08/06/08 - Lee Brown

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

American Bar Association panel on drug reform with Judge Arthur Burnett and former Drug Czar Lee Brown + Poppygate report from Glenn Greenway & Drug War Facts with Doug McVay

Audio file

Cultural Baggage, August 6, 2008

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

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 phamaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Today we’re tuning into a recent conference held by the American Bar Association dealing with the topic of drug policy here in America. We’ll hear the voices of many people who have been in the trenches of this drug war for years including the former Drug Czar, Lee Brown. But first up, we hear from the host of this panel, Judge Arthur Burnett, the Director of the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition.

Judge Burnett: We’re going to get started with a discussion which deals with one of the most serious issues in America. We have a lot of write-ins and commentary about the harms of drug abuse and drug addiction in this country. Indeed, some writers have suggested that Americans in the United States uses between fifty and sixty percent of the drugs that are distributed in this world. We’re the most drug consuming society just in this, on this planet. There are others who say that seventy or eighty percent of our crimes in this country in one way or another is related to the issue and excessive use of alcohol or other drugs which affect a person’s behavior and conduct. Domestic violence, fighting over drug turfs, many homicides in this country over petty bickering over who can stand on which corner of which street and sell drugs. Indeed, the drug problem in this country so permeates our society that we must come up with solutions because what we have been doing over the last twenty or thirty years obviously is not working to solve the problems but merely to populate our prisons and add to our prison complex where we imprison more people than any nation on the face of this globe: some 2.3, 2.5 million people depending on the way you count them, what local jails include and don’t include.

So we have a panel again this afternoon to talk about what can be some of the solutions. Now the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition was created with the National Bar Association being the, kind of, spark of, or genesis of its organization in 2003 or 2004 to initially focus on drug addiction as a medical problem, as a disease just like alcoholism or just like heart trouble or just like cancer. And when a person possesses drugs to take care of the craving or the compulsion to use drugs, well, like you treat it like you treat the insanity defense. The possession is a product of the mental illness. The possession of cocaine is a product of that compulsion or craving to use drugs. And indeed, some enlightened prosecutors, Philadelphia for example, who say that when persons sell drugs mainly to get their own supply we will treat that as a product of their disease and we’ll put them into drug treatment rather than cycle them in and out of prison. So we have urged since 2003, 2004 pushing the envelope as far as we can to get people with drug addiction problems, drug abuse problems beyond their control and to treatment as a medical model rather than handle them in the criminal justice system. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The big question is: how do we deal with the drug problem given that people are not craving or compelled to use drugs or addicted in the medical sense? How should we deal with the drug culture in America? And we have here this afternoon a number of speakers that’s going to talk about: what will be the challenge to a new administration, whether it be an administration headed by President Obama or President McCain? But in the next four years, what must we do in this nation to begin to solve the drug crisis that’s destroying so many African-American communities, but now also impacting Latino or Hispanic communities, that’s contributing significantly to our handling one of the most serious HIV/AIDS problems in this nation as well that they want us to sweep under the rugs. We talk about solving the HIV/AIDS problem in Africa but we ignore the problem here at home. Whichever administration ends up being the next four years and setting the tone and policies for this country we will have a serious challenge.

Our first speaker this afternoon is a person who has spent a lifetime in law enforcement: chief of police, as a Drug Czar in the White House dealing with drug policy, as a mayor of this city and then, finally, chair of our National African-American Drug Policy Coalition blue ribbon commission. To make recommendations as to solutions to solve the drug crisis. Now, some of those recommendations do not go as far as some of the groups talk about, legalization or decriminalization, but we must come up with some pragmatic ways, politically acceptable, medically acceptable to get a grasp on the problem of drug abuse and drug addiction in this nation. In my almost four years now of serving as the Executive Director of the African-American Drug Policy Coalition, I have become convinced that at least 25 or 30% of our population in this nation, a quarter of our people have problems with alcoholism and drugs and indeed we are told that over fifteen to twenty million people have problems with abuse of prescription drugs and overdose, or death based on prescription drug abuse which is becoming a major epidemic in suburban communities, the people are abusing drugs that are prescription -- thinking that makes it all right -- but no one looking at the health consequences of all of these abuses.

It is my privilege for us to invite Mayor Lee Brown, Lee P. Brown, who’s chair of our blue-ribbon commission with reference to the goals set by our coalition, some very modest recommendations and perhaps we need to go beyond them. Let’s hear what one of the most eminent experts in this nation has to say, a person who has worked in the White House and been responsible for establishing and implementing the drug policies of this nation.

Lee Brown: Let me begin by, first of all, expressing my thanks to Judge Burnett for not only putting this panel together but spending a great deal of his retirement time dealing with the issue of substance abuse. He has done a tremendous job and continues to focus on trying to make things just a little bit better for a lot of people. So, Judge, we want to thank you for what you do and the sacrifices that you make on this cause.

I want to begin my presentation by pointing out that illicit drugs continue to be a major problem in the United States and especially true for the African-American community. Today, what our panel will be doing is to explore what should be done, what can be done to address this problem and its impact on the African-American community. I’ll suggest that the time of this panel couldn’t have been any better. In a few months we’ll have a new administration in Washington and if, as the Judge pointed out, we can send some recommendations to whoever assumes the address of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and they take it seriously along to Congress then our efforts here today will be well worth the time.

Our challenge today is to determine what message, what recommendation can we send to the next administration on how best to deal with the drug problem in the African-American community. As the Judge pointed out, I want to talk from the perspective of my background from a police officer whose first job was to work undercover narcotics in San Jose, California, to a sheriff in Multnomah County, Oregon, to the Public Safety Commission of Atlanta, Georgia, the Police Chief here in the city of Houston, the Police Commissioner of New York City and finally as the, next to final, the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy as a member of President Bill Clinton’s cabinet where I had the responsibility of developing this nations drug strategy. And finally as a mayor of Houston, Texas.

Dean Becker: Going to interrupt just a second to alert you to the fact you’re listening to the Cultural Baggage program on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. We’re tuning into a recent drug panel sponsored by the American Bar Association to speaker former Drug Czar Lee Brown.

Lee Brown: If we look at where we are right now, the use of illicit drugs is, as I pointed out earlier, a major problem and it places a tremendous, a tremendous burden on our criminal justice system, places a tremendous burden on our health system, there are over two million Americans that are in our jails and prisons, many because of drugs and many of them are African-American. By some estimates sixty to seventy percent of the crimes committed in America are related to the use of illicit drugs, our excessive use of alcohol that in itself presents a major problem. The illegal use of drugs is further complicated by the high rate of alcoholism and the abuse of prescription drugs which you don’t focus a lot of attention on but they present, also, a very serious problem.

I would hazard to guess that most families, certainly that has been the case with my family, are impacted in one way or another by the problem of substance abuse. The drug problem has had a devastating impact on our young black males. More are going to prison than to college, a high rate of unemployment, blacks killing blacks, female-headed households, high crime rates in the black community, increase in HIV and AIDS, particularly among African-American women -- it’s estimated that one half of the HIV victims in America today are African-American. So, if we look at the drug abuse problem in the black community, it’s safe to say that we have a very, very serious problem. So the question that confronts us here this afternoon: what do we do about it?

When I assumed the position as the Drug Czar the previous administration had placed a great deal of emphasis on reducing the supply of drugs, interdiction, enforcement, working with the source countries. I was able to change that and place a heavier emphasis on reducing the demand for drugs. But if you look at where the policies are today they’ve gone back to the old days where the greater emphasis is now being placed on reducing the supply of drugs. I want to tell them: look at how the drug budget, for the federal government, how the money’s being spent. When I said I wanted to reduce the demand for drugs I think the formula’s very simple -- there’s no demand, there’s no supply. So as a result, I placed a much greater emphasis on prevention programs -- how do we keep our children from using drugs to begin with? On eduction -- how do we educate the entire community about the problems associated with drug use and convince them not to use drugs? On treatment -- how do we provide treatment programs for those who are addicted? Had a tough time with that one but I maintained then as I do now that there’s no other way to get an addict off of drugs except treatment. I know from my experience in visiting treatment programs all over this country that treatment works but unfortunately only one out of ten people today who need treatment can receive treatment. And then, what about the hard-core drug addict? How do we break that cycle? That is now our challenge, knowing that the current administration has gone back to its supply reduction -- you don’t see money for demand reduction -- and what I would like to see us do today is focus on what we as African-Americans need to do to help ourselves address the problem.

We fought the battle about the disparity between crack and powder cocaine and had some results on that. By a seven-to-two ruling of the Supreme Court now the federal judges can use their discretion in lowering the penalties for crack cocaine. But what else needs to be done? What other laws need to be changed? We know that treatment works but how do get adequate funds for treatment? How do we get treatment in our jails and prisons, knowing that a substantially large number of people who go to jail and prison did so because of some relationship with drugs, many, according to the surveys that use drugs, right before committing the crime? How do we change the national drug control strategy so we place a greater emphasis and more money into reducing the demand for drugs? Prevention, education and treatment. How do we get substance abuse treatment as part of our national health system? I happen to believe that, just as we look at a national health system for our physical ills we should also make that’s available for those who have a substance abuse problem. We must look at substance abuse not just as a problem for the criminal justice system but also look at it as a public health problem. How do we get blacks in key positions where decisions are made? A person that’s convicted of substance abuse cannot get financial aid if they want to go and better their conditions. How do we change that law?

The problem is further complicated by welfare laws that bar convicted drug felons from receiving food stamps or some other benefits from temporary assistance that many families have. What can we do as a group to address that problem? There are laws that place restrictions on ex-felons from certain types of employment. That almost ensures that they are going to continue to get back into the drug problem and also the crime problem. Drug policies by law must be based on research -- that’s by law, we had that inserted into law when I was there, that you should had some empirical research in developing your policies. It’s not being done now, to my knowledge, but the question we must address is: how do we ensure that African-Americans are conducting the research where we can have some cultural sensitivity in influencing the policies of this country.

So, let me conclude by saying we know substance abuse has a disproportionate impact on the African-American community, the health consequences, the crime consequences, there are consequences to the family, to the educational system, but many others. I submit we know what needs to be done. Our challenge today is to determine how do we get it done.

Thank you.


Judge Burnett: Thank you, Mayor Brown. I just want to pick up on two points. One, he talks about prevention, education -- you know, one time in this country smoking cigarettes was a standard traditional thing. And some forty-five, fifty years ago we started a campaign of real education of the health consequences of the use of tobacco and there’s been a tremendous reduction. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could start an education program at the third and fourth grade that would have that kind of consequence like we’ve had with tobacco, to teach youngsters the physiological, biological and medical consequences of drug use so that they would decide they would not want to harm their bodies by becoming involved in drug abuse and drug usage? Second, we heard about only one-in-ten people who have drug problems are really getting the drug treatment they need and the need for more funding. How can we change our policies rather than be the policeman for the world and throw away money or invest money in Iraq and Afghanistan and eradicating poppy fields when nine out of ten people go without any treatment at all? What if nine out of every ten people went without treatment for cancer or other physical ills? Those seem to be two of our big challenges.

But we also have a challenge of respecting in this country the constitutional rights, the civil rights of individuals.

Dean Becker: Once again, that was part one of our coverage of a recent American Bar Association panel on the policy of drug reform. The last voice you heard was that of the host of the panel, Judge Arthur Burnett.

We’ll have part two of this on next week’s Drug Truth Network programming. And now it’s time to Name That Drug by its Side Effects!

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Doug McVay: The word of the day is recidivism. We know that in the U.S. on average parole fails for about two thirds of former offenders. Within three years all but one third have been violated and reincarcerated. A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics helps to underscore the reasons why. According to ‘Characteristics of State Parole Supervising Agencies, 2006’ there were a total of 65,000 full-time and 2,900 part-time workers employed by state parole supervising agencies in 2006. About one in five of these workers are actually devoted to supervision of offenders. The average case load was 38 active parolees for each full time position devoted to parole supervision. All together these agencies supervised 660,959 adult parolees. Sixty-eight percent of adult offenders on parole were required to have face-to-face contact with a parole officer at least once a month including fourteen percent who are required to have weekly face-to-face contact. Of fifty state agencies which reported only four operated a formal housing service, another six had a contract with a private rental agency that refers parolees to specific landlords, seven had a formal working relationship with some other state or county agency and ten had some sort of unspecified program. The rest -- nothing.

Of those same fifty agencies only six operate a formal employment service, another eight have a contract with a private employment service that refers parolees to specific positions or employers, seventeen have a formal working relationship with a state or county agency and six offer some sort of unspecified program. The rest -- nothing.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay, Editor of DrugWarFacts.org.


Dean Becker: Poppygate. Bizarre news about the U.S. policy on controlling heroin, featuring Glenn Greenway.

Glenn Greenway: Under U.S. and Western occupation, Afghanistan's annual heroin output has shot up from 40,000 pounds in 2001 to nearly two million pounds last year; two million pounds of pure H per year per presidential poppy prohibitionist policy, providing the insurgency with half a billion dollars per year and underwriting two thirds of the ravaged country’s entire economy.

The former U.S. point man on Afghan narcotics policy, Tomas Schweich, says Canadians should be 'hopping mad' that their Conservative government is doing nothing to counter the Afghan narcotics trade, the proceeds of which fund the insurgency and are killing Canadian soldiers. ‘Hopping mad?’ Point taken, but considering that Afghanistan’s opium output doubled under his drug war command one wonders if ‘Hopping Tom’ and the drugs prohibition for which he stands aren’t those whom are mad -- as March hares.

Arriving rather late to the Poppygate party, Former U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey last week publicly declared Afghanistan a ‘narco-state.’

Last week the UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced that seventy percent of Afghanistan's raw opium is now being converted to into heroin within the country and a leading Afghan politician, Bashir Bishan, charged the U.S. and Britain with distributing poppy seeds to Afghan farmers.

Finally, in 2005 the U.S. and its allies dropped an average of 5,000 pounds of munitions per month on Afghan soil. By Christmas past the monthly average increased to 168,000 pounds.

This is Glenn Greenway reporting for the Drug Truth Network.


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 first-hand the utter futility of our policy and now work together to end drug prohibition.

Please visit LEAP.cc.

Dean Becker: All right, my friends. We’re about done here but I do urge you to tune into this week’s Century of Lies program. It’s ‘Marijuana: Threat or Menace?’ featuring Congressman Barney Frank, Congressman Ron Paul, Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project and Terry Nelson of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. You also get to hear from author Misha Glenny via a BBC report.

You know, if I could get a birthday wish from you it would be that you would write a fifty word paragraph and then you’d email it and fax it and read it over the phone to your elected officials, to your police chief, to the newspaper editor and that you do your part to help end the madness of drug war. Once again, I remind that because of this policy of drug prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag so, please, be careful.


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 on an abyss.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net