04/04/23 Eric Sterling

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Eric Sterling
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

Eric E. Sterling was counsel to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, 1979-1989 and participated in the passage of the mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Was  President of The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Washington, DC and Co-Chair of the American Bar Association, Committee on Criminal Justice, Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities. Topics include money laundering, international treaties, cartel corruption and drug gangs criminal involvement into government.

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12/15/21 Eric Sterling

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Eric Sterling

Eric Sterling for ten years was counsel to the US House Committee on the Judiciary, founded the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and now serves on Policing Advisory Commission of Montgomery County, MD. Discussion of drug war crimes against humanity with DTN host Becker.

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10/07/20 Eric Sterling

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Eric Sterling
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

Eric Sterling founder of Criminal Justice Policy Foundation describes his work with the US Congress in escalating the drug laws.

Audio file

DEAN BECKER Once again, we're speaking with one of my buds, a gentleman I've known for about 20 years now. He, uh, headed up the criminal justice policy foundation based there in Washington, DC. He's now become a commissioner of sorts and we'll have him tell us a little more about that, but, uh, I want to welcome my friend, mr. Eric Sterling. How are you, sir?

ERIC STERLING: And great. Thank you. Doing very well. And it's good to see you. You're looking hale and Hardy.

Dean Becker Well, thank you for that. Yeah. And this time of COVID, that's a good thing to still be persevering. Isn't it. Uh, now Eric will tell us about this new job, the commissioner's job. How's what is that going to entail?

Eric Sterling; I live in Montgomery County, Maryland. It's the largest jurisdiction in Maryland. Uh, about 1.1 million people it's much bigger than Baltimore, bigger than Washington DC or any of the other counties. And in Maryland, our County council, responding to the crisis in policing that we're experiencing all over the country, created a 13 member policing advisory commission. And last week, uh, I was, uh, selected and appointed to be one of those 13 commissioners we have not yet met. So I'm really not in any position to say anything more about exactly how it will function or what it will accomplish. Um, what I told the co of the County council in my interview is that, um, number one, uh, we don't want to have any more people killed by our police. Uh, number two, we want to reduce the fear that our community has of the police. We want everyone, whether you are LGBTQ or an immigrant, or from whatever background to feel comfortable and safe, uh, working with the police, uh, reporting crimes that they may be the victims of the police feeling that they are honored and respected, uh, when they report crime and report to the police, that they feel that if they need to make a complaint, their complaint would be taken seriously.

We're going to need to be able to operate in the many, many languages that are spoken by our widely diverse community.

DEAN BECKER You mentioned the house judiciary committee, that's an organization you worked for in the past. You were a, um, an assistant or a helper to go ahead. And so, so

ERIC STERLING: Dean, your, your, your memory is good from 1979 until 1989. I was assistant counsel to the house judiciary committee first for the criminal justice subcommittee and then for the crime subcommittee and those subcommittees have been merged. Uh, so now it is the subcommittee on crime and terrorism and oversight. When I worked there, um, I was responsible for gun control and which was a big issue from Rodino.
And so I, I worked for, uh, Rodino on the gun control issue. I worked on pornography, uh, at a time when attorney general Meese had his pornography commission. I had worked on money laundering at a time when, uh, there wasn't yet a federal law on that. And we investigated money laundering in gambling casinos and wrote legislation on that. Um, I helped write the legislation, creating the president's commission on organized crime, but most importantly, I worked on, uh, drug legislation throughout that period, conducting numerous oversight hearings of the drug enforcement administration, writing legislation to increase penalties, increased DEA powers, um, uh, amending the controlled substances act in a, in a variety of ways and, and helping to, uh, create the, the drugs czars office. So during, during the years that Ronald Reagan was the president and the modern war on drugs was ramping up. I played a really central role in the Congress in, uh, how that all developed,

DEAN BECKER: Which brings to mind, um, you know, I would like to get your thoughts, your memories of that time and, and, uh, how it all ramped up. And I heard it was like a bidding war. We'll go harder than that. We'll go further than you. Um, that, uh, both parties were trying to outdo one another. Tell us about that frenzy, if you will.

ERIC STERLING: The dynamic was that drugs became very quickly a partisan political issue. Um, and I was as much involved in that as anybody when president Reagan came in in 1981, he wanted to cut the federal budget and the office of management and budget proposed cutting about $300,000 out of DA's budget. This is a infinitesimally small amount of money. The TA at that time, their budget was less than $180 million. And, you know, it's more than $2 billion now, just to give you a sense of its growth. So as soon as the president announced that he was going to, uh, ask to reduce the sum of DA's programs, we as Democrats are left to the attack and I helped write the, uh, talking points for those attacks, uh, on, uh, the precedent and his cutting of our anti-drug effort. Um, in legislation, when the question was how much money should be appropriated for some anti-drug program, there was partisan competition for being tougher.
Um, and that's the kind of thing that you're talking about. Um, there was, uh, anti, there was prison construction money in particular in 1986 that I recall where we started out with, uh, some small son and amendment would be offered, and that would be amended then by the other side, to be larger, the other side, the first side would seek to increase that amount. And so it had without sort of any sort of sense of how many prison beds might this be paid for? How many might we need, what might be meaningful in effecting a federal prosecution policy, or what might be meaningful in effecting the market for the drugs they're trying to control? None of that was really driving this. It was all very much about partisan perceptions. It was also driven by the individual ambitions of individual members who wanted to establish their reputation as tough on drugs and tough on crime.
Um, and that was a very, uh, that was a very important piece of how, uh, policy was being made. Um, I'll give you one anecdote that I think explains this at one point, uh, there was a, uh, a law that w so there had been, um, with respect to federal prisons, one crime that said, if you possessed a firearm in prison, you got punished this way. And then there was another, uh, crime that said, if you brought contraband into the prison, you got punished this way, and contraband would be defined in some way. There was an effort then to sort of say, look, all of these contraband weapon drug things should be organized coherently, so that the punishment makes sense. So, for example, if you possessed currency, uh, when you shouldn't have, then maybe that's a misdemeanor, and if you possessed a knife, maybe that's a one year offense.
And if you had a firearm, maybe that's five years, um, and I forget maybe drugs was like three years. And so, um, Senator Phil Graham from Texas in, uh, I think it was in 88, uh, came up with the idea that if you possessed, um, LSD or heroin or cocaine, you get sentenced to 20 additional years in prison. Now at that time, the penalty, if you possessed a bomb or rocket or grenade, it was like another 10 years. And so what I said to the Senator staff, I said, this doesn't make any sense. Surely we don't think that, you know, for an individual to possess drugs in prison is a more serious offense than possessing a bomb, a rocket or a grenade. And, and, and he says, look, that doesn''t matter, this is the senator's amendment. We're not changing it. It's gotta be in the bill just as he wrote it, even though he picked this number 20 years completely out of his, but, you know, that's your, that's the reality? You know, it, wasn't part of like, let's figure out why, where does this coherently fit in with other kinds of crimes that we're trying to control?

DEAN BECKER: No, this, um, I don't know. I think historically it just, it's like a contagion that the attacks, the Congress, that when they did the Boggs act, I think in the fifties, there was a similar set of escalations, and we can outdo the other party and so forth. And, and it seems to, uh, I don't know, every 10 or 20 years it did this contagion of, of punishment seems to, uh, uh, sweep the Congress. Now you mentioned that, uh, they didn't care how many prison beds there were or what the need was. And it kind of fills that equation that if you build it, they will come, so to speak. And the, the prisoners certainly did come. We became, uh, the most incarcerating nation in the history of the world. Did we not?

ERIC STERLING: Well we have, but it was not. It was not quite that. What happened was we built, excuse me, we prosecuted much more rapidly than we had the prison space for, um, the, the, the enforcement agencies and the, and the justice department just went bananas in increasing the number of prosecutions. In 1986, Congress passed a major law called the anti drug abuse act after Maryland basketball star, Len Bias died. Then I think he signed with the NBA champion, Boston Celtics, and that event, uh, kicked off, uh, a huge legislative effort. Um, the speaker of the house that Tip O'Neill from Boston said, I want all the democratic committees to participate in writing an omnibus anti-drug bill, and we're going to get it through the house. We're going to get it through the Congress. Democrats are going to establish their reputation as tough on drugs. And we're going to use this to retake control of the U S Senate and the November, 1986 election.
And that was an effective strategy. The Democrats did retake control of the Senate in 1986, but the price was this enormous legislation that established mandatory minimum sentences for small quantities of drugs, of, of 10, uh, 10 to 40 years minimum for some crimes, and to be five to 40 years minimum for some crimes or 10 years to life. And so people could get life sentences for a relatively small quantities of drugs, uh, the way in which this worked. Um, and so there were 36,000 people in federal prison in 1986 that quickly just shot up over a hundred thousand, over 200,000, um, under the Obama administration and went as high as 213,000. It's dropped back a lot. Now, the last I saw it was on the range of 170,000, but these are still a huge numbers compared to what they used to be. And the American prison incarceration rate is the greatest in the world. The number that we incarcerate is, you know, it far exceeds any other nation in the world of it. We have about 4% of the world's population, but 25% of the criminals behind bars around the world are behind bars in The United States.

DEAN BECKER: Well, this, this brings to mind, um, the crack cocaine disparity. And if I recall it was five grams of cocaine, excuse me, five grams of crack would get you the same penalty as a a hundred grams of regular cocaine,

ERIC STERLING: It was a 100, it was a 100 to one quantity ratio.

DEAN BECKER Wow. That was primarily waged against the black community. Who much preferred the crack over the powder cocaine.
ERIC STERLING: Oh, are you saying, hold on, the black community does not prefer crack. This is, this is a, another piece of bullshit that has floated into the discourse, or look at the data. White Americans are the largest numbers of users of crack cocaine, not African Americans. Uh, crack is attractive to all people who try it and use it. Um, in the late eighties, there were open air crack markets that were tolerated by the police in primarily black communities. Crack was being sold in white communities in bars and hotels and in wall street, uh, restrooms and Hollywood and truck stops. There was plenty of crack being consumed by whites, but there were open air markets on the streets that the police tolerated in black communities. And there were raids. The most important thing then to recognize is that the U S just department justice department, when it came to cocaine enforcement overwhelmingly focused on blacks and the quantity trigger of five grams triggering a five year prison term five grams is like five little Sweet and Low packets.
It's about the weight of a nickel. It is a in the, it's a completely insignificant amount. When you think of what the role of the us justice department should be, which is to focus on the highest level traffickers, which was the intent of the Congress. In 1986, Congress made a huge mistake and I was central in how that mistake got made in originally, when the idea was let's target the highest level traffickers. So the justice department would focus its resources where it should, not on street level offenders, where, because every Sheriff's department has a narcotics division. Every city police department has its narcotics squad. You know, every state local government can go after the street level traffic, but they can't go after the international traffickers who make sure that the street level dealers never run out of supply countries like Colombia and Mexico suffer from such problems of corruption and institutional weakness.
They are incapable of really effectively taking down the high level traffickers the us justice department with the assistance of the CIA, with the assistance of the military, with its global resources can do the money, laundry investigations and the surveillance and indict and get extradited these high level traffickers. But the justice department instead focused, overwhelmingly on street level dealers on people who were lookouts on the street corner, people who were counting on their speakers, Hey, want to get high. I mean, or targeting the men and women who would like unload a boat or unload an airplane. And these people were getting kingpin like sentences of 30, 40, 50 years. These were overwhelmingly in the case of crack African Americans. It is like a ratio of 10 to one. I did some gap analysis. If you look at how many months in prison would you get for a gram of crack versus a gram of cocaine, the low level African American drug traffickers were getting a 300 times longer sentence. If you look at months per gram.

DEAN BECKER It's, uh, no, look, the, um, the killings of the, the, the black people by the cops has certainly, uh, agitated a lot of folks black lives matter as I'm protesting the country.
Um, and I, I want to kind of bring focus to the fact that it was this fear of druggies that gave us SWAT teams it was, this fear of druggies that gave us the no knock raids. Uh, and as you say, it brings, it gave us the mandatory minimums. Um, it gave us the three strikes, uh, situation, uh, and, um, the stop and frisk in New York, it's there are unique punishments derived put forward and promulgated, uh, wrapped around drugs. We'll talk about that. Would you please,

ERIC STERLING; there are a couple of ways to sort of recognize this because the prohibition strategy is not capable of stopping people from using drugs and not capable of stopping people from selling drugs. Prohibition is first of all, a price support mechanism for being in the illegal drug business. It drives up the price. The harder drug enforcement works to try to make drugs expensive, the more attractive, and the more profitable it is to go into the business, the greater the success of drug enforcement, the more profitable it is to be a drug trafficker.
When, when the heads of DEA with testified before me, they would say our goal is to raise the price of drugs, to stop people from using drugs. Well, what happens is, as drugs become more expensive to the user, they have to work harder and harder to scrape together the money because, um, they're in so many cases, there are so many barriers to getting into treatment, simply raising the price, doesn't get people into treatment, but it does make the industry continually attractive. And so as it, so is that a matter of economics, it's an illogical way of trying to suppress the drug trade. So in this situation where the drug trade isn't stopped, no matter what is done, then the language becomes, we need to give law enforcement more tools or quote, better tools. So those become so, so police would sort of say, well, you know, we've got a green light to bring forward ideas.

What are the various obstacles we have? Well, an obstacle is the need for a search warrant. The obstacle is the need to present the search wine in a constitutionally effective way, which is to knock on the door and say, announce, we are the police. If you don't open up, we're coming in rather than just breaking in to sleeping homes in the middle of the night. And I know knock situation or, um, say, you know, we're because, because the drugs have been made so much more valuable by drug enforcement and drug prohibition, they're worth a lot of money. So, um, if you have a stash of drugs in your stash house, you need to protect them from being robbed. So you have a gun because criminals, when they steal drugs, they don't have it. It's not like a discount for a hot TV set. It's only worth $50 or a hot stolen cell phone or stolen laptop.
That's only worth a few dollars instead of what it costs retail, the retail price of stolen drugs doesn't go down, right? So they're defended by the people have them. So the cops say, well, look, the drug dealers have guns to protect their drugs. We need SWAT teams. We need to be able to sort of break down the door disorient the people in the home throw in a flash bang grenade, come in with semiautomatic weapons, body armor, helmet, look like the military because they might have guns. Of course they structure the situation. So they come in the middle of the night, people say, who's breaking in, in the middle of the night. It's got to be somebody who's going to harm us. they've not announced themselves as the cops. So people sort of say, here are a bunch of people in the dark.
I don't know who they are. They just broke down. And I see it. You know, they're, they're putting guns, I'm going to pull out my gun and defend myself. And the cops shoot back. You'd kill the people and tragically because of the inefficiencies of the way the police work. There are bureaucracy relying upon informants who may not be accurate or telling the truth, or that may have powerful motives to lie. Hey, too frequently go to a house where there's no drugs ever, they've been given an address, that's the wrong address or they, their surveillance was it. They didn't bother to do the surveillance. And so they, they took people of all ages from most senior citizens to babies, people, you know, people in their dogs, Briana Taylor, and move all these, these kinds of cases are not infrequent. They are frequent. They are frequent. There are, you know, in the course of a day, hundreds of these raids around the country taking place, you know, um, where, uh, this is simply the work of the SWAT team, executing warrants as part of the effort to address the problem of drugs, which can't be addressed effectively using drug enforcement.

DEAN BECKER And it's, as you say, It's probably hundreds a day. Uh, there was one, I don't know if you heard about it was here in Houston, the Harding street bust where the cops, uh, kicked in the door, uh, shot the, the man and woman and the dog, somehow the police wounded each other, uh, four officers wounded, each other shooting through the walls of the house. Um, and it turned out that they, they had, uh, fabricated, uh, the search warrant. They had fabricated a drug buy that. There was just really no, um, evidence or reasons or rationale behind this particular raid. And it's creating a major, um, shitstorm lack of a better word here in Houston, um, because it's exposing the tactics of the drug squad itself. And, uh, the fact that it's so often overlooked, uh, allowed to proceed, allowed to continue despite these failings and, uh, uh, you know, drug money was missing and all kinds of things.

ERIC STERLING: And so what you're pointing to of course, um, Dean is that at the, at the street and neighborhood level, this is a tragedy. And we look at the mismanagement, the dishonesty in effectiveness, my perspective was of course the other side I was sitting as in Washington, DC at the Capitol as these laws are being conceived of, and I'm watching the conception and these laws are not driven out of well analyzed problem solving approaches. These laws are being driven out of emotionality out of political ambition. They're being driven out of hatred.

06/17/20 Eric Sterling

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Eric Sterling
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

Eric Sterling founder of Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Helen Clark former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Ruth Dreifuss former President of Switzerland + Drug Truth Network editorial

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DEAN BECKER: (00:01)
I am Dean Becker. Your host, our goal with this program is to expose the fraud misdirection and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies and riches Barbara's cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent knew as gangs, who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is cultural baggage

DEAN BECKER: (00:30)
Later in the show. We'll hear more from the global commission on drugs. We'll have a drug truth network editorial, but first my interview with Eric Sterling, you know, folks, it seems like the whole nation has a bad case of indigestion, of all kinds of thoughts and considerations. Uh, we've got the COVID-19, we've got the racial bigotry and much more that's, uh, stirring up things, so to speak well here to, uh, help, um, bring a little clarity to this, wanting to invite the executive director of the criminal justice foundation, mr. Eric Sterling, to join the discussion. Hello, Eric Dean.

How are you?

DEAN BECKER: (01:10)
I I'm. Well, would you agree? There's no national indigestion, a lot of stuff going on right now. Right?

I wouldn't call it indigestion. I, there is, it's more like a fever in which the stresses of both see the coronavirus pandemic, the economic uncertainty, and then the indescribable horror of the murder of George Floyd all have combined two in the last two weeks create an incredible national reawakening of conscience.

DEAN BECKER: (02:05)
Well, I thank you for, yeah. Better than indigestion, I think. Uh, and, and look, Eric, the heck of it is, is that, uh, what happened to George Floyd? Um, it's still happening. It happened just the other day at a Wendy's where a man fell asleep in a parking lot and then was shot in the back for the crime of sleeping. I guess. I, I, your thought there please.

Words like most recent only stand for a few minutes in this context, the most recent killing of a black man by a police officer in Atlanta is part of the dehumanization that exists in police training and in police sinking about the people that they encounter and people of color, especially these are, these are, these are over and over and over again, situations that don't require violence, but are escalated by the police training by the police culture, into conflicts in which police create the circumstances in which they become afraid or become, uh, motivated to exercise. And the words of president Trump dominate the space leading to leading to what becomes indiscriminate violence. And so we're seeing this not only in these gruesome fatalities, but we see them in scores of people being named crippled, blinded by the firing of supposedly nonlethal weapons into crowds, um, as a police response to protest,

DEAN BECKER: (04:15)
It makes me cry. I'll be honest with you. I feel like I'm seeing so much of the, the America that I grew up in, uh, just kind of disappearing in that midst of tear gas, et cetera

Challenge is, is, you know, what, what gets done about it and, and the, what that has to be done at many different levels. Certainly within police departments, as they are currently operating chiefs and their line command right down to the field level, have to create new structures of accountability. They have to be much more clear about what is tolerable, but a broader question is being raised, which is

In under the rubric defund police. What are the scope of police responsibilities? How many police should there be? How are we asking police to undertake, uh, responses to conflict and to, um, crisis? And it sending armed men to situations of crisis may be completely the wrong approach and that we are, um, and that we are spending much too much money on that. And that, that when people call nine one, one looking for help, perhaps the first people should be dispatched might be a grandmother who comes to ask are everybody's needs being met here. Does the baby have diapers? Is there food in the refrigerator? Does grandpa have his medicine?

Do we, do we have running water? Is there heat the levels at which people are distressed are so profound? The man with the gun is not the man who can address these problems most, uh, most lovingly and most carefully can. Of course you have still broader question of the historic economic depredation against people of color, going back to slavery through Jim Crow, through the war on drugs, through mass incarceration. So through real estate segregation, school segregation, um, we are only at the early stages of beginning to figure out what the program of reparations that is required is going to actually look like America has a very strong conscience, even one sense. This is demonstrated by in the last two weeks, this extraordinarily remarkable outpouring of concern about the killing of George Floyd and all that it stands for. And that corporate America, political leadership people, black and white, young and old in the streets in hundreds and hundreds of locations around the country.

This is the, the way in which violence was so quickly suppressed by the protesters themselves, not the national guard, not the police, but the, but the community coming out and stopping those who attempted to engage in violence. There were, we're really witnessing a very, very different kind of reaction that we'd seen and the public aid, large numbers supportive of the protestors supporters of justice, supportive of the legalization of marijuana, ending mass incarceration of supporting, uh, that, uh, same sex marriage supporting, uh, prohibition on discrimination against, um, uh, men and women were transgender. And G D the country is changing for, uh, in front of our eyes to support justice and to support humanity. The fact is is that you don't need a lot of people to appear, to be haters, to get the impression that hate is widespread. The news media always gravitates on the most extreme kinds of behavior.

If, if there is a fire set, if there are broken windows, that's what they'll show. If there are a hundred people sitting in a legislative hearing room to support legalization of now on, uh, the photograph will show the two men with the longest hair on the Scragglys beards and, um, the most, um, flamboyant tie dye clothing, because it is, it is the extreme that the news media is drawn to. Um, and so the nation's discussion calling for justice is loud, but that the smaller voices repeating the calls for hatred are amplified in the news media, as far as Donald Trump, because he's out of step he's out of step with the American people. And that's very clear in the poll.

DEAN BECKER: (10:51)
Yeah, well, Eric, I want to throw in a couple of thoughts here. One is, um, and then I wanna address something. We were talking about the gentleman that was shot there in the Wendy's parking lot. The police were just paranoid. And if I dare say delusional, they had his car, his keys, his phone, his, his ID, uh, and that the only charge was perhaps being drunk in public. And yet they thought it necessary to shoot him in the back. I, the logic or the, the mindset there just, it baffles me your response to that thought, Eric. Okay.

The shooting of a reportedly is because I think it's, I think the man's name was Brooks. Thank you. Yes. Um, mr. Brooks had in the response to the police conduct had grabbed a taser. And so the police believed it in some way, he was armed with a nonlethal weapon, but he was escaping that even if armed with the taser, even if he's pointing the taser, the proper police response would have been tobacco away not to, not to discharge firearms, not to use lethal force. This is an episode that is so filled with, um, improper procedures, improper training. This is a circumstance in which a lethal outcome is wholly unwarranted, but what we see over and over again is that provocative behavior by the police, the way in which they are trained to interrogate and dominate and use force leads people to very naturally resist. What are often such humiliating and unjust circumstances,

DEAN BECKER: (12:59)
Fight or flight,

We would expect any person of character to say, you're treating me unjustly. And that the idea that we suppress these human or this, or perhaps these male responses, because the person standing in front of us is wearing a badge and a uniform and is armed expects too much.

DEAN BECKER: (13:32)
Uh, just last month, the global commission on drugs, that's a gathering of current and former world leaders who band together. And they're, they're calling for defunding the drug war in total to, uh, go after only the top players, the cartel leaders, I suppose. But it brings to mind that the drug war started was based in blatant open racism. And it continues to this day where those who are stopped, those who are searched, those who are arrested, those who are jailed and prosecuted, the black and Hispanic communities are the ones who bear the full brunt of this being arrested and impacted several times that of the white community. Uh, and I, I feel, I don't know, inept somehow that I cannot bring the focus to bear on this situation, that by ending the drug war, we will stop much of the racist, uh, uh, ramifications if you will. And we will have a better United States. Your thought they're pleased

Is this question involves many levels of analysis. Drug prohibition rises out of alcohol prohibition. Alcohol prohibition beginning early in the 19th century is a response to public drunkenness by Irish immigrants, Roman Catholic, who offended the sensibilities of Yankees and, uh, property owners who were primarily Protestant. And it was a tool of social control and it would be adopted. And then it would be defeated. African Americans were already under the thumb of slavery drug and alcohol prohibition were not necessary in a pre emancipation in America, in the 1870s and eighties, eighties as Chinese immigrants come to America to work in mines in the timbering. And in other activities, they are controlled by the U S in the introduction of the opium laws, the anti opiate laws, opium, smoking prohibition opium, den prohibition in the early 20th century, as the effort to align the United States with international anti opium trade laws reveals that the United States doesn't have at the federal level anti-narcotics laws.

That effort initially fails in the Congress in the period 1910 to 1912, because it's perceived by Southern Democrats as an expansion of federal power and harkens back to, um, the, the ant is the anti federal approach that, uh, Southern Democrats had taken. And so the strategy becomes very explicitly to link the need for control of narcotics. With the creation of them is solid GS, that it is the coconut Negro responsible for the rape of white women in the South. And upon that kind of narrative, the house, the narcotics act, the first federal narcotics prohibition is enacted in 1914 under the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who was a racist raised in, uh, in Virginia, that kind of narrative carries forward. And it's in the control of marijuana is around fears of Hispanics, Mexican Americans working as farm laborers. When what my internal migrants in the United States are fleeing the dust bowl during the depression in the Midwest, and going to California where Mexican Americans have worked in, uh, the agricultural trade agricultural labor.

And so narrow marijuana prohibition, uh, in both economic terms and the cultural terms that marijuana is also associated with jazz musicians and blacks lack nails, having sex with white women, these kinds of racist appeals are central to the way in which federal drug laws are created. These things are repeated again in the 1960s and seventies, the repeated again in the 1980s around crack cocaine. Um, and these continue even into the current time, it's critical to understand this, this history, um, the other piece of it from the standpoint of, of crime, and you alluded to this in terms of the role of cartels. You said the illegality of drugs creates enormous criminal opportunities for, for the production and sale of the drugs. These are activities which involving huge sums of cash require protection. There's no illegal nonviolent dispute resolution mechanism available. None of the kinds of legal forms of business competition that exist around brand identification or advertising or product quality or control, none of this exists.

So that the violence that we see at the cartel level makes this trade a plague in Mexico, central America, Bolivia, Colombia, and so forth globally. So the failure to look at these problems logically, but to look at them irrationally and out of the, the, the outmoded, uh, uh, ideas. This is addiction and addiction is in slavery, and we can stop people from being addicted. If we stop the supply at the source of all of this kind of law enforcement rhetoric, none of it makes sense, and we are, and this is again a case with tragedy. And in this case, the explosion of opioid related deaths in the United States is forcing a reevaluation of how we understand this problem and how we respond to it, because this is the silver lining in this very dark cloud of these tragedies.

DEAN BECKER: (20:37)
Uh, yeah. Um, well friends, once again, been speaking with mr. Eric Sterling, he's the executive director of the criminal justice policy foundation. And I do need to correct you, which is that as of the end of may, I have retired as executive director. So I'm the former executive director of the criminal justice policy foundation will. All right. I thank you for the update, but just the same, a, a great friend of the drug truth network for well decades now. Uh, I want to thank you, mr. Eric Sterling. Thank you, . Keep up the good work.

DEAN BECKER: (21:12)
It's time to play name that drug by its side effects, fusion changes in breathing heartbeat or blood pressure or unusual changes in behavior agitation and irritability, worsening, depression, suicidal thoughts, the leaking right, large breasts, impotence, stroke, and death. Time's up the answer from Sunovion pharmaceuticals, inc for depression.

DEAN BECKER: (21:34)
As we tend to wrap things up, I've been talking about the global commission on drugs report. Here's a little segment from there. A video release, the moderator is Mark Shaw.

MARK SHAW: (21:45)
Well, what I see a significant about the report telling is that it makes the same set of powerful recommendations around a health response to drug use, but it also significantly in module four, the commission focuses on the organized crime elites, the term that the report uses, how can, how can we, as a global community respond to that?

DEAN BECKER: (22:08)
He's addressing his question to Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand.

HELEN CLARK: (22:14)
If we look at crime in general, there are always social and economic determinants to it. And sometimes we see countries putting enormous emphasis on fighting crime without looking at what are some of the drivers? Is it poverty? Is it marginalization? Is it school dropouts? It's also about a broader social determinants approach. And I think the commission has long been an advocate with drug policy of saying, look at the social determinants, look at the real issues. Look at the classification and a number of these things like cannabis, relatively harmless. Anyway, when compared with legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol, in other words, could we have a real discussion? He had not one driven by a simple ideology, uh, that, uh, drugs are bad. Every criminal is quite a bad person. When we know all from our personal experiences of people who have ended up as criminals, it could have had a different path. I'd like to see a scientific and pragmatic approach and approach, which isn't based on repression,

MARK SHAW: (23:31)
If you were saying, uh, as I recall, which I think is an important point that people fear mixing the levels. So they want to talk about decriminalization. They don't feel they have the necessary

DEAN BECKER: (23:45)
At the elite criminal level. So they, they nervous all of this on bridging this gap. I suppose, the Ruth that he is speaking to is Ruth Dreifuss, the former president of Switzerland.

Yes. What is dramatically lacking in the current drug policy is coherence. And what we try to bring in the debate is really a search for coherent policy. And this means that we have really on the different level to show the links between these different levels to show that, uh, the criminalization at the bottom is an up cycle to all the measures we want to have on the health, uh, issue on the development issue on the social integration issue. But we have also to show that, uh, uh, abandoning the market in criminal hands has also terrible consequences for the people. Why is the drug of the black market, a market where you find the fake products, there is dangerous products? Why is it that, for instance, if you increase the pressure, uh, at the bottom of the pyramid, you will have products that are more than dressed, uh, than they were at the beginning. All these consequences of this global picture. I would say, what we need is coherence in this policy to bring together justice development has, um, uh, security and so many other things, the protection of children, the protection, special protection of women, all this is a catched by a failed drug policy. And we have to bring all these pieces together.

DEAN BECKER: (25:43)
This is a drug truth network. Editorial, Joe Biden should join the dozens of world leaders who embrace the end of drug war, whose global commission released a report last month, calling for legalizing drugs, featuring prestigious world leaders, such as Ruth Dreifuss to former president of Switzerland, Louise Arbor, former high commissioner on human rights, a man who knows full well, the need to defund the cartels. Juan Manuel Santos, the former president of Colombia, Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand, and a non Grover. The UN special re-up our tour on right to health ending prohibition immediately takes away massive profits of criminals, as well as changing the drug war mentality of cops, their racist attitudes, their SWAT teams. There are no knock raids. They're rushed to judgment and to firepower or brutality. We must do away with a Pell Mell drug war mindset. Now part and parcel of our current law enforcement system, which affects all our lives.

DEAN BECKER: (26:58)
It is obvious glaring that the drug war has no benefit, no moral standing at all until we stop our insane belief in drug prohibition, we will never actually control the supposedly controlled substances. Criminals will continue to make their half trillion dollars per year and use half that amount to corrupt our law enforcement border guards, politicians, and the media to ensure their trade lasts forever. Tens of thousands of our children will die. Needlessly. Every year, jails will remain stuffed Joe and Jolene citizen will remain hunkered down, trapped by the orthodoxy of this quasi religion of drug war. Afraid to speak about the obvious for fear of being ostracized, racist perspectives on drugs will continue to be the main focus of law enforcement and the madness and mayhem of it all will be used as justification for doing more of the same forever and ever the racism and evil of the drug war is playing out sky high on a daily basis, all around our nation.

DEAN BECKER: (28:13)
And yet, so few dare to look, speak, or act to expose and end this stupid and evil policy, no matter how many lefties and liberals proclaim themselves, bigotry free, they must realize racism lives large inside belief in drug war. So few people care, not even within communities of color, editorial is over, but I realize I may have overstated things, me being a white man and all. And if so, please email But my experience tells me otherwise sure, hoping that you'll do your part to end this madness. And again, I remind you that because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag, please be careful.

10/02/19 Eric Sterling

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Eric Sterling
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

Eric Sterling is the Exec Dir of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in DC. We discuss needless fentanyl deaths, congressional oversight of drug penalties and the Washington Posts failure to focus on fact over fiction.

Audio file



OCTOBER 2, 2019

DEAN BECKER: I am the Reverend, Dean Becker, keeper of the moral high ground in the drug war for the world and this is Cultural Baggage.

Hi folks this is Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. We’ve got a great show lined up for you. Today we are going to talk with one of my oldest friends in drug reform. A man I have respected and admired for well over a decade – approaching two decades now. A man who worked for the U.S. Congress who was on the floor when they wrote some of these laws. A man who helped compile those laws and helped bring them forward. With that I want to welcome the Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Mr. Eric Sterling. How are you doing, Eric?

ERIC STERLING: Hello, Dean. How are you? I am fine and hello to all of your listeners around the world.

DEAN BECKER: Well thank you, sir. Eric, if you would please tell the folks a little bit about the work you did with the congress back in the 80’s.

ERIC STERLING: From 1979 to 1989 I was the attorney in the House Judiciary Committee who was previously responsible for overseeing the DEA and writing the federal drug laws. As an attorney, I was representing my client. What we accomplished wasn’t necessarily what I would have done if I had been elected to congress but I was just an attorney who worked for the House Judiciary Committee trying to best serve my clients; the members of congress.

We wrote many different pieces of legislation on drugs, gun control, pornography, organized crime, money laundering – all of those laws are things that I played a major role in helping to write. In the drug area has been the most tragic and long lasting effects. In 1986 when Maryland basketball star Len Bias died from a seizure from his cocaine use the democratic leadership of the congress saw this as a political opportunity to take advantage of his tragic death by writing legislation because of the public’s alarm around cocaine and crack use that was developing so the major thrust at it were ultimately mandatory minimum drug sentences that were then subsequently misused by the Justice Department. Congress had hoped that we were going to target the highest level traffickers to encourage the Justice Department to refocus on the highest level traffickers but that didn’t happen. We mistakenly defined the high level traffickers using small quantities and the Justice Department then used those low quantities as the thresholds and hundreds of thousands of low level offenders, especially low level crack offenders got sentenced to many decades in prison – far longer than they deserved.

I left the Congress in 1989 and soon started a group called Families Against Mandatory Minimums that still is a very effective organization working to reform mandatory minimums and I have worked on many other efforts over the last 30 years to end the war on drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir, and with that friends you understand why I try to emulate the mindset of Mr. Eric Sterling. Eric, I have got to say over the decades since the states have paralleled that same course, they have set their own mandatory minimums; they’ve set up three strikes laws; they’ve set up asset forfeiture and in place at the federal level as well. In every way possible laws have been set in place to “punish” drug users, drug sellers to the maximum extent possible. Would you agree with that though sir?

ERIC STERLING: Yes. That is correct. There have repeatedly been waves of fear going back to the early 20th century that focus on people who were defined as fiends – some of the classic examples of this were the Reefer Madness motion pictures and books and testimony of the 1930s but these have been repeated again with the dangers of LSD, the dangers of heroin, the dangers of crack, the dangers of meth, currently the dangers of Fentanyl. There are front page stories that are hyped. In many cases they are wholly exaggerated, that is not true with Fentanyl --

DEAN BECKER: Can I interrupt you. This brings to mind the reason why it sparked my interest in calling you this week. Recently there was a story in the Washington Post I think it was titled, “Flailing on Fentanyl”, and it blamed congress for “failing to address the exploding Fentanyl overdose epidemic”.

You had a letter to the Editor in response to that titled, “Failing on Fentanyl”. Who you elaborate on that letter to the Editor for us please, Eric?

ERIC STERLING: Sure. So first to get your listeners an appreciation for this story. The Washington Post on Monday, September 23 in the print edition. Maybe a quarter of the front page was devoted to this story. On Above the Fold, there was a story two columns – Trump suggests he spoke of Biden in the Ukraine call. Another explanatory story, Ukraine is again thrust in to American politics but most of the top of the front page is “Flailing on Fentanyl”, there’s a big photograph and the caption on top is, “overdose deaths soared among their constituents. Congress didn’t act despite dire warnings about the powerful opioid”. The story then jumps and then there are three pages inside including huge photographs of bodies lying in the street and so on. All of which sort of saying this whole thing happened because Congress didn’t act and I was infuriated because it was such an absurd story on a couple of levels.

The premise was we needed to start punishing Fentanyl traffickers. That somehow the trafficking in Fentanyl wasn’t even a crime. Now Fentanyl trafficking in the 1986 law it was a felony that could get you up to 20 years in prison, if you trafficked the littlest amount of Fentanyl. If you traffic in 40 grams of a substance that contained a detectible amount of Fentanyl you got a minimum of five years up to 40 years. If you trafficked in 400 grams or more you got a minimum of 10 years up to life. That was part of the 1986 mandatory minimums and that was only if you had a first offense. If you had any kind of prior offense from another country, from a local offense – just a marijuana possession offense – then the minimums were doubled and the maximums were doubled. To get that 40 grams or the 400 grams any number of transactions that you are involved in could be accumulated. If you sold 10 grams four times, you got that 40 gram threshold. If you sold one gram on 40 occasions you got to that 40 gram threshold.

So the government had very powerful laws to punish Fentanyl traffickers, importers, manufacturers so the premise of the article was false. It wasn’t as though those laws were inadequate to enable the government to prosecute people who are flooding the country with Fentanyl. Further, in 1994 when Congress created the death penalty for drug offenses, if you trafficked in 24 kilos of Fentanyl you could get the death penalty under federal law. So the bottom line is that the job of enforcing these laws of course is the execute branch. They enforce the law. They know that there are drug problems. They are directed to respond to the drug threat. What is the drug threat? Well if people are dying from Fentanyl the manager of the federal agency should say okay we are the Drug Enforcement Administration, let’s go after people who are importing Fentanyl. Let’s prosecute them, let’s investigate them, let’s find out who is doing this. If we think that enforcement is going to work let’s put the agents on these cases that are killing the most people. Well that didn’t happen. I looked then at federal data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission that reports on who gets convicted of what federal crimes. Out of all of the people who get convicted under federal law for federal crimes a tiny fraction were being prosecuted for opioids year after year. It wasn’t at all clear how many were being prosecuted for Fentanyl at all but for marijuana it was still war on drugs and during this period from 2014 to 2018, 16,000 people were convicted of federal drug offenses – a huge waste.

DEAN BECKER: Eric is referring to federal marijuana charges here. We’ll be back in just a moment.

It’s time to play Name That Drug by Its Side Effects. Confusion; changes in breathing, heartbeat or blood pressure; unusual changes in behavior; agitation and irritability; worsening depression; suicidal thoughts; leaking or enlarged breasts; impotence; stroke; and death. Times Up! The answer: Latuda from Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. for depression.

DEAN BECKER: We now return to our discussion with the Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Mr. Eric Sterling.

ERIC STERLING: This is what the Justice Department and the DEA kept doing as thousands and thousands were dying every year from Fentanyl and that was one point of the story premise that was absurd. We didn’t need these new laws and the problem was not the fault of Congress but unfortunately when you are writing a letter to the Editor you don’t have much space.

Another very important point was missed which is that long sentences might not be the answer at all. Reaching out to people who are drug users and expanding treatment or doing harm reduction and expanding the amount of Narcan and Noloxone available. Providing Fentanyl drug testing strips and in a word thinking of drug users as human beings – as people whose lives were to be protected and to make the drug users the focus of your effort rather than thinking about the traffickers and whether or not we are going to crack down on them. In many respects that is the central part of the problem. We have blamed drug users, we have dehumanized them, and we fail to make them the focus of our programs of treatment and prevention and then when they have recovered to fully reintegrate them in to their society.

DEAN BECKER: Eric, thank you for that. That is a very strong perspective and adequate I am sure for most listeners out there but let me throw in another couple complications and that is Fentanyl – it’s small to import. In essence, you can bring in a gram, you could mail it in an envelope and that in essence when mixed with some other white powders and make up the five kilos of “quasi-heroin”. It is a very difficult drug to stop and we keep hearing stories that it is being used to accent actual heroin from time to time, that it is winding up in batches of cocaine which is a real mix up I am imagining. But the fact that you put that downer in with the upper and who knows how many people that could kill and I guess what I am trying to say here is that we have a very improper focus on controlling drugs. The idea that these are controlled substances is just ludicrous, is it not?

ERIC STERLING: They certainly aren’t controlled. They are the most out of control substances in the entire economy. If you think of anything that you come in contact as an American these days almost everything that you get that you didn’t buy at the farmer’s market has been subject to some extensive regulatory process. The labels and the ingredient lists at the supermarket are all covered by the Food and Drug Administration and the meats inspected by the Department of Agriculture and the advertising is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. Aside from food your clothing, your cars – everything is covered by regulation and in some way controlled, except drugs. It is the greatest oxymoron in our language of this term “controlled substances”, they are so out of control. I think that when you identify the challenge of trying to control a drug like Fentanyl which is killing 10,000, 20,000, 30, 000, 40, 000 people a year that highlights the failure of the agencies with the responsibility of protecting the public from drugs in not doing their job. If it’s hard to find these grams then you sort of say look, we know nobody is being killed by marijuana, we know that state after state is legalizing marijuana. We are going to stop focusing DEA agents and grand jury’s and US attorneys and undercover informants on marijuana – we are going to stop all of that because nobody is dying from that. We are going to focus on Fentanyl. So if it’s coming in from Mexico, who is bringing it in? If it’s coming from China, who is bringing it in? We hire people who speak Chinese. We go in to China, we work on what are the ways that it’s coming in. You focus on a problem that is killing people if you care about the lives of the people who are dying but if members of congress cared about the lives of the people who are dying then it was their job to make the bureaucrats care about the lives of the people who are dying but the bureaucrats historically never have.--

DEAN BECKER: More draconian, more uphill.

ERIC STERLING: --It’s not a matter of draconian. They don’t care. Their focus is on catching who they think the criminals are. They think of drug users as bad people. They don’t think of drug users as people who might suffer from a disease, suffer from substance use disorder, the people who should be able to work and go to college and live in the site. No those are people who you want to drive out, you want to punish them in to sobriety and it’s a very different sort of view and if they die its sort of like buyer beware, caveat (UNINTELLIGBLE) their fault, their problem even if they are suffering from a compulsive condition such as a substance use disorder.

DEAN BECKER: I often hear cops and even family members some times when a person dies of an overdose to talk of it as well, they are better off dead. That somehow their life is unworthy of living as long as they are using drugs and that is just so wrong-headed, is it not?

ERIC STERLING: Well of course it’s wrong-headed. It would be like saying that about somebody who gets cancer or some other serious disease – oh well, they are better off dead because they had to spend so much time suffering in their chemotherapy or they were in pain. Trying to get treatment or thinking further back about what would be ways of helping to prevent people from getting cancer in the first place. Those would be of course what we would expect in a humane society but when we culturally demonize drug users, when we think of them as bad, evil vermin who are plaguing us – they are preying on us. A family member whose addicted son who has stolen money, took the T.V. out of the living room and hocked it for the money for drugs who has promised they wouldn’t use again and then they went back and used and said they weren’t high when they were high. Not incomprehensibly the families become fed up with people who suffer from addiction but we have laws and policies that make addiction worse. We don’t help people who are addicted manage their addiction and minimize their suffering. We don’t make the minimizing of suffering our goal. Our goal is they are not going to get better until they hit bottom so let the suffering commence.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Quick reminder, we are speaking to Mr. Eric Sterling, he is the Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation based in Washington, D.C.

Eric, a year ago I had the privilege of being invited to speak to the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse there in Lisbon, Portugal, and I learned a great deal from them. I think they learned an amount from me as well. I got some hugs and kisses when I was done and then I got to meet Dr. Joao Goulao, the Drug Czar if you will of Portugal. He explained to me that in more than 20 years now they have diminished the amount of drug users and certainly the amount of overdose deaths by treating people with respect. If you’ve got a small amount of drugs you don’t even get arrested and I guess what I am trying to say here, sir, is that harm reduction deserves more respect. It deserves more implementation here in these United States. Am I right?

ERIC STERLING: It is beyond that. The entire correct approach to think about the drug problem is to think about it in the lens of harm reduction because we apply harm reduction in many other areas. If you go to the beach and you see a lifeguard on a lifeguard stand that is harm reduction. We know swimming is dangerous. We know that people go in to the water that don’t know how to swim. We know people go in to start swimming when they are drunk and we don’t save the guy who goes out there drunk.


ERIC STERLING: We go out and we save everybody. We put a lifeguard on the beach because everybody’s life is worth saving. The essence of harm reduction is that people are many different places of our spectrum of how they are able to take care of themselves. Many people have been hurt and traumatized. We know that many of the people who suffer the most disturbing drug problems were victimized as children, they were victimized as adults, women have been raped and assaulted, and children have been neglected and abused. Drug use is often a way in which people are struggling to numb the pain that they feel because we don’t provide enough mental health care – because we are not minimizing harm. If people are using drugs then instead of punishing them and locking them up thinking they can be deterred or stopped, because those things don’t work. We know that you don’t raise well-behaved children by beating the child. You don’t raise a good dog by beating the dog. You reward good behavior – that is how you effectively raise a child and train your puppy. We’ve got an entire approach in public health and in law that is based on early flawed psychology. The historical origins of the idea of punishment come out of 5,000 year old text. The eye for an eye kind of approach of thousands of years ago before we understood psychology. Instead of using what we all understand is the effective and humane way of training, or training behavior and using the approach of compassion of people who are suffering. Those are the things our text teach us. The war on drugs is empathetic to our text and it’s built upon prejudice and the worst kinds of instincts in our nature and in our culture and unfortunately it’s because it operates as a way to maintain white privilege. It’s one of the remarkable features of the current response to the opioid epidemic is a sense that it is now at last universal. Instead of recognizing for decades that it was universal it was always perceived to be a problem of “those” people, of those “particular” people who were in fact subhuman people – bad people. That the majority of the culture perceived. We are moving ahead so that compassion and harm reduction are going to be driving drug policy increasingly in many parts of the country. Certainly that is happening here in the state of Maryland, for example, where I live and work. The Department of Health is actively using harm reduction.

DEAN BECKER: Look friends – some very important words from Mr. Eric Sterling. Again, he worked for the House Judiciary Committee, he helped write some of these laws. They were not written by him but for the DEA and other outfits that wanted to bring these laws forward. That work was done in 1979 to 1989. He heads up the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. They are out there on the web at: Eric, closing thoughts please?

ERIC STERLING: I encourage your listeners to continue their excellent work in writing to members of congress, writing to their newspapers, speaking to their local faith organizations and civic groups about the need to find effective solutions to the problems of addiction that are not based on hatred and on punishment and keeping the problem going.

DEAN BECKER: As we wrap it up here I would urge you to do what Eric Sterling indicated. Call your reps, write the paper, do what you can. Speak up at church – help make a difference to this eternal war on drugs and once again I remind you, because of prohibition – you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.

This is Dean Becker thanking you for being with us. I am a contributing expert with the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. I am a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and I am author of the book, To End the War on Drugs.

Cultural Baggage is produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT – Houston.



07/04/18 Eric Sterling

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Eric Sterling
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

Special Edition: Eric Sterling Director of Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington DC re drug war fiasco + DTN Editorial "When will drug war failure bring focus to bear?"

Audio file


JULY 5, 2018


DEAN BECKER: Hi folks, this is Dean Becker, welcome to this July Fourth edition of the Cultural Baggage show. We have one guest, Mister Eric Sterling, and a Drug Truth Network editorial.

You know, it was nearly twenty years ago, I was reading everything I could find on the internet, I was trying to discern the truth about this drug war, what were the real facts involved, and one of the people I ran across, a man who became my mentor, an example I've tried to follow, though I think I've gone a little too radical for certain people's taste, but a man who I do emulate and respect so greatly.

He's the director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, based in our nation's capitol, my friend, my ally, Mister Eric Sterling. How are you, sir?

ERIC STERLING: I'm very well, Dean, thank you, it's such a pleasure to be talking to you and your audience once again.

DEAN BECKER: And, you know, the fact is, sir, the cage is being rattled in many different ways, we are seeing once again the failure, the futility, of our policies. More specifically in regards to the folks that are headed northward, trying to escape the drug war violence, the barbarism in Central America and Mexico, and trying to make it to the safety of the United States. Your initial response to that thought please, sir.

ERIC STERLING: I always try to approach these issues comprehensively, to think what are the different drivers that lead people to give up their homelands and flee to the United States. A strong one has always been a fear of violence. My grandparents in 1921 fled the violence of the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union, who were killing political activists who were not part of the Bolshevik party, and Lenin and Stalin were hunting them down and my grandparents fled in 1921 and my father was born shortly after they escaped.

And they immigrated to the United States in 1924. So that's an example of people fleeing from political violence. And of course, historically, people fled to America because there was religious persecution, you know, our national founding, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, you know, escaping from persecution in England. Catholics who fled to Maryland, Quakers who fled to Pennsylvania, south Jersey, Delaware. Protestants who fled from Germany and persecution.

So we have then of course people fleeing now because they're -- they're subject to violence because of other features of their identity, they're gay or lesbian or transgender. So, historically, America has been a place of asylum and refuge, and people who were fleeing the drug gangs in Central America, where teenagers are forced to be recruited into the gangs, young women are raped, people are kidnapped, the fear is real, and the desire for safety is strong and historically it's been honored.

But, historically, there have long been negative responses to immigrants, and this goes back, you know, very far in our past. Those who are here, fear the loss of jobs that immigrants might take. They fear the loss of political power. They fear the loss of the features of their culture.

And these are understandable. Sometimes they're exaggerated. Sometimes they're quite racist, and they've been -- they were, you know, racist in terms of the fears of the Chinese, for example, or others who are coming.

DEAN BECKER: The Japanese.

ERIC STERLING: The reality is that -- the reality is that when you study immigrants, they come and they work very, very hard. They build lives here, they're driven to succeed. The people who are willing to gamble their lives and their futures to come and start a new life are entrepreneurs, they are the risk takers, they build the capitalist system, which of course is built on risk.

So that they lead to economic growth, and the studies of immigration show that the countries around the world that are most welcoming to immigration have the strongest economies and the strongest future outlook.

Ultimately, of course, the immigrants, not only do they work hard, but they assimilate, they learn English, their children and their grandchildren go on to, you know, take their place in the American society and our nation is stronger.

What is disturbing now is that in the fear of immigrants coming from Central America, it is -- the fears are being exaggerated and the real threats of drugs being smuggled into the country from Mexico, of the opioids, of fentanyl, of methamphetamine, that are being brought in by criminal cartels, the falsehood that the refugees are responsible for this is leading to the horrendous response of taking their children, of trying to figure out strategies to deter immigration, deter asylum seekers, by a very, very inhumane response.

The children are being used to -- and are being explicitly traumatized as a way to get people not to come. This is -- this is -- this is horrendous. When you look at what constitutes a crime against humanity as defined in international law, when a policy is directed against a particular people by nationality, or by race, and they are subjected to torture and violations of the character such as taking children away and breaking up families, those are the kinds of conduct that are understood by international law to be crimes against humanity.

If one thinks about what are high crimes and misdemeanors that the Constitution lays out as the basis for an impeachment of the civil officers of the United States, any government official can be impeached by Congress for committing high crimes and misdemeanors.

A crime against humanity would be that kind of high crime and misdemeanor, and I think that it would be appropriate for a member of Congress to introduce a resolution of impeachment, charging and accusing the Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, or Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or even president Donald Trump, of high crimes and misdemeanors for carrying out a policy that constitutes crimes against humanity.

So these are my reactions to the, what we're facing on our border. It is a response to a very understandable desire to flee for refuge, it's a response that is not terribly different from many historical responses, but it is a response that is counterproductive in economic and social terms, and so cruel as to constitute a criminal law under international law -- a criminal violation under international law.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, we're speaking with Mister Eric Sterling, he's the director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in our nation's capitol. Eric, I want to thank you for those thoughts. You know, we hear the verbiage coming from Trump and Sessions and others that these people are MS-13, they're violent, they're murderers, they're rapists, they're animals, and yet, the pictures show us these are families, these are -- lots of children locked in cages. They are no threat to our nation, no threat to our security, and yet it continues. It --

ERIC STERLING: These are, Dean, just think about it, if you were a leader of MS-13, or an MS-13 soldier, you would be operating in your own country, where you have a -- your gang, or you're able to enrich yourself through extortion or other kinds of activity. For gang leaders to come to the United States is counterproductive. It doesn't make sense.

We have far more competent police departments than they have in Honduras or El Salvador or Nicaragua, or Guatemala. Our police forces are much more sophisticated, they are much more honest, they're much more powerful. Our courts and our correctional systems are much more powerful, much less subject to corruption. It would be a very foolish colonel who would say, gee, I'm going to try to get across the border into the United States and think that this is a place that they can carry on criminal activity more successfully than they can where through violence, intimidation, and bribery, they have power almost equal to the government.

So the fears of who's being caught at the border are very much misplaced. There certainly are people in the MS-13, and we see in many parts of the country their violence, but that is -- this response of thinking that we're going to stop them by seizing children from parents who are trying to come to the United States for refuge is really stupid.

DEAN BECKER: Yes. I agree, sir. I consider prohibition to be stupid, evil, any which way you want to look at it. Again, we're speaking with Mister Eric Sterling, he was instrumental, back in the 1980s, when I think it was Congressman Peter Rodino put forward the idea that we needed to escalate our drug laws, and I think you've had it on your conscience since that time, to kind of undo what was built back in those days.

But, I want to ask you, Eric, you know, there are fewer and fewer people standing forth proclaiming the need for an eternal drug war. Those numbers are diminishing quickly, and the number of people now stepping forward, and organizations, including the British Medical Journal, and US Congressmen, are now re-examining this policy, are now determining that we were wrong headed and we need to go in a more positive direction. Your thought there, please, Eric.

ERIC STERLING: The idea of a war on drugs, that was conceived by President Nixon in the early 1970s and then grew to its sort of modern form under President Ronald Reagan and President George H. W. Bush, those are policies that we've been following for a long time, but we're seeing that they don't work.

When I started working for the Congress in 1979, the number of people who died from all drugs from overdoses was about 6,700. Last year, in 2017, it's likely that the final figure will be over 70,000, the government has not yet released the 2017 data. In 2016, it was over 60,000 dead. So we've seen, you know, a ten-fold increase in this period of time in the number of people who've died, even though we've followed the same kind of strategy.

And so, throughout the society, we're seeing people recognizing that this strategy does not work at its primary objective, to save lives and reduce suffering. And so, the challenge is then to try to visualize what the replacement might be, and replacing the system of prohibition with a legal and regulated regime is much harder for people to conceptualize.

When people look at the chaos in the lives of people who are the most seriously addicted, on the streets, injecting in, dirty needles and sharing and so forth, they say, is that what you want to legalize, is that what prohibition repeal is going to increase? And it is very hard for people to visualize what a system of management of addiction looks like, of a system where instead of being made homeless and unemployed, drug users will be able to retain their housing, they will -- their addiction would be managed, they'd be able to work, they would no longer be outcasts.

That is a complex challenge that we have not yet made real in the imagination of the American people.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Eric, I want to thank you for your thoughts today, and for your encouragement, your motivation, your sharing of information, your perspective, which has helped me to move forward, to make friends with Congressmen and police chiefs and sheriffs, to align myself with people who have a moderate way of dealing with this situation, who no longer want to follow the same failed path which seems to lead towards more abuse, more -- leads to oblivion. Your closing thoughts, Mister Eric Sterling.

ERIC STERLING: There are now many organizations trying to do this work. The Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Harm Reduction Coalition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy. These are just a few of the organizations throughout the nation that are mobilizing the public, policy makers, police, criminal justice officials, judges, legislators, and so forth, to develop strategies that are going to protect the public and protect drug users so that the amount of crime goes down, the amount of disease goes down, the loss of life goes down, and people who are suffering from addiction, instead of being hounded and placed at greater risk of dying, are put into context where the risk of death goes down dramatically and they can lead a successful life, and be on the path eventually to recovery.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Eric, again, I want to thank you and folks, if you want to learn more about the indepth analysis and investigation of this drug war, please go to You can learn about drug policy, crack cocaine, alcohol, heroin, opiates, cannabis, on down the line, and it's thanks to our good friend, Mister Eric Sterling. Thank you, sir.

ERIC STERLING: Thank you, Dean, it's always a pleasure to talk with you and your audience.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Responsible for countless overdose deaths, uncounted diseases, international graft, greed, and corruption, stilted science, and immense un-Christian moral postulations of fiction as fact. Time's up! And this drug is the United States' immoral, improper, bigoted, unscientific, and plain f-ing evil addiction to drug war.

This is a Drug Truth Network editorial. Today is July the Fourth, the day America celebrates freedom as she cages more human beings than have ever been caged before in the history of the world. When will this matter?

The drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, creates violent US gangs, ensures more death, disease, crime, and addiction. What is the benefit? What do we derive that offsets the horrors this drug war creates?

The latest horror under examination is the situation on our southern border. Families are fleeing violence of enormous proportion. Drug cartels are using their billions to bribe and intimidate, taking over police forces, military units, whole villages and towns, becoming brutal rulers of the territories they control, murdering and raping with impunity in Guatemala, Honduras, the whole Central American corridor. There should be little wonder why these brave refugees are willing to ride on top of a freight train for thousands of miles to reach the safety of the United States.

It is horrific to think that it is the multi-billion dollar drug habit of America and Americans that enriches these same cartels, whose corruption and brutality then drive these thousands of immigrant families northward.

I claim the moral high ground in the drug war. My dedication and commitment to understanding this war, declared for eternity, and the fact that nobody dares challenge my claim gives me that right.

I am the Reverend Dean Becker, contributing expert at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy there at Rice University. I'm a speaker for Law Enforcement Action Partnership, an organization with more than 150,000 members and supporters worldwide. I'm an ally to more than three thousand experts who elected to be guests on my Pacifica radio programs.

The experts who shared their knowledge on air include police chiefs and sheriffs, prosecutors and politicians, judges and ministers, prisoners and prison wardens, doctors and scientists, scholars and authors. For twenty years I have sought to clarify the nature of drug war for all of us, investing well in excess of ten thousand hours traveling with, learning from, and interviewing these same experts, nearly all friends to this day.

I wrote the book "To End The War On Drugs" and flew to Washington DC to deliver copies to the president, his cabinet, every Senator and Representative, as well as the Supreme Court justices, and that day I mailed a copy to all fifty governors.

I recently produced my seven thousandth Drug Truth Network radio segment for an international network of broadcast affiliates. Seeking diverse perspectives for a better understanding I have traveled to Canada to learn the many ways they're safe injection facilities save lives. I traveled to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, when it was the deadliest city on planet earth to see firsthand the result of drug war's corruption, the plata o plomo in barbarous, open, ugly display.

I traveled to South America to visit national leaders and coca farmers. I traveled 7,000 miles across the United States with busloads of refugees and survivors of cartel and gang violence.

This year, I traveled to Portugal to meet with their drug czar and to Switzerland to meet with their designer of a heroin protocol that gives free heroin to addicts and where for 19 years there have been zero overdose deaths.

I'm quite proud to say that millions of people around the world value my strong opinions on drug policy and listen to my radio programs on the web as well.

For 20 years, I have sought the full unvarnished truth about the drug war. I've refined my understanding of the mechanism, the many entanglements, lies, and perversions comprising drug war morality, words spoken pontifically, as if from on high, that allows this vicious and evil construct to survive.

My beliefs, truly my morals, compel me to expose what I know to be an abomination. My singular goal in life is to obtain a one hour broadcast debate with the latest director of the DEA, of the ONDCP, or the FBI, top dogs of the drug war, those whose words and pronouncement are used to justify and create this misery, good folks like Jeffrey [sic: Jefferson] Beauregard Sessions and his ilk, to allow the American people to hear both sides and to then determine if sufficient benefit is being derived to offset the horror we inflict on the world by continuing down this same path forever.

Or, should it be ended forthwith? I say legalize and fear not. I submit that legalization will require a simple governmental control, similar to the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, which required manufacturers to label their product with the exact content and percentages of what was contained therein.

We should also provide warnings of danger, dosage recommendations, and links to medical help and treatment facilities. Products should be tested by the government to ascertain the contents before being sold to the public, then it's buyer beware. Adult buyer beware.

We'll have lots of room in prison to hold anybody who would dare sell to our children. Daily costs should be set to be similar to a pack of cigarettes, costly but not enough to lead the user to commit a crime to support their habit.

Barbarous cartels would immediately begin losing tens of billions of dollars in profits from selling drugs to our children, and would thus lose their eternal seed money with which they fund other criminal enterprises. Cartels would begin losing influence and power when plata o plomo loses most of its power to corrupt, as the black market in drugs is eliminated.

The number of refugees fleeing to the US would quickly drop as well, as the power of the cartel billions begins to disappear. Over a period of just a few months, most of the harms of the drug war will disappear forever.

Terrorists will no longer turn cannabis and opium flowers into weapons via the black market. Violent US gangs will lose 30 to 40 billion dollars a year, and will have little hope of continuing to attract America's children to lives of crime or addiction.

When a dose of pure drugs is available at the drug store for a few dollars, the snake oil salesmen will all but disappear.

Once products of known quality are on the druggist's shelf, overdose deaths will soon be only those committing suicide. Will there still be horrible accidents, lives forever altered, families fractured, and children getting in trouble, even dying? Certainly. But we must stop and realize we have that situation now. It is exponentially compounded by confusion, secrecy and paranoia.

The list of complications is huge. We cannot ignore what is before our eyes. The United States, land of the free, is now the world's leading jailer, imprisoning more of our citizens and not even just per capita, but as for any nation of any size for all time. We are the champions of the world.

We can no longer ignore the nearly fifty million arrests for nonviolent drug offenses. We must fully open our eyes and really see the crowded outdated ineffective prisons and clogged courts.

Heroin is now being replaced by carfentanyl, which is thousands of times stronger than heroin and thousands of times more profitable for criminals around the world who use these easy profits to set up other criminal regimes, including human trafficking, gambling, and of course plata o plomo, which allows the black market to flourish, unleashing barbarism and creating massive swaths of political and corporate greed and corruption.

We must realize that the strength of one gram of carfentanyl is equal to more than three kilos of pure heroin. Sneak it across the border, hidden in a regular envelope, it's less than the size of a sugar packet. Mix it with six and a half pounds of most any shiny powder and sell it for tens of thousands of dollars. Controlled substances?

As a bonus, we'll soon empty half our prisons and use the money saved for education and treatment, when drug users are no longer considered criminals law enforcement will regain millions of citizens as allies, as we begin to mend police relations that have long been strained via distorted and yes bigoted implementation of these drug laws.

The full list of the benefits from legalization extend well beyond what I have presented here. I look forward to a day of truth, recognition of jubilation, the end of prohibition, but in the end, we will find it so obvious and easy to just treat illegal drug users the same way we treat alcohol users, or the way we treat those who use dangerous but currently legal drugs, and when we will simply once again just judge people by their actions, not their habits, like it used to be in America.

I am Dean at

I urge you to please check out our 7,000 radio programs at Drug Truth, and I remind you once again that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.