02/26/20 Antony Lowenstein
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Antony Lowenstein author of new book: PILLS, POWDER & SMOKE - Inside The Bloody War On Drugs + Incarcerex & Drug War Freight Train
FEBRUARY 26, 2020
DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection and the liars who support the drug war which empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason to existence to tens of thousands of violent U.S. gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.
Hi folks, welcome to Cultural Baggage. I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High. Thank you for being with us. I am hoping that this show helps to educate and motivate you to help do your part to end this stupid eternal war on drugs.
Well folks, day after day and week after week you hear me reporting the drug war news and you hear me proclaiming that it is full of bull and that there is no reason to exist. There is a new book on the market that parallels that thought and takes that same course exposing this drug war for what it is. We are going to be speaking with the author here in just a moment about his new book entitled, Pills, Powder, and Smoke: inside the bloody war on drugs by Antony Lowenstein. He is speaking with us today from Jerusalem, welcome Antony Lowenstein. Hello Antony.
ANTONY LOWENSTEIN: Thank you so much for having me. How are you guys?
DEAN BECKER: Real good, it is starting to be springtime here in Houston so we have no problems with the weather. I want to thank you for this book. You have exposed it and shown that it is a toothless monster that is still devouring generations of our children. Right?
ANTONY LOWENSTEIN: Absolutely. I starting researching and writing this about five ago and it was really to counter two myths. One was that in many parts of the world including the U.S., people say that American states are legalizing marijuana and therefore inevitably the drug war will come to an end and it will be legalized federally and therefore that is the end of the problem; or people say that it is a terrible violence and drug war in Mexico, which there is. The drug war is something that happened in the past during the Reagan era and the truth is that because western demand for illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, etc. is still massive; in fact it has never been higher. There is a need for a system to produce those drugs, supply them, and distribute them to wherever they want. The U.S. is the biggest market in the world but there are many others including UK, Europe, and elsewhere. What I wanted to do in the book was go to some of these countries where the drugs are either produced or they are transit countries or they are countries like the U.S. which are going through a transition of sorts towards on the one hand a more enlightened drug policy with cannabis and on the other hand a lot of the other harder drugs such as cocaine and others are still causing mass carnage because they are still illegal and authorities at the federal and state level in the U.S. are happy to maintain that arrangement because it suites them very well and they make a lot of money from it due to government subsidies so the drug war is still very much alive, tragically.
DEAN BECKER: Well it is and thank you for that, Antony. I want to give a brief description of the book to the listener out there. You travelled the globe, you have been to Honduras, Guinea-Bissau, the Philippines, Great Britain, Australia, and other locations I am sure to dig deep and delve in to this to find out the heart of the matter and how it is all being implemented in these various countries. I am going to read a couple of quotes from your book as we go along. In the Introduction you talk about El Chapo being found guilty of ten charges against him and the United States Attorney for the District of New York claimed that the decision was a victory for the 100,000 dead in Mexico and for the drug war itself. He is quoted as saying, “There are those who say the war on drugs is not worth fighting. Those people are wrong”, and I say this gentleman is flat out blowing smoke. What is your response, Antony?
ANTONY LOWENSTEIN: I agree. I put that in there because I wanted people to see that rhetoric which was heard for decades is still very much alive. There are a lot old people in government and there are definitely growing voices in elements of the government and law enforcement in fact who speak openly about how the drug war is a failure, but there are still people such as the guy you just mentioned. I didn’t know him personally but his quote after the El Chapo trial was instructed because if anyone believes by putting El Chapo in prison – and to be clear – El Chapo seems to be a brutal, terrible, murderous thug and there is no doubt about that but putting him in prison has done literally nothing to the drug supply, nothing to the drug demand; in fact the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico is doing very well, thank you very much. They are transitioning to other drugs and they are now involved in producing fentanyl because the U.S. has a massive demand for it. Until you legalize and regulate all drugs, which at the moment feels like a long way away, these cartels are the ones making the money; it is not the average person who is growing coca in Colombia or some poor drug mule in the U.S., they are not the ones making money generally. The cartels and the criminal groups are the ones that people like me who advocate for legalization want to shut down. These are not good people and I am not saying that they are but until you legalize and regulate all drugs, those kinds of groups are the ones that are benefitting. Locking up people like El Chapo and others in the U.S. or elsewhere has had little to zero effect on changing anything to do with the drug war, which makes you realize that the drug war is not actually about stopping drug use, drug abuse, or drug supply. The drug war has always been about a war on the poor – always – whether they are black, white, Latino, it doesn’t really matter. On that level it has been incredibly successful. If you look at it in a very cynical way those groups have been disproportionately affected, incarcerated, and prosecuted. Yes, there are certain rich people that get prosecuted, too, but in general they are not in the U.S. and elsewhere. The drug war has always been a war on the poor and the disadvantaged and that has pretty much come from Nixon onwards. I quote people in the book who were close to Nixon and a former advisor to Nixon said – and people can read the quote in the book – in summary that they knew that the drug war could not be fought honestly so they had to create a fiction to go after in the 60s and 70s what they saw as the enemy were African Americans and the anti-war left because the war then was Viet Nam. Fast forward 50 or so years and not much has really changed. The rhetoric has evolved a little bit but then you hear the man you mentioned before who said that the drug war was worth fighting and he realized that it would take a lot of public pressure and campaigning to force government to stop the drug war because otherwise it is becoming quite self-perpetuating.
DEAN BECKER: Sure. Antony, I wanted to underscore what you were saying about who makes the big bucks. I know that you can buy cocaine in bulk for $1000 – $2000 a kilo down in Colombia or Bolivia and it goes anywhere from $20,000 –$100,000 a kilo up here in the U.S. That trade is never going away as long as prohibition exists. Right?
ANTONY LOWENSTEIN: Absolutely. In fact it is growing because as I said before the demand for drugs in various parts of the U.S. in the U.K. there has never been a greater demand for cocaine as it is said to be easier and quicker to get cocaine delivered than it is to order a pizza. It is said that in London every night 20 – 30 kilos of cocaine is consumed. I say this not as someone who thinks that people shouldn’t have the right to consume cocaine if it is done safely and in a regulated way; but in the current environment there is no doubt that the supply chain for cocaine and other drugs is really ugly and people really need to think about that because if you are interested in using coke, you need to be aware of the fact that from the farmer in Colombia or Peru where most of the cocaine in the world comes from – to get it to your door in New York, London, Houston, or wherever you are it has to go through a lot of people’s hands and what that means in practice is a lot of misery, violence, and death. There is no way to get around that ugly reality and as you say, until you legalize and regulate then I am someone who is calling for ethically sourced drugs. What that means is that the drug is ethically sourced from a farmer in Colombia all the way potentially to a user inside the U.S. or elsewhere. Everyone is given a fair wage or salary where they may be unionized and they are not treated badly and there is no violence. That requires a massive change in how we currently do things. It might seem impossible for people to imagine that but one only looks back ten years ago in the U.S. and many other countries that are now moving toward legalizing cannabis – back then it felt very hard to imagine that cannabis would be legalized. In the U.S., as listeners of course are very well aware, many states have legalized and it is inevitable that it will happen federally whether it is done by Trump or a future President, it will happen and that is a major step forward but then the challenge is the other drugs as well.
DEAN BECKER: Yes. I don’t know how it is in Great Britain or Israel, but over here we now have fentanyl winding up in the cocaine due to bad processes or something and perhaps they use the same table when they batch up their cocaine but it is becoming more deadly in that regard as well. In your book you talk about Guinea-Bissau, where much of the drugs making their way to Europe are landing and repackaged and sent on to Europe from there. Right?
ANTONY LOWENSTEIN: Absolutely. People often don’t know about this. Guinea-Bissau is a tiny formal Portuguese colony in West Africa and in the last 10 – 15 years it has become a key transit country for cocaine from South America to Europe so it arrives by ship or air and gets delivered to Guinea-Bissau or other West African countries and then gets packaged up and continued up in to Europe and to the U.K The effect of that in a country like Guinea-Bissau or other Western African states is the vulnerable nations that are prone to being essentially bought by South American drug cartels so they are essentially Narco states, Guinea-Bissau was called that by the U.N. about ten years ago. In the U.S., the equivalent country would be Honduras where a lot of the cocaine going in to the U.S. from South America goes by Honduras and the effect of that is very real for Americans, especially – as many people will be aware – although there were problems long before Donald Trump became President since he assumed the Presidency a little over three years ago a lot of the refugees trying to get in to the U.S. are coming from Honduras and they are fleeing for a reason as the country has collapsed and is potentially a Narco state. It is not only because of drugs but drugs play a huge factor in that and it is really for people to realize that until drugs are regulated and legalized, you don’t know what drug you are taking and it seems crazy that in 2020, many officials including governments and schools still talk about ‘Just Say No’, or variations of that and it doesn’t work. It is actually immoral to argue that because it ignores the fact that many people do take drugs and will take drugs. I don’t think people should be encouraged to take drugs in fact one of the things that people like me advocate in legalization is that drugs should be boring. In other words, there is something illicit about the idea now of doing cocaine or heroin, whatever the drug of your choice may be whereas in a legalized, regulated system the drug would be available in various forms. Obviously cannabis is a relatively harmless drug but it can cause harm with excessive use to be sure but something like heroin is not simply available across the counter it is available through a pharmacy or a doctor and cocaine could be handled in the same way. A legalized system would choose a mature way as to how you can access these drugs. In Portugal we have seen over the last 20 years that they have decriminalized all drugs and drug use and abuse has gone down – so it actually does work.
DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Friends, we are speaking with Mr. Antony Lowenstein about a book he authored entitled, Pills, Powder, and Smoke: inside the bloody war on drugs.
Antony, I was in Colombia a few years back and I probably paid the “gringo” price of $5 for a pound of coca leaf and I toured some coca fields, etc. I found it to be somewhat stimulating and a bit better than a cup of coffee. They say that it opens up your lungs so that you can breathe at those high altitudes and I will submit that we would be much better off if we were to actually legalize coca and perhaps cut down on the number of people using cocaine; and if we were to legalize the pure opium extract from the poppy rather than people being tempted by heroin itself. What is your thought in that regard?
ANTONY LOWENSTEIN: I agree. One of the things that is happening across Colombia – and maybe you saw that when you were there – is that while it is illegal there are growing moves at the local level and the indigenous levels to use coca for chewing for either medicinal purposes or a mild stimulant. This year a Colombian politician will put forward legislation in the Colombian Parliament to legalize and regulate cocaine and that legislation will almost certainly fail but they are doing it because it is causing so much damage in the current system. People may not realize this but Colombia provides roughly 70 – 80 percent of the world’s cocaine; it is a huge, huge market. In fact, the peace deal that was struck five or so years ago between the FARC and the government is collapsing now and drugs is a major factor there because the government simply has not assisted many of the people who were in these militant groups to find alternative sources of employment. What that means now on the ground is that due to the massive demand for cocaine unless it is legalized and regulated – and that is why this politician in Colombia, who I really admire, is doing this. Again, it will almost certainly fail but it is an attempt to put this on the agenda. It is almost inevitable that the U.S. is not going to be the first country in the world to legalize cocaine or coca; we all know that won’t happen. What could happen is a country like Colombia, Peru, or Bolivia or one of those kinds of nations that actually has the most amount of damage from the drug and almost as an example to say to the world that they are not going to tolerate this prohibition mindset anymore as they are the ones who are suffering, dying, and experiencing all of the apocalyptic violence because the drug is illegal. They are leading from the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Latin and South America, prominent politicians, media, etc. who have said for years that everyone knows the drug war is not winnable. Therefore, you have to ask yourself why it is continuing, whose agenda is it serving, and who is making money from it, that is one of the things I try to look at in the book.
DEAN BECKER: You have done an excellent job. You’ve exposed the underbelly of this, so to speak. I want to jump forward a chapter in your book to the Philippines. The story coming out of the Philippines is that the cops and some vigilantes hired by the cops are out there on motorcycles often shooting people who they suspect of using drugs and they are creating mayhem across the nation by killing thousands of people. You may have heard that within the past week that the Philippines have said they are canceling their relationship with the United States now and they are walking away from our prior agreements. President Duterte seems like a true renegade. You want to talk about the situation in the Philippines?
ANTONY LOWENSTEIN: Duterte, who was elected about three and a half years ago has caused carnage in that country. Since then no one knows the exact number of people who have died but a conservative estimate is at least 30,000. The vast majority are poor and live in slums mostly around Manila, which is a major city there. I spent some time there a few years ago looking at these communities and understanding what the drug war has done there. As you say, mostly violence committed by police or thugs hired by police and sometimes it is people who use drugs, sometimes it’s simply poor people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think the Philippines is almost the best so-called worst example of what a drug war can look like because it really is a classic example of a war on the poor. These are people who are often using a drug called “Shaboo”, which is like an amphetamine that people are using to get through the day and this includes people who work in manual labor or people who very tough lives; it is a very cheap drug and easy to buy. There is almost a sense that the current government there and the rhetoric around it and the people who support it. A lot of the people in the Philippines support this and it is very popular. There is opposition but not as much as you might think. It is almost like the Philippines is showing a different very strange model of how you deal with drug users. Let’s be clear, the people who are at the top of the chain are drug dealers and people who are using cocaine are not being attacked and killed. This is a war on the poor and you are right, President Duterte has an acrimonious relationship with the U.S. On the one hand his rhetoric is correct in that the U.S. has not been treating the Philippines like a Colony, in fact the Philippines used to be an American Colony. His reasoning therefore in wanting to sabotage America is not particularly pure. Essentially he is going to China who are oddly a benign pair in my view. Duterte and the Philippines have a long history of a complex relationship with Washington, whether it is Obama or Trump. What the drug war has shown there I think is that there is an ability to unleash mass deaths and still receive a lot of public support and the problem with that apart from the obvious is that a lot of people around the world who still support a hard line on drugs, particularly in Asia Pacific, look to Duterte in admiration because he is getting away with it. As opposed to what critics will say is that America is liberalized and they are legalizing cannabis – this is the wrong way – and that the Philippines is how you should fight a drug war. I worry that many countries will see that and want to follow suit.
DEAN BECKER: Well let’s hope they don’t. I want to compliment you for touring these countries, going to the Philippines and Guinea-Bissau, etc. It is not an easy chore or a safe task. I was at a conference a couple of months back and got to meet a guy who won an award from the Drug Policy Alliance. He is one of the Night Crawlers there in the Philippines that goes to where the dead bodies are from Duterte’s drug war and reports on them.
I know that here in the United States, Donald Trump got elected saying he was going to legalize weed, and then he wasn’t, and then he was, and then he wasn’t. There is a new Democratic candidate for President in Mayor Bloomberg who ran the Stop and Frisk situation in New York City that arrested 500,000 or more citizens who were mostly black and brown. This kind of parallels the situation in the Philippines – the poor people are the ones who can least stand the hassle and they are the ones who get it the most. Right?
ANTONY LOWENSTEIN: For sure. The U.S. debate is interesting – the negative side is basically what you said, that Trump during his election campaign in 2016 talked about actually having a real problem with states that have legalized marijuana and he definitely hasn’t talked about legalizing all drugs. I have to say that what does give me a bit of optimism – and I guess we will see how that plays out this November – is that a lot of the main Democratic Presidential candidates have talked about if not ending the drug war, certainly curtailing it. Bernie Sanders seems to be the current front runner talks about legalizing cannabis, reparation to those who have suffered the most from the drug war but he doesn’t advocate legalizing all drugs and I think he should but it is a step in the right direction. Some of the other key candidates have also made similar comments as Sanders so there is a real possibility if Sanders or someone like him was the candidate and could be President that a drug policy would certainly change it. It would not end overnight to be sure but it would change. There is also one other thing I want to finally say and that is that there – and this has been going on underground for a long time but it is becoming quite mainstream and that is the use and research of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, Magic Mushrooms and ecstasy to treat mental health issues. The fear when Trump came in was that he would try to stop that research or arrest people who use it but he hasn’t done that – to his credit. What has been happening with those therapists, researchers, and scientists are showing that there are a lot of people who have massive mental health problems which accounts for a huge number of people in the U.S. and globally who use antidepressants and those work for some people and not others. There is hard evidence now that shows under controlled studies and environments that psychedelic drugs help people to feel better and they help with PTSD and trauma. Within a few years in the U.S. it is very possible that legally you would go to a doctor and rather than being prescribed antidepressants you would be given a session on ecstasy or LSD. This has been happening now for a number of years and it is likely to happen this decade in the U.S. and that to me is a really positive sign. While that is not about the drug war per say, but it has been decades that those drugs have been demonized and said to be awful. They are still illegal and still obviously used by people who go to parties and clubs. What I am talking about is the use of it for medical reasons and I think for a lot of people who have been skeptical about ending the drug war or making drugs legal and regulated that they will see frequently friends, colleagues, and maybe even themselves using these drugs to help to deal with depression or loneliness. Now drugs are not going to solve anyone’s problems, so don’t think that for a second; what I mean is that they can at least assist in people dealing with some of their personal issues potentially. That to me is a positive side actually of how drug reform in the U.S. has moved – often quite under the radar – in the last five or six years. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Obama, entering Trump.
DEAN BECKER: I agree with you, Antony. I know a couple of people who have managed to quit alcohol and cigarettes through the use of mushrooms because well, it works.
ANTONY LOWENSTEIN: There you go.
DEAN BECKER: Friends, we have to wrap it up here. Once again, we have been speaking with Mr. Antony Lowenstein, he is the author a Pills, Powder, and Smoke: inside the bloody war on drugs. Do you have a website and any closing thoughts for our listeners, Antony?
ANTONY LOWENSTEIN: Thanks for having me. People can follow my work on my website, which is: www.antonylowenstein.com. I am also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
It’s time to play Name That Drug By its Side Effects. Swelling of the tongue, decreased bone marrow, fever, chills, infection, and nervousness from degeneration, confusion, loss of consciousness, fatigue, memory loss, muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, seizures, speech disturbance, cancer, and death. Time’s up! The answer: Levamisole. A dog dewormer that has become America’s number one cutting agent for cocaine.
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DEAN BECKER: Try to picture the drug war as a freight train more than 13 miles long with cars that are ten feet wide, 63 feet long, and 15 feet high filled with hundred dollar bills, 6,600,000 cubic feet of hundred dollar bills more than 150,000 tons of sweet Benjamins. More than a trillion dollars frittered away on the drug war but I guess hell, everybody loves trains.
Please visit our website at: www.drugtruth.net, and again I remind you that because of prohibition, you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.
To the Drug Truth Network listener’s 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.