08/23/18 Alexander Sharp

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Alexander Sharp
Bill Fried
Clergy for a New Drug Policy

Reverend Alexander Sharp, Director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy + Bill Fried of LEAP re OpEd in Balt Sun & Howard Wooldridge of LEAP re heroin "cure" in Switzerland

Audio file


AUGUST 23, 2018


DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hello, my friends, this is Dean Becker, the reverend most high. Thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. We've got some great stuff to share, let's just get started.

It was about six weeks ago, I bought the website, and I wanted to claim the moral high ground in the drug war because I feel that our elected officials, our talking heads at the top of this, were off track. They're in favor of empowering terrorists, cartels, and gangs, they don't mind so much the tens of thousands of overdose deaths.

They think the black market seems to be the only way to handle this situation, which is leading to tens of thousands of deaths in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and I felt they had no recognition of the futility and the horrors they inflict through their belief in prohibition.

And I'm hoping to recruit other, I don't know, officials, ministers, cops, wardens, others that feel as I do that we are way off track, and I'm hoping that our next guest will agree with me that we have really failed the populace with our perspective on this eternal prohibition of drugs. With that, I want to welcome the Reverend Alexander Sharp to the program. Hello, Reverend.


DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Now, you know, I do this with a bit of tongue in cheek, you know, I'm a sinner, like I think most everybody, but I feel that, you know, I had my times as a youth where I did too much drugs, too much drinking, too much of this, that, and the other, but in my latter years here I feel that I have a pretty good perspective on this, that I want to stop funding the terrorists, that I want to take away our children's easy access to drugs, and that the right and moral thing to do is to end this prohibition. Your thought in that regard, Reverend Sharp.

REVEREND ALEXANDER SHARP: Well, I certainly want to end prohibition as we use that term, and that certainly includes, for me, the legalization for recreational use of marijuana, and of course medical marijuana, which in most instances has preceded legalization of marijuana, and at the very least the decriminalization of low-level possession of all other drugs, as is happening in Portugal, it has been the case for 17 years there.

So, I certainly agree in those particular terms with the end of prohibition, and the mission of my organization, Clergy For A New Drug Policy, speaks to that. We've mobilized clergy nationally to end the war on drugs, and to seek a health not punishment response to drug use.

So, I certainly agree with the short version of what you said, and that's my slightly expanded version of it.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir, and, you know, I, too, earlier this year, I went to Portugal, I got a chance to sit down with Doctor Goulão, their, in essence their drug czar. We had a good, long conversation. And we talked about the morality of this drug war, and he seemed to see a great failing in our perspective, that, you know, we've -- we lead the world in our incarceration, we basically do nothing to forestall what we've just learned, last year 72,000 overdose deaths here in America.

And then we just don't seem to want to move from our position, that we need to allow for a reexamination of our policy. That's what you guys are doing there, are you not?

REVEREND ALEXANDER SHARP: Yeah, we certainly are. And there are a lot of ways to think about morality in relation to drug use, and the war on drugs. A comparison I like to draw, because better theologians than I, going back to Saint Augustine have done it, is to think of the notion of a just war. That's a deep and broad theological concept, and many people have worked on.

And if you think about it, the war on drugs fails on every possible argument you would give for what might be considered a just war.

Probability of success? I don't think so. The drug war has failed.

Seeking all other alternatives before you go to war? We certainly haven't done that with -- before we went into and have continued the fight in the form of the war on drugs.

Concerned about collateral consequences? We have lives ruined through what you referred to as mass incarceration to an enormous degree and at tragic human cost through collateral consequences of the war on drugs.

The war on drugs fails miserably.

DEAN BECKER: It does, sir, and, you know, I think about it, you know, there are so many areas of concern, where I, you know, I mentioned we're empowering terrorist cartels and gangs, we give reason for our kids to be enticed by these gangs that prowl our neighborhoods, that, in many instances, lead to violence on our city streets, and they entice our kids to lives of crime or addiction.

Any which way you look at this, we fall flat on our face, because we are not making any sort of progress, are we, sir?

REVEREND ALEXANDER SHARP: Well, we aren't making progress in ending drug use, and the damage that comes from the black market and cartels that you're talking about, so on its own terms, the war on drugs has failed. It's a very interesting question, and a profoundly important question, the extent to which the war on drugs actually contributes to violence.

As a resident of the city of Chicago, where we have so much urban violence, it's an especially pertinent question, and I, you know, there's not an easy answer to that, but I think there's a reasonably clear answer, which is that, while the war on drugs isn't responsible solely for the violence, if you eliminated the drug war, I can't make the argument that there would be no violence in the city of Chicago, especially in the poorest neighborhoods, but you can say that the war on drugs exacerbates the violence. It makes it worse.

We can't ignore the impact that it has, even though it doesn't fully explain the violence. I think we could say there would be less violence if we didn't have a war on drugs. There's some very ingenuous concerns in Chicago expressed by the police about, why the police and the community can't get along better? Why with all these murders do we have such a low clearance rate? Why don't people in the community, when a murder happens, and it's usually a gang related murder, come forward and help us find the culprit?

Well, if you've got a police department that's declaring war on your community by fighting a drug war through police sweeps, through SWAT teams, how do you then expect that same community to trust you when you want their support?

DEAN BECKER: So true, sir, I've often spoken to, in that regard, that if we were to legalize drugs, that cops would immediately gain millions of citizens more willing to have a discussion like you're talking about, more willing to participate in the criminal justice system. It's another one --

REVEREND ALEXANDER SHARP: I believe that. I believe that.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. And then we have the situation of course in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, where, in essence, the gangs have taken over many of the towns and villages down there, where they run things, where they rape and murder with, you know, absolute impunity, and, it's just another means whereby they gain their money through drug sales, but then they have a bankroll, so to speak, so they can get into human trafficking and gambling and smuggling and other types of criminal concerns.

It's like the little engine that won't stop, this prohibition, the dollars, yes sir.

REVEREND ALEXANDER SHARP: Well, I believe the thrust of your argument. I'm not going to pretend to know a great deal about countries beyond the US, although I think what you're saying has a great reason to it.

But what I can say, living in Chicago and knowing the urban environment reasonably well, is that I don't think gangs would disappear if we eliminated the war on drugs, but they'd be far less virulent.

Look, the war on drugs, the -- drug use exists, and the market exists, because you're talking about neighborhoods, at least in many of our urban areas, the south and west side of Chicago, which I know best, where there just is hopelessness. There is no opportunity for many, many people to gain jobs, and live a life of any reasonable satisfaction. So what are you going to do when you have no hope?

You're going to -- and when you have to feed your family, in many cases? You're going to begin to traffic in low level drug possession. I don't think ending the war on drugs is going to end that basic phenomenon of poverty and hopelessness in key urban areas all around our country, but I do think it will diminish it, and I think the gangs, to the extent that they do continue to exist, even though they're going to have to find another way to obtain so much cash, are going to find it much harder, and it's going to, as you have implied, much harder to entice people into gang activity.

So I think it would push back the gangs, to some degree, but I don't want it to be thought that this is a problem just of gangs that have sprung up for no reason, and we don't have a responsibility to, if we're really going to really be serious about ending drug use, to fight for a more just and equitable society.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Well, thank you for that. Again, folks, we're speaking with the Reverend Alexander Sharp of Clergy for a New Drug Policy.

Reverend, you were, just last week, you were in Texas, attending what is a positive aspect of this drug war, this eternal situation. Tell us what you -- what brought you to Texas, sir.

REVEREND ALEXANDER SHARP: Well, I had been in Texas two years ago, invited by the Marijuana Policy Project, to speak on panels pushing for medical marijuana, cannabis to help people suffering from any number of ailments, which it clearly can and does do, and now in thirty states, legally.

And they invited me back, I was very grateful for that, and so I spoke on a panel that was looking at faith, cannabis, and community in relation specifically to the value and importance of legalizing medical marijuana in Texas.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir, and you know, there is hope, even in states like Texas, so red but with a lot of blue starting to grow.

REVEREND ALEXANDER SHARP: Let me tell you, have you seen what happened in Oklahoma just about three weeks ago? It was on the -- legalizing medical marijuana was on the ballot in Oklahoma, and it passed. And, clergy played a role in that, in Oklahoma, and we helped to some extent as well through both written and spoken word. It can happen in red states. It's going to happen in red states.

It's going to happen because of human stories that wrench your heart. On my panel was a women whose child has autism. They've done everything they can to help this child. They used conventional medicine, often of which have terrible side effects. The child often engages in acts of self-misery, you know, basically hitting herself and it only, with vaporized marijuana, is that particular symptom abated.

And, this was one particular case, but there were other mothers there of autistic children. They can't get this capacity to help their kids in Texas, because medical marijuana's not legal. Why is not legal? The opponents will say, well we haven't done enough research. Well, why haven't we done enough research? Because the people that could do the, you know, hold the gates open or closed on research keep the gates closed. They continue to schedule marijuana as a Schedule One drug, get this, with no medical value.

Are they kidding? So, it's a vicious loop, and these parents that I saw break your heart. They're doing everything they can to care for their child. There was one case where the mother is a certified nurse. She ran the risk, in helping her child by using cannabis in the way that I've described, of losing her professional license because, as I say, as we all know, cannabis is illegal in Texas.

Fortunately, the board of certification let this go, and they should have. It was the only sound judgment they could make, but these are heartwrenching situations, and there are enough of them so that finally the public's going to get it in Texas, including the legislature. And I was happy to contribute to that effort.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir, and I'm glad you did. It is a wave that's coming. It will happen, as you say, and it's time for folks to stop bowing their necks and to listen, and to help get it done.




DEAN BECKER: Well, again, friends, we've been speaking with the Reverend Alexander Sharp of Clergy for a New Drug Policy. Reverend Sharp, I want to give you time to close this out, your thoughts, maybe some motivation to those who are listening.

REVEREND ALEXANDER SHARP: Well, I think that, if one thinks about marijuana specifically, we should realize something that's not entirely clear. You know, I often get a little defensive when I say I'm pressing for legalization of recreational marijuana, not because it's not important, but because there's so many deeper issues involved in the war on drugs that make it very hard, the drug warriors, to even believe in something like harm reduction, allowing people to have access to safe injection sites so they won't die of overdoses through contaminated needles.

The federal government still opposes the availability of federal funding for clean needles, so that people won't get HIV, AIDS, or die in alleyways because of the conditions under which they're going to use.

We need changes in our sentencing laws. We need much more emphasis on police diverting people to treatment rather than simply locking them up and arresting them. What I've come to realize is that legalizing marijuana is a leverage for all those changes.

You're not going to get those changes until you get past what I think is the increasingly just, I won't say frivolous debate, because people who engage in it think it's very important, but until we get it past the marijuana debate and we can look at some of these deeper issues that drive the war on drugs.

So, I hope we'll take that broader perspective, even as we focus on the issues that we've talked about today.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, that was the Reverend Alexander Sharp, who heads up Clergy for a New Drug Policy, out there on the web at

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Coughing, blood in your phlegm, painful sores diarrhea, stomach pain, burning when you urinate, tiredness, tuberculosis, cancer, and death. Time's up! The answer, from Janssen Biotech Incorporated: Stelara, for psoriasis.

You know, it seems that the truth is coming forward. The truth is being recognized more and more. The need to reexamine our drug policy is becoming exposed, more and more each and every day, newspapers around the country, television, and of course my radio shows are always focused on this, and we have with us today a man who has dedicated much of his life to exposing that fraud, to educating people in that regard.

He works for an organization, Law Enforcement Action Partnership. He's just -- he just retired from a position working for Law Enforcement Action Partnership, otherwise known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. With that, I want to recognize and bring on the program my friend, Mister Bill Fried. Hello, Bill.

BILL FRIED: Hi, Dean, how are you doing?

DEAN BECKER: I'm doing well, and I think you're doing great, sir, I saw your recent op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, "Will Legalizing Heroin Help?" Would you please explain that to my listeners?

BILL FRIED: Well, it was originally called The Criminal Mistake. It was broader than just heroin, but the bottom line is that everything that we do to criminalize any drugs, no matter how benign or dangerous it might be, has hurt people, particularly the most vulnerable people among us, and every step that's ever been taken here or anywhere in the world, really, to go away from criminalization has helped people. It's helped reduce problematic drug use, it's helped reduce crime, it's helped reduce disease, and death.

It's really, in general terms, as simple as that. And that's what I was trying to walk through with this. We have made great progress in marijuana, and we have made some progress in our relationship to people who are addicted to opioids, because they were not too long ago considered just as villainous as the people who sold it.

And now, we're recognizing, in part because of who is dying, the demographics of who's dying from this. Well, they're good people just like us, so they're good people, and so they're the victims now, and they have an addiction, they may have an emotional problem, whatever. But, we're -- the people we really want to go after now are the sellers, those traffickers.

And what basically the op-ed was saying, that's not doing the victims any good. It's not doing the people who are having problematic drug use the slightest bit of good to keep them in the game, as it were. To keep them in the cops and robbers, good guys and bad guys, game, any more than it helps people who have problems drinking, alcoholics, were helped by having prohibition, because they were allowed to drink alcohol, they were not penalized for that. They were often seen as people with weaknesses and victims themselves.

And so we went after the Al Capones, as a result of which, the people who were drinking often didn't know what they were getting. It was a completely unregulated, anarchistic market, and they died, they went blind drunk, they literally died from contaminated alcohol, in the same way that people are now, who have problems with heroin, are dying from fentanyl or whatever else is put into it, rat poison, et cetera.

It is completely unregulated, it's out of the legal market, we have no control over it whatsoever.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh. Once again, we're speaking with Mister Bill Fried, just retired from his position with LEAP. Bill, the subheading on your op-ed was "Prohibition didn't end alcoholism, just as current law can't kill addiction." And I want to kind of throw my scenario in there.

I'm an alcoholic. I quit 33 years ago. Every day, I drive by stores selling my drug of destruction, and, you know, it's about control, it's about understanding that we will have problems with alcohol, we will have problems with heroin or cocaine or whatever, but we don't need to compound it by locking people up, by destroying their future, by demonizing them and casting them into a cage.

It's just not the answer, is it, sir?

BILL FRIED: No, it certainly is not, and one of the things that we find in these supervised injection facilities is that they're -- they're giving people positive messages of hope and responsibility, and support. They're not dealing with them as stigmatized others. They're simply dealing with them as people who have a particular issue, or usually multiple issues, and will try and give you some help.

And it works. And it's -- it's the kind of thing that middle class people get a lot. They get second and third and fourth chances. Whereas lower income people tend not to, and what this is doing is extending the privileges that people like I had growing up, and I needed the second and third and fourth chances.


BILL FRIED: To get over their problems and to get on with their lives.

DEAN BECKER: Well said. Bill, I thank you, and friends, if you want to educate yourself on the truth of this matter, on the positives that can be brought about through your efforts, please visit the Law Enforcement Action Partnership website, Thank you, Bill.

BILL FRIED: Well, thank you, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: I am the Reverend Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network, standing in the river of reform, baptizing drug warriors to the unvarnished truth.

Well, we just heard from a couple of my associates from LEAP, talking about the situation in San Francisco Chronicle and the Baltimore Sun, and a friend of mine, who introduced me, if you will, to Doctor Christoph Buerki, the heroin scientist, if you will, in Switzerland, a man who, I think, has more commitment towards ending this foolhardy drug war than even I do, my associate, mister long rider himself, a gentleman who patrols the halls of Congress on a near daily basis, my friend, my associate, Mister Howard Wooldridge. Hello, Howard.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Dean, good to hear from you.

DEAN BECKER: Howard, I was privileged to meet Doctor Buerki while I was over there in Europe, and he educated me quite a bit. And it ties in a lot to these op-eds from Diane and Bill, talking about prohibition, talking about fentanyl, talking about the increasing overdose deaths, and what in the heck can be done about it.

They figured it out quite a while back, did they not?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: They did. Out of the failure of, and the experiment of Needle Park in Zurich in the early '90s, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, they invented the heroin assisted treatment program, whereby a small portion of their heroin patients receive a pure dose of heroin twice a day, versus methadone.

The vast majority get methadone, but about eight percent receive two doses of heroin per day.

DEAN BECKER: And, this is an example of, I don't know, positive thinking, of scientific thinking, of examining what's going on, and moving in the right direction. Am I right?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Well, yeah, but I do, I just had four meetings today with US Senators' aides, and I told them this is very pro-life, because their number one interest is keeping you alive as long as possible. It's very effective in treating heroin, and it's efficient. It's very cost effective, let alone the savings in lives.

So, they're just not afraid to try something new, and they're leading the world in this area of heroin treatment. It's been copied now in six countries, and they are the lighthouse of the world.

DEAN BECKER: And, what's not recognized, you know, is that they have through this policy not had one overdose [sic: overdose death], yet here in the United States, in the year 2017, we had 72,000, which just rips at my heart. Your response, Howard.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Yeah, that's exactly so. That's why I say it's so pro-life. They don't care about what people think, they don't care about religion, morality, they're just -- it is pro-life, and they are, with Swiss efficiency, they are helping, you know, tens of thousands of people who became addicted to heroin, and this program either helped them get off, or it maintained a healthy lifestyle by letting them have the drug of their choice in a clean, hospital like setting.

DEAN BECKER: You know, while I was over there, I got to tour the Bern, Switzerland hospital, treatment center, whatever you want to call it, dispensary, where they provide the heroin. A very clean place, and as you said, the addicts come in twice a day, they get what they need and in between they take care of their kids, or they go to work, or they go to school, or they have time. They don't have to search for money to buy exorbitantly priced street heroin.

They're able to lead a fairly decent life. Right?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: That's correct. Their studies show consistently now, over 24 years, about one third of their heroin patients are working, making money. Now, they're not brain surgeons, they're not airline pilots, but they have meaningful work, and the dignity of work, and this helps everybody in the society, and like you say, their families are more stable. Their living conditions are stable. And this is all due to a -- a, a medical approach to a particular drug.

DEAN BECKER: And, to kind of wrap this up, it also involves good health practices. They're not out on the street using, you know, rain water out of an alley, and reusing a syringe. They're working with medical practitioners, they're taking care of themselves.

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Right. It's important for your audience to know that 80 percent, eight zero percent, of the patients coming in essentially go out clean, not on anything. But the Swiss don't -- you know, if you can't get off the drug, they will let you have a clean drug for the rest of your life under their national healthcare system.

And by the way it's efficient because, the savings in criminal justice costs almost pays for the entire 23 clinics across the country. So it doesn't even cost the taxpayers much money because they're saving the money by not putting these people in jail. They don't have so many drug dealers shooting each other, crimes against property, because they have a clean, free system of getting it from their government.

DEAN BECKER: Well friends, we've been speaking with Mister Howard Wooldridge. He's the long rider who rode his horse, Misty, across America, not once, but twice. Howard, once again I salute you for your efforts. Good talking with you. Do you want to share a website with the listeners?

HOWARD WOOLDRIDGE: Yes, certainly. Check out LEAP, I can only remember the, charlie charlie. And you know what else, look at my other organization, On that website, you will find the Swiss program and a six minute summary, which is approved by the Swiss government, that will give you all the basics of this amazing program.

DEAN BECKER: We talked about Diane Goldstein, the chairman of the board of LEAP, and her op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle. It was titled On Fentanyl, Congress Must Avoid Another Drug War. Hope to share an interview with Diane with you on next week's program.

As we're wrapping things up, I want to point out to you the fact that we have now more then seven thousand half hour, one hour, and 420 reports available on our website at Again I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please, 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.