use, diabetes is related to that. That needs to come down, the problem is we live in a free country and it’s something that...it’s not medicinal, it’s not something that already comes under a set of control. And it’s the same with food. You can eat too much of something and you’ll get poisoned. So it’s where you draw the line but if you’re going to make the statement that you just did which I would say is extreme you have to take into account availability because then you put our kids at risk. They’re already at risk from tobacco and alcohol.

Dean Becker: The drugs are in every neighborhood as is Sir.

Dr. Vereen: That’s right but without some sort of control they’d be out there even more. That’s why I’m making the point about availability. Marijuana is illegal in this country. But the kids say it’s easier to get than alcohol and so why is it that many of them are using that as much, if not more, than the alcohol? Its availability, they’ll tell you that.

Dean Becker: If I might say, because of Prohibition we have created the world’s largest multi-level marketing organization: the black market in drugs.

Dr. Vereen: That’s a one-sided argument, there is...

Dean Becker: Is it untrue?

Dr. Vereen: There is a black market but the black market is there for biological reasons. It has to do with being able to get high. There’s no black market for butter. OK, there’s no black market for barbecued chicken, OK, there is a black market for things that you can self-medicate with and there’s a black market for things you can get high with. People smoke to deal with their anxieties, people drink to deal with their anxieties and stress and they take drugs for the same reason.

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Dean Becker: I hope you’re enjoying this discussion. You can hear part two on this week’s Cultural Baggage show and again I remind you that there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, or medical data to support this eternal drug war. We’ve been duped. The drug lords run both sides of this equation. Please visit our other 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. Our engineer, Philip Guffy.

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