11/10/17 Michael Beuhler

(0:45) Dr. Carl Hart on ignorance of drug war, (2:35) DPA Conf on "drug induced homicide" with Lindsey LaSalle, Peter Bruan & Lisa Wilkins, (28:40) Toxicologist Dr. Michael Beuhler re fentanyl fears, (35:20) DPA Conf "drugs + kids = prison" with Asha Bandele of DPA, Deborah Small of Johns Hopkins & author Liza Jess Peterson (43:55) Lynn Paltrow Dir Natl Advocates for Pregnant Women

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Friday, November 10, 2017
Michael Beuhler



NOVEMBER 10, 2017


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.

Hello, my friends, this is Dean Becker. Thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Man, do we have a great show lined up for you today. We're going to start with a little slice we stole from Democracy Now! It features Doctor Carl Hart. I'm hoping Amy will sue me or something because I could sure use the publicity.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed a major revival of the so-called war on drugs. This is Sessions speaking the Department of Justice headquarters, as he rescinded two Obama era memos that encouraged prosecutors to avoid seeking inordinately harsh sentences for low level drug offenses.

JEFFERSON BEAUREGARD SESSIONS: Going forward, I have empowered our prosecutors to charge and pursue the most serious offense, as I believe the law requires, the most serious readily provable offense. It means that we're going to meet our responsibility to enforce the law, with judgment and fairness. It is simply the right and moral thing to do.

And we know that drugs and crime go hand in hand. They just do, the facts prove that so. Drug trafficking is an inherently dangerous and violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can't file a lawsuit in court. You collect it with the barrel of a gun.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States. Doctor Carl Hart, your response.

CARL HART, PHD: This kind of ignorance takes us back to the 1980s, and, we are all concerned about mass incarceration in the country today. If you want to know how we got there, right now, what we're doing, with people like Jeff Sessions and that guy in the White House is how we got there, and they're trying to ensure that we go back there, in part because it's going to effect primarily, negatively effect black people and brown people in this country.

And, it's frustrating that we have such remarkably ignorant people, and meanspirited people, and racist people.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Amy. Thank you, Doctor Hart. Earlier this week, the Drug Policy Alliance held two conferences. The first report deals with quote "drug induced homicides" end quote.

LINDSAY LASALLE: Hi everyone. My name is Lindsay LaSalle, and I'm the senior staff attorney in the Drug Policy Alliance's office of legal affairs. We appreciate you joining us to give an overview of the report that we just released on drug induced homicide, and to hear from some folks who have been directly impacted by these laws, as well as advocates who propose different solutions.

So, with that, I'll start off. Drug induced homicide, as many of you know, refers to the crime of delivering a controlled substance that results in death. Now, many of these laws have been on the books since the 1980s, and currently 20 states have drug induced homicide laws. But they've been relatively unused. And it wasn't until really the overdose crisis started to get into an upswing that we saw prosecutors and the law enforcement community reinvigorating these laws.

We weren't able to track actual prosecutions, because there are a number of barriers to doing that. One is that, even though 20 states have drug induced homicide laws, many other states charge these cases under generic felony murder or manslaughter laws. And so there's no way to tease out which manslaughter or felony murder laws, for instance, are actually drug induced homicide cases.

What we were able to do was track media mentions of specific prosecutions over a six year period, from 2011 until 2016. We were able to de-duplicate syndicated articles, but the dataset is media mentions, it doesn't refer specifically to individual cases. But it is representative of the trend that we're seeing, because while there may be some duplicates, obviously the media is not covering every case that is being brought, and so it certainly reflects the trends that we're seeing.

And those trends are that, over this six year period from 2011 to 2016, we saw a 300 percent increase in media mentions of drug induced homicide prosecutions. So this is a really startling number. It went from 363 in 2011 to nearly twelve hundred in 2016. And this again is probably reflective of around the number of prosecutions that were seen, and perhaps even undercounted, since again, media is not covering every prosecution.

And further signalling the ratcheting up of this drug war tool, we've seen that new legislation has been introduced, in 2017 alone, in thirteen states to either create drug induced homicide offenses or to strengthen a drug induced homicide law that's already on the books.

So in Illinois for instance, a state that has used this tool consistently and increasingly, while they do have a drug induced homicide law on the books, they introduced legislation to extend the reach of that law. So now, they want to be able to take people who supply drugs out of state that result in a death in state, and be able to charge them with murder. So we're really seeing, across the board in terms of both prosecutions and new legislation, a real embrace of this punitive drug war tool.

There really is not a shred of evidence that these laws are effective. Of course they're couched as a response to the current opioid crisis, as a way to presumably reduce sales and thereby reduce use, and thereby reduce overdose. But prosecutors who are using these laws aggressively are never held accountable, and they are never asked to actually prove whether or not these laws are effective.

As just one example, in Ohio, they have ten full time police officers investigating these cases. They investigated 53 potential cases in 2015, and they still recorded 100 more opioid related overdose deaths in 2016 than in 2015. And this is a trend that we see across the board nationally, in every county and every state that is aggressively prosecuting these types of case.

Overdose deaths are continuing to rise, and this really should not be surprising, because we know that if people are worried about calling 911 because they may be charged with something as extreme as murder or manslaughter, of course they're going to hesitate in seeking medical assistance. They are not going to call 911 in those situations, when perhaps they have shared a drug with their friend, or have even sold a drug to a family member or a friend, and could potentially be on the hook for a very severe penalty.

This is the case even in states that do have good samaritan laws. Those laws typically only provide immunity for very low level possession or paraphernalia offenses. You can imagine how drug induced homicide prosecutions completely undermine the intention behind those laws, which is really to provide a safe haven for people who want to seek medical assistance if someone is overdosing.

This is especially true because prosecutors, as this report shows, are widely abusing their discretion in who they are bringing these cases against. So even though the legislative history of these laws, and the purported rationale by many prosecutors and other law enforcement officials is that these laws will be used to go against the so-called kingpins or the upper echelon drug manufacturers, in fact what all of the data to date show is that these laws are actually being prosecuted most often against the very last person to touch the drug, and that is usually a friend, a family member, or the very lowest level person in the supply chain who's doing the hand to hand exchange.

And these are the people who are best in a position to call 911, and of course will not if they're afraid of being prosecuted under these laws. Again, the rationale for these laws, the deterrence rationale is kind of a mantra that the law enforcement community marches out any time that they're proposing a punitive policy, but we know that the research shows that these types of laws, and increased penalties for different crimes, do not in fact deter. And we know that demand follows use, not the other way around.

So, the end result of incarcerating a single individual is really just a replacement effect, where someone else is going to assume that place, and what we lose by pointing the finger at a single individual and scapegoating that person and saying this person is to blame, is to ignore all of the other structural factors that contribute to an overdose. We ignore kind of our failed public health infrastructure in preventing these overdose deaths, and instead point the finger of blame at a single person.

And we know that from the history of the drug war, when we point the finger at a particular person, very often that finger is pointed at communities of color. And in the context of drug induced homicide, and a tool of the drug war, we can expect that this is going to play out in the same way that all other drug war tactics have, which is to result in racial disparities, and to implicate people in the criminal justice system under the guise of kind of racially coded language, and in this case we're talking about the pushers, the dealers, the peddlers, and we know ultimately how that plays out.

And we have the case of James Linder, both highlighted in the report but also in the video, that shows what these implications can look like in real life, where you have a suburban, rural county outside of Chicago, McHenry County, with a population of 1.6 percent black, over 94 percent white, that has charged at least 35 percent of their cases against people of color, primarily from the Chicago area, bringing them into their all-white county, and in the case of James Linder, he ended up being convicted by an all-white jury and ultimately sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.

And finally, before I turn it over to some of our panelists, I just want to note that these laws are really more than just a misguided response to overdose deaths. They are truly inhumane, and one thing that we try to do in this report is highlight that human element through personal stories.

We deeply profiled three people: Amy Shemberger, who we were hoping was going to be able to join us on this call, and I'm still holding out hope might be able to, but, for any of you who have ever had a loved one incarcerated, you know how difficult it can be to get out and make a phone call at the time that you request, so we'll see if that happens, James Linder, who I just mentioned, and Michael Millette, to show what the human impact of these laws really is, both on them, on their families, and also on their children, and what it means for them and their prospects as well.

So, I want to turn it over now to people that actually have been directly impacted by these laws, and can talk to you about the human toll and the human impact on them. And so first is Peter Bruun. He is a father who refused to cooperate with the prosecution of a young man who delivered the drugs that resulted in his daughter's overdose death, and who has since been engaged in anti-stigma work through the arts. So Peter, if you want to share your story.

PETER BRUUN: Sure, thank you very much. So, my daughter, Elisif, at age 24, died of a drug overdose on February 11, 2014. At the time, he was attending CooperRiis, a healing community in North Carolina, and she obtained the drugs when she contacted a friend living in Philadelphia, Sean Harrington, who at the time was living in a cardboard box under a highway overpass. She convinced him to mail her heroin after she had sent him a money order, and Sean, who did not know Elisif was in rehab, was happy to do as she asked.

Elisif had been at CooperRiis for treatment for three months, and had earned privileges of independence, so it wasn't difficult for the greeting card containing the heroin to get through to her. So she received the drug, she used them, and she died.

The police in North Carolina easily built the case, tracing the distribution of the lethal dose of drugs to Sean Harrington. There were text messages, the money order record, and the greeting card itself. And per North Carolina law, and the efforts of the district attorney's office, Sean was arrested, charged with second degree murder, and ultimately extradited to Polk County, in North Carolina, where he faced charges with a maximum penalty of 52 years in prison.

After spending nearly two years in jail awaiting trial, Sean was released. So the prosecutors decided not to go forward with the charges because they did not have the cooperation of quote "the victim's family." So, we, my wife and two daughters and I, we are the victim's family, and we didn't cooperate with the prosecution. Indeed, we have established a relationship with Sean, and his family, and as we expect, we found we had a whole lot more in common with them, their suffering, and their compassion, than with the district attorney's approach in Polk County.

I fundamentally believe homicide charges around -- around drug distribution misplaces blame. The disease is a culprit in almost all cases, not the provider. Sean, somebody like him, are more often than not victims themselves, and not perpetrators.

The Seans of the world, and benefit from, treatment, not shame and blame. Perhaps Sean can be held accountable for distributing illegally through the mail, but certainly not for murder. Elisif died of her disease, and blaming is such a toxic, slippery slope, and such a misguided path.

So, as it's a slippery slope, I wonder, why stop at blaming Sean? Why not blame the healing community Elisif was not in for not effectively screening mail? Why not blame the psychiatrists for not embracing medical-assisted recovery? Or why not blame me, for not keeping her safe?

I blame none of us, because we all did what we thought was best. Judgment is always flawed, and in this case, I say not legally so, just humanly so.

We like to throw blame around, and there's ostensibly plenty to go around. You know, and we can blame that, living in a cardboard box under a freeway, who in his illness thought he was helping a friend, and we want to blame people because the disease itself is so ugly and we are so powerless. We don't want to look at that, at the disease, because there's so little we can do about it, but we can punish a person so we do, and that's called scapegoating.

It's misguided and doesn't do one iota to set the world aright. It compounds pain, and limits opportunity to offer healing to so many.

I believe Sean is empowered to offer healing through sharing his story, and that he wants to be a force for good, and he deserves that opportunity, and locking him up has deprived us, deprived me of a kind of redemption, because I see Sean as a force for good. Sean, just having the opportunity to have a life, that's a redemption for me in the face of something no punishment can ever return, and that's my daughter.

Elisif was ill. And so was Sean. And they both deserve life and neither deserve blame. So, Sean, since getting out of jail, has demonstrated the value of the compassionate approach to those in his circumstances. In my activism since Elisif's passing, I've engaged in efforts to use arts programming and public engagement to challenge stigma associated with mental illness and substance use.

In early 2017, I had the opportunity to hold an event where Sean spoke, offering his own story as testimony, and I want to share with you what Sean said about his learning of our family's attitude, and these are remarks he made before an audience of over a hundred people.

When I learned of Peter and his family's stance, I couldn't believe it. I thought this man had to hate me, and rightfully should hate me, because that was easier for me to understand, yet he didn't, because he knew that I held no malice toward his daughter. He understood intimately the way that addiction runs the lives of the sick and suffering.

His compassion has made it possible for me to have a future. And for that, I am eternally grateful. As a result of these events, I'm able to be coming off, I'm able to coming up on three years off of drugs, and that is something I never imagined being able to say.

I owe that to Peter and Elisif and the rest of their family, because they were responsible for giving me a second chance, when I was at a point in life when I didn't think I deserved one.

Yet this helped to give me a purpose. I hope that the experiences that have affected me, my family Elisif, Peter, and the Bruun family, could be used to help prevent more families from enduring the pain and hardship that we've endured. I hope that Elisif's story and my story can be carried to those people that are still sick and suffering, and can be used as a source of strength, hope, and experience, so that those people can one day find a way out of addiction.

I feel like that is the best way to help keep the memory of Elisif alive. Thank you for giving me this chance.

Those were Sean's words that day, out of jail. And, lest anyone question the value, beyond the private exchange between my family and the Harrington's, I want to share a typical response from a member of the audience, an email I got from someone who had been a friend of Elisif's. She was somebody who worked in a treatment center in Baltimore, who wrote about the event.

It will stick with me forever. The enormity of your forgiveness, and the transcendent love, were tangible and profound. It was a gift to everyone present. And I want to say that, nothing has been a gift to my healing in all of this like Sean's redemption, and good health. And nobody, I want to say nobody, would have been happier at this outcome than Elisif.

LINDSAY LASALLE: Thank you so much, Peter, for sharing that incredibly powerful story. And now I want to turn it over to Lisa Wilkins, who, like Peter, lost her son to an overdose, but then spoke out against drug induced homicide prosecution of his friends that were charged and indicted.

LISA WILKINS: Again, my name is Lisa Wilkins. I live in Virginia and I represent Broken No More and GRASP, which is Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing. Our lives changed when our oldest son Chip died at home on May Tenth, 2011, to a heroin overdose after a lengthy period of abstinence. Excuse me.

He was 23. Chip had purchased the heroin from a 21 year old friend and her 19 year old boyfriend. We cooperated in the investigation initially that followed his death, because we wanted to reach out to the families of his friends. We understood with a great clarity that the situation could have been very different, and we wanted to prevent our tragedy from becoming theirs.

Several months after Chip's death, we were notified that the state had obtained sealed indictments for second degree felony murder against these two young people. They were facing a maximum of 40 years in prison. Our local law enforcement and prosecutor were certain that we would be happy. Chip would have justice. We would have closure. And these two would be safe from further drug use.

They were wrong. We were far from happy. For us, the loss of a child is a horror we knew and we understood. We could not imagine the horror and fear of having your child charged with murder. It was at this point that we put our grief on hold and we became advocates for the two charged in our son's death, and their families.

There was little we could do about the charges at that point. We began working with the prosecutor's office to seek the best possible outcome. Our goal was treatment and little incarceration. If we knew anything, we knew these kids did not belong in prison.

Once again, our lives would change. For the next nine months, we were thrown into the strange inner workings of the criminal justice system in a way we had never been before. We were able to get the prosecutor to offer reduced charges and suspended sentencing if the families submitted solid treatment plans, and we found ourselves in the position of having to educate both the prosecutor and the families through their attorneys on evidence based treatment.

We found ourselves negotiating at several levels, with families and with the prosecutor's office. There were varying degrees of cooperation, and the cases ended up being tried separately. For us, that was twice the negotiation, twice the number of repeated court appearances, twice the pending trials, and twice the number of victim impact statements.

What does this do for the victim's family? It complicates an already complex grief. There are very few days in that first year of loss that are good. It seemed that every time we managed to have a good day, the phone would ring. It would be the prosecutor's office with a question or something that we needed to reveal. There was an anxiety buildup before each of the nearly monthly return dates to court, and the sense of defeat and despair upon leaving the courtroom.

There were days of reliving both Chip's death and the stresses of these cases as I composed victim impact statements that would convince the judge that we supported these rather unique pleas and sentencing proposals, and had spoke to these friends of Chip's and their families. As a very private person, I stood before a full courtroom, and poured my heart out in front of neighbors and strangers.

I told these kids that we were proud of them, that we knew that they did not mean for Chip to die nor to inflict pain on their families or our own. I begged them to move forward with their lives, with their recovery, finding purpose and becoming the best that they could be. I told the families that we could not possibly begin to know what worrying about the potential outcome of these trials was like, and that we were sorry.

I thanked them for letting us bear witness to their love and support for their children, and telling them that they would need that and so much more, that recovery is difficult and it's fraught with missteps and fear. I begged them to understand that addiction is a lifelong disease, and recovery is a lifelong process, and to never, ever give up.

I then thanked the court for recognizing that despite Chip's struggles, he was worthy of seeking justice for, but that that justice was misguided. I told the judge that while the actions of an addict might be criminal, the disease of addiction is not a crime, that Chip and our family were not the only victims, that everyone in that courtroom was a victim.

I reminded the court that everyone is deserving of mercy, compassion, and treatment. I begged the judge to remember that it is through that foresight, and the saving of one life at a time, that we truly serve justice for the greater good.

My family and I walked out of that courtroom for the last time over a year after Chip had died. For all intents and purposes, the world thought things were over, justice was served, that we had closure and we would move on. But happily ever afters are the things of fairy tales. My family has been denied the time and space to breathe, and that journey was only just beginning. One life lost, two lives ruined, and three families forever changed. That is not justice. Thank you.

LINDSAY LASALLE: Lisa, thank you so much. And Lisa and Peter, thank you for demonstrating how a compassionate approach trumps criminalization, and what the impact of these laws is on families, and how ultimately this compounds the tragedy of an overdose death, your grief, but how that can be transformed through forgiveness and through advocating for a public health centered approach to drug use.

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DEAN BECKER: Before we go to the second DPA report, this week I received an article from the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition which spoke to the first responders' exposure to fentanyl, facts and myths. In the article, they interviewed Doctor Michael Beuhler, he's the medical director of the Carolinas Poison Center.

You know, this subject, fentanyl, has really gained a lot of attention over the last, well, year in particular, but we're beginning to learn how it's setting our children up to potential death sentences because nobody knows what's in the bag. Would you agree with that thought, sir?

MICHAEL BEUHLER, MD: Yeah. That's one of the -- it's one of the many problems that we're experiencing with this shift of the drugs that we're seeing on the street.

DEAN BECKER: What are some of the myths and common misconceptions about coming into contact with fentanyl?

MICHAEL BEUHLER, MD: So, regarding the street level fentanyl that we're seeing right now, there's a lot of different myths and concerns that people have about this. One of the big ones is that about how dangerous it is in terms of very minor amounts of contact that's going to somehow cause you to become instantly ill or die, which is really not true. Now, one should not trivialize it, these mixtures of who knows what fentanyl derivative you have at the street level are certainly not safe, but a lot of the dangers associated to the first responders are somewhat overblown right now.

You need to get the drug inside of you, and just looking at a baggy or looking at some of this is not necessarily going to get it inside of you. Now, there are situations, sort of that you were alluding to, that potentially could be more dangerous, like if they're going into an active drug lab where they're milling the drug, and they're -- or processing it, or if there's things that disrupt it or send it into the air, explosions and such like that. That's a different kind of situation we're looking at.

For the run of the mill, 99 percent of the time, you're dealing with a first responder who's on scene, with someone who's found down or is having symptoms, and there's a small baggy of drug nearby. And that's an entirely different situation.

DEAN BECKER: It can also cause delays in delivery of care to people who have overdosed when they're so paranoid of the room, correct?

MICHAEL BEUHLER, MD: Correct. Yeah, that's a real problem, in that, you know, you want to make sure that your first responders have minimal to no risk to them. We all accept some risk in life, I mean, they're driving to a scene and we don't always know what's going to be on the scene, but you do want to make sure that they're all safe. But on the other hand, it's, you also have to be able to perform your duties, and there's a lot of sort of misinformation and misunderstanding about the level of risk that we're talking about with these compounds, and the issue is that if they don't go into the scene and the individual needs care, that person's going to potentially die.

If they take an excess amount of time to suit up with unnecessary gear, not only does it become more expensive, but there's another delay in there. And also, this could put them at risk. They can't see well, they can't move as well, they could potentially harm themselves. Heat exhaustion, plenty of reasons why you don't want to overdo the degree of protection needed for your first responders. Well, for anybody, for that matter.

For the most part, all a first responder has to do is good scene awareness and universal precautions. And universal precautions means that you're wearing a pair of gloves, and you do -- you don't get it on you. Now, if you do get it on you, it isn't a matter of panicking. If it's on your clothing it can be brushed off with a wet wipe. If you do get it on your hands and you weren't wearing gloves, again, there isn't a reason to panic. You can finish what you're doing. The powder will not penetrate your skin to any degree in any relevant amount of time. You simply wash your hands, soon, and get on with doing what you need to do.

The problem comes is that when you have people seeing the bag and think, oh there might be some airborne. Well, and that's kind of starting to get into these what if, what ifs, and that's where these additional protections people are trying to do, potentially could be problematic to both them and to the people they're trying to take care of.

Good universal care, full sleeve uniform, wearing gloves, looking around the scene, and -- really what is needed to be done under most of these circumstances, now you shouldn't be trying to touch any of these drugs, these days of doing things to try to figure out what they are. Those are done, you leave those alone for someone who's going to deal with that, and you take care of the patient.

Also you want to be, you're going to -- understand naloxone. You should carry it for both taking care of your patient and potentially your partner. You should be aware of what the symptoms are of an opiate overdose, where people, what you see, and the symptoms that you get from fentanyl toxicity, especially if the type of exposure we're seeing is not going to be immediate loss of consciousness.

There would be a -- potentially it would grow reasonably quickly, but they would become lightheaded, tired, small pupils, dizzy, which is a little bit different than some of the other symptoms that have been reported, which, I know you see these on the news, but the real question that's being put by a lot of toxicologists that have looked at these cases is, are these individuals really being exposed to a significant level of this fentanyl, or are they having symptoms from some other reason? And we're, you know, we really can't pin it on the -- on fentanyl, in many cases.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. Yes, sir. It seems to me that the advent of fentanyl and carfentanyl has complicated things in the drug war, just another, if you will, stupid result of this prohibition. Your thought please, sir.

MICHAEL BEUHLER, MD: Well, the prohibition's been going on for many years, as your people probably understand, and this sort of arise of new derivatives of drugs, once an old one has been made illegal, began back in the '80s with the amphetamines, and many dangerous ones of those came around, and some of those are still around, and then that sort of ebbed away as they managed to get most of them illegal.

It happened again with the cannabinoids, and now potentially with these synthetic -- with the fentanyl derivatives. It's the same kind of phenomenon, that you're attempting to find things that are either not well controlled or that are very profitable in order to provide the end user what they're looking for.

It -- would this be better if we didn't have prohibition? Potentially, it would be, depending upon how that would be handled. But I can say that if you watch the sequence of this developing derivatives and circumventing rules and things like that for many years, it does potentially point to the possibility of the increased harm, at least by that aspect of the actions, yes.

DEAN BECKER: Again, that was Doctor Michael Beuhler, medical director of the Carolinas Poison Center.

Here's the second DPA conference. It deals with our willingness to send our children to prison for drugs. The following is courtesy of the Drug Policy Alliance. We'll hear first from Asha Bandele of the DPA, who introduces Deborah Small.

ASHA BANDELE: And so Deborah, you were speaking so eloquently, and then sort of look at some of, what are some of the things that drive young people into prisons, and I know you were talking about marijuana arrests, and just so we can capsule that.

DEBORAH SMALL: I'll just use what's been happening in the city over the last decade and a half as an example. I'm old enough that I remember when New York decriminalized marijuana in 1977, and one of the main reasons it was done, because it was literally three years after the Rockefeller drug laws, and a lot of white parents were upset that their young people were acquiring serious criminal records for smoking marijuana, which at the time was still covered under the Rockefeller laws.

So they were like, uh uh, we've got to do something about this. So the state legislature met, they changed, they decriminalized the law so that marijuana was taken out of the Rockefeller laws, and that only under very specific circumstances could you acquire an arrest for that. And that pretty much stayed in place as city policy for the next 15 years. The city averaged about 5,000 arrests a year for marijuana possession and or sales.

Come along with Giuliani, and quality of life policing, and broken windows theory of policing, and all of a sudden marijuana goes from being a minor offense to something that has become public enemy number one, and he instructs the police to go after all kinds of marijuana offenses, primarily targeting youth of color, and we see the rate of arrests go from around 5,000 to a height of 50,000 a year for possession.

And what's worse about it, to me, not just that they were targeting black and Latino young men, but that they actually manufactured the arrests. What we saw was that under stop and frisk, young people would be stopped, the police would make them empty their pockets, if they found any cannabis, anywhere there, they would charge them with having it in public view. I'm sorry, but that's a manufactured arrest, and the fact that --

ASHA BANDELE: Let's just go back for one second, because you could possess marijuana, you just couldn't have it in public view. So the police forced you to put it into public view, and once it was in public view, then they'd charge you with possession, and for black children, often possession with intent, which gave you another kind of charge.

DEBORAH SMALL: And how it relates to Kalief's case, which I think is really important, is that out of those fifty thousand or so arrests for marijuana possession, all of those young people had a right to have a trial, the same way that Kalief had a right to have a trial, and yet, not a single marijuana trial has ever taken place in New York City under this policy, because the DAs would do the same thing.

They would delay, delay, delay, delay, delay, until the person would either plead out, wait for it to be dismissed, but there was -- because they never wanted the police to actually have to provide evidence to support the charge. And so I see this as the same kind of torture and harassment that your brother went through, that you had tens of thousands of kids getting criminal records for things that they shouldn't have been arrested for and not even being able to assert their constitutional right to prove their innocence.

And so, you know, this, unfortunately, his situation was so much worse, and in many ways, even more needless, because he was charged by hearsay of having stolen a backpack that no one ever proved actually even happened. You know?

ASHA BANDELE: And that's the thing, too, that I want to mention as I bring Liza into the conversation, what you were mentioning, Beatriz, is that the use of the drug war allowed us to criminalize an entire population of young people, because it was a way that you had to justify the extraordinary uptick in police expenditures and everything else, so you had to determine that there was a group of people who were so criminal, and so of course later in the '80s and '90s we get the term superpredator, and who were so criminal that you had to have this extraordinary accoutrement, this extraordinary architecture, come in, you know, regardless of who the person was.

And so, you know what I'd love you to do, Liza, working with young people for 20 years, 19 actually, right? On Riker's Island. We so often talk about black children, about Latino children, about marginalized children, but we almost never speak with them. But you did, you sat in presence, you have ongoing conversations. What don't we know about the children we talk about so easily and so disparagingly, and pathologizing them? What did you see?

LIZA JESSIE PETERSON: I saw the child in them. I saw the funny teenager in them. I, you know, in speaking with them, and, you know, interacting with them on a daily basis, I saw just how they are normal teenagers that have been criminalized, and many of them are carrying a tremendous emotional burden, and even despite the emotional trauma that they are carrying, on top of the trauma of being incarcerated, there's a resilience.

There's a playfulness. I saw them take care of each other, giving each other commissary, sitting down, playing cards together, when they would make a meal in the day room to eat, they would share food with the kid who didn't have any money, they would give him extra food, and then before they would eat they would all hold hands and pray. This is what I saw, you know, happening, so even though there's this, you know, horrible narrative of our children, that they're incorrigible, that they're criminals, that they're this bad seed, no they're not. They're children who need our love and our attention, and more importantly, our resources, so that we can help interrupt this pipeline that's putting them in prison, and what's happening when they come home.

And also, I want to also note that, you know, we have to also take a look at the court systems, and the prosecutors, because they look at our children as disposable. I've seen DAs and been in courtrooms where they want to give a first time offender, who's never killed anybody, never assaulted anybody, 15 years, and if it wasn't for myself and his pastor, and his mother, showing up to court, and you talked about a journey. They adjourned that court case for six months, month after month after month, to wear him down, to get him to plead, because they wanted to, as the DA said, he was -- I forgot, what did she say? Oh, you know he was just so horrible. He was the worst person that she's ever seen, and wanted to just dispose him in an adult prison, sixteen years old.

But he had been in Riker's Island for over a year so now he's 17, going on 18, for fifteen years, and this kid, this is one, who we were able to interrupt, but how many thousands of our children are being disposed by this court system?

So, I want people to know that these are our children, who are going through a normal phase of adolescent rebellion that all children go through, because it's a normal state of development. All children, all teenagers, are off the hook. You know? All children are, you know, bucking up against the system and challenging authority, and are, you know, living on the edge of trying new things. That's the state -- that's the normal phase of adolescent development, but our black and brown children are being criminalized for something that is a normal state of development, and 95 percent and more of the children at Riker's Island are black and Latino. Almost 98 percent of the children at Riker's Island are black and Latino.

ASHA BANDELE: You know, I'll say something as I turn to you, Deion, that I remember, just chills me, a friend of mine who was actually a public defender and agreed with many of the things we've said, said that he saw in his office, where you would have a young white person and a young black person come in, charged with the same offense, usually a marijuana law offense, and what would be determined was that, you had to do more to protect the white child because that child could not survive prison, but the assumption is like that we're some kind of King Kong thing that can survive this.

DEAN BECKER: A hundred years, a hundred years,
A hundred years, a hundred years.
You can hear the drug war blow,
A hundred years.

LYNN PALTROW: My name is Lynn Paltrow, I'm executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, an organization that contributes to the fight for human rights and civil rights for people overall with a special focus on pregnant women and particularly those most likely to be targeted for punishment and surveillance by the state, women of color, low income women, and women who use drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Lynn, we're here in Atlanta, the Drug Policy Alliance conference. It's a time when we get to share progress, ideas, thoughts, procedures, and it seems that our ideas and thoughts over the years are beginning to pan out, in many ways, and they're still lacking in others. Give us your assessment, is drug reform making progress? And if so, where and where not?

LYNN PALTROW: There's been a tremendous amount of progress, and it's been exciting to see all of the organizations and the Drug Policy Alliance really build a movement that's based on science, that's based on compassion, and huge progress. We, at least up until the current administration, moved the drug czar's office from never saying the word "harm" next to the word "reduction," to being able to sponsor programs about harm reduction, and they certainly didn't get it all the way, but, that sounds little but it was huge.

There, in terms of achievements, there have been many legislatively. The number of states with medical marijuana laws, the move toward legalization in more and more states, but we also see that as we address drug policy and the underlying racism that fuels it, the fight back seems to get stronger and stronger. And where we see gaps is still, this is a movement that has focused on criminalization, justifiably, since that's been the result. Arrests, our mass incarceration.

However, less attention has been paid to what's happened to the majority of women. Women are the fastest growing group of incarcerated people, at the same time, if your goal is to use prohibition to control and destroy certain communities, then you put all the men in jail in the black community, and you put all the women under the supervision of the child welfare system.

And what drug policy reform hasn't focused as much on, I'm very happy to see more of it at this year's conference than ever before, is the fact that drug use, evidence of drug use, any evidence of drug use, which absolutely is not the same as evidence of dependency or addiction or anything else, has become a primary reason for child welfare interventions in brown, black, and poor communities.

And that's devastating. It devastates families, it causes trauma to the children, and trauma's associated with unproductive drug use.

DEAN BECKER: It seems that any quote "sin" involving drugs, drug use, or whatever, is given precedence, or more importance, than the damage done, through taking of these children, the trauma that could be a life time impact. And, don't take this wrong, I've been trying to preach that we, the drug reformers, we are the moral people. We're the ones who want to stop, you know, these types of traumas from happening. We want to stop overdose deaths, stop funding terrorists, cartels, and gangs. Basically eliminate drug overdose deaths, if people knew what they were taking. And I guess I'm just preaching here, but your response to that thought.

LYNN PALTROW: We have a narrative that suggests that all of the problems that exist, whether it's poverty or poor health, or dangerous communities, can be fixed by fixing individuals, or controlling individuals. And that's true whether you're talking about drug use or you're talking about pregnancy.

In other words, we don't have to make the environment safe, we can poison the water in Flint, we can give people a lifetime of suffering because of race or poverty, and then say the reason you're -- you have a drug problem is you, and we're going to fix you, not the community, not give the community the support it needs to care for you, and your family. We're going to guarantee healthy birth outcomes, which nobody can do, by surveilling and controlling pregnant women, particularly poor women, brown and black skinned women, and surveilling and controlling them in a way that subjects them to punishment, separation of their families.

But the idea that the role of government is to abuse its population, to punish its population, rather than provide general support for health and welfare, is a problem that we see in drug policy, in healthcare, in reproductive health, and until we move away from individual blame, and the idea that government can fix things through punishment, we're not going to win. And we're not going to win unless we also address the underlying racism and sexism, the idea that we shouldn't provide universal healthcare because that would mean that we were giving some of our tax dollars to black people, we shouldn't fund all reproductive healthcare including abortion because that would mean we were supporting women who didn't want to, or weren't able to carry every pregnancy to term.

These are barriers to achieving what every other western industrialized country has and does, because they actually care about everybody in their society.

DEAN BECKER: And I guess, to come back to my convoluted thought, it boils down to that, if you will, the morals of certain leaders are used to frame the implementation, or the actuation, of certain law enforcement tactics, communal -- enforcing communal standards, if you will, and I guess my thought is that, it's bassackwards, it doesn't accomplish what they proclaim it's going to do, and it needs to be challenged for the quote "morality" of, that they're presenting, that this is based in. I hope I said it better.

LYNN PALTROW: Well, certainly, the justification for prohibition can be attacked as incredibly hypocritical and ineffective, but it depends on what the effect, intended effect is, and if the intended effect of prohibition is to give the state power to punish and control certain populations, then it's very effective, and, you know, we know that prohibition doesn't work. It didn't work for alcohol, obviously it doesn't work for drugs, and it doesn't work for, when abortion was prohibited in the United States a million women a year had abortions because they need to do that. That's a part of the reproductive health and life cycle of people who have the capacity for pregnancy.

So, we can spend a lot of time saying they're hypocritical, I think maybe what you're getting at is, we have to be better at articulating our values, that, and the role of government, and the role of government should be to support the health and general welfare of the community through fair taxation, through distribution of services and wealth so that we have healthy communities, not through control and punishment.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And then now, we are in this era of the treatment industrial complex, which is taking up the slack, if you will, from the prison industrial complex. I see reports of actual quasi-slave camps where people are sent to treatment and they pluck chickens all day for zero, you know, pay. It's a means to diminish our rights, once again, isn't it?

LYNN PALTROW: Well, we used to work with the idea of treatment, not punishment, particularly around pregnant women who give birth to healthy babies and are arrested on some theory that combines the drug war, you were bad because you used drugs, and the anti-abortion movement, the child includes the fertilized egg so we can control and punish you if you become pregnant and use, even though normally all we could arrest you for is possession. If you're a pregnant women, you can go to jail for use. That's happened in Tennessee for two years, it's happening in Alabama and South Carolina, and individual prosecutors try to make that happen elsewhere.

We've been -- and we would respond to the threat of arrest and use of the criminal justice system by saying treatment, not punishment, but what we realized is that while people were very supportive of treatment over punishment, and we did some polling on this, it turns out that what they mean is, using the treatment system to control pregnant women, not to actually find out what they need, and very often the drug use is not a threat, it's not, certainly not a primary threat to child health or well being, but that's the -- that's what they're going to be required to do.

So in Wisconsin, in the midst of, or actually by -- even when the crack baby myth was already being exposed as a fraud, that it's not good to use a lot of things during pregnancy, including cocaine, but it doesn't cause a specific terrible outcome. Certainly not worse than cigarettes. They, right to life organizations, not drug policy organizations, or, you know, drug war organizations, got a law passed called The Unborn Child Protection Act, and they amended the civil child welfare code to add the term unborn child, from the moment of fertilization, and give the state the right to take control of any woman the minute she's carrying a fertilized egg if she admits to any past or current use of alcohol or any controlled substance.

And they can lock her up in a mental institution, they can force her into treatment, even though she's not currently using any drugs, and if she doesn't do what they say, they can put her in jail for contempt. And, to show the intersection and focus even more, the fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus gets a court appointed lawyer. She is not entitled to one at the point at which she's going to be locked up. And it's all, it's all a mythology, because there's absolutely no evidence that locking pregnant women up, and much to suggest the opposite, creates a healthier pregnancy. You're stressing her out, you're stressing her body out.

In one case, they put the woman -- they put the woman in jail, she couldn't get prenatal care, she didn't get the medication she actually needed for several days, and when they said, well, you can get prenatal care if you're willing to have a pregnancy test, and she said, I'm locked up because I'm pregnant, they put her in solitary confinement.

DEAN BECKER: I guess, you know, my perspective on this, over the last few years, is that there is nothing moral about this drug war. That's what I guess I keep pointing to. Where is the benefit? It's a hope, a dream, you know, that somehow, someday, this will be effective, and yet it just continues to fail.

LYNN PALTROW: Well, that's one of the exciting things. I don't know if this episode is about the conference or the context, but, you know, this sense of "ever thus" is that, and when you look more and more carefully at root causes, or root motivations, it is about racism, it's about sexism, it's about ensuring that certain people of power maintain that power, and those are big, hard issues, and I think the human mind wants to believe that we live in a just society, it can't really be that bad, these people must deserve punishment, these people must be dangerous to us, and I think that's how our brains work.

And the question posed is, can we evolve so that our policies and our attitudes are not based purely on tribalism and fear, and that we can find a sense of safety in respecting and having compassion for people who might at first seem different, might at first seem scary, who we were told certain myths about, and it is that -- is, are our brains and hearts capable of that evolution, which is part of what we will need to end the drug war, which we can't end if we don't address those other issues as well.

DEAN BECKER: Lynn Paltrow, National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Is that the website?

LYNN PALTROW: AdvocatesForPregnantWomen.org.

DEAN BECKER: Before we close it out, here's a little plug for my band of brothers and sisters.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. These men and women have served in the trenches of the drug war as prosecutors, judges, cops, guards, and wardens. They have seen firsthand the utter futility of our policy, and now work together to end drug prohibition. Please visit LEAP.cc.

I would also urge you to visit our website, with nearly 7,000 radio segments, at DrugTruth.net, and again I remind you, because of prohibition you donÔÇÖt know whatÔÇÖs 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 of an abyss.