Top 10 Domestic Drug Stories of 2010, courtesy Phil Smith of Stop The Drug War + Houston's Sheriff Adrian Garcia re need to change methodology of drug war
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Harris County Sheriff
Mon, 01/03/2011 - 14:03
Cultural Baggage / January 02, 2011
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!”
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.
Hello my friends. Welcome to this first edition of Cultural Baggage for the year 2011. We’re going to hear a couple of thoughts from the year 2010 and in particular from Sheriff Adrian Garcia, sheriff of Houston, Harris County, the gulag filling station of planet Earth. We’re also going to her the top 10 domestic drug stories courtesy of stopthedrugwar.org and their fine reporter, Mister Phil Smith but we’re going to begin from an extract from an extract of an interview I did with Adrian Sheriff Garcia.
Dean Becker: Houston has, for decades, been the lead horse in pulling the Drug War wagon in our proximity to Mexico and our numerous interstates. Along with a large Metroplex to hide in, means we are one of the largest drug distribution hubs in the world.
Heretofore, officials have somehow remained surprised and outraged at the number of our young people, who are led to lives of crime and the city has served as a virtual mouse trap, built not by the young people being caught, but by generations of their elders. But it’s time to undo that trap. It’s time to find a better way. Correct?
Sheriff Adrian Garcia: Without a doubt. I mean, I think that we have recognized that we are – I think part of the justice system should be about being able to make lives whole, rebuild lives and change circumstances to try be – to try to find results from our respective strategies and given the fact that our jail systems have gotten bigger; more costly, our dockets have become much more stagnant and burdensome. Things have slowed down and come to almost a screeching halt.
I think all of these things that people have looked at and I think, have very courageously said, “You know what? I can’t deny that we need to do something better,” and so, I think that comment has come in really from a united voice. From various persons who typically wouldn’t be at the same table talking about the same thing, over in years past.
So, here we are and we’re looking at – how can we make sure that we have a true justice system that punishes those who create the greatest harm? That system that recognizes organic situations versus real criminality. A justice system that says that, “Well, because you’re here but however, we recognize that it’s your addiction, more so than your actions, that have gotten you here. What is it that we can do to keep you from coming back?”
Dean Becker: Yeah.
Sheriff Adrian Garcia: So, I think that’s kind of where we’ve evolved, otherwise we wouldn’t have a Veterans Court. We wouldn’t have a Drug Court. We wouldn’t have a lot of the change in policies that we’re looking at right now.
Dean Becker: Do they have in place or are they thinking about a “Mental Health Court“?
Sheriff Adrian Garcia: Yes, yes. It’s currently being worked on and some of those same things are incorporated into both the Drug Court and the Veterans Court.
Dean Becker: Yeah. I think that the most recent CBS piece talked about, I think it was 25% of arrests for drug charges and another 30% for mental health deviance, I don’t know how else to say it.
Sheriff Adrian Garcia: Uh hum.
Dean Becker: But I think, a total of 55% of the people in our jail are there for health problems because from my perspective, addiction it’s a health problem.
Sheriff Adrian Garcia: Uh hum.
Dean Becker: It’s – all hard drugs combined, Heroin, Meth, Cocaine, kill only about four times as many people as do aspirin and Tylenol and that’s despite the fact that they’re made by untrained chemists in unsanitary conditions and cut with household products, including cancer causing agents.
It’s time to reassess, I would think, the whole thing. This drug war’s been handed down like the Arch of the Covenant, as if it were blessed and sacred. But we’re beginning to find out it’s not as cohesive or actually necessary, as we once did.
The US spends about $70 billion dollars a year, trying to stop the flow of drugs and the terrorists and the cartels make about $385 billion. That’s according to Anthony Placido. I think he’s the assistant head of the DEA.
I wonder, given the disparity, you know, the dollars - that’s a lot of money - $70 billion spent on the Drug War but $385 a year over the forty years of this Drug War, these cartels and these terrorists and these gangs, many of them have quite a nest egg to fight us for a long time. Right?
Sheriff Adrian Garcia: Oh, yeah. You look at some of the dollars that have been seized. It’s in the considerable amounts. It just blows the mind as to how they’re able to accumulate that kind of wealth.
Dean Becker: Right. Oh, yeah. You see the video of, you know, here’s the guns – here’s the gold plated guns and then all the money and all the drugs and it’s enormous and unbelievable actually. Let’s – the last thought I shared with Judge Lykos was this, and that’s, Let’s judge people by their actions, not the contents of their pocket.
That’s how America use to be a hundred years ago, before this Drug War began and I think it would solve a lot of problems because it might make it easier to observe those actions and to go after those that are headed off the deep end rather than well – 95% of adult drug use is non-problematic. I think we all know that and we’re punishing those 95% for the actions of the 5%. Your thoughts?
Sheriff Adrian Garcia: Well, I think that a lot of the current discussion right now, the Drug Courts, the evidence of a lot of change in policy, the Drug Court, the Veteran Court, the fact that we’re pushing to have a reintegration center.
I think all of these things sort of speak to the fact that, we are conscious – we recognize the fact some folks do have insurance and other access to situations and to circumstances and resources that will allow them to move on to a different direction. However, a lot of folks don’t—
Dean Becker: Yeah.
Sheriff Adrian Garcia: So, we have to depend on those social service agencies and those treatment agencies, to help us rebuild and make those lives whole again and so, I think that evidence may not be as recognizable as some of these other things that you’re mentioning.
I think it is proof of the change that has been occurring in that both sides of the aisle are recognizing that, if not for this drug addiction, this person wouldn’t be in our custody. If not for this alcohol addiction, this person wouldn’t be in our custody. If not for this mental illness, this person wouldn’t be in our custody. So, those are circumstances that a lot of people recognize that it is better treated and dealt with in a different environment, than a correctional environment.
Dean Becker: Alright and to close out this section, I would like to point out that today’s Houston Chronicle had an op-ed co-written by Sheriff Adrian Garcia along with Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland. It’s enough you to make you crazy. Our county jail is not the place to treat mental illness.
(Game show music)
It’s time to play: Name That Drug By Its Side Effects
Responsible for countless overdose deaths, uncounted diseases, international graft, greed and corruption, stilled science and events, unchristian moral postulations of fiction as fact.
The answer: and this Drug is the United States’ immoral, improper, bigoted, unscientific and plain F-ing evil addiction to Drug War.
All approved by the FDA, absolved by that American Medical Association and persecuted by Congress and the cops and in abeyance to the needs of the bankers, the pharmaceutical houses and the international drug cartels.
$550 billion a year can be very addicting.
Dean Becker: Now, as promised, the top 10 domestic drugs stories courtesy of stopthedrugwar.org. Here is our summation of what we think were the biggest stories of this year.
MARIJUANA ON THE VERGE: PROP 19, PUBLIC OPINION AND THE LOOMING SEA CHANGE
California's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative, Proposition 19, ultimately failed to get over the top on Election Day, but it garnered 46.5% of the vote, the highest ever for a legalization initiative, and generated reams of media coverage, making it the most watched initiative of any in the land this year.
The battle for Prop 19 also yielded the broadest coalition yet behind marijuana legalization, as unions, dissident law enforcement groups, and Latino and African-American groups got on the legalization bandwagon in a big way for the first time.
Launched with over a million dollars of funding from Oakland cannabis entrepreneur Richard Lee, the initiative garnered significant additional support during the campaign's final months, including a late $1 million donation from George Soros, but too little and too late to make a difference in the nation's largest and most expensive media market. The coalition that came together around Prop 19 is vowing to stay together and work to place another initiative on the ballot, most likely in 2012.
If California has legalization on the ballot in 2012, activists in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington all took steps this year to ensure that it won't be alone. Ill-funded and controversial, legalization initiatives missed making the ballot in Oregon and Washington this year, but organizers in both states have vowed to try again, and Sensible Washington, the folks behind this year's effort there, already have a pro-legalization billboard up on I-5 in the Seattle area. In Colorado, organizers bided their time this year, amidst the medical marijuana explosion there, but are busy laying the groundwork for a legalization initiative there.
This year also saw a legalization bill pass out of the California Assembly Public Safety Committee in January, a first in the US. While that bill died later in the session, sponsor Tom Ammiano a Democrat out of San Francisco, reintroduced it in March and it awaits further consideration in Sacramento.
In New Hampshire, a decriminalization bill passed the House in March, only to be killed in a Senate committee in April, while in Washington State, legalization and decriminalization bills got a January hearing before dying in committee later that same month.
In Rhode Island, a decriminalization bill was introduced in February and a state legislative commission endorsed it in March, but the bill went nowhere so far. Later in the year, the California legislature passed and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a decriminalization bill there.
And in November, a marijuana legalization bill passed the House in the US territory of the Northern Marianas Islands, marking the first time a legalization bill has passed a legislative chamber anywhere in the US. It was later defeated in the Senate. No legalization or decriminalization bills passed this year, but the day is drawing near.
A plethora of public opinion polls this year suggest why, as support for pot legalization is now hovering just under 50%.
In January, an ABC News/Washington Post poll had support at 46%; in April, a Pew poll had it by 41%. By July, an Angus-Reid poll had support at 52%, while Rasmussen showed it at 43%.
In November, a Gallup poll had support for legalization at 46%, its highest level ever and a 15 percentage point increase over just a decade ago. Some of these polls showed major support for legalization in the West, which will be put to the test in 2012.
MEDICAL MARIJUNA – THE ONGOING BATTLE
The acceptance of medical marijuana continued in 2010, as two states, New Jersey and Arizona, along with the District of Columbia, became the latest to legalize the medicinal use of the herb. It's worth noting, however, that medical marijuana is not yet being produced or consumed in any of those places, even though the New Jersey legislation was signed into law in January and the DC medical marijuana initiative was actually revived last year. To be fair, voters only approved the Arizona initiative in November, and regulators there have three more months to come up with enabling regulations.
But the acceptance is by no means complete, and resistance from recalcitrant law enforcement and local governments continues apace. A medical marijuana initiative in South Dakota and an Oregon initiative to create a system of state-licensed, nonprofit dispensaries both failed in November.
And despite efforts to pass medical marijuana bills through numerous state legislatures, none besides New Jersey came to fruition this year.
Bills have stalled in Alabama, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Wisconsin, among others, even as they are continually pared back to be ever more restrictive in a bid to appease opponents.
Medical marijuana states that have less loosely written laws – all via the initiative process, including California, Colorado, Michigan, and Montana – proved to be highly contested terrain in 2010.
The blossoming of hundreds of dispensaries in Colorado this year, led to the passage of regulatory legislation this summer, while a similar, if more limited outbreak of envelope-pushing in Montana has legislators there vowing to rein in the industry when they reconvene next year.
In Michigan, law enforcement in some locales has arrested people in apparent compliance with the state law. In all three states, battles have also broken out at the city or county level, especially over efforts to ban medical marijuana operations. These fights will continue.
California is a world of its own when it comes to medical marijuana. The most wide open of the medical marijuana states, which, thanks to the language of Proposition 215, allows for medical marijuana to be recommended for virtually anything, it is also the state where legal and political conflict over medical marijuana is most entrenched.
Despite this, local authorities, dispensaries can be – and are – subject to raids and prosecution. The medical marijuana community dodged a bullet in November when Kamala Harris defeated dispensary arch-foe Steve Cooley, the Republican Los Angeles County prosecutor.
Meanwhile, in communities across the state, battles rage over banning dispensaries, or, in happier circumstances, on how to permit and tax them. And medical marijuana is increasingly recognized for the big business it is.
A growing number of California towns and cities this year voted to tax medical marijuana, and Oakland gave the go-ahead for massive medical marijuana farms, although it may now retreat in the face of rumblings from the Justice Department.
None of this got resolved this year, and the fight over medical marijuana in the Golden State is unlikely to wind down any time soon.
THE DEA CONTINUES TO MISBEHAVE
And then there's the DEA. It was in October 2009 that the Justice Department released its famous memo telling the DEA to butt out if medical marijuana operations in states that had approved them where not violating state law.
While DEA raids have certainly declined from their thuggish heyday in the Bush administration, they have not gone away. After a Colorado medical marijuana grower had the temerity to appear on a local TV news program showing off his garden, the DEA raided him in February. The DEA also hit Michigan medical marijuana operations at least twice, in July and again early this month.
The DEA has also raided numerous California medical marijuana operations this year, including the first collective to apply for the Mendocino County sheriff's cultivation permit program and a number of beleaguered San Diego area dispensaries.
In most cases, the DEA is relying on the cooperation of sympathetic local law enforcement and prosecutors. Making the DEA live up to the Holder memo is a battle that is yet to be won.
The Obama administration's nomination of acting DEA administrator Michele Leonhart is not a good omen. Despite a horrendous record at the DEA, including a stint as Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles, during the height of the Bush administration raids on medical marijuana facilities, and in St. Louis during the Andrew Chambers "supersnitch" perjury scandal, Leonhart's nomination has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and is likely to be approved* by the Senate as a whole once she takes some actions to improve access to pain medications for seniors in nursing homes -- an issue on which Senator Herb Kohl was said will cause him to place a hold on a floor vote until she and the agency address it.
*(I need to add a footnote here. Since this was written, by Phil Smith, Michele Leonhart had been approved by the Senate, by a unanimous vote.)
DRUG WAR JUGGERNAUT CONTINUES ROLLING
While support for marijuana decriminalization and/or legalization continues to grow, and while a number of states have enacted sentencing reforms in response to fiscal pressures, the drug war juggernaut keeps rolling along, chewing up lives like so much chaff.
US law enforcement made more than 1.6 million arrests on drug charges last year, more than half of them for marijuana offenses, marking the first year pot busts made up more than half of all drug arrests. The number is actually down slightly from the previous year, but only marginally so, as drug law enforcement keeps humming along. But in the current economic crunch, such a high level of enforcement and punishment may no longer be sustainable.
A Pew report found that state prison populations had declined for the first time since the 1970s, if only by 0.4%, although the federal prison population, more than 60% of which consists of drug offenders, increased by 3.4%.
Similarly, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported than US jail populations had decreased for the first time in decades, dropping by 2.3% over the previous year. The tiny turnarounds are a good thing, but there is a long, long way to go.
ROLLING BACK THE CRACK/POWDER COCAINE SENTENCING DISPARITY
For the first time in our modern drug war era, Congress this year rolled back a harsh drug sentencing law. The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses had been under the gun for more than decade as it became increasingly evident that the laws were having a racially disproportionate impact.
Under the old law, five grams of crack would earn you a mandatory minimum five-year sentence, while it took a hundred times as much powder cocaine to garner the same sentence. Although a majority of crack users are white, blacks accounted for more than 80% of all federal crack cocaine prosecutions.
A bill to reduce, but not eliminate, the sentencing disparity passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in March and the Senate as a whole, weeks later. The House Judiciary Committee had already passed a similar measure that would completely eliminate the disparity, but the House leadership chose to go along with the Senate, reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but not completely eliminating it when it voted to approve the bill in July.
President Obama signed the bill into law days later. While passage of the bill is a milestone, it leaves work undone. The sentencing disparity, while reduced, still exists, and thousands of prisoners sentenced under the harsh old law remain in prison because the new law lacks retroactivity.
DEMANDS FOR DRUG TESTING OF WELFARE RECIPIENTS, THE UNEMPLOYED AND EVEN POLITICIANS
The impulse to score cheap political points by unleashing moralistic wrath on the poor and the unfortunate remained alive in 2010. As in years past, efforts to demand drug testing of unemployment recipients or people receiving welfare benefits went nowhere, but not for lack of trying.
In fact, the year was bookended by such efforts, starting with a Missouri bill that would have mandated drug testing for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients upon "reasonable cause." That bill passed a Senate committee and the House in February, but died in the Senate after a Democratic filibuster.
Similarly, drug testing bills in Kentucky, South Carolina, and West Virginia all died, as did a silly Louisiana bill that would have allowed Louisiana elected officials to submit to a voluntary drug test and post the results on the Internet.
Later in the year, successful Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott called for mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients, a call he has vowed to carry out as governor.
ATTACK OF (ON) THE SYNTHETIC CANNABINOIDS
Synthetic cannabinoids marketed as incense under names like Spice and K-2 first showed up on the national radar last year, and by early 2010 the prohibitionist impulse began rearing its ugly head in state legislatures across the land.
Containing synthetic cannabinoids JWH-018 or JWH-073, synthesized by a university researcher in the 1990s, the stuff was available at head shops, smoke shops, and corner gas stations everywhere, as well as on the Internet.
Although no overdose deaths linked to synthetic cannabinoids have been reported, there have been reports of emergency room visits and calls to poison centers by people under its influence.
But it wasn't the alleged dangers as much as the fear that someone somewhere could be getting high without getting into legal trouble that impelled a series of statewide and municipal bans.
In March, Kansas became the first state to ban synthetic cannabinoids, followed by Alabama in April, Georgia in May and Missouri in July. Also banning the compounds this year were Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Tennessee. Similar legislation was also proposed in several more states, including Florida, Illinois, and New York.
Then, in November, the DEA announced an emergency nationwide ban to go into effect in thirty days, meaning you have until Christmas to use the compounds legally. After that, you're a federal criminal.
SWAT RAIDS AND DRUG WAR KILLINGS
It's not just the massive extent of the drug war that generates criticism, but the law enforcement violence and overkill that too often accompanies it. This year, the now infamous SWAT team raid in Columbia, Missouri in February that left a dog dead and a family traumatized in a raid over marijuana got national attention when a video of the raid went viral on the Internet at mid-year.
Another SWAT raid in Detroit, in May, generated outrage when it resulted in the death of seven-year-old girl shot by a raider, and that same month, a Georgia grandmother suffered a heart attack when her home was mistakenly hit by the local SWAT and DEA agents.
And then there was the case of Trevon Cole, a 21-year-old black man killed as he knelt in his own bathroom as the apartment he shared with his pregnant girlfriend was raided over small-time pot sales. The police shooter, of course, was found innocent of any wrongdoing in a coroner's inquest, and now Cole's family is suing. So is the family in the Columbia SWAT raid.
SENTENCING REFORMS CONTINUE IN THE STATES
In a bid to reduce corrections spending, a number of states in the last decade have moved to implement sentencing reforms, and 2010 saw the trend continue. In May, Colorado passed reforms that will reduce some drug use and possession sentences, allow greater judicial flexibility in sentencing, and keep some technical parole violators from being sent back to prison. But the package also increases some drug sales and manufacturing sentences.
In June, South Carolina passed reforms that will end mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. In August, Massachusetts passed reforms that will eliminate some mandatory minimums in a bill that was watered down from an earlier Senate version. In all three cases, it was not bleeding hearts but bleeding wallets that was the impetus for
(Number ten of Stop the Drug War’s Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy should have been number one because it’s so sweet.)
A CONGRESSIONAL DRUG WARRIOR GOES DOWN IN FLAMES
It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. This year is also notable for the spectacular May end to the career of inveterate congressional drug warrior, Representative Mark Souder, a Republican out of Indiana.
The doughy, cultural conservative crusader from the heartland resigned from Congress after admitting at a press conference to having an affair with a female staffer with whom he had once made abstinence videos.
Souder is best known to drug reformers as the author of the "smoke a joint, lose your federal aid" provision of the Higher Education Act, and thus deserves credit for almost singlehandedly causing the formation of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
But his enthusiasm for the war on drugs also led him to the Chairmanship of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources from 2001 to 2007, where he used his position to support harsh drug policies.
He was, for instance, a staunch foe of medical marijuana and a loud voice against the Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendments, which would, if passed, have stopped federal raids on medical marijuana patients and providers.
To be fair, Souder did offer committee legislation in 2006 to restrict the reach of his student aid penalty, and he was also a key Republican supporter of the recent "Second Chance" prisoner reentry funding legislation.
Still, reformers are happy that one of the staunchest and most active drug warriors is out of Congress now, struck down by his own hypocrisy.
Dean Becker: Once again I would like to thank Phil Smith and the good folks at stopthedrugwar.org. For the Domestic and Foreign Top 10 Lists.
By the way you can hear the Top 10 International Stories by tuning into this week’s Century of Lies program.
Here’s hoping that Sheriff Adrian Garcia and the police chief and the DEA and the prosecutors and the politicians will finally pull their heads out of the posteriors and reassess, reevaluate and redesign the Drug War policy here in Texas, the gulag filling station of plant Earth.
2011 will provide us plenty of opportunity and impetus to make these changes so very necessary. I hope you have a great New Year and as always, I remind you that because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.
May 2011 be filled with light and logic.
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.
Drug Truth Network programs are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.
Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com
Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.