06/24/12 James Higdon

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

James Higdon author of Cornbread Mafia, Doug McVay of Common Sense Drug Policy, Lawrence Odonnel, Jeffrey Dhywood, Terry Nelson and ABC TV clip

Audio file


Cultural Baggage / June 24, 2012


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.


DEAN BECKER: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Man, do we have a lot of info to share with you this week. It seems the drug war, the concept of prohibition is crumbling at the seams. Fewer and fewer people are willing to stand there and yell, “Lock ‘em up” these days and more and more people are saying to quit it.

We have some stories about what’s going on nationally we’re going to share with you a little bit later but today we’re going to talk about Kentucky and the Midwest. We’re going to speak with the author of a great book, “The Cornbread Mafia.” It’s a homegrown syndicates code of silence and the biggest marijuana bust in American history. With that I want to welcome the author, James Higdon. Are you there, James?

JAMES HIGDON: I’m here. Thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: I just finished the book today. It was a great read. My hats off to you for the investigative reporting you did. You dug down into this. You got a lot of details to share about this Cornbread Mafia.

JAMES HIGDON: Well, thanks a lot. I appreciate that.

DEAN BECKER: Let’s talk about who is the Cornbread Mafia. Tell the folks please.

JAMES HIGDON: Well, between 1985 and 1989 70 Kentuckians, all but one of them men, so 69 men and one woman were arrested on 30 farms in 10 states with 200 tons of pot.

DEAN BECKER: Wow. I saw some numbers. What was it? 400 and something pounds in total?

JAMES HIGDON: Yeah. The math escapes me at the moment but you can break it down a number of ways. It’s a staggering amount of marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: Let’s do bear in mind that quite often these tallies tend to lead to pounds that don’t exist. By that …

JAMES HIGDON: Oh yeah. Your audience is an educated audience on the drug war so everyone is well versed in the DEA’s “1 plant equals 1 pound” is a complete fabrication. For instance, one of the farms in Minnesota they came up with a round figure of 90 tons for that farm and that’s a completely arbitrary number. They were completely overwhelmed. They weighed on dump truck load of the stuff and then multiplied that by 62 which was the number of dump truck loads it took them to clear the field. Then so much were made after that that they just doubled that number and came up with 90 tons. So we’re talking about “sky” numbers.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, right. It also discounts or doesn’t take into account the weight of the stems, the leaves, maybe some roots, maybe some dirt and the water that’s contained in cannabis as well.

From this book, you know, I gleaned several things one of which was just the enormity of what these guys had done. I had my time back in 60s, 70s and even into the 80s where I grew some pretty good cannabis up near Hempstead, Texas here. I never had any partners. I would have a driver that would help me during harvest time but these guys they parceled it out. They worked together and were quite successful in many ways, were they not?

JAMES HIGDON: In many ways they were successful. In fact, many of them who dealt exclusively in marijuana, who didn’t get involved in cocaine when it came in many of them got into the business, were successful and got out without getting caught.

DEAN BECKER: Right and you bring up a point there that those who thought that cocaine and free-basing and such was appropriate or should be included in their daily activities didn’t fare as well, did they?

JAMES HIGDON: No they did not fare as well. You know, it was bad for business. It turned a lot of good people into egomaniacs and then those people ruined the business for other people and brought attention to themselves that they had not previously done. It was all kind of a big spiral.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah and, you know, something that astounded me…Here in Texas, I think it was 1980 that a single joint could get you 10 years in prison. But, the fact of the matter is in Kentucky it was a misdemeanor. It might get you a fine and they would plow your crop under, correct?

JAMES HIGDON: Right. In the 70s, before the Reagan administration, marijuana prohibition in its natural state in Kentucky, a cultivation of anything was a misdemeanor and there was no upper limit on felony versus misdemeanor in terms of number of plants. The penalties were 6 months of probation and a $500 fine. In 1976 when the first sort of larger scale busts happened the people who were caught walked down to the courthouse, paid the fine and walked home.

DEAN BECKER: It’s a little wonder they kept at it. [both chuckle]

The fact of the matter is that despite the fact that…let’s say it wasn’t 400,000 pounds. Dried weight might have been in total of 50 to 100,000 pounds. That’s still an enormous, and enormous amount of dried weed that these guys would have had for sale, right?

JAMES HIGDON: That’s correct.

DEAN BECKER: I want to talk about your relationship. You come from the same area where these farmers did their thing, right?

JAMES HIGDON: That’s correct. I’m born and raised in Lebanon, Kentucky which is in Marion County which is the headquarters of the so-called Cornbread Mafia. I graduated from the Marion County High School class of 1994.

DEAN BECKER: Alright. Now, when I look at the cover of the book, there’s a picture of a gentleman here who’s got a grey beard and curly, grey hair and holding up a big cola del soro and smoking a joint but his eyes are blacked out. This is Mr. Johnny Boon. Is that right?

JAMES HIGDON: That is Johnny Boon. Yes, sir.

DEAN BECKER: The fact of the matter is while you were writing this book, while the information was being recognized, if you will, by authority they wanted to delve into your records. They wanted to get information that you might have derived from Mr. Johnny Boon, correct?

JAMES HIGDON: That’s correct. When I began my reporting Johnny Boon was merely an ex-convict. He’d been out of prison since 2001 or 2002 and, after talking to him in 2007, he got busted again in 2008 and became a fugitive. At that point I was on the U.S. Marshals’ radar because they knew that I had talked to Boon before he disappeared.

DEAN BECKER: Mr. Boon is still on the run.

JAMES HIGDON: At large, on the run, in the wind, on the lamb – any of those expressions are accurate.

DEAN BECKER: You know, he seems like a guy I would really enjoy talking with. The fact of the matter is you make him sound like a down home, reality-based kind of guy, right?

JAMES HIGDON: Well, there’s some longer quotes by him in the book. He comes across sounding like he is in real life. I don’t think I did anything to make him sound “down home.” I think he is, in fact, you know, a very intelligent, down home kind of guy who does what he does which happens to be grow marijuana very well.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. He was kind of, I won’t say the boss man, but was respected and people just listened to him. They knew he knew what he was doing. They kind of went along, didn’t they?

JAMES HIGDON: He was incredibly good at what he did – and in the present tense, I guess. He also has an alpha male personality and he was a natural leader. He ran a crew of these guys. The misnomer is that this whole thing, because it was labeled a “mafia” – in terms of Cornbread Mafia, there’s a misnomer that it was a big, pyramid-style hierarchy with him at the top and that’s not the case. He was one crew leader of many crew leaders.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Probably got a slightly bigger cut for all his hard work but he wasn’t running everything.

Now, something else that caught my attention…let’s see if I can pronounce it right – omerta which is a Sicilian word which basically means keeping respect for the organization. Tell the folks what that means.

JAMES HIGDON: Well, OK, look…anybody familiar with organized crime is going to be familiar with the concept of omerta. Correct, it was developed in Sicily. Sicily was conquered and re-conquered by every major Mediterranean power throughout history so the native Sicilians developed their own code of justice that was independent of whichever ruling authority happened to be controlling Sicily at the time and that developed into this code of omerta which then came to America through Italian organized crime.

Boon became aware of it when he went to federal prison and met Italians who were in there for not talking which was exactly what Boon was in prison for – doing time for not talking.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah and that was common amongst these 70 Kentuckians…

JAMES HIGDON: Yeah. 74 of them arrested and 0 of them talked in exchange for lesser sentence. It thwarted the government’s plans to prosecute men like Boon as a kingpin under the CPE statutes so it frustrated the prosecution that none of them talked.

DEAN BECKER: And, as always, in any situation involving drugs there’s always demonization, propaganda, hysteria – all of this. There was a television program that covered the Cornbread Mafia and tried to portray Johnny Boon as a mass murderer or something, didn’t they?

JAMES HIGDON: Yeah. America’s Most Wanted which ordinarily I had no negative opinion of the program before getting involved with before they ran the segment on Boon. I grew up watching the program like anyone else did. Saw that they did a good job capturing murderers and child molesters and genuinely bad people who were wanted for genuinely bad crimes.

Then they started painting this portrait of Johnny Boon that I recognized as inaccurate. I interviewed with them on camera in D.C. at their headquarters in Bethesda. They did not use my interview. What I had to say they were not interested in hearing and the Deputy U.S. Marshal in charge of the case goes on there and says some really loose talk about hearing rumors that Boon had killed people who had, in fact, committed suicide. The Deputy Marshal’s response was, “These were ruled a suicide but you never know. You’re dealing with Johnny Boon.”

But he never picked up a phone to call any of the police who worked those cases. He never looked at a police report on either of the death investigations that he mentioned. I went back and did that report and talked to the cops who worked those cases, looked at the police reports involved in those cases and they seemed pretty clear cut cases of suicide to me.

DEAN BECKER: The thing of it is that anytime you can mention the word “drugs” you can kick in the door, you can shoot the dog, threaten the children, ransack the house and if you don’t find anything – well, there’s still no problem because you had mentioned the word drugs. Am I right?

JAMES HIGDON: That I don’t know. I’m not going to give you that one.

DEAN BECKER: [chuckling] Alright, well, trust me – it’s true.

JAMES HIGDON: [chuckles]

DEAN BECKER: Alright. Ok, folks, we’re speaking with Mr. James Higdon. He’s author of “The Cornbread Mafia.” Look, friends, if you want to get into the nitty gritty of how one of these growing organizations, growers’ organization (however you want to say it) – how they function and the kind of trouble they run into…it usually involves alcohol or cocaine or people who get their ass in a sling. That’s really part of the observations I got out of this.

We’ve got just about one minute and a half left here. James, I want to turn it over to you. Point folks to your website and closing thoughts.

JAMES HIGDON: Well, anybody can follow me at jameshigdon on Twitter or go to facebook.com/cornbreadmafia. You’re welcome to find the book on Amazon. It’s currently on front table at every Barnes and Noble nationwide, on the nonfiction table. Will be for the rest of the month.

It’s a half decent read I’m told. I’m told it’s a pretty good book.

DEAN BECKER: Now, look, I’m going to underscore that. I think it’s a rollicking good time to people who want to better understand the nature of this drug war and how it impacts our fellow citizens. I got a lot of sympatico with Mr. Johnny Boon.

JAMES HIGDON: It’s set in Kentucky but it’s a story of every American pot growing organization. Anyone who’s in America and interested in ending prohibition ought to read it and get informed.

DEAN BECKER: I agree with you, James. I appreciate it. I hope to invite you back again to kick it around some more because it really is a good book.

Folks, check it out, “The Cornbread Mafia. A homegrown syndicate’s code of silence and the biggest marijuana bust in American history.” Mr. James Higdon, thank you, sir.

JAMES HIGDON: Thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir.


(Game show music)

DEAN BECKER: It’s time to play: Name That Drug by Its Side Effects.

ANNOUNCER: Side effects may include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, incarceration, erotic lustfulness, loss of odor control, loss of clothing, loss of money, loss of virginity, delusions of grandeur, table dancing, headache, dehydration, dry mouth and a desire to sing karoke and play all night rounds of strip poker, truth or dare and naked twister.

Also may cause you to think you can sing and may lead you to believe that ex-lovers are really dying for you to telephone them at 4 in the morning. It may create the illusion that you are tougher, smarter, faster and better looking than most people. And it may lead you to think people are laughing with you. May cause pregnancy. And it may also be a major factor in getting your ass kicked.

So what are you waiting for? Stop hiding and start living - with Tequila!

{{{ gong }}}


DOUG McVAY: Partners in Crime.

The International Harm Reduction Association/Harm Reduction International has just released a new report titled Partners in Crime: International Funding for Drug Control and Gross Violations of Human Rights

According to the authors, quote:

“Donors contributed approximately $273.2 million USD to the [UN Office on Drug Control]'s drug programme for the two-year period 2010­2011, of which $61 million went to counter illicit trafficking, very often in environments with serious human rights risks. These funds are accompanied by millions more in bilateral aid to governments responsible for serious human rights violations.” End quote.

In fact according to the US Office on National Drug Control Policy, the US on its own spends more than two billion dollars a year on international drug control activities, in addition to the 3.5-4 billion dollars a year it spends on Defense Department interdiction activities.

According to the report, quote:

“Australian and US government funding ... has been spent on maintenance and staff training at drug detention centres where people are subjected to physical violence, isolation and forced labour and not provided with treatment for which there is scientific evidence of effectiveness ­ all in violation of international law and all illegal in their own jurisdictions.” End quote.

Specifically the report states, quote:

“Numerous reports have documented the human rights violations associated with government drug detention centres (sometimes euphemistically called drug treatment centres, drug rehabilitation centres or re-education through labour centres), where more than 400,000 people in China and Southeast Asia alone are interned for months or years without due process rights such as proper medical evaluation, appearance before a judge or right of appeal ­ in breach of the basic right to freedom from arbitrary detention. The centres are typically run by public security or military officials rather than public health practitioners, and usually lack qualified medical personnel or evidence-based treatment for HIV or other common illnesses. Detention centres in China and Viet Nam are in essence slave labour camps, with detainees forced to work for years to meet daily labour quotas for private companies that contract with centre management. This practice is referred to as ‘therapeutic labour’ in Viet Nam and its performance in drug detention centres is required by Vietnamese law. Even juveniles must participate in ‘therapeutic labour,’ as the Vietnamese government acknowledged in their recent response to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child when asked directly about drug detention centres.” End quote.

Our money. Our drug war. Our responsibility.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay with Common Sense for Drug Policy.


TERRY NELSON: This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. I am a supporter of Senator Webb of Virginia and his call to reform our CJ system. Our system is out of touch with reality and has not conformed to the needs of our citizens.
Recently a woman in was sentenced to life in prison for allegedly being an accomplice (she owned the vehicles but did not participate) in a cocaine smuggling ring. Daily people are sentenced to ten or more years for possession. Our police are not to blame. They are out doing what they think is right and conducting drug investigation with vigor, it is the system that is flawed.

According to the Austin Statesman Federal authorities are seeking to seize the well-known South Austin restaurant and music venue Jovita's under a federal indictment that charges 15 people, including three members of the family that owns the South First Street business, with heroin distribution.

Authorities said the indictment and subsequent arrests Thursday have put a major dent in the local heroin trade. Boy, how many times have we heard that before?

"We believe Texas Syndicate ... is one of the most violent gangs in the state," said Gary Albus, a commander with the Texas Department of Public Safety. "They mainly operate on drug trafficking, so this is a great disruption."

Police and federal officials said that Pardo has been a Texas Syndicate member for more than 30 years and was convicted of murder in 1972 and 1985.

According to prison officials, Pardo was sentenced to eight years in prison on the 1985 murder conviction and was released in 1987.

So he served two years for a second murder. I think this guy is more dangerous than a drug user and needs to be occupying space now taken up by a non-violent offender.

On February 8, 2011, Senator Webb re-introduced the National Criminal Justice Commission Act (S. 306), which will create a blue-ribbon commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the criminal justice system from top to bottom. Senator Webb believes that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to analyze the criminal justice system in its entirety, to examine its interlocking parts, to learn what works and what does not, and make recommendations for reform. The bill is referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. You can call or write to your senators and tell them you want them to support this bill.

So Senator Webb is right and we do need to do a top to bottom look at our criminal Justice system and keep the things that work and throw out the things that do not. It’s time to think of crime as acts against other people, places or things and not self-inflicted damage. We can do so much that is right and help our country come to grips with issues that currently divide us. Our police will be able to gain the respect of those they police and corruption of our public officials can be minimized.

This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, www.leap.cc signing off. Stay safe.


DEAN BECKER: Regular listeners to the Drug Truth Network may remember our next guest, Jeffrey Dhywood. He’s the author of “World War D.” He’s trying to help things on an international scale.

JEFFREY DHYWOOD: Drugs have never been illegal in Uruguay, drug use so it was always legal for personal use and possession. Drug trafficking was illegal. Uruguay has been debating since January 2011 the cultivation of marijuana. I mean, Uruguay is called the Switzerland of Latin America. It’s the safest country in Latin America and there is a new trafficking route opening to Europe through West Africa.

That route goes through Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. So this resulted in much more drugs being in the country especially cocaine and the worse problem with cocaine which is cocaine base.

Now, the government decided that they wanted to separate marijuana from all drugs to legalize the sales, the production and sale of marijuana. The way they propose to do this, which is currently under discussion, is the production and the sales would be controlled by the government and the quality would be controlled by the government.

They were talking about having the user register but they seemed to have dropped this idea. There would be some limit to the maximum quantity that people could buy every month and when they pass these maximum quantities they would be reinstated to treatment centers. So they would be advised to go to treatment.

So that’s pretty much the way it is presented at this stage.

DEAN BECKER: Jeffrey, now what you have explained here is common sense, I think. And, the fact of the matter is in order to help influence, perhaps, the leaders in Uraguay you have a website where folks can show their support for this change, correct?

JEFFREY DHYWOOD: it’s http://www.world-war-d.com. Here you will find the links to a petition that I have for Perez Molina and a petition that has just started in the seaport of Uruaguay.


DEAN BECKER: One of the foundations of justice in these United States has been that if we are charged with a crime that we be convicted by a jury of our peers thus enabling everyday citizens the opportunity to judge not just the accused but, perhaps more importantly, the law itself. Yet, in modern America this concept has been turned on its head.

Today prosecutors and defense attorneys work diligently to exclude any potential jurors they perceive as holding views not aligned with their intent to convict or exonerate. The real horror that results from this modern means of selecting a jury is that it is rarely our peers hearing the evidence and, for those areas of the country – mostly in small towns and burgs for drug war cases where a more exact gathering of peers is more likely, prosecutors seek to have the federal government levy the charges thus moving the trial to larger cities where convincing jurors and obtaining convictions is more certain and the locals get their cut of the forfeiture dollars.

When alcohol was illegal and after a few years of prohibition and a jury was convened they could not see the accused as being guilty. We live in a fantasy world over guilt and innocence, truth and lies, justice and eternal war.


TOMMY CHONG: Hey, this is Tommy Chong for the Cultural Baggage show telling everybody out there don’t let free speech go up in smoke, man.


DEAN BECKER: The following courtesy of KTRK-TV, ABC News, Houston.


FEMALE ANNOUNCER: A juror’s job is to decide guilt or innocence. We don’t ask them to make the law.

MALE ANNOUNCER: Last week in a Harris County courtroom dozens of potential jurors said a Texas drug law is no good and no matter how strong the evidence they would not convict.

This evening reporter Ted Oberg investigated. Sounds like news to me inside the courtroom.

TED OBERG: Tens of thousands of cases come and go every year in the Harris County courthouse but every once in a while one of those run of the mill cases causes you to stop and take notice.

MALE: I wouldn’t say that it was that different from, you know, another type of possession case.

TED OBERG: Oh, but after this case was finished it was far from any other case.

MALE: It was a wild moment.

TED OBERG: Israel Juan Hail was charged with possession of less than a gram of cocaine. Cops said he had half as much coke as there is Sweet and Low in a single packet.

When citizens showed up in court last week to pick a jury it started the way all cases do.

MALE: The prosecutor asked a question to the first 65 people, the jurors, if they believed beyond a reasonable doubt that if the offence was committed would they convict.

LOU ELLEN WHEELER: Well, I was just surprised, first of all, of the bluntness of the question.

TED OBERG: But juror Lou Ellen Wheeler was even more surprised by the answer. She said yes but 50 out 100 jurors said no, they wouldn’t convict someone even if it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

MALE I was surprised that it was that many.

TED OBERG: One juror was more blunt than the others.

MALE: She said I can’t believe I had to get out of my car to come down for this. It says that there’s a segment of the population that doesn’t think small possession cases should be punished as severely as the law calls for them to be.

TED OBERG: This isn’t a so-called trace case – the ones the DEA won’t prosecute. A trace is equal to a single grain of Sweet and Low. This was 40 times that and the law here is clear.

MALE: It’s against the law.

TED OBERG: But Juan Hill’s defense lawyer says the jury made something else clear, too.

ATTORNEY: They said we’re not going to make somebody a felon and ruin their lives over less than a gram of cocaine.

TED OBERG: Juan Hill was found not guilty. Juror Lou Ellen Wheeler did tell us…

LOU ELLEN WHEELER: Given that our government is struggling with resources that possibly it was not the best judgment call to have brought a case with such weak evidence to a jury trial.

TED OBERG: 50 out of 130 potential jurors said they couldn’t convict even if it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The DA’s office warns that one case isn’t a sea change but do remember this was a campaign issue during the DA’s race and the DA’s Republican opponent that beat DA Pat Lycos says not only would he prosecute cases like this but cases with far less drug evidence.

Ted Oberg, 13 Eye Witness News.


DEAN BECKER: Alright, well, the fact of the matter is, you know, if you think the drug war needs to end you’re going to have to do your part of it because only you can prevent drug war.

I want to thank James Higdon, author of “The Cornbread Mafia”. Please check it out. It’s very educational – taught me a lot. It reminded me a lot of some other things that I used to do.

Check out this week’s Century of Lies. It features Ethan Nadelmann talking about a forthcoming Caravan for Peace.

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


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

This show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT Houston.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org