10/14/16 Howard Wooldridge

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Howard Wooldridge of LEAP reports on recent trip to Switzerland, Tess Borden author of "23 Second" report on drug arrests, Van Jones calls for end of drug war, Jill Stein declares drug war a failure

Audio file


OCTOBER 14, 2016


MOBY GRAPE [MUSIC]: Murder in my heart for the judge
I've got murder in my heart for the judge
Well, that mean old judge wouldn't budge
I've got murder in my heart for the judge
[from their 1968 album "Wow"]

DEAN BECKER: All right, there you have it, "Murder In My Heart For The Judge" from Moby Grape from, well, way back when, hell, I don't know. Folks, this is Cultural Baggage, I'm glad you're with us. All right, well, I think he just returned from a vacation and a fact-finding trip to Europe, and with that, I want to welcome my good friend, Officer Howard Wooldridge, now retired. Hello, Howard.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Dean, good to be with you.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, Howard, it's good to have you with me again, sir. I was just telling the listeners that you and the missus took a trip to Europe, I think this time maybe it was more vacation, but you did have a chance to do some work for LEAP, did you not?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: I did, I had an extraordinary opportunity in Switzerland to spend half a day learning more about their highly successful program to treat heroin addiction whereby they save many more lives than the practices we've used here in the United States.

DEAN BECKER: Well, certainly, that's true, Howard. We have a few cities where they're starting to make a difference. Seattle, I think Ithaca, New York is another where they're providing safe injection sites, and trying to tend to this injectable drug problem. Right?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Yeah. American cities, and I'm sure you're aware of Canada just passed a law for prescription heroin by doctors, which the Swiss have been doing for over 20 years, which saves many, many lives, as their addicts have a supply of heroin which is pure heroin, which means nobody, zero people in 22 years, have died of a heroin overdose inside the program in Switzerland. Zero.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and Howard, that brings to mind something that most people don't stop to think about, and that is these drugs are made in primitive labs, some of them are okeh, maybe 92 percent, once it leaves the lab, and then it comes to the US, where they cut this stuff with all kinds of things including Levamisole, a cancer causing agent, or of late, they've been using Fentanyl, and / or the elephant tranquilizer, which is killing people, just the first time they use it. And it's not heroin, I close this show with the thought: because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag, please be careful. And that's just absolutely true, is it not?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: It is, the -- America suffers an eight to one, eight to one ratio of death due to heroin use, calculated versus the Swiss, heroin patient to heroin patient numbers. We lost 47,000 dead Americans last year, they lost 124, and all 124 were people buying their heroin on the street, they were not a patient inside their program, so it's just an amazing difference in how they approach it, and how the Swiss have been so successful, it's been copied now in six countries, and Canada is the latest country to start adopting many of the Swiss practices.

DEAN BECKER: Howard, you know, I don't want to, you know, pick a candidate. But it seems that the drug war, the criminal justice system, has been getting some focus. But not necessarily the drug war, which impacts the criminal justice system so much. Your thought in that regard.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Yeah, it's another disappointment this year, Dean, where, in this election cycle, no one is talking about the most destructive, dysfunctional, and immoral policy since slavery and Jim Crow, which is of course our drug war, drug prohibition. I mean, despite that -- it causes the prison population and all the problems you and I talk about, week in week out, you on the radio informing people across North America, mean in the Congress of the United States, nobody wants to talk about this failed policy, which costs the taxpayers $80 billion, b-boy billion dollars a year. It's just another year of silence.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know, yesterday there was an article in the Washington Post, and I'll be darned if I remember, it was dealing with the drug war. I sent in an op-ed, you know, 550 words, and they actually, two days ago, yesterday they contacted me and said they may use it, this morning they said no, we're not. But, contained within that was a focus on I think what you're talking about, and, you know, we have to refocus what we're up to in this regard. I don't want everybody to have drugs. I don't want kids to have drugs. I don't want it to be, you know, in the streets anymore. I want it to be controlled for adults, so that it's pure, like we were talking about, so they'll know what they're taking, they'll know the quality, quantity, and if they're stupid enough to take it, well, at least they won't kill themselves, unless they're trying to commit suicide. Your thoughts, sir.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: It's the same thing as taking the deadliest product in the world, per science, it's alcohol, and the good news is of course, no one dies every year from the production and sale of alcohol. It's the consumption does it. With marijuana and all the rest, it's the exact reverse, it's the production and sale which gets people killed, and the products themselves are causing more pain and suffering and death, because they're not pure products checked by the FDA and other government agencies. So the consumer, as you said, doesn't know what they're getting, and then you get them cut with Fentanyl or whatever, and people die needlessly.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know, and those traffickers are not dummies. One situation that really tears at my soul, I mean, I like some of his music, certainly, but it's my understanding that the gentleman, Prince, died thinking he was taking pharmaceutical pills, but it turned out to be counterfeit, with Fentanyl, that, again, he didn't know the dose he was taking, and it robbed us of a great artist. Your thought there, sir.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: And he's not the first, I mean, in my time, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, etc., died from bad drugs, or overdose, whatever, and this has been going on now for decades and decades. But the good news, the cheerful news, is that America's now waking up to the failure, more and more people at the top, middle, and bottom are saying we, you should treat these people like a patient, people who need help, versus going to a jail cell. So there's been some small movement, and LEAP of course, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, is leading the way to say this should be a medical issue, handled by doctors, and clinics, not jail cells and judges. So the cheerful news is, it's starting to really pick up some momentum, the bad news is, we have a long way to go because, as I said, nobody wants to talk about it on a macro solution level, which is to end the prohibition of a hundred years now.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly right. Well, we're speaking with Mister Howard Wooldridge, longtime member, supporter, and speaker for the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. They're out there on the web at LEAP.cc. Howard, you mentioned earlier you tour the halls of Congress. Every year you visit every senator, every representative. Correct?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: That's correct, Dean, representing LEAP. I work the corridors of power in the Congress, and we are, cheerful news, we came very close last year to ending the 1937 law on marijuana. We are very close to it, Congress is trending libertarian, Tenth Amendment, states' rights, and my work on the cannabis, which is only part of it, but it's a big part of it, I have medium confidence that the new president, in around 2018, 2019, will have on his or her desk a bill to repeal the 1937 law, so folks, we are close, and it is folks like Dean who educate and go, oh, okeh, this is what I need to do, send a letter, send an email to my congressman, my senator, and say apply the Tenth Amendment.

One last thing before I forget, so, cheerful news, the last day my wife and I were there, I met for two hours at a cafe in central Germany with a member of their parliament, who's also a former police officer and detective, like myself, and he is also on the board of directors of LEAP Germany. And he is going to introduce some exciting legislation, I can't tell you exactly what it is, but it's going to be groundbreaking for the German system. But the Germans took off last year to Colorado, did an investigation for three days, and came back to report in Berlin, folks. The report in Berlin says you can legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana, and nothing much happens, so a very positive report. So if you want to chase terrorists instead of a green plant, the Germans now have the best information, based on their own investigation, to end the prohibition of cannabis in Germany.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I see the reports coming out, from the criminal justice system, the solution of murders and rapes and robberies continues to go down, and yet, the number of those being arrested for, you know, marijuana in particular, just remains constant, hundreds of thousands of arrests and I guess millions upon millions of police man-hours invested in marijuana busts. Your thoughts.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Well, yeah, I've done the numbers, it's, we still spend, my profession, roughly ten million, ten million hours a year of patrol time, mostly patrol time, some detective time, chasing a green plant put here by god, and every hour we spend chasing that green plant, we don't have time for pedophiles, we have less time for the drunk driver that killed 11,000. We have less time for people planning right now another surprise party at Christmas, and Americans are going to die because law enforcement is not directing their resources and focusing on the true public safety threats. The good news is, Dean, more and more people in Congress and Washington, DC in general are understanding that our threats are not coming from a green plant put here by god.

So, it's all good news, but we've got to keep pushing on that wall, that is now crumbling, the wind is at our back, unlike 2001 when you and I started doing this in Texas. And we need to keep pressure up, and that means keep educating the people like you do so well, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you Howard for that, and, you know, Howard, I don't know if you caught it, I was talking earlier about, you know, don't be afraid. Speak up at church. I've got a pastor, a local pastor, that's working with me now. We may be swinging the cat in some churches here real soon. And another thing, you know, at school, well, maybe you can't speak up in a junior high or a high school, but you can certainly speak up at college. And, at your work, you might find your boss would agree with you this is a horrendous situation. You know, you might have to sneak up on it, but sneak up on it, folks. I mean, it's time to address this issue openly, publicly. Lift the veil, right?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Absolutely. You know, when I started doing this 19 years ago in Fort Worth, the wind was very much in my face, very tough sell, people, wearing my t-shirt, Cops Say Legalize Pot - Ask My Why. I had about every -- about once a month, somebody would come up to me and say, you're trying to kill my kid with heroin, you know, I ought to just take out my gun and shoot you. And now, of course, it's completely reversed itself. Parents and everybody else understand that legalize regulate doesn't mean promote. Like nobody promotes the use of cigarettes, but we do promote that they be legal and regulated and taxed. That's the big difference, and people now are understanding that, and even the congressmen are understanding it, so that's why we're seeing more and more success.

And anybody out there in those nine battle states this election season, be sure you get out to vote, make sure your friends vote, and in California, in Florida, you know, et cetera, to make this happen, because every time the states vote, like Colorado, makes my job easier in Congress and the congressmen have more pressure to end the 1937 prohibition law on marijuana. We are so close folks, and if we pass those nine out of nine, it's going to put tremendous pressure, and again, my confidence is high that we will put that bill on the president's desk, and I have good information, both Trump and Hillary will sign it. In private conversations, he's very much on our side, just a horrible waste of good tax money.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that it is. All right. Howard Wooldridge, my good friend, long time speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. I, my hat's off to you, sir. Visiting those congressmen, those senators, every year, it's -- I don't know. We need to just kick them in the butt another year, maybe it will get it done, I don't know.


DEAN BECKER: All right folks, again, that's Howard Wooldridge, he works for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. They're out there on the web at LEAP.cc.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Responsible for countless overdose deaths, uncounted diseases, international graft, greed, and corruption, stilted science, and immense, un-Christian moral postulations of fiction as fact. Time's up! And this drug is the United States' immoral, improper, bigoted, unscientific, and plain effing evil addiction to drug war. All approved by the FDA, absolved by the American Medical Association, and persecuted by Congress, the cops, and in obeyance to the needs of the bankers, the pharmaceutical houses, and the international drug cartels. $550 billion a year can be very addicting.

TESS BORDEN: My name is Tess Borden, I'm the Aryeh Neier Fellow at the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, and I'm the author of a new report that both organizations put out today, calling for the decriminalization of personal use and possession of all illicit drugs. The report is the result of a year-long study that we undertook into how the law enforcement approach to personal drug use has failed. And we found 196 pages of things, but I just want to highlight a few of them. We found first that the scale of enforcement is absolutely massive. Around the country, police make more arrests for simple drug possession, that is, possession of drugs for personal use, than for any other crime, making drug possession the single most arrested crime in the country.

We also found that that amounts to more than three times as many arrests as for all violent crimes combined, and more than five times as many arrests again for possession than for drug dealing. So the scale is just enormous.

Secondly, we found that the consequences of these arrests and prosecutions for personal drug use are devastating, sometimes life-long, as a result of this on any given day we have about 140,000 people behind bars for drug possession, and tens of thousands more cycling through jails and prisons, or struggling to meet ends meet on probation and parole. And a conviction for drug possession can mean individuals, and whole families, are excluded from public benefits, such as food stamps or public housing. It can make it hard to rent a home, it can make it hard to get a job or to bring in wages, and obviously, next month, in many states it can keep people from the voting booth.

In addition, for non-citizens, a conviction for drug possession can mean possible deportation. And then just lastly, I have to highlight that we also found that drug possession disproportionately impacts communities of color and the poor without justification. So we know for example that black and white people around the country use drugs at equivalent rates, and yet around the country, a black person is two and a half times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than a white person, and in many states, that ratio is significantly higher. In no state is it one to one.

DEAN BECKER: Tess, I want to thank you, the Human Rights Watch and the ACLU for underscoring this. This information that you're bringing forward has been noted, has been pointed to many times over the last years, decades, if I dare say, but the fact of the matter is, it's been ignored, stepped over, but in the last couple of years, last year in particular, at the state and federal level, people have begun to talk about the over-reach of the criminal justice system, that we're burdening our police officers with too many jobs at once, and that it is time to take a new direction. Am I right?

TESS BORDEN: You're absolutely right. You're absolutely right. The amount of law enforcement, prosecutorial, judicial, correctional, supervision, resources that are spent on prosecuting simple, again personal, drug use, not dealing, not harming other people, but the personal act of taking drugs, or possessing drugs for one's own use, that amount of resources is just completely wasteful, and massive, not to mention all the human lives that are wasted along the way. So I absolutely agree with you on the misuse and waste of resources.

DEAN BECKER: All right, once again, we're speaking with Tess Borden of Human Rights Watch. She was author of a new report sponsored by Human Rights Watch as well as the ACLU. And I want to bring focus to bear, you guys focused on the state of Texas, not primarily, but largely, to glean a set of information, and Texas is leading the world in many ways insofar as incarceration of our own people for minor amounts, am I right?

TESS BORDEN: Texas certainly incarcerates quite a lot of people for small amounts, absolutely. And one of the things, Dean, that was striking to me in Texas is that the law sets out different degrees of felonies, based on the quantity of drugs possessed. And because we were able to obtain a terrific amount of data from the Texas court system and from the Texas correctional system, we were able to track out just how many people and what proportion was for these tiny amounts. So under Texas law, state jail felony includes possession of controlled substances under one gram. So, for less than a -- one gram is one fourth of a sugar packet. It's a paper clip. It's a raisin. It's a very, very small amount of common drugs such as heroin or cocaine or methamphetamine. For many people who use drugs frequently, it may be just a handful of doses.

I interviewed some 30 people in Texas around the state, and I found that many people are prosecuted not for point nine or point eight grams, but for residue, for hundredths, or even thousandths of a gram, in one case in Hood County, a man got 15 years after he took a case to trial in which he was prosecuted for trace amounts. The laboratory couldn't even read the amount, the grams, couldn't even put a weight to it, they just called it trace.

And so I think we're seeing, sorry, I should add, when we ran the numbers, we saw that about 80 percent of people convicted of felony drug possession in the state of Texas, who were sentenced to incarceration, were convicted of a state jail felony level, meaning 80 percent sent to serve their sentences behind bars possessed, again, less than a gram. That's in 2015, 16,000 people sentenced to time behind bars for possessing under a gram. And my research shows in many cases, simply residue that could have been prosecuted as a misdemeanor instead.

So again, I think this is a real imbalance of the scales of justice, on the one hand we see the massive weight, the heavy hand of the law, coming down on personal drug use, and on the other hand, we see the, on the other side of those scales, you know, the literally sometimes weightless trace amounts of drugs. So I would really urge Texas lawmakers, policymakers, to rethink the law, to recognize the waste of resources, both human and fiscal, in prosecuting such tiny, tiny amounts. And then until the law changes, to call upon police and prosecutors to exercise their discretion, to bring those misdemeanor charges when possible instead of felony, to bring some compassion to drug use, to recognize that locking people up isn't helping them out when they have drug dependence, and that we should be bringing a public health approach to drug use instead of an incarceration one.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Again, the name of the report, Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll Of Criminalizing Drug Use In The United States. And again, every 25 seconds, somebody hears that slamming cell door. Tess, any closing thoughts, a website you might want to point folks to?

TESS BORDEN: Yes, I would point everyone to www.HRW.org, that's Human Rights Watch's website, as well as www.ACLU.org, and that's the American Civil Liberties Union. And I thank you for having me on the air.

DEAN BECKER: This is Van Jones.

VAN JONES: Look. Right now, while you are looking at this on your screen, in your hand, or on your computer, there's somebody just like you who's sitting in a prison cell. And they didn't do much more than you did, you know, some crazy weekend. You didn't get caught. They got caught. And they can never get uncaught.

The United States of America is now the number one incarcerater of human beings in the world, in the history of the world. We have about 5 percent of the world's population, we have 25 percent of the world's prisoners. We are, we have more people locked up than China. China, who has a billion people, they've got fewer prisoners than we do.

You know, a lot of times people will say, well, if you don't want to do the time, don't do the crime. Really? Have you ever committed a crime? You've got people who are doing more drugs on college campuses and yacht clubs, country clubs. We all know that's going on, but the SWAT team never shows up there. The SWAT team shows up in the housing projects where you've got poorer people doing fewer drugs, and those people go to prison.

But think about it. What if, one of the times when you were breaking the law, when you had something illegal in your pocket, in your car, at your party, the police had kicked in those doors. Would you want to be known for the rest of your life based on what happened that night? That is what is happening to millions of people.

If rich folks' kids get in trouble, they go to rehab. Poor folks' kid gets in trouble, they go to prison. And you spend a hundred thousand dollars per year per kid to lock a kid up, when you could have spent a fraction of that and turned them into a NASA scientist, turned them into a fashion icon. When people come home from prison, they're not given the opportunity to start over. You leave a physical prison, and you go into a social prison, where you can't get a job, you can't get a student loan, you can't rent an apartment. How are people supposed to start over, and what happens to neighborhoods when you take a disproportionate number of people out for minor offenses and you send them back home with no hope and no opportunity?

There are no more excuses to have this horrible system continue when there is now, finally, bipartisan agreement that it is a tragedy to do this. Not only do you have President Obama, and the Democrats, you now actually have people like Paul Ryan, Koch Industries, Newt Gingrich, all saying the same thing: we are locking up too many people, we're wasting too much money, we're wasting too much genius in America, and it's time to do something.

VOICE ONE: I used to be on OxyContin, Percoset, whatever, Valium, Welbrutin, now I'm free of it. I'm on a little bit of cannabis every day, and loving life.

VOICE TWO: I'm here at the Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Augusta, Maine. Here we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. But it's important to remember that veterans today are still struggling from battle wounds and psychological scars.

VOICE ONE: At the time, I was suffering from the post traumatic stress. Eventually, they started to say, well, you know, if you're not sleeping, you need to go on Presnidone. You know, you start with one or two and then before you know it they've got you on six or eight. The VA seems to be the candy store for all veterans. That's when my addiction really started. I knew that I had a serious problem. I was spending three quarters of my day in bed, I had like zero friends. I thought, boy, if this is what life's going to be after 60, I don't know if I want to do it. I had a friend that actually did commit suicide, so, kind of opened up my eyes to the reality of what does to people.

VOICE THREE: Veterans suffer from PTSD and chronic pain at rates that far exceed the national average. Many of them say that marijuana helps in ways that pills haven't.

VOICE ONE: Cannabis can be especially beneficial to post traumatic stress by reducing anxiety. It treats pain by blocking cannabinoid receptors. We have cannabinoid receptors all over the body, and within two days, the pain was fifty percent, and within three or four days it was gone. I don't take prescription drugs anymore, and it is because of cannabis that I'm free of that.

VOICE THREE: We are modern day recipients of a medicine that can change our lives.

VOICE TWO: The VA continues to insist that marijuana is a dangerous treatment option, going so far as to call its use a disorder. But if we really care about our vets, maybe it's time to start listening to them.

DEAN BECKER: One of the presidential candidates, Jill Stein, is coming to Houston tomorrow. I'll have the pleasure of introducing her at exactly 4:20. This is Jill Stein:

JILL STEIN: Marijuana, you know, is a drug which is dangerous because it's illegal. It's not inherently dangerous itself. The president can instruct the Drug Enforcement Agency to do a really radical thing: to use science in determining what substances are and are not going to be scheduled, because if science was being used, then marijuana, cannabis, and hemp, would be taken off of the list of scheduled substances in the blink of an eye.

I'm not great at substance use. I have to admit, I'm not fun at a party. More power to those who do, you know, but I firmly believe, this is not government business. Marijuana is a wimp of a substance compared to alcohol and tobacco. The most dangerous thing about it is the dangerous underground economy, with all the violence that goes with it. The war on drugs is what is dangerous, that's what needs to end, that's what made the United States number one in the world in incarceration, it's made us incarceration nation.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's really all we can squeeze in today. I want to thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage, and I want to encourage you, motivate you, to do your part, to speak up, to help end the madness of this insane drug war. And as always, I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's 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.