09/08/13 Phil Smith

Phil Smith reporter with StopTheDrugWar.org re DOJ ruling, corrupt cops, Jag Davies of DPA re need for Congress to investigate DEA corruption

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Guest: 
Phil Smith
Organization: 
Stop The Drug War
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Transcript

Cultural Baggage / September 8, 2013

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[music]

DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.

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DEAN BECKER: Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I am Dean Becker, your host. Here in just a moment we’re going to bring in our guest, Mr. Phil Smith of the DRCnet and StopTheDrugWar organizations.

I’m hoping you folks are paying attention to the news. I’m hoping that you’re recognizing that the end of drug war is happening. It’s happening slow and ugly but it is happening. We could use your help.

Phil is a reporter. He delves into this drug war as much as I do. Without any more hoopla let’s bring in our guest, Mr. Phil Smith.

PHIL SMITH: Howdy, Dean. How are you doing?

DEAN BECKER: I’m good. You heard me there, Phil, the drug war is ending slow and ugly. We could use some help, right?

PHIL SMITH: Indeed. I think the end times are upon us or, at least, the first stage of the end times.

DEAN BECKER: Tell us your perception. Why is that?

PHIL SMITH: Well, especially when it comes to marijuana. We have these two states where the people have voted to legalize it – Colorado and Washington. They are well on their way to coming up with systems that tax, regulate and legalize marijuana cultivation and distribution.

Importantly about 10 days ago the Justice Department signaled very strongly that it wasn’t really going to interfere in these efforts. Now it wasn’t an 100% all in free call but it was a very important signal from the administration that they don’t want to really spend their time and resources trying to prevent legal marijuana from happening.

DEAN BECKER: There was my thoughts, my worry that they would give this a year or two. Let people show who and what they are and then, as they said, they can reverse that decision. That’s the creepiest part to me.

PHIL SMITH: That’s right. This is not a change in the federal law. This is only a shift in policy. If there’s a new administration that policy could shift in a different direction, however, it may be too late for that. By the time there is a new administration in 2015 there are likely to be 2 or 3 or maybe 4 states more that have legalized marijuana with another handful set to follow in 2016. This train is leaving the station right now. It already left the station in Seattle and Denver.

Now we have seen some comments from U.S. attorneys in various areas saying, “Oh, this isn’t anything new for us. It isn’t going to make us change our ways. We’ll still probably hassle some medical marijuana providers.”

There may be some legal marijuana provider that get threatened, hassled, prosecuted in Colorado and Washington but I really see this, prohibition, as a dinasaur that is dying. Some people might get hurt by the thrashing of the tail of the dying beast but the beast is dying.

DEAN BECKER: Well put. I think about it. I don’t know the exact date. Maybe this coming week, the next week that Leahy is sponsoring some congressional review of the drug war.

PHIL SMITH: That’s right. The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a good guy on drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: I know one of the speakers that is invited is the current sheriff of King County, Seattle. I think he could join LEAP. I don’t know but he sure sounds like it. Your thought there, Phil?

PHIL SMITH: Sounds like he’s an honorary member already.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

PHIL SMITH: This is an example of a new breed of cop. It’s the enlightened, progressive cop and it’s funny that he’s the sheriff in Seattle because when I think of this new breed of enlightened, progressive cops the first guy I think of is former Seattle Police Chief, Norm Stamper.

He got a bad rap among leftist radicals after the battle in Seattle over the World Trade Organization about a decade ago but, other than that, he has been a good progressive cop. He’s been smart on drug policy. He has understood for a long time that you’re not going to accomplish anything positive by knocking down doors and throwing people in prison. The sheriff in King County now is cut from the same cloth as is the Seattle prosecutor.

An increasing number of high-ranking police officers, prosecutors, judges – they all get it. It’s a matter of making our politicians get it.

DEAN BECKER: That’s what I do when I speak to local officials. I can find a lot of agreement in “the drug war is not working”. That’s what I always as them to promise. They’ll speak to the federal reps. That they’ll speak to the local judges and share that awakening.

PHIL SMITH: Let me be clear, however, by no means is all of law enforcement progressive on drug policy. Let me give you chapter and verse. After the Justice Department put out its memo and made its announcement about how it was going to back off on marijuana enforcement in Colorado and Washington it was immediately greeted by an outraged, angry, hurt letter from top cops across the country from the National Sheriff’s Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the major city prosecutor’s association, the National Narcotics Officer’s Coalition Association. All of those folks are just broken hearted and very upset that the Justice Department didn’t consult with them prior to making its announcement and is apparently letting legal marijuana happen.

So there is still a lot of entrenched law enforcement, special interest opposition to legalization. People talk about the pharmaceutical companies and the beer companies being behind pot prohibition. I think the main obstacle behind ending marijuana prohibition is law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. They are a very powerful lobbying group. No one wants to be against the cops.

While there are progressives the official bodies are still drug warriors.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Just this week I was reviewing a couple videos and amongst them were a couple of instances where I was talking to local prosecutors and such and the discussion was about marijuana and it was amazing how quickly that discussion turns to crack cocaine. They try to make them one in the same, the same mold.

PHIL SMITH: I don’t know whether to be charitable and just consider these people to be fools or less charitable and consider them to be malevolent misleaders. Take your pick.

DEAN BECKER: I’m trying to be nice these days. It really boils down to the forfeiture money is enormous and they really don’t want to give that up, do they?

PHIL SMITH: No, it’s worth billions and billions every year. It finances...it’s a vicious cycle. It reminds me about the old advertisements about doing cocaine how “I do more cocaine so I can work more so I can make more money so I can get more cocaine.”

So for these cops it’s like, “I make a drug bust so I can get more money so I can get more resources to make more drug busts.”

DEAN BECKER: I think that’s what’s becoming more apparent to the average Joe and Jolene out there that it doesn’t make any sense.

Let’s talk about one of the other factors. You have reported for us over the years many times about police corruption. What’s your latest report on police corruption.

PHIL SMITH: Oh, my God. I have 4, 5, 6 every week, Dean. They all start to run together after a while. One interesting thing I’ve noticed in recent years is that as the prescription pain pill epidemic swept across the country (sorry I’m using that kind of propogandistic language) but as there was an increasing number of people using prescription pain pills outside medicinal purposes that included cops, too.

I don’t know how many cases that I’ve seen in the last 4 or 5 years that I never used to see before of police officers getting in trouble because they were stealing pills from people they arrested or they were going to the houses of people who died and stealing pills or they were stealing pills out of the evidence bin. Sounds like there are a lot of cops that are quite strung out.

DEAN BECKER: I think that’s kind of representative of the whole country. What we’ve got to do is make it easier for people to be honest and not be demonized for that occasional or necessary drug use.

PHIL SMITH: There are some conflicting interests when we are talking about pain pills. On the one hand you don’t want everyone walking around in a stupor all the time if they don’t need to be. On the other hand we have a severe problem with chronic pain treatment in this country. There are tens of millions of people that are not getting adequate treatment for pain.

This is something we have to balance. When the Obama administration or your local police chief gets in front of the microphones and starts warning about this prescription drug abuse and how we have to crack down and shut down the pill mills and “Dr. Feelgoods”. Every time when one of these so-called “Dr. Feelgoods” gets run out of business there are dozens if not hundreds of legitimate pain patients who are losing access to their medicine. That’s a real crisis in this country.

DEAN BECKER: This reminds me of a situation. I think it was 5, 6 years ago. I was interviewing the DA, Chuck Rosenthal here in Harris County, Houston. He didn’t understand the drug war. Didn’t know where it came from. Doesn’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing.

He was responsible for...I used to start my shows with “broadcasting from the gulag filling station on planet earth.” He was the guy responsible for that. The ironic thing is he had to retire from office because of his drug addiction. It’s outrageous.

PHIL SMITH: I think Mr. Rehnquist on the Supreme Court had a pill problem, too.

DEAN BECKER: I started out talking about the drug war’s ending slowly and ugly and you guys recruit folks to provide information to stay in touch to alert them to goings on around this country. The number of people that are willing to at least listen if not talk about the drug war is growing exponentially, isn’t it?

PHIL SMITH: Not only the people who are willing to listen but the number of people who are willing to write about it. Good lord, Dean, I remember when you and I started a decade ago I was having a hard time coming up with a dozen stories every week to write about drug policy and I was probably about the only person writing about that in that particular fashion. That is not the case anymore.

I’m totally inundated just with marijuana stories just in the U.S. not to mention all the other drugs and all the rest of the world. There are so many more media sources talking about this from absolutely established press sources to hundreds if not tens of thousands of bloggers who are mouthing off every chance they get.

The issue is really a big issue these days. It makes my job more difficult but I’m happy.

DEAN BECKER: I think about it like this. It used to be, “How can I get enough stories to fill a half-hour or hour show?” and now it’s “Gosh, what do I leave out?”

PHIL SMITH: I feel like I’m a gatekeeper anymore but I have to sift through all this drug policy related stuff and figure out which 10 or 12 are worth telling my readers about.

DEAN BECKER: I don’t think it can be overlooked the impact that Dr. Sanjay Gupta had. I don’t know if they influenced the Justice Department and Obama. I think what he said was hard to ignore.

PHIL SMITH: I’ll tell you who he influenced – my mother and people like her. People not like you and I, Dean, that are in the trenches and true believers already but nice, older people who didn’t smoke marijuana as kids because they were too old for that – they were already in their 30s by the time the 60s got here. People who have no direct experience with marijuana and people who still believe in authority.

So when you have a nice, young man like Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN telling you he was lied to about medical marijuana and that it is, indeed, a medicine that really resonates with a whole segment of our society that has not been on our side.

DEAN BECKER: You talk about voices. One whose opinion is always called upon is that guy – Kevin Sabet. He gets more press than anybody because I think there is just so few people willing to take that position anymore. Your thought there?

PHIL SMITH: He is the leading voice of neo-prohibitionism – kinder, gentler prohibition. Over this weekend I’m reading his book. I’ll be reviewing it for the Drug War Chronicle in coming days. It’s called “Reefer Sanity: 7 mistakes or myths about marijuana.”

I think he’s full of crap, in general, but this is a man whose arguments are going to have to be addressed. He is articulate. He is well-informed albeit mistaken. He’s the “go to” guy for the anti-marijuana viewpoint anymore.

DEAN BECKER: I welcome the opportunity to be on a stage or panel with him. I don’t think the debate would last that long.

PHIL SMITH: I notice that his 7 myths has also taken the form of an OPED that appeared in various places over the weekend. It may get spread around even more. He’s got this project SAM, project SMART about marijuana along with former “pill head” U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy.

They are the “go to guys” for the prohibitionists now. The old school people just sound too ridiculous, too “reefer madness” so Kevin Sabet likes to couch his prohibitionism in terms of public health and things like that. He doesn’t believe people should go to prison for smoking pot but he does believe they should enter the criminal justice system supervision and be subjected to drug treatment. That’s his new kinder, gentler approach to prohibition.

DEAN BECKER: I think those dinosaurs are dying out. I feel like most people disagree with them even if they can’t let the words escape their mouth as yet because there is that fear of being stigmatized for believing this to be wrong.

PHIL SMITH: Time’s are changing. One of the last stories I wrote last weekend was about a public opinion poll in Louisiana – 53% in favor of legalizing weed – in Louisiana where you can get 20 for possession of pot.

DEAN BECKER: It’s crazy. Austin and Houston are probably up in the 90% range but we live in Texas so it’s a real conundrum.

PHIL SMITH: I’m keeping an eye on Texas. It’s always been considered a very conservative, reactionary state but that’s not what Texas demographics are about anymore. We might even see a Democrat win a presidential election there one of these years – maybe 2016 which leads me to believe there may be room for drug reform in Texas before too many more years go by.

DEAN BECKER: We have people with “boots on the ground” trying to do what they can, where they can. I think it’s just going to take a courageous politician, somebody to say what they know to be true.

PHIL SMITH: The people are there and, at this point, the politicians will be leading from behind.

DEAN BECKER: We got a couple minutes left. I want to give you a chance to talk about your organization and the type of work that you do and how folks can get involved.

PHIL SMITH: I write the Drug War Chronicle for a small Washington, D.C.-based non-profit called StopTheDrugWar.org. A big part of what we do is my work – getting policy news out to our readers. I invite everyone to go to our website and sign up for the Drug War Chronicle or just stop by and visit it on a daily basis if you like to do it that way.

In addition to the Drug War Chronicle we do lobbying and coalition building efforts in Washington. We also support reform efforts in other states. Every time there’s a good legalization initiative we’re behind it. We are an anti-prohibitionist organization and we don’t just limit that to marijuana. We want to end the drug war.

We want the cops out of drugs. I now this may sound kind of cold and callous but we want them to treat drugs like alcohol. Stay out of it except to clean up the messes.

DEAN BECKER: I had a guest on a few weeks back who had a great line, “Don’t ask. Don’t smell.” I think that’s the way the cops should treat it, don’t you think?

PHIL SMITH: Indeed.

DEAN BECKER: We’re lucky enough to have a couple of friends that opened cannabis dispensaries right there in Washington, D.C. So far, so good, right?

PHIL SMITH: That’s right. Former co-workers of mine, Dave Guard and Scott Morgan, opened up within a mile of the Justice Department within earshot of the White House, just about. It’s just another sign that marijuana prohibition is teetering towards a way too late demise.

DEAN BECKER: Way too late, yes. It seems we should learn from alcohol prohibition but that just somehow went right through. I don’t know why it’s taking so long.

Phil, I do appreciate your time. I just want to say it’s actually getting to be more fun. There for a couple years it was getting to be...

PHIL SMITH: grim...

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, same thing but in the last year, in particular, there’s hope on that horizon.

PHIL SMITH: Dean, it’s only going to get better. I’m excited about 2014. I think we’ll see it legalized in Alaska, probably in Oregon, maybe in Arizona – all through the initiative process. We might see a pick up in Rhode Island through the legislature. In 2016 we’ll have California, probably Montana, New Mexico through the initiative process. Who knows what will happen in state legislatures.

You know we have two legal states now. By the time we have 10, 15, 20 legal states it will be time to take aim at the federal government. That’s really the last bastion of drug prohibition in this country. It’s the last brick in the wall. We’re going to have to do some ground work to get to knocking that wall down.

DEAN BECKER: You bet. Once again, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Phil Smith of StopTheDrugWar.org.

Phil, I envy you. I used to grow them 26 feet tall here but I gave it up when I got into radio. I want to change that situation.

PHIL SMITH: I’m going out to water mine right now as a matter of fact. Going to miss the end of the San Francisco football game. I hope they’re beating the Packers but I got my 9 plants out in west county and they’re flowering now. It’s all legal – a medical marijuana plot.

DEAN BECKER: Sounds sweet.

PHIL SMITH: I agree with Ed Rosenthal. He once said, “You don’t get addicted to marijuana but you get addicted to growing it.”

DEAN BECKER: That’s true. I’m going into withdrawals. We got to let you go, Phil. Thank you so much.

PHIL SMITH: Thank you.

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[game show music]

It's time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects!

Reye’s syndrome, destructive effects on the heart and blood flow of newborn infants, severe constipation, diabetes, dysentery, hemophilia, kidney disease, gout, upset stomach and ulcers…

{{{ gong }}}

Time’s up. The answer, from the manufacture:

Pepto-Bismol…nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea! Pepto-Bismol – it does more than you think.

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MALE: I don’t always do drugs but when I do I prefer marijuana. Stay informed my friends.

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DEAN BECKER: It seems this past month or so has been just chalk full of news, changes, new perspectives about this drug war. Here to talk about another aspect, another challenge to the logic of the drug war from the Drug Policy Alliance we have Mr. Jag Davies. How are you doing?

JAG DAVIES: I’m doing great. Thanks so much.

DEAN BECKER: The DEA has become the suspect. Am I right?

JAG DAVIES: Yeah, they have a long history of lack of accountability on a lot of different levels. 3 that emerged from Reuters and the New York Times in the past month sort of take it to a whole other level.

What Reuters reporter, John Shiffman, revealed is that for several years a secretive DEA unit has been funneling information from Intelligence wire taps and informants into massive databases of telephone records around the country to launch criminal investigations against Americans.

I think that aside from the privacy issues and the civil liberties issues around spying on nearly all Americans without consent (which is a whole another issue unto itself) what I think is deeply troubling about this is the whole concept of parallel construction which means the DEA would never acknowledge that they were receiving the information from these secret phone records. An arrest would be made and agents would go back and pretend that the investigation began with a traffic stop or something legitimate. That’s what they call parallel construction.

They’ve been doing this for at least more than a decade. It could affect thousands or even tens of thousands of cases. There’s no way for a judge or the defense to have any awareness of this.

DEAN BECKER: They have created situations where the vast majority of people who are busted for drugs just take the plea bargain. They don’t even go to trial.

JAG DAVIES: Right, more than 90%.

DEAN BECKER: This ability to use these surreptitious means just further constrains our rights as citizens here in this country to a decent trial.

JAG DAVIES: Absolutely. There’s a number of issues like that. One of other issues that the DEA has come under heat for over the years is how they use confidential informants. Some research shows that as many as 80% of drug convictions are obtained through the use of informants and often times in these cases they are secretive, working for the government, have no sort of accountability. All it really takes is the word of one uncorroborated informant to lock someone up.

That’s the only way out of a mandatory-minimum sentence. You were talking about how the justice system has been corrupted because people can’t go to trial. What happens is after someone gets arrested...in the mandatory-minimum statutes it says the only way you can get out of that is by providing what they call “substantial assistance.” So that creates this snowball effect especially in communities of color that have much higher rates of drug law enforcement.

There was one study that found something like 1 out of 10 people in this one Baltimore neighborhood were working in some way for law enforcement as informants. It’s a way of really breaking down the bonds of communities.

DEAN BECKER: Your thought regarding informants...the DEA has been scandalized a couple of times for using one or two gentlemen who made millions of dollars deceiving the courts, etc. then they’ve rehired these same people recently to go back to work as informants. It is a sleazy outfit in my perspective.

Your closing thoughts, Mr. Jag Davies.

JAG DAVIES: The good thing is there is movement in congress to investigate. On Thursday this past week a broad spectrum of civil liberties groups including the Drug Policy Alliance sent a sign on letter to congress demanding that they hold hearings. It does seem hopeful that finally this might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. There’s a good chance that they’ll be held accountable.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Jag Davies. Their website is http://drugpolicy.org.

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DEAN BECKER: Paranoid, delusional freaks. I get so tired of those whose actions imperil our nation and our democracy with the way they position themselves around the policy of drug prohibition. Surely they must feel some guilt over the fact that their habits destroy lives, cities and even whole nations.

No doubt they never think about the harms they inflict via their addiction. These paranoid freaks never consider that the reason that tens of thousands are brutally murdered in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala must be laid at their feet. Because of their actions more than 30,000 U.S. gangs have sprung to life selling contaminated drugs to our children making tens of billions of dollars each year in doing so. Many of these U.S. gangs are now in bed with the cartels and gangs.

The addicts I speak of are legislators, prosecutors, police chiefs and all who think eternal war on the people to be necessary.

As always, I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.

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DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Policy Studies.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org